Engineers vs. Poets Revisited

Slow motion filming session. Photo Álvaro G. Santillán

The late Mel Krieger classified casters into two broad groups: engineers and poets. The first group is formed by those who need to know how things work in order to learn them; the other one relies more on feeling and doing those things than in any analytical approach.

Mel didn’t make any qualitative distinction between the two groups; although he himself was a poet instructor, he never dismissed those more inclined to the engineering way of seeing things. In fact he saw both views as equally valuable and complementary.

When in the recent history of flycasting instruction this view changed I don’t know for sure, but lately those of the engineer class seem to have some bad press.

I am able to differentiate very easily those instructors of the engineer kind: they just can explain, when necessary —and this is an important caveat— casting issues by means of applied, sound, physics.

I have a hardest time, however, when it comes to distinguish those who consider themselves poets. Of course, you find them using examples and similes to explain casting mechanics, but I don’t see why being an engineer prevents you from applying  that same approach.

“That isn’t what fly casting teaching is about”, and “why a student would want to look into casting mechanics with such a depth?”, are usual arguments against the way engineers address casting mechanics. Poets seem to like to think that we engineers start our class setting up a big chalkboard and straightaway filling it in with formulas. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Is the use of analogies as a way to convey key concepts an approach exclusive of them? Not really. To be honest I know a good bunch of instructors of the engineer tribe that are very fond of using similes when teaching, and since their knowledge of the casting “whys” allow them to find a broader array of meaningful examples taken from everyday life, they are really good at poetry, in some cases better than some pure poets.

What I don’t get from the current poetical standpoint is why they have forgotten that Mel himself explained that there are students that belong in the engineer kind, and that they must be addressed in that way for the message to get across. How a pure poet can address an student of the engineer kind when he has committed himself to avoiding any contact with the “whys” of casting mechanics?

I always thought that “mastery” in general is mainly about the commitment to know as much as possible of your craft, and that is, exactly, my position about all of this. If that classifies me as part of the damned engineers so be it.

I always thought that “mastery” in general is mainly about the commitment to know as much as possible of your craft, and that is, exactly, my position about all of this. If that classifies me as part of the damned engineers so be it.

Of course I understand that everything has a limit, and that regarding the knowledge that we want to acquire everyone of us sets that limit at a different depth. Those who consider that looking at casting from a physics standpoint is going too far should take into account that there were others that firmly believed that casting was just moving a rod back and forth from 11 to 1, and that setting up an organisation to regulate casting instruction introducing complex concepts as Gammel’s Five Essentials was totally useless. In fact most of today’s fly fishers still believe, and practice, that philosophy. And they actually have a point: the most famous instructors that were in the origins of the fly casting teaching regulation organisations learnt themselves to cast by the poetical way of “all the way backward and all the way forward”, or, abbreviated, “10 to 2”.

Some anecdote may convey my poinYears ago, in Germany, an would-be casting instructor asked if it was really necessary to go as deep in casting mechanics as he was seeing on Sexyloops.
There was a beautiful BMW parked in front of us.
—Would you like to drive that car? —I asked.
—Sure! —he replied.
—And do you think that such an amazing piece of technology would be possible without the work of generations of engineers dealing with such boring concepts as “acceleration”, “torque” and the like?

I always enjoyed reading those more poetically talented approaches to teaching; I have learnt a lot from them. What I don’t get is why some poets tend to dismiss the engineer’s views of the same problems; they should also try to learn something from them. Their engineer students (and not only them) would benefit from that change of attitude.

7 comments on “Engineers vs. Poets Revisited

  1. Very good article, Aitor. To me the “engineer” explanations are just an offer to the students. They help very often to answer questions like “why do you cast this way and not a different way?” When I started to ask such questions during my own student time I didn’t get satisfactory answers. I guess that’s the reason why I took the “engineers” path myself. BTW I like your BMW analogy…


  2. paracaddis says:

    Nice piece Aitor and very pertinent:for me I like to know as much as possible so that I can simplify it without taking away anything or providing an erroneous metaphor. So the “Ten to Two” model , for example, may be poetic and even to a degree functional. But we “know” that it is wrong, or at best not entirely true. Perhaps that is where the engineers have the advantage, they can analyze a metaphor or poetic instruction and understand if it is true or, if not ,at least understand its limitations. I rarely use scientific jargon when instructing. Rarely even use physics. But I do try to use examples that I hope would stand up to physical examination. I also think that a student has the “right” to expect a detailed explanation if he or she requests one.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. billrulandci says:

    Thanks for the well thought article. I’m always puzzled when I hear that one must teach casting in a certain way with a certain progression. Our goal, I think, is to help the student learn and to enjoy it while doing so. If that means leaning toward the engineering approach, so be it.

    Regarding a “model”, a model is constructed as an aid to understanding so that teacher and student can communicate about the underlying reality more effectively. That’s the test that should be applied to a model which I think you are advocating. The result of using a model, hopefully, should result in an “Ah-ha” moment for both parties and improvement occurs. That’s when you know the model works.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aitor says:

      No model is totally accurate, but some are useful. What I look for in a model is that it doesn’t violate basic physics. Pointing in the wrong direction might be good to explain some issue, but it probably gets in the way of other important concepts.
      My point is that it is perfectly feasible to explain casting in simple terms without making Newton turn in his grave. The more you know about a topic the easier it is to dissect it in simple elements.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. hshl1968 says:

    That’s the challenge. If you treat the fly cast as exactly as possible you’ll need very complex equations going through a ‘black box’ and no one will really understand what is going on. Choosing some simplificated constrains will cause some ‘loose in equations accuracy’ but they open this issue to a larger audience.

    Liked by 2 people

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