LONG POST - SORRY, BUT I WANTED TO MAKE SEVERAL POINTS.
Per the FFF website -
There only 6 THCI's in CA!
Three in Oregon!
Seven in Washington and
6 in Idaho. That is not very many for a sport where at least some growth would be a good thing - at least for the industry and maybe the fisheries.
I know or have watched many of those THCI's. They are all better casters than I, but I am an OK caster, and have been teaching with pretty positive feedback lots of different topics for 50 years. Been a CI for a long time, and do know some stuff there. I know I could, and do, teach two handed without certification, but -- well, below is what I worded to organize my own thoughts after last Saturday, when I was ashamed to have wasted the time of 50% of California's THCI's, all masters, for 4 hours. Maybe I should have known better - but I did not:
My thoughts - open to change as I listen to others.
I just failed the THCI test, fair and square. My examiners, John, Bob and Ray, did exactly what they were charged with doing, judging if I satisfactorily completed, by the very specific standards written in the exam, the big spectrum of explanations and demonstrations required. At the postmortem, the lead examiner explained, and I paraphrase: You clearly had a good knowledge base, your teaching skills are probably quite good. Scandi and sunk line Skagit skills were strong, but much of the longer line skills were not. I commented to him that I agreed, that the exam was administered fairly and I appreciated all the time spent with me. By the standards set, I did fail. I was too disappointed and embarrassed to collect my thoughts further. Now I’m thinking a bit more about it.
Here is the point of contention: While the exam was administered fairly, I believe the exam itself to be unfair for the majority of potentially good instructors, and a disservice to the sport.
Yikes! Them’s fightn’ words. Let me try and make my point.
I am troubled by:
1) The casting skill level required.
Whoever created that exam did an excellent job and obviously spent a huge amount of time on a work product of which they can be proud. The detail, lack of ambiguity, coverage of much of what we do as spey fisherman make it a challenging test of both casting skill and teaching expectations. Problem, the skill part is too difficult!
Very few coaches, in any sport, are both good teachers and highly skilled at the sport. Some may have been great before starting to coach, and one could argue that Michael Jordan was still highly skilled when he tried to be a player coach for the Wizards, but the majority of great coaches and teachers-of-skills understand what they are teaching and can demonstrate some things, but can coax a skill from the pupil even when they, themselves, cannot pitch a good fastball or do a double back flip.
I've been teaching one thing or another for over 50 years. Waterskiing, swimming, rugby, and in my medical career, surgery. I was not a good trick skier and never won a swimming medal, yet was paid well to teach those activities, and did it well. In 22 years of coaching college rugby, including multiple league championships, four final fours and a national championship, I was rarely as skilled at a position as the young athlete I was coaching, yet coached every position to effect. I understood the game and had success teaching it. Demonstrating a skill is often neither necessary nor sufficient to cause improvement. Admittedly, surgery is one area where one must be truly good at the motor skills being taught. Fly casting is not surgery. Fly casting is much more difficult from a motor skills perspective.
The current THCI test, with the myriad 80 and 100 foot casts off either shoulder with a 60 foot line, demonstrating many faults, requires true mastery of the motor skills. I, for one, believe that this level of mastery belongs at the master's level of certification. My examiners were all master casters. I am so pleased our sport can learn and benefit from their hard learned insights and skills.
Further, they were all pleasant and not at all condesending -- (my only complaint was the one who dropped his cigarette butts in the pond, but as a caster and examiner he was above reproach.)
2) That only MCI and BOG members can see the actual test.
I was surprised to learn that the exam my testers were using was different from the one I had printed off and used for preparation. What is up with that? Why would FFF keep something like that secret? Why would FFF want candidates surprised by questions not on the version of the exam we can print off and study?
While I have read everything on the web site and many books, fished with numerous wonderfully skilled guides, watched countless videos, discussed things with my local mentor, and had too many dark-of-night-cold-of-beer/single malt conversations, I was unprepared with the answers sought during my 4 hour exam just failed. Though I suspect the oral part of the exam was passed, the surprise factor probably hurt my skill performance.
The examination committee apparently wants to avoid having candidates that just parrot information - but I think that should be trumped by trying to avoid the appearance of an insider's club - others need not apply.
