September 9th, 2003

Castwell and the Wulff
By James Castwell


Each year my wife and I select what we feel are the most deserving items for 'Best of Show' at the annual gathering of the manufacturers and retailers; this last week it was in Denver, Colorado from Thursday through Saturday. Over the next few weeks we will try to bring you information about some of the things we found for all of to play with in future seasons. The art of inventing and developing new goodies is alive and well in the fly-fishing world.

But let me explain why I picked the Lee Wulff six-foot, five weight cane rod. This is the same rod we (FAOL and Wulff) gave away during the month of November of '02 on our drawing.

Many years ago we fished with Lee and Joan in Montana and also attended a large gathering with them in West Yellowstone. The picture of Lee with that rod on their page on here now is one I took at that event.

The Ladyfisher and I came both started our serious fly-fishing using cane and actually got a bit stuck on the things. An expression we often used was, "If a rod was never alive, I don't want to fish it." It is not just the feeling and warmth of a cane rod, but all that goes with it; fly-fishing with cane makes the game complete. We came kicking and screaming to graphite only in later years when Don Owens of Orvis gave her a graphite Far and Fine and Rod Towsley of Scientific Anglers gave me a System six.

Over the past years I have lamented the demise, if not the death, of what I referred to as a 'production' cane rod. Oh sure, there are a few custom makers cranking out rods in fairly large numbers, but I meant more like in the older days. I wanted to find a company producing reasonably affordable rods that did not have some quirky taper developed and improved by today's maker. The old tapers were fine.

The Lee Wulff six-foot five weight rod is such a rod. It has not been changed. This is the rod Lee wanted and used, in fact he had several. Although we gave one away in November, I had not had a chance to cast it other than that day thirty years ago. As I recalled, I , of course, liked it. I also watched Lee fish it on the Upper Yellowstone when the four of us went after Cutthroat trout.

But, this last Thursday, when the Denver show opened, I made a bee-line for the Royal Wulff booth, I wanted to cast that rod. Doug Cummings, general manager, already had a small light weight Hardy reel loaded with a Joan Wulff Signature five WF line. Off I went, the Ladyfisher in lock step, directly to the closest of the two hundred foot long casting pond areas. I stepped up onto the raised casting platform giving me a hundred feet in front and equal amount behind for my back-cast.

Holding the line under the fingers of my casting hand I shook out a few feet of line and leader. Short casts, no double-hauling, watching the loops, how the rod bends and where and how much, any vibration, any kick-back during the stroke, any extra whip of the tip after the stop, a million little things all at once. I was cataloging. I desperately wanted to let out more line but held back until I had completed my short cast observations. It passed with flying colors, I was starting to feel just a bit giddy, damn, this is fun stuff.

I let the line out until I felt where the head stops and the running line starts. Foot-by-foot I fed the eager cane stick the food it wanted and with each increase it responded without any urging or encouragement. It seemed to be enjoying the game as much as I. That is how you cast cane, you let it show you what it likes to do. If you will only listen closely, it will tell you many things. Again, I studied all the facets of performance and again it passed with the same flying colors. I started adding a bit of double-haul for line speed and loop shape. Perfect control...perfect loop shape...It cast from a full circle to a hard J wedge. Perfect.

Like the old cattle drivers would holler, "Head 'em up and let 'em out!" So I did. Forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty... No, I did not even try for more, but am sure that little powerhouse would have been happy to blow one out the end of the pond if I would have let it. By this time I was half silly with joy. Sure, I have cast other rods with great characteristics, but not in this price range and not production rods. But, this gets better.

My wife could not be restrained any longer and could tell I was having way too much fun. She looked like a kid hopping from foot to foot at a cotton-candy machine. That always works, I stepped down and gladly gave her the rod.

Now, that often draws a crowd (so does a little cane rod ripping eighty-foot loops) and this was no exception. She was at least as pleased as I, maybe even more; she was grinning like a skunk discovering a new garbage dump. One of our friends who is the designer of the rods for a very major company could not stand it any longer and joined in the fun. As he used to be the designer for a major cane company he had a great deal of knowledge at this stuff. He agreed fully, he loved it. Now, it just so happens that the very first F.F.F. Master Certified Casting Instructor is also a buddy of ours and could not help noticing my wife, me and a big tall guy having a grand old time with a little six foot cane stick and a whole lot of fly line.

He too was impressed, very impressed. We all were.

Doug and LF

So, no, this is not a product review, I have not fished it. (Like I need to? Lee fished it for years.) This is our opportunity to publicly express our sincere gratitude and appreciation. This is our way of saying to Doug and all the rest at Royal Wulff, "Well done my friends. This is a product that has been far too long absent. The fly-fishing world should welcome you with not only open arms, but wallets as well. You have done a service to our sport and for that we at FAOL not only thank you but, select the Lee Wulff six-foot, five weight Cane rod as 'Best of Show' Denver 2003. ~ James Castwell


Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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