FCI Technology Special Report: Simbirski Videolyzer System
by Jason Borger

This is a "special report" on an emerging fly-casting instruction technology, and its use in the FCI. The FCI met with Canadian casting instructor Walter Simbirski in Missoula, Montana in April, 2006 to get a first-hand look at his "Simbirski Videolyzer System" (working title), a wireless video casting-analysis/teaching tool. After 30 minutes with the system, we were impressed enough to use the technology in the FCI June 2006 Clinic (thanks, Walter).

Casting instructor Walter Simbirski and the prototype of his "Videolyzer."

To put it in plain terms, the Simbirski Videolyzer System is a way to watch yourself cast in real-time from essentially any position or angle. It has four major parts: A wireless video camera, a mini-TV (for observers to see the video feed), a receiver (that the caster can wear) and a set of video googles that project the video feed. By changing the position of the camera, one can see one's self casting as if watching from that perspective. The idea is that by watching yourself cast, you can see both errors and corrections in real-time from a more revealing angle. Add an instructor to the mix and you can live audio play-by-play, or even have the instructor be visible on screen with you. It's a little weird at first, but then it gets really fascinating.

The time Tim and I spent with the device in April was really revealing. There are certain angles that work better than others (perhaps due to the somewhat drastic shift in perception), and a caster has to take a minute to get used to the fact that no matter how you turn your head, or body, the image doesn't change. Whatever the camera is feeding you is what you have to work with. Great for isolating motion, but occasionaly frustrating when you want to see more than the lens will allow. Every tool has its limitations, and this one is no different.

That said, once you get used to the perspective that the Videolyzer offers, it is a slick tool for learning about/changing your cast. Seeing what you are doing from an "out-of-body" perspective while you are actually doing it, is good stuff (at least to me). Unlike a separate video monitor showing a live feed as you cast, you are actually immersed in the vision. You don't have to look around--it's all right at your eyeballs. As you make changes in your casting stroke, they are visible immediately. And since the feed is wireless, the camera can be moved anywhere with ease. The one big caveat: Don't mess with the horizon! A camera that is even a few degrees off level can make the caster try (in vain, of course) to tilt his or her head to compensate!

In the real-world of student-based casting instruction (as opposed to self-instruction), the Videolyzer system proved to be a hit with some, and garnered a less-enthusiastic response from others. Those casters who liked the system found that the isolating, but immediate feedback helped them focus on what they really wanted to be doing with the rod. When one can see precisely what one is doing from a fresh perspective, it can make a significant difference. In addition, a number of casters found the isolation helped them cast more by feel and sound--two senses that often take a backseat to vision. The biggest complaints from casters were video quality on bright days (which can be fixed with a better camera), and the unnerving sensations that can come with unexpected camera moves or tilts. A couple of FCI participants felt off-balance while using the system. Several people also wished for a greater field of view (to see the line better, for example).

The Simbirski Videolyzer System will be an ongoing part of the FCI's technology repertoire, and we hope to have an updated system in time for the 2007 Clinic. The study and teaching of fly casting has never been as exciting as it is right now!

(top row, L to R) "Is this safe?" Sure, Tim, but why don't you go first...? Tim casting and watching his hand-tracking in real-time. Once you get the hang of the thing, you don't want to stop. (middle row, L to R) Me, after a week of travel and fishing, ready for a new experience. "Stop shaking the camera, Tim. I'm getting sick!" (bottom row, L to R) Walter demonstrating the video feed on the mini TV--perfect for others to see what you're seeing. Casting and watching myself from the classic instructor's perspective (Walter has the camera in hand in the foreground). I could have done this for hours.

Photos by Jason Borger and Dr. Tim McCue.
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