3) I never found a video illustration of the tested skills
I was unable to attend, on a Friday morning in Idaho, the only THCI prep session I have ever seen advertised. It was held the day before the Clearwater Spey Clave. I heard great things about it. Maybe it included test specific demonstrations of all the casts, which would have made a world of difference. (I did make it to the Clearwater to participate in Poppy's Redneck-o-Rama, in which I averaged 140' for six casts, 840 total. I mention that only to aid a claim that I am not a total casting slouch.)
One need only spend some time on YouTube to see numerous videos of snippets of our sport, most claiming to be showing how it should be done. None of them will prepare a candidate for this exam. The many professionally made videos, Gawsworth, Vincent, Hazel, Ward, Howell, and Krieger all jump to mind, are geared at a different level of student -- not the aspiring instructor. When preparing for my CI - last millennium, I learned a lot from such things as Jason Borger's faults recognition video. There is no video of which I know, with a Master THCI demonstrating how it is done and discussing fault recognition and correction. (Actually, Simon's does have some of this) There should be a video showing the creators and endorsers of this exam demonstrating and explaining.
In general, one should not gripe without providing at least suggestions
. Here are mine:
Candidates pay their registration fees, which would help fund a well done video showing the exam being performed in an exemplary way by, say John or Bob or Ray or Al or Dwight or Lee... . Maybe industry sponsors could be found to help with the video. Only paid candidates could view the video and review the detailed elements of the exam for which they were preparing. Maybe Todd Moen could help, as his video skills seem pretty good. Such a video might be enjoyed by a student with no intention of preparing to be an instructor. With paid registration fee -- let them watch. Many aspiring instructors would probably pay the fee, watch the video, and realize they were a long way from the skill level expected of candidates. Fine.
Anyone who has already passed the current exam is a Master THCI.
3) New Exam.
A new standard exam for THCI should be developed. It would be a modified subset of the current exam:
- Most, maybe all of the verbal responses required of the current exam. All available online to paid registrants for testing.
- Any setup, candidate choice, for the various required casts, up to three different setups, one of which would be sink tip, minimum 10 feet, minimum type 6 or T8. One set up must have other than monofilament shooting line, for use in shooting line control element. Leader must be 9 to 15 feet including any poly or versi type leaders for floating lines, and 2 to 5 feet for sink tip.
- Eliminate the overhand cast requirement
- All distances 70 feet, except one Switch cast to 90 feet.
- Shooting of line allowed
- Explain and demonstrate, as if working with a student:
- An oveview of Spey Casting, including description of anchor, Sweep, Lift, Key position D loop, touch and go and sustained anchor casts - at an introductory level.
- Roll cast
- Switch cast, including demonstrations of:
- Good lift
- Good sweep
- Good anchor placement
- Good D or V loop
- Good loop
- Open loop
- Narrow loop
- Piled Anchor
- Pulled anchor
- Candidate choice of two right shoulder anchor casts and two left shoulder anchor casts. At least one touch and go and one sustained anchor cast must be included among the choices. Chosen casts need not each be done with both hands or off shoulder. Each cast must be demonstrated at about 45 degrees and 90 degrees. A total of 8 fishing casts, to 70 feet, nicely done.
- Includes demonstrations of sink tip management
- Includes demonstrations of mending
- Includes demonstration of shooting line management
- Risks associated with upstream and downstream misplaced anchors.
- Blood L on a sustained anchor cast.
- Identify casting faults demonstrated by examiner, and explain both why they are a problem and at least one approach for correction for each fault.
Casts from which candidate could choose, which would be included in the preparation video, would include: Single Spey, Snake Roll, Double Spey, Perry Poke, Snap T,C, or Z
Demos on video would include at least three masters doing each cast, right, left, off-hand 45 and 90, with real time explanations by the master on what they are looking for in their own and a candidates casting.
Why is the current exam a disservice to the sport? Fly casting needs to be taught. Just watch most self taught casters to see why. We need many more teachers. The current disputed passage approach sets the bar unnecessarily high. The current exam identifies excellent casters. It excludes many potentially good
teachers with adequate skills.
Current THCI's should be revered.
More good teachers that can cast are needed.
The single level of certification standards should be re-examined, THCI and Master THCI should be considered.
Thanks for reading
Wm. Laughlin Vetter, M.D., FACS and CI