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First Cast: Teaching Kids to Fly-Fish, by Phil Genova

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Chris Hassell, who is a keen trout fisherman and head teacher of an English high school where he has started a fishing club, reviews First Cast: Teaching Kids to Fly-Fish, by Phil Genova.

This book is an interesting read. It will appeal to those involved in teaching youngsters how to fly-fish, and indeed to fly-fishermen who enjoy reading about the sport to reinforce their own knowledge and skill, or perhaps to extend it by, for example, starting to tie flies. As the book's title suggests it is not an advanced text. Notwithstanding this, it might also hold attraction for fishermen who simply enjoy fishing stories, for although the text is primarily instructional it does contain a liberal sprinkling of anecdotes that are clearly identifiable.

Phil Genova is an American and his book is based on a programme that has taught thousands of young people how to fly-fish in the States. It can therefore claim the advantage of being based on tried and tested practical field research. First Cast's content is far reaching, incorporating the whole gamut of fly-fishing, from streams to rivers, to lakes and indeed to surf. Like many fishing books it looks at purchasing and maintaining equipment, tying flies, tying knots, giving advice on techniques and how to develop skills. However, it goes beyond this by examining the relationship between mentor and pupil. It also sets out to emphasise that the relationship of the fly-fisherman to the environment should be one of understanding and respect. It highlights the key role that community projects can play in cultivating such attitudes and in promoting the sport.

Given the scope of the book it is unsurprising that it is long, 312 pages. However, it is carefully structured and has a clear Contents that effectively signpost the reader through it. Rather than simply being read from start to finish, the book can be dipped into. Sections can be read and enjoyed in isolation, anecdotes which appear throughout the book are set apart in defined boxes. The reader is able to decide whether to use a section as a study item, as an interesting and enjoyable read, or indeed whether to simply pass it over. This is particularly important because the work has a strong American bias and therefore contains a considerable amount of information that is specific to fishing outside the United Kingdom. The specifically American content is apparent throughout the book, for example, from advice on different fly patterns to information on specific community projects, including contact details. Although the American element is pronounced, there is sufficient knowledge in the book that is generic to fly- fishing to make it a worthy study. In any case, the book is brought to life by succinctly told fishing stories that capture both the wonder and thrill of fishing and the magic that can be shared and enjoyed by mentor and pupil anywhere in the world.

'First Cast' would have been enhanced had a proportion of its many excellent photographs, diagrams, drawings and illustrations been in colour. Nevertheless they remain effective both in evoking atmosphere and in providing clear instruction.

However, the book is clearly aimed at an adult audience. A youngster would find it over-demanding in terms of language and length. In the hands of a mentor though it could be a useful aid - there are plenty of anecdotes that could be shared and enjoyed and some of the diagrams provide good teaching material. The clear labelling that is often incorporated in them would also help to reinforce the specialist technical vocabulary that is an integral part of the world of the fly-fisherman.

For the experienced fisherman involved in mentoring the would-be fisherman, the book serves as a useful reminder of the need to structure the vast amount of information that the years have grown. Fly-fishing is a sophisticated art and an initiate can easily be overwhelmed if their mentor lacks clarity, or bombards them with too much knowledge too quickly.

From my own point of view as a head teacher who is involved in teaching children to learn to fly fish, it is interesting to compare British teaching methods with those of Phil Genova. Here the Salmon and Trout Association, the main teaching organisation, offers short bursts of intensive activity; First Cast advocates a long term mentoring strategy. Would a combination of the two approaches be better?

This book serves to remind us constantly of the joy of fishing. The first chapter 'The Mentor and the Apprentice' sets the tone by including the retelling of an angling tale in which an old colonel helps a young boy to catch his first salmon. He helps retrieve the rod and line the boy has just lost to the fish and then oversees the boy as he ties his line to the colonel's and uses the colonel's rod to catch the salmon. Add to several such stories, the accounts and memories of young people's fishing adventures and their explanations as to why fishing has become an important part of their lives and you have a taste of what is special in 'First Cast'.

'First Cast' is a good read and would be a worthwhile addition to the fishing book libraries of enthusiastic collectors. Although in the context of teaching fly-fishing in the UK, the book should not be regarded as a sole resource, it would provide good additional support to those who wish to help youngsters to become fly-fishermen.

First Cast: Teaching Kids to Fly-Fish by Phil Genova. Published by Stackpole Books, 1998

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