Casting Call with Vinnie Diodati

Casting Call with Vinnie Diodati

 

Fly-fishing can seem a daunting sport. Even if you can get past the difficulty of fighting your way through the blackberry vines and multiflora rose thorns, carefully pick your way down into the ankle-swallowing muck that gives way to algal-coated boulders on the river bottom, to position yourself near enough to a rising Rainbow to entice it to bite, thenyou still have to be able to deliver a minuscule glob of feather and glue 40 feet into a stiff, sideways wind. Oh, yeah, and that has to be done through an intersecting tangle of branch and twig – in one try – to succeed at your goal of engaging the fish. Blow that one shot and you either spook the fish into a deep dive toward a bank-side hideout or lose that $2.50 piece of glorified lint to one of Mother Nature’s gnarly limbs.

Enter Vinnie Diodati. While he can’t control the river or weather conditions, Vinnie can help you master what you cancontrol: your cast. Offering free casting lessons at the Carolina Trout Pond every Saturday morning, Vinnie brings 22 years’ worth of experience to share with his students. A long-time member of Trout Unlimited Chapter 225, Vinnie brings the fly rods, a dozen L.L. Bean Angler Series 5-weights donated to the chapter for teaching and learning use by those wishing to become acquainted with the sport, but somewhat wary of its reputed expense and esoteric tackle. (One of the first things Vinnie assures a beginner is that neither of those things are true: there are inexpensive rods that are perfectly suited to delivering a fly to a fish, and that you don’t need to be decked out in an 18-pocket microfiber piscatorial specialty vest in order to bring that fish to hand.)

“You don’t need expensive equipment in this sport to cast well and catch fish,” he says. “You learn pretty quickly it’s the person, not the rod that is making the successful cast. That can only come by learning how to do it the right way. It’s not complicated; it just takes time doing it the right way, with the fundamentals.”

Vinnie’s approach to teaching differs from most fly-fishing instructors in that he breaks down the act of casting into individual motions pointing out how to perform its most basic elements. From starting point to back cast position to its stop point to the forward cast to delivery of the fly, he has you practice and perfect each of those components before allowing you to move on.

The lesson starts as Vinnie lines everyone up, showing each of us the correct way to stand with lead foot forward perpendicular to the target area. In a matter of fact way, he tweaks those who remain in a stance that could not hold firm to a gentle shove; then, without a rod in hand, he has us develop the muscle memory involved in the correct elbow/forearm motion. This basic motion is the essence that establishes your back cast and forecast. He walks up and down the line, calling out the drill: “Bend your elbow back to 12 o’clock with force! . . Pause! . . . Bring it forward to ten o’clock and stop!” Then, keying in on a 12-year-old in the group, he’ll admonish: “Nate, you’re breaking your wrist; keep it at 12 o’clock, you’re going too far back.”

We hear this a lot over the next hour. It becomes a mantra that turns into a Pavlovian reaction every time we bend our elbows back.

When you do finally get that coveted rod in your hand, Vinnie has you break down the cast into its two most basic elements. First, we practice the backward thrust with force and drop the line behind us as we are strongly encouraged to watch it fly out behind us. Again, the twist of the neck to follow the fly line creates a muscle memory that’s needed to track the line’s trajectory. “Watch the line and let it straighten out . . okay, now bring it forward!” After a few off-kilter puddles of line that land left and right of the target area, we all begin to find some sort of rhythm. When you do cobble together the back and forecasts with tight loops and the flyless leader snaps forward 30 feet, it feels right, like hitting a sharp forehand down the line in tennis. This is possible, you think to yourself, picturing your grinning face in a selfie shot on Henry’s Fork the Blackfoot with a 21-inch Rainbow caught from behind a jutting boulder 45 feet from where you now stand, a real ringer for Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It.

While Vinnie can, seemingly without effort, rear back, haul some line, rotate his upper body and shoot out 60 feet with the same rod you just wrenched your back and dislocated your shoulder while getting that 30 feet out onto the grass, he does not teach by showing how smooth and graceful his technique is. “I don’t think that’s the best way to teach: by showing off how good you are through a demonstration,” he says. “I think it’s a much better way to learn if I watch everything you do and correct it one-on-one right there without a rod in my hand. If I have a rod in my hand and show you, then you’re watching me, you’re not learning for yourself. Too many instructors show; they don’t teach.”

As an instructor for many of the joint DEM/TU clinics held in-state for newcomers to the sport, Vinnie has time and time again quietly shown the effectiveness of this approach. TU member Ron Wilson tells a story of how Vinnie spent three straight hours with a novice female fisher-person on the Narrow River at one such clinic designed to introduce people to fishing for Striped bass. “He never even picked up a rod,” Ron recalls. “The rest of us are out there trying to show people how to reach the fish by trying to reach the fish while Vinnie was over there by the bridge just watching her motions and making suggestions the whole time. By the end of the day, he had her casting as well as the rest of the instructors.”

Watching Vinnie play a fly rod like a concert master pulling dulcet notes out of a Stradivarius, one might think he was born with an Orvis Helios 3 in his hand. But that was not the case, he says. As many fly-fishers do, he began his angling life as a spin fisherman. He wasn’t a particularly effective one, at that. One Spring day in 1996, however, he had a spin fishing breakthrough that eventually led to his fly-fishing breakthrough, a pre-epiphany of sorts.

“I was down by the fishing hole called Cut Tree on the Wood River, and I wasn’t catching fish, but this other guy was. He came over and showed me what he was using – a Rapala, with a deep lip to get down deeper into the high water where the fish were. He showed me how to let the current deliver the lure to the fish and how to twitch it, and then let it drift up to get the fishes’ attention.”

He went back the next week with a Phoebe (a metal lure) and there were a few people on the bank casually watching as he caught a nice-sized trout. He brought it to hand, removed the hook from its lip, and let it go. That got their attention. “One of them said, ‘You’re not going to take that fish?’” Vinnie remembers. “I said, ‘No, that’s not why I fish.’” They went over to him and suggested if it was about the fishingand not the catchingfor him, that he might want to experience the increased degree of difficulty, and its resulting degree of satisfaction, offered by fly-fishing. He took a few swings with the more sensitive fly rod and was hooked. The three men, since-deceased members of the Wood River Fly Fishing Club – Tom Boyle,

Dave Botelho, and John Brewer – took him over to Fin and Feather in East Greenwich and he bought a 5-weight Medalist rod and a Battenkill reel. “Those are the guys that really got me started in fly-fishing.”

Soon thereafter, he joined a private fishing club at Foxwoods and began to discover how much he had to learn before he could fish anywhere and catch fish. One of the people he learned from was Bob Walsh, a local fisherman and rod-maker. “Vinnie, when he started, was, well, a terrible caster,” he remembers. “He was the worst. But he watched; he listened; and he learned. And now he is better than all of us.”

Perhaps it is the road to excellence and the internal gratification that it brings that drives Vinnie to inspire others. He represents the best tendencies of the most effective teachers in that he gets real joy out of making others as proficient as he is at his chosen craft. “The thing I enjoy the most out of fly-fishing now, is teaching others how to do it – seeing them get really good at it,” he says. This was demonstrated at a recent class at Carolina. After handing a six-year-old a rod and overseeing his loops unravel 20 feet behind him, exclaiming, “Good job, Elijah!” he moves over to a left-handed woman several decades older and encourages her to watch the line: “There you go, Joyce. Just like watching the ball in the air when you’re serving a tennis ball.”

Later, Joyce reflects on where she is with her casting abilities as opposed to where she was two short weeks ago. “I was ready to give it up,” she says. “I thought: ‘I’ll never be any good at this.’ But I did what he said and now I really feel like I can be good at this. It’s a real kick.”

Sidling by as he makes the rounds by his students, Vinnie overhears her. “See, Joyce? You can do everything I can do with a fly rod, it just takes practice.”

Right. Practice, and the right teacher, one who combines a passion for something along with an ability to clearly communicate its technique.

 

The Trout Unlimited Chapter 225-sponsored casting class taught by Vinnie Diadati is free, and open to one and all every Saturday morning at the Carolina Trout Pond from 9 to 11. You can email Jonathan Gibbs at jonathangibbs@mac.comto verify that there is lesson on any particular Saturday in case of inclement weather.