September 20th, 2003
If you're reading this, you almost certainly have access to email. And if you have access to email, you have almost certainly received junk mail, AKA spam; and more specifically, junk mail advertising certain enhancements to one's manhood and performance, even if you don't actually possess anything that might actually be thus enhanced. It is a feature of modern life that is probably not going away, and to date I have never felt the need to reply to these invitations. Which makes it all the more surprising that when Paul called and invited me to a distance-casting shootout chez Arden a few days ago, I jumped at the chance. If there is one thing I do need, it seems, it is a longer cast.
And so I turned up in mid-afternoon, to find Paul and Jon and Pete and Carl - a sort of flycasting Viagra convention - messing around with an impressive collection of flyrods, and doing some fairly extraordinary things with them. There were Sage TCRs, and Loomis GLXs. The odd Scott STS was knocking about. Hardys were relatively thick on the ground. And these boys were routinely casting their attached flylines (Wulff TTs, Rio Windcutters, SA XXDs) a really long way - I have never seen so many backing knots in all my years flyfishing. A full analysis of the results would probably be tiresome, but here is the bottom line: All of them can cast well over 100 feet - that is a whole flyline, or more - regularly and predictably. They can all, on occasion, cast 114 or 115 feet given a following wind and a rod that they like. Paul outcast everyone by miles, averaging (yes, averaging) 116 feet across the rods with his longest casts with each. That is, I think you will agree, pretty impressive stuff.
Now, I'm sure our old friend Freud would have had something to say about grown men standing around in a field and seeing who has the longest cast. And that's even before he had considered the potential symbolism attached to the comparison of rods. But let us put these thoughts aside for a moment - this is after all a family website, and a Sunday article - and consider instead what it all means in practical terms. Anyone who has fished a large stillwater or a saltwater flat can immediately see why you might want to be able to cast a long way, thanks to the uncanny ability of fish generally and trout in particular to stay just far enough away from the bank that most normal human beings cannot present a fly to them. The addition of five or ten yards to one's cast suddenly makes these fish at least theoretically catchable, although I have a residual suspicion that any fish smart enough to know how far I can cast is also likely to be smart enough to ignore anything I put in front of it. But it is still nice to know that you can do it if you have to. As I discovered on one memorable occasion this year, there is a distinct thrill to be had in covering a rising fish at very long range and actually catching the bugger; and even if it was a fluke, such flukes may become rarer over time. To paraphrase Gary Player, some kind of golfer, the more you practice the luckier you are likely to get.
Why else might you want to be a good distance caster? One could look to things such as motor cars for help here - we all want to know how fast our cars will go, just as a matter of sheer curiousity (and I use the word 'we' here specifically in reference to men - see Freud again for more thoughts on why this may be so). So it seems fairly logical to be curious about how far our rods and lines will cast. This, I think, was perhaps the most interesting thing about last week's shootout for me. It turns out that if you get the technique right, the gear doesn't actually matter very much in terms of how far you can cast - Paul, Jon, Pete and Carl could all regularly cast well over 100 feet with nearly all of the rods on test, even if it was harder work with some than others. (I say nearly all, because it turns also out that you need something reasonably stiff for this sort of work - only Paul could manage it with Carl's aged and, shall we say, floppy cane thing. Sigmund must be rubbing his ghostly hands in glee somewhere).
So I think I have some good reasons for wanting to get better at this, reasons which extend beyond mere machismo. I do fish often in places where the fish are regularly out of normal range, and I do have some expensive gear whose limits I am curious about. This makes it all the more galling that when it mattered, I lost my nerve. I have written before here about performance anxiety, and once again I was stricken by it at a crucial moment; when all around me were chucking flylines into the next field, I was lucky to be making 80 feet or so. Now, 80 feet is not a bad cast, and I can do this pretty regularly without much undue effort. But another of last week's revelations was that I am actually too lazy to be a proper distance caster. There I was, thinking that I looked quite the athlete - but the video camera told a sorry tale indeed. My idea of a really big casting effort really involves nothing more than a slightly extended drift and a vaguely worried expression. What I actually need is explosive hand speed, and anyone who has known me for more than about five minutes instinctively realises that 'Sean' and 'explosive' are not words that are very often going to appear in the same sentence.
It's not all bad news. My double haul is a lot better than I thought it was; the loops are verging on sexiness (and occasionally actually achieving it); and I can at least cast in a straight line these days. I am just too bloody idle to turn these components into a really long cast, not actually too incompetent to do so. I can live with that, even if I have to come to terms with the fact that I will probably never be able to measure up to Paul and the other Big Boys. Instead, I shall content myself with catching the fish that lie within range, and consider myself lucky that at least my roll cast is looking reasonably swanky. Now, what was that email address again?