March 12th, 2007

Beginner's Mind
By Dave Pearson, PA

It's been a little warmer this week. The thermometer poked its nose above freezing for several days in a row. The snow is melting at least in the daylight. Winter rallies at night and everything freezes solid. Then the sun has to do its work all over again. But the warm is winning and the snow is retreating. It rained a bit the day before yesterday. The moisture in the air and the slush on the mud smelled like spring. Or the promise of spring. It is still not warm enough to open any windows or doors, but it is warm enough to start the water in the streams flowing from top to bottom. It may be warm enough to do some fishing. I'll see on Saturday.

I'm devoting a good deal of time this winter to honing my fly tying skills. I'm not alone in this. Many of us putter at the vise, fill our boxes, and dream of warmer times and wild places. Tying keeps us on an even keel as we wait for the sweet of the year. At least it keeps me on an even keel.

My flies are adequate to the task. They catch fish. Sometimes one will even catch my attention. I'll put a little dot of head cement (fingernail polish, actually) on the whip finish, lean back and say to myself, "Nice fly!" But they all don't look like that. And at this time of year, when the fishing is more theoretical than actual, I find this bothersome. So much so, that I've taken a short class to improve my ability. That class was so helpful, that tonight I start another.

The classes are small and short 8 students and 4 meetings. The instructor is a patient and helpful fellow, (in the photo below). His ties are neat, buggy, and consistent. Exactly what I need.

My instructor

Unfortunately, I'm a poor student. I teach guitar for a living and I know a poor student when I see one. A poor guitar student doesn't take instruction well and doesn't practice.

He ignores the conceptual framework of a technique as "too basic" and focuses on the end result of the technique. He insists on finding his own way to the end result. This is not willful capriciousness. He genuinely wants to learn. He just does not see what is there only what he thinks is there.

My class

I have this same tendency (as I discovered in my first fly tying class!). The instructor would be explaining away and I'd have the fly halfway dressed before he was done with his explanation. And the fly was "almost right" not "right." I finally found that to get the result I desired I had to take instruction from beginning to end and not just the bits which I thought were new to me. In point of fact, it was all new to me. I had to "keep it green."

My class

I'm also helping to teach a fly tying course. The class is sponsored by my TU chapter and has been held every winter for decades. We get, roughly, a dozen to a couple dozen students and in 9 weeks we show them the rudiments of fly tying. On the 10th week we teach them to cast. This is a beginner's course, though; occasionally, we get a seasoned tier who wishes to brush up on the basics. The main instructor, Bob Laubach, will gather the class around and tie a fly. Then he'll send everybody off to their vises to tie what he just demonstrated. Bob's helpers (that's me!) will circulate, check out how each student is doing, and offer advice, comment, and correction.

Teaching teaches me a lot. If I can teach it, then I really know it. If I can explain something clearly and distinctly, then it is clear and distinct in my mind. If I can demonstrate it in a fashion which encourages understanding, I understand.

So, I'm a student and a teacher. These roles combine to make me a better tier. That and practice...practice, practice, practice. If I don't apply what I know, I do not improve. Heck, I may even get a bit sloppier. In this respect, tying is like a sport. Just because I know the mechanics of shooting a basketball doesn't mean I can go on the court and shoot basket after basket. I actually have to shoot hoops to get good at ...shooting hoops. I have to tie flies to get better at tying flies. It's one thing to know it in my head; quite another to know it in my hands. Only then can I tie row after row of identical flies, time after time.


It's raining again. Rain and snow actually...a wintry mix, I believe it is called. But, it's mostly rain. The air smells good, but it's still too cold to open the windows. I'm thinking Spring Creek for Saturday. But then again, half the fly fishermen in the county are thinking "Spring Creek" for Saturday. Maybe I'll go elsewhere if this warm spell continues. Maybe a freestoner will be ice - free enough to be fishable. That would be perfect. And there is always Monday. If it keeps warming, more water should be open on Monday.

What it's all about

But for now I will tie a few flies.

One after another.

Each one just like the others.

Time after time. ~ Dave - (black gnat)

About Dave:

Dave Pearson lives in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania with his loving wife, Gillian, and two dogs, Casey and Booboo. His passion is small mountain streams. He teaches guitar for a living. You may contact Dave at: pdewey2@aol.com

From Hemlock Headwaters Archives

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