Fly fishing lessons I've learned from the best

I had a fairly tumultuous relationship with school. My report cards were a mixed bag of criticism and celebration that ranged from ‘Charley is disruptive and needs to pay attention’, to ‘Charley is a gifted student with natural ability’. The quality of the teacher and the mutual respect we had for each other was strongly linked to whether I engaged and performed, or not. History, English and Science were my favorites and I have Mrs Pye, Mrs Blanchet and Dr Hodge to thank for nurturing a lifetime love of these subjects.

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Today, not much has changed, particularly when it comes to learning how to be a better fly fisher. I still respond best to subjects I love and people who know their stuff, understand me and get how to motivate me when I need a push. And I’ve been lucky enough to study with some of the best in the business. Each of them has gifted me a skill, lesson or piece of wisdom that I carry with me and pass on to my students when we hit the water. So, as a tribute to my fly fishing mentors and good teachers everywhere (because they deserve a bloody shout out), I’m going to share what they’ve taught me here.

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Richard May:

I’ve come along way since the old man taught me how to untangle line from blackberries, but he deserves lots of credit ‘cause he ignited my passion for fly fishing.

As a kid, I used to watch him on the pond at the bottom of our field casting and catching fish and I wanted in on the action. So, I asked him if I could try. I picked up his split cane rod and nearly broke it! Not a great start but he bought me a cheap fibreglass rod, a case of wet flies, some tips on how to cast and left me to it.

It was a baptism of fire with lots of tantrums and tears but his patience and persistence paid off when I hooked my first trout. Oh my god, I can still remember the pure ecstasy of feeling the line scream off the reel and watching the fish flip about 40 ft in front of me! That was it, I was hooked and regularly raided his library to read up on how to get better. I still have his copy of ‘Trout Fishing’ by Trevor Housby on my shelf today (sorry, dad).

 My old man, a lovely lad called Jake, and me walking up grouse on my dad’s moor in the UK - special days :-)

My old man, a lovely lad called Jake, and me walking up grouse on my dad’s moor in the UK - special days :-)

Scott McPherson:

When I moved to Australia in 2010 I didn’t know where to start when it came to fly fishing in Victoria. Scott came up in Google search and eight years later we’re great friends and I’m still learning new tricks from this talented angler.

Scott’s taught me a lot, but if there’s one thing that’s really stuck it’s the importance of streamcraft. He taught me to pay close attention to the environment and bug life, my movement in and around the water, and where the best lies are and why - basically, I’ve been trained to think like a fish.

Before I go out, I now look at the weather and air pressure and factor it into my game plan. I walk at a distance from the water so I don’t cast a shadow that might spook a fish. I spend at least 5 minutes watching the river for signs of movement and will fossick the area for aquatic insects to see what food is on the menu. When I finally do cast, I’ll work the areas with snags and cover thoroughly because chances are, they’ll be a cheeky trout hiding nearby.

 One of my first Aussie brown trout caught with the guidance of Scott McPherson. Fun times!

One of my first Aussie brown trout caught with the guidance of Scott McPherson. Fun times!

Bob Young:

Where to start with Bob. He has without a doubt been responsible for turning a fairly good fly caster into a fantastic one. I met Bob (FFI Master Casting Instructor) last year after a friend at the Victorian Fly Fishing Association introduced me to his awesome wife Val. After a coffee and a quick cast on a nearby oval, Bob saw potential and agreed to teach me to become a Certified Casting Instructor with Fly Fishers International.

Becoming a Certified Casting Instructor is no mean feat. It’ll take a year to get me to the standard required to the pass the test. I’ll be honest, there are days when it feels overwhelming with everything else I’m juggling in my life but it’s Bob’s belief in me and his incredible pedagogy that keeps me going.

Bob is one of the smartest, kindest and most talented fly casting teachers I’ve met. He breaks down hard concepts and techniques into small steps and simple explanations that allow me to master a tasks. I hear his voice in my head when I’m trying to help my clients and I always think “what would Bob say?” - and then out comes a great answer.

 From left to right, FFI Master Casting instructor Bob Young and John Billing (a student Bob helped become a Certified Casting Instructor).

From left to right, FFI Master Casting instructor Bob Young and John Billing (a student Bob helped become a Certified Casting Instructor).

Peter Hayes:

I was pretty intimidated when I first met Peter because he gives off some fairly self-assured vibes. He kind of reminded me of a lecturer at university who I would not have dared not listen to! And that’s a good thing because as one of the world’s best fly casters Peter has some fairly good things to say.

One of the things that stayed with me was his advice on practice… you can’t do it enough. He’s totally right because if I haven’t been out waving my rod around on the grass for a while then I can really tell. My loops just aren’t as tight, I’ll throw a few tails and will miss my targets too often than I’m happy with.

So, I spend at least three lunch times a week out in Treasury Gardens practicing my pick up lay downs, side casts, bow and arrows, Barnegat Bay casts, roll casts, snake rolls, reach casts, reach mends, and double hauling. Apart from getting strange looks from puzzled onlookers, all this rod time means I’m in top shape when I hit the water. Let me tell you, if you’re casting is crap then your fishing is likely to be too… so get out on that oval, stat.

 Peter Hayes in full teaching mode.

Peter Hayes in full teaching mode.

Val Young:

I mentioned Val earlier, but she deserves her own write up here. While Val hasn’t been teaching me how to cast better, she’s done something equally important: she’s inspired me to be a role model in the sport.

Val, along with a handful of other cool fly-fishing chicks, started Girls Gone Fly Fishing - a Facebook group especially for Aussie women who want to learn more about the sport. She also organises a couple of fun, female-focused fly fishing clinics in Victoria and Tassie every year. And it’s this quiet determination to introduce more women to fly fishing that makes me want to do exactly the same. In fact, it’s a key reason why I’m a fly fishing guide because I want to cut through a male-dominated domain and show more women they can give it a go too.

You’re a legend Val, and while you’d blush at the thought of it, myself and many others look up to you for the work you do in fly fishing. So, keep on being awesome.

 val throwing some beautiful loops

val throwing some beautiful loops

I’d like to say one last thing before I finish up. Fly fishing is a lifelong lesson that will teach you more than just how to catch fish. You’ll make new friends, you’ll see wonderful places and you’ll surprise yourself if you open your mind and embrace the challenge of learning. So, if you’d like to become a better fly fisher then why not take the first step by coming out with me. Just hit me up if you’re game to get hooked.

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