This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

May 26th, 2003

More to Learn?

The sports world was focused and occupied this past week with the emergence of a woman golfer playing on the men's circuit. It's not a first, Babe Didrikson Zaharias was the first women to play in the men's league. She was an outstanding athelete, the likes of which we are not likely to see again. Quoting Larry Schwartz in a Special to about the athletes of the century,
"The first to prove a girl could be a stud athlete, Babe Didrikson began as a muscular phenom who mastered many sports and ended as a brilliant golfer. An exuberant tomboy whose life was athletics, she was accomplished in just about every sport - basketball, track, golf, baseball, tennis, swimming, diving, boxing, volleyball, handball, bowling, billiards, skating and cycling. When asked if there was anything she didn't play, she said, "Yeah, dolls." As a teenager she knew her life's ambition. "My goal was to be the greatest athlete who ever lived," she said. "

She may indeed have been just that - I can't think of any men who were as accomplished in as many sports as she was. Her talent and drive were certainly uncommon for any era. Her life was cut short by cancer and she died at age 45, in 1955.

Annika Sorenstam did not make the cut to continue in the Colonial Tournament