Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

A time to reflect, learn new tricks

When you hit certain milestones in your life, in my case turning 55 years old in July, you get a chance to reflect on the things you have accomplished and the things you might still want to accomplish in the future.

As I write this I am enjoying a family vacation in Exeter, R.I. We are at a cabin on Yagoo pond. It is a typical New England lakeside scene — if you saw the movie On Golden Pond then you get the picture. The place hasn’t changed all that much in the 55 years I have been coming here. I like that.

There is some wonderful fishing here. Over the years I have caught my fair share of bass, pickerel and sunfish. For more than 40 years, I have fished here with a fly-rod. Since I am reflecting on future accomplishments I decided to learn to how to use a bait casting rig on this vacation.

For the last 10 years or so I have taught fly-fishing professionally. I enjoy teaching, especially watching my students discover those personal keys that help them become good at fly casting.

My last attempt to use a bait-casting rig was not pretty. With no instruction I just hung a plug on the end of the line and “let her rip”. Those of you who fish with a bait caster are now smiling and thinking “bet he had one heck of a backlash with that approach”. And I surely did. The net result was more time untangling then casting.

Now like most humans endowed with a Y chromosome, reading instruction manuals is not in my make up. However, I have learned a thing or two over the years and for this learning experience I read up on how to “adjust” the reel to help prevent backlashing.

There were two reels collecting dust in my gear closet both pretty old school. A Quantum Tour and an Abu-Garcia Ambassadeur. They had magnets and brakes and all sorts of “fine” adjustments to assist you in casting.

Reading carefully and setting the reels up as suggested, I ventured forth to test my skills.

My first cast was tentative and somewhat misdirected. But, no backlash. A few more casts improved my accuracy. As my timing improved so did the length of my casts.

Soon I realized the adjustments could be modified to allow for more independent control of the spool with the thumb. Clearly, this was how the big boys did it. I was ready to advance.

I quickly came to appreciate that point in the learning curve when you think you should be able to do something, but for some reason it just doesn’t work out that way. My mind raced back to all the time my students had that perplexed look and I thought, “come on it is not that hard”.

I eventually got to a point where the backlashes were not taking the fun out of fishing. The casts were going where I wanted and I started to enjoy a new skill.

I probably won’t trade my fly-rod in, but it is good to know this dog can still learn a new trick.

More importantly it reminded me what it is like to be a student again. That just because something is so routine for me doesn’t mean it will be for everyone. The real lesson for me was to remember to put myself in my student’s shoes. That was certainly a lesson worth relearning.

You can read more of my columns at News Virginian.com.


  1. It is always good to learn new things, no matter what age..
    Great story.. thanks for sharing

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