Last weekend I had the chance to help out with the Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited Youth Camp, by being a river helper.
I say river helper, because I am not a guide. I once thought I might want to be a fly fishing guide. Through friendships with some good guides, I decided that I am better suited to be a sport than a guide. Being a river helper sets the bar low enough that I can feel good about a day on the water even if we don’t have Instagram-worthy fish moments.
My first “helpee” was a very well-mannered 12 year old. We worked on simple pick-up and laydown casts. Our mantra was “cast mend, drift, and recast”.
After about 10 minutes he was doing well enough with that routine that he caught his first rainbow trout.
I was struck at the constant coaching the young man needed. I had to say our mantra every time…”cast, mend, drift, ok recast”.
I also noted that he made the same mistake after each cast. He would look down at his rod hand to place the line under his finger. In doing so however, he lifted the rod tip up, dragging the fly several feet out of the current seam we were trying to fish.
I showed him what he was doing, and instructed how a small error on his end of a flyrod is magnified nine feet away on the tip end. He immediately understood, but was never able to translate his mental understanding into suitable physical actions. Short of my holding down the rod with my hand, almost every cast would suffer the same result. It wasn’t that he wanted to make the mistake. He knew what he was supposed to do. It was just a new skill that he hadn’t yet mastered. A skill that most of us more experienced fly fishers have so ingrained that it no longer requires conscious thought.
I remember well that feeling. My first foray into fly fishing as an adult was hiring a guide on the White River. My casting skills were very rudimentary, and I found myself, like my helpee, requiring instruction for every move I needed to make. I knew the result I needed from my cast, I could not make my body produce it.
But it was a start. My guide didn’t expect perfection from me. He was patient, and I began to slowly learn. But it took months, even years of practice to become proficient. The goal was progress, not perfection.
I have some friends who struggle with addiction. Some with drugs or alcohol. Some with co-dependence, anger, exercise, food, etc. There came a point in their journey where they each recognized the problem and mentally understood what they need to do to recover. But sobriety is a new skill for them after a life of using addiction as a coping mechanism. They want to be free from the addiction, but often can’t make themselves do what they know they need to do. It’s hard work, and relapses are frustrating for both guide and the guided. But the guides know that daily progress, not perfection, is the path to recovery.
So patiently we begin again…”cast, mend, drift, ok recast”.