Monday, August 8, 2016

Seeing Myself

Editor's Note, August 9, 7:47 AM - After reviewing comments, it appears I missed the mark when I wrote this.  The Fading Angler Blog is a NO WHINING zone.  This is not meant to be a tale of woe.  It's a story of a bit of struggle, followed by some unexpected redemption.  I'm always trying to improve faster than I'm decaying.  Sometimes Parkinson's Disease wins the battle, but I'm still winning the war.

It's not often we get a good look at ourselves.  That passing glance in the mirror in the morning is an illusion of a reflection.  I'm talking about the kind of vision where you're actually able to see yourself for what you are, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Sometimes it's a health crisis that brings things into focus, and sometimes it's simply the focus of a camera lens held by another person.

When I fished with Dan Milligan of Blackfoot River Outfitters last Friday, I had a really lousy casting day.  I couldn't seem to get my body to manipulate the rod and line the way I wanted to.  Dan gently made suggestions all day, but I'm pretty sure he thought I was ignoring him.  I was trying, but I was frustrated and tangled up in my head as well.  I am thankful that I've nearly shed any feelings of pride or embarrassment when it comes to casting.  I am what I am.  I do what I can, including trying to get better.  And, no matter how ugly or dysfunctional my casting looks, I am getting strikes and catching fish.  I care less and less what other people think of my ugly form and amateurish technique.

I did feel bad for Dan, though.  He endured this ugliness for hours.  One thing he repeated several times throughout the day was, "Try to keep your elbow down."  I tried, but felt no success.  I felt like I failed him.  But it turns out that he gave me a better gift that any piece of casting advice: photographs.

Dan took a series of photos on stretches where he was sure we'd capture some excellent action shots.  The sun was angled well, and the potential for a hook-up looked good.  When I reviewed these photos for publishing, I noticed somethings very wrong.  On my final cast, my casting arm was usually fully extended and the rod pointed.  I've studied a few really good fly anglers.  They do not do this.  Their base cast is a short, efficient, elegant movement with their elbow near their side.  When I had the chance to cast a line for a few minutes Sunday morning, I did my usual thing.  Sure enough, my arm was pushing too far out.  I'm obviously no expert, but I'm willing to bet that this is why my line energy often disappears and line piles up.

Awkward, lousy form resulting in a wide open "loop."
And lazily using my right arm, making things worse!
(Please do not click to enlarge.  This size is ugly enough.)

Okay, soldier.  Stand straight and tuck that left elbow in.  Backcast Upcast to noon, pause, forward to 10.  Again.  Interesting.  The line stays elevated and your fly doesn't whiz past your face.  Repeat and feel.  Final cast.  Better.  Easier distance.  I practiced with wet feet (wading in Keens and shorts) for about 30 minutes and headed back to Mobile Hotel® in a very reflective mood.

Thanks again, Dan.  You truly did help me with my casting, even though it didn't happen when we were together.

 The Unaccomplished Angler left a comment last year on my "Pride and Parkinson's" post:

We learn a lot about ourselves when we fish. Sometimes we don't like what we see ;) More often, hopefully, we learn something and gain from it.
Optimistic words from a public pessimist.  I hope for the "more often" part, too.  Sometimes you have to cut through the windknots and untangle the lines in your head first.  And sometimes that requires a little help from outside.


  1. I suspect you are being unduly hard on yourself Chris. It's easy to do when we realize that we are not perfect, even in the best of health. You accomplished a great outing for yourself and your family in a beautiful place. Mission accomplished. And you're still standing!

    1. Howard, as a recovering perfectionist I have carefully considered that possibility. I have accepted imperfection, embraced it. I often revel in it.

      I felt worse for the professional fly guide who was working to help me. And he did exactly that. In my imperfect fashion, I just had to take a longer route.

      There are no complaints & no whining here. Just a little introspection and recognition that I do better with a little help from my friends. :)

  2. I agree with Howard. Many more people have given up on casting a fly w/o any of the challenges you have. Enjoy the day, be pleased with "your" outing. It was a great outing and in a beautiful setting. Enjoy it!

  3. Just piling on here, Chris. I really value your current thought process. You are who you are...... You are not someone else and were never meant to be! You fly fish, you catch fish, your living in your world. Also, one of the best fly fisherman I have ever known could not cast a fly line worth a diddlysquat, but, he caught more fish than the rest of us all the time.........

  4. Clearly, what we have here is a failure to communicate, gentlemen, and the fault lies with me and my stream-of-consciousness writing "style." By no means did I intend for this piece to be a complaint. My casting may have been the worst ever seen by mankind last week on rock creek, but it was enough to fool 5 or 6 fish per hour!

    This was supposed to be a story of a little struggle and unexpected success/recovery. Tragically, the flaws in my fly casting are exceeded only by my failures as a writer. I got too serious and forgot to throw in some sarcasm or satire. I suppose it's time to hang up my keyboard and curl up into a little ball. Hey, who are those two guys in white uniforms coming this way, and why are the sleeves so long on that jacket they're carrying? And what's in that syringe?

  5. Chris, I don't think I read this wrong at all. I know a few guides and the consensus is they'd rather had a friendly chap that tries to do as they suggest then a perfect idiot who won't. since I know you are not perfect I have to go with the first option. Fish on...