I qualified as a Certified Casting Instructor (CCI) on 26 July 2019. It took me 16 months to reach the standard required to pass the exam. It was a big deal and I was chuffed when I did. But it’s only now having had a bit of time to reflect, I realise just what an achievement it was. All those Saturday morning training sessions away from my family, the reading, practising, the constant feeling I should be doing more and the incessant self-doubt. I don’t miss it to be honest, but I wouldn’t swap the experience for the world because it’s helped me overcome some demons and taught me how to be a great fly fishing instructor too. So, if you’ve got a spare five I’ll share with you what I’ve learned.
I don’t know about you but I find that things are so much more rewarding when you throw your heart and soul into them. Well, becoming a CCI is no different. It’s a highly respected, rigorous program run by Fly Fishers International that’s designed to produce exceptional fly casting teachers so you need to go all in. I remember returning from my first session with Bob Young, the wonderful man (and Master Casting Instructor) who mentored me, thinking ‘there’s no half measures here’. Luckily, I have a very supportive partner and a pretty chilled toddler because the truth is it occupied a lot of space in all our lives.
I dedicated every other Saturday morning, for over a year, come hell or high water to training with Bob. Then there were the evenings when my partner went to bed and I stayed up reading about everything fly fishing. Oh and how can I forget about my lunch breaks when I would go out into Treasury Gardens and practice my loops. I got a lot of funny looks, clever comments like “what’s biting, love?” and snaps with tourists who didn’t speak a lot of English and thought I was some kind of ‘cultural display’. Anyway, the point is that you have to fully commit to the program otherwise you’ll fail. It’s a philosophy that follows me in everything I do and that’s why I don’t do stuff I don’t give a sh*t about because what’s the point?
It’s an underrated quality in my humble opinion and yet some of the smartest, wisest, most accomplished people I know possess it in spades. But why is humility important in the context of becoming a CCI? Well, because it keeps you in check. Just because I passed doesn’t make me an expert. In fact, completing the program makes me realise how much more I have to learn. I’ve accomplished what I have so far because I’ve stood on the shoulders of giants past and present. And I’ll be honest, there are times when my insecurities get the better of me and I’m intimidated by them because I don’t feel I’m worthy of standing next to them. But the fact is, I am worthy because while I don’t have flies or rods named after me there’s a colour and flavour I bring that’s equally valid. And since becoming a CCI, I feel like I’m on the cusp of really defining the kind of impact I want to make in the fly fishing world. Watch this space. Now, some of you may say ‘that doesn’t sound very humble’ but I say confidence and humility can go hand-in-hand. And to pass a CCI you need to believe in yourself and remember that there’s always someone you can learn from who’s better than you.
I don’t find it easy to be kind to myself. When I was a kid, I was told I was no good by a lot of teachers. They were wrong, but it left a legacy of self-doubt. Training as CCI brought some of this up and reminded me that I still had a lot of work to do to heal the past. I remember looking at the distance task and thinking ‘I’m never going to be good enough to do this’. Now, the rational part of my mind knows this is utter bullshit but it really does take a lot to silence those little brain devils sometimes. I know I’m not the only one. I’ve seen it in clients as they berate themselves for throwing wide loops, getting snagged or missing a fish. The thing is, buying into cruel self-talk just makes things worse and I’ve learned to be much kinder to myself studying under Bob. He could empathise with my feelings but rather than indulge them he’d drive away self-doubt with kindness, achievable tasks that built confidence and daggy jokes that distracted me from myself. This is why he is a brilliant teacher. And it’s these lessons I take with me and use as part of my fly fishing pedagogy. So, if you’re hard on yourself you can count on me to give you a break because I know what it’s like to walk in your shoes.
Pass it on:
When you’re good at something that has the capacity to enrich the world, I think you owe it to Mother Nature to pass it on. You see, when you teach someone to fly fish you don’t just show them how to swing a rod - you help them fall in love with the world around them. You can’t help but be moved when you step into a pristine stream or an azure blue atoll to chase trout or trevally. It’s this deep, emotional reaction to the beauty of where you are that sparks a stewardship that means you become a conservationist too. It’s one of the reasons I became a guide and I still buzz off the excitement of my clients when I show them a special spot. The other reasons? Well, you’ll just have to come out with me and see for yourself.
Becoming a CCI is a team effort. There were many people involved in my journey who inspired me, believed in me, and buoyed me up when I needed it. In no particular order:
Debbie Dickinson: My kick ass partner who I couldn’t have done this without.
Estelle Dickinson: My daughter who I can’t wait to take out on a river some day.
Bob Young: Master Casting Instructor and all time legend who I can’t thank enough.
Val Young: My fishing mum who introduced me to my Australian fly fishing family.
Peter Hayes: A single-minded, casting genius whose teaching talents inspire me every time we meet.
Mark Surtees: This guy assessed my CCI. I don’t know him well but the time we shared was enough to make me realise I’d been in the company of greatness. I hope our paths cross again.
Mike Heritage: This guy also assessed my CCI. He had a twinkle in his eye that only those who live well and know a lot have. I hope we meet again too.