The arrival of the casting machine was undoubtedly an historic moment. Jon Allen said that we were making history and that the 75 yards he fully expected “Rodney” to achieve would set the casting world on fire. The only problem might be in stopping it.
Viking Lars was up for it as well and said that although he had never seen a casting machine before – or heard of one for that matter – he was willing to bet that it would become one of the most exciting moments of his “England Plunder” – indeed his whole life perhaps – and should he bring his helmet?
I figured that with the arrival of the casting machine we were in for some excitement and that if traditional English songs were to be believed we would find our rods split from butt to tip and I had just the rod in mind.
“We're going to need some large pegs Paul; the casting machine fits on top the Workmate and stops with such violent force that we must secure the feet to the ground. We'll also need a large space for our operations and I think we should consider evacuating the entire area.”
“The neighbours left yesterday when they saw Viking Lars arrive.”
Every time Jon Allen visits we learn something new about flycasting and more often than not quite a lot about ourselves as well – for one thing Jon is completely mad.
Jon is a distance caster and has been travelling around the UK winning all the distance casting competitions (well nearly all of them) and so he's also a highly tuned athlete and it's a real challenge for a professional flyfishingdude such as myself to keep up with him. He's been over a few times now – for a spot of explosive in the garden distance casting – and it's becoming a regular event involving many different flyrods (we counted 9 and a half this last time) coupled with a variety of different lines, several inch-tapes, two video cameras complete with tripods (thanks Jon), one ladder and (of course) the Casting Machine – “Rodney”. It is no small undertaking.
Sometimes we have spectators, especially on one of our first meetings, when in the name of research I scaled a 10 foot high wall for a bit of serious flycasting. You won't get normal people doing this stuff – it's too far out and dangerous. Viking Lars took one look at the Casting Machine and said that although he liked nothing better than a spot of danger, he had promised to take his girlfriend Pauline on a bit of a London Plunder and as such he'd only be able to hang around for a very short while and even then at a distance of no closer than 50 yards and could he wear his helmet?
Jon said, as he was hammering down the Workmate with the crocket hoops normally reserved for curve-around-the-hoops presentation casting, “50 yards won't save you from this beast Lars; I fully expect to destroy the garden.”
The machine itself consisted of a sliding “hand” mounted to a runway (“the Slip”), which when followed to its dramatic conclusion hits a turn-over point that forces the rod to rotate and then abruptly stop. Everything was adjustable – the start and stop points, the angle of trajectory and of course the daring operator.
Jon mounted and fixed one of his rods to the machine and the line was laid out behind in a straight length. We all took up various strategic and important positions: Jon stood slightly to one side of the machine readying himself for the energetic pull, I took up the “live life to the max” forward position and Viking Lars carefully positioned himself well away from the machine, behind it and close to a flowerbed.
The whistle was blown and the air took on an unusual stillness – not peaceful exactly. Jon yanked the rope and the rod travelled along the platform, flexing as it did so, before striking the turning point, whereupon it unflexed, only to reflex as Jon accelerated the machine through the “Stop” movement.
Several interesting things happened simultaneously: Jon said, “Go baby”, I put my hands over my head and Lars dived into the flowerbed.
Recovering, Jon and I looked at each other, scratched our chins and said, “Hmm, interesting… let's try that again and without the double-movement.”
Viking Lars said: “Look guys, I can see that you are very serious flycasting dudes and it has been a genuine and lasting honour to stand here and be a part of this… thing. When I return to my distant land – which will be as soon as possible I might add – I will tell all my friends and relations about this historic day and although they won't believe me and will accuse me of making it all up, it will still be a fine, memorable story. I may even make up a death chant about it but right now I really must go to London. Goodbye.”
And with that Viking Lars left the "battle scene" and Jon and I got serious.
We experimented with trajectories, the slip, the stop and preloading of the rod. At one point Jon climbed the ladder. At another we went to the pub. The inch-tape was laid out – which is always seen as the issuing of a challenge and little marker pegs were dotted alongside – including the 55-yard peg especially prepared for Rodders.
It was an fascinating afternoon not least because we realised the importance of a cushioned stop and not merely an abrupt one. In order for the stop to be effective it was important to stick a bit of my jumper in between the machines “hand” and the end-block. This came as a surprise and wasn't part of the original Casting Machine plans. I have almost an hour of video footage to sift through – which I shall be doing this week. It should certainly reveal a few things and no doubt will quickly lend itself to the Dirty Harry series :-)
We always finish these casting days with a bit of a shoot out. The rods are lined up (nine and a half of them on this occasion) and we get 5 shots off each to make our longest casts. We compete against each other to make it interesting and give us our finely-tuned edge. I spend a lot of time practising casting but since meeting Jon, I spend less time on pure distance work and more time on loops, switch casts, presentation casts and of course the left hand. I do it like this because when I get together with Jon I know that I'm in for a day of out-and-out distance casting and so this is a better distribution of my time… and keeps me fresh of course.
Something interesting has happened in the last couple of months. I have had to alter my distance casting technique in order to keep up with Jon. I'm now casting very much like Ian Walker (and Jon) for those longest casts. Boy, am I learning something new here. Curiously the Flip-flop can occasionally outcast the full arm-extension style – it depends on the tackle and I try both with each rod. And there is always only about a yard in it but when you are up against Jon a yard is as good as a mile.
The cast of the afternoon was a 34 yard cast with a DT 5 on a cheapo (£50) eight and a half foot AFTM 5/6 weight. This cast actually went further than most of the WF casts – the air was a bit damp (there was a dew falling) and this was affecting our distance but only marginally so (the Loomis 9 ½ ft #7 with a Windcutter 5/6 Speyline, for example, went only 35 yards and apart from the shooting heads this was our longest cast of the day). Once again I'm forced to rethink my thoughts over the DT. I hardly ever use them and to pick one up at the end of the day and stick out a relatively long cast on the cheapest rod really knocks me back… again.
It's been an interesting summer for me; I've really got to work on my casting, I haven't been this switched on for years – not since I was working for Guide Flyfishing and I reckon I'm casting more now – and certainly better. This is all about to change actually and in about a month (maybe less) I'll be heading off to New Zealand for the winter. It will be good to be seriously fishing again. Casting every day, as exciting as it is – and believe me Jon's Casting Machine is exciting – is not how I want to be spending all my time; I now need to go about doing some serious fishing.
I'm going to base myself in the South Island – either base myself or stay on the road and travel about. I quite fancy buying a campervan and touring. Sleeping next to the river has an amazing appeal to me, not least since it enables me to go fishing at all hours. If I don't do this I have another plan, one which involves living next to a lake with a friend. We'll see how life pans out.
Tortugas, Carlos and Mike Conner
Two exciting Sexyloops developments occurred last week. The first was Carlos (perfect presentation caster – and easily one of the best I've seen and I've seen a lot) of Spain and the CNL asking me if I would like the Sexyloops flycasting advice translated into Spanish. Naturally I said yes, what an honour this was and will it mean me coming over next season to chase Tortugas in April?
“Yes it will Paul; bring a three weight”
“What for Tortugas?”
This all starts to happen this week, in fact it has already started (no way of stopping it) and I'll start uploading shortly.
In another development Mike Conner is about to hit Sexyloops. Mike disappeared from the board for a while and we hadn't been in touch for ages. I remember Mike's website and first came across it when I was involved with a German Tortuga Variant (yeah like that makes sense) and I enjoyed the stories then – and there's some other stuff too that we'll be telling you about when the time comes :-)
I'd just been thinking to myself that Sexyloops is ready for another regular contributor – this is how life is supposed to work of course and it's damned good when it does happen like it's supposed to, sort of makes up for all the times when it doesn't, but when that happens I figure it's because of something else I've done (you know like putting fish back at Hanningfield when I wasn't allowed to) and so it serves me right in a roundabout way. Anyway out of the Cyberspace – so to speak – Mike arrived offering to post his stories on the Bulletin Board. Synchronicity? I think so and either way Mike can write, both properly and interestingly, and so he'll be taking on the Wednesday slot. I'm really looking forward to this.
Curiously Mike's an engineer by trade - he would have been useful in the Casting Machine experiment and no doubt would have introduced steam and a couple of brass balls.
On Tuesday Viking Lars, Pauline, Sean and myself all visit Stonehenge together (Lars wants to start a fight with security by casting Plunder Loops through the stones) followed by the four of us fishing the Avon. On Wednesday I'll be in Frankfurt or nearby (Darmstad – yeah like I know it) visiting a friend, doing some flycasting stuff and living a little – or if not a little then a lot.
Note well: Flycasting Machines are not available in the Sexyloops Tackleshop and at no point did anyone shout, “Enough, enough, I'm satisfied.”