AAPGAI Masters Trout and Salmon Certification Examinations
I've recently returned from sitting the Association of Advanced Professional Game Angling Instructors (AAPGAI) Masters Trout and Salmon Instructor Certification examinations, held on the River Tay at the historic Kenmore Hotel in Scotland. I thought the Spey Pages membership might be interested in hearing about this organization and their efforts.
By way of background, I have previously had the pleasure of taking the Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) CCI as well as Masters single hand instructor examinations, and was among those involved in the development of criteria for the Two-Handed Casting Instructor certification (and wrote the written examination). I think I have a pretty good feeling for the FFF examination processes, and have had the pleasure of going to the FFF conclave a couple of years ago. I have also experienced participating in an FFF committee, and attending a meeting of the Board of Governors. I have seen and participated in numerous CCI and Masters examinations as well as THCI's in th early phases.
One concern I have with casting instruction in the States, especially organized instruction in Spey casting, is falling into the trap about which Thomas McGuane once wrote: "constant discovery is the eternal joy of the ahistorical". Going over to the CLA Game Fairs over the past several years has been an eye opener to see how others cast, especially those who's families and ancestors have been spey casting for 300 years.
After my few days in Scotland, I can say - without equivocation - that the AAPGAI boys totally have their act together. Like the current FFF Masters and THCI programs, AAPGAI's previous organization (APGAI) had some credibility issues with regard to the uniformity and standards by which instructor certifications were issued. The current organization has worked diligently to establish a very high standard and multistep process, which should serve as a model for us here in the States. Currently, there are three levels of certification: Provisional, Advanced, and Master. Madatory educaiton includes 6 hours of first aid training, fishing safety, and instructor/guide liability - something I think is sorely missing for most instructors and guides here in the states. The AAPGAI also acts as an organization that insures its members, and a well rounded background towards safety and education are mandatory.
I took both the Masters Trout (single hand casting) and Salmon (double-handed casting) examinations "cold turkey", without knowing what was being tested or what was required. I thought this would give a better assessment of what is important and emphasized in the UK, as well as a better assessment of where my casting weaknesses, teaching and understanding lie.
Both Masters examinations include a timed 20 minute formal presentation, a written examination (not easy), and about two hours or more of casting (with lots of "explain and demonstrate"). Unlike many of the examinations I have seen with other organizations, one has the complete confidence that the assessors examining you could, in fact, pass their own examination. The professionalism with which the examinations were administered was admirable, and the securtiy of the assessors in their own skills came across in a relaxed, non-threatening examination environment.
I ended up failing my Masters Salmon exam, as my two-handed overhead casting over 110 feet, left hand up, left much to be desired (since I never use this cast or practice it, I wasn't surprised). It was great to see what is emphasized in Scotland, where two-handed and spey casting originated! I thought the fact that I failed based on this weakness in my casting was great (I can spey cast further with my left hand up than overhead cast!) on a number of accounts. First, the standard of the test administered was unquestionably high, and there were no "gimmes". Second, it highlights a weakness in my casting, and as a core skill, I really shouldn't have passed. I look forward to re-sitting the exam, and will certainly brush up on my wekanesses.
The Trout Masters examination was a great test as well. The empahsis on single hand spey casting and casting off both shoulders with tight loops and equal proficiency was great, and reflects modern trends in single hand casting. The tests were also performed outdoors, in "real life" conditions on running water, and - in my opinion - were a much fairer assessment of casting skills than throwing 85 feet in ideal, indoor conditions at 5000 feet above sea level.
The greatest thing about the assessment process was the gathering of people. No "puffy chests", just all folks there to learn and get better. Some very famous fishermen were there nervously taking their provisional examinations! Unlike FFF examinations, AAPGAI certifications are offered only twice a year. This is the first time the venue included Scotland, and what a great venue it is. The Kenmore hotel is right on the river Tay as it flows out of Loch Tay, and the sense of history is palpable. The accomodations are great, and the cozy bar had more single-malt scotches than I could count or recognize. Dewars sponsored the awards banquet on Saturday night, and the ceremonies included a memorable and formal belssing of the haggis, replete with bagpipes and Robert Burns' poem.
For those on this Board who are seriously interested in furthering their learning and instructional abilities with casting (both single and double-handed), I can't recommend the AAPGAI process highly enough. For more information, their main site can be accessed by googling "AAPGAI".