I am currently 51 years old and the sins of my past are catching up with me; no, I am not confessing any murders and I don’t think I have any skeletons in my closet but what I have is about 40 years of overhead mechanics…that have finally caught up with me. I won’t go into great detail but suffice it to say that from age 8 on I have used my right hand and shoulder in a great number of ways; I was a baseball pitcher, football quarterback, threw the discus in high school and college, started fly fishing when I was 14 years old, played and coached volleyball from age 18 to this past November. I won’t try and decipher which of these activities was the worse or hardest on my shoulder…but the combination of the group has progressively torn up my shoulder. This past January 14th (about two weeks ago) I finally pulled the plug on shoulder surgery and had it done…I wasn’t at all worried, nervous or upset about the surgery because the past few months left me with lots of pain and worse even was losing sleep at night due to the fact that I couldn’t get comfortable! The real end all for me came after Christmas while in Missouri; I had the entire stream to myself, catching fish at a high rate…and I had to quit because my shoulder was killing me, that was no good, un-acceptable and thus as soon as I got home I scheduled an appointment with the doctor I had seen a couple years before…and here I am a couple weeks post-surgery and things are starting to look up.
Timing is always important and I knew that giving up a few weeks (possibly up to 8) during this very cold portion of the winter would be acceptable…well, I didn’t want to lose any time but you have to make choices and I chose to get it done so that when I make it to Montana this summer I am good to go. Let me add a couple things to look out for; maybe you have had an MRI…I am a big person (6’2” and about 210 lbs.) and my shoulders are wide…the MRI wasn’t pleasant, at all. Never before have I ever ‘freaked out’ but about halfway through the event I had to be taken out of the tube…I did complete the MRI and they were able to detect the structural problems…but you might want to think about taking something prior to the event that will help you with the noise and other issues involved.
The surgery itself went well and I had little pain immediately after, probably because of the local block that was placed in the shoulder and its nerves…beware!!!!!! When the block wears off the pain is and will get very intense…so, the solution is to start to take some of the pain meds prior to the block wearing off. I was told the block would last from 12 to 18 hours but mine lasted over 25 hours…we all deal with these things differently. If I had it to do over again…I would have started the pain meds prior to this point…so, do yourself a favor and at about 12 hours…start with the pain meds.
This is as good a time to discuss casting technique as any. If you have poor technique you WILL increase your odds of having shoulder issues. I think my technique is good…at times these past couple years I know my technique improved because of the pain involved with my shoulder. I focused much more on keeping my right elbow in…tucked in….to my right side. Here is the golf analogy; if you golf and fly your elbow you will more than likely come over the top at impact and cause a slice. In fact my guess is that well over half of all golfers perform their swing in this very fashion. Now, while it might not cause pain (other than always having a higher score than necessary!) it will while casting. Your casting arm and specifically your lower arm needs to be an extension of your rod…and any deviation of the elbow flying away from your body is going to cause extra stress…both on your elbow and as it delivers this force upward….the shoulder! So…in golf we have players place a head cover or towel or any item under their right armpit (if they are right handed) and keep the object pinned against their right side. This promotes an inside/out swing path which is more efficient. The same can be done while casting…keep a towel under your casting arm and make sure the object stays snug….against your side. Remember a short, concise takeaway off the water with an abrupt stop directly overhead…and if you aren’t hauling then you need to be (you can watch my casting lessons and specifically the one on single hauling)…as hauling just increases line speed and ultimately will reduce the amount of effort…once again reducing the stress on your shoulder.
I am not going to go into great detail here but if you are new to fly fishing then invest in a good DVD or watch any number of videos on you-tube….or best of all, go to a pro. Just like in golf a good pro can fix a lot of problems and increase your success. The same holds true with casting…an hour lesson with a person who understands the mechanics of casting will be invaluable when push comes to shove and you need to reach out and punch your fly into a piece of water that is holding a big fish! In the end…the better your casting technique the less chance you will have of breaking down physically and I am not sure about you…but I envision myself, just like Norman Mclean, casting to ‘haunting waters’ at a very late age, to do so will require that I take good care of myself and be as efficient as possible along the way.
Best of luck to you in 2014…I know that most of us are in our ‘down-time’ whereby we are tying lots of flies, cleaning up reels, replacing line, etc…but give some thought to your health and your casting technique…maybe look forward into the year and find an Orvis or other casting class. My hope is that we are all a bit healthier which in the end will result in lots of bent rods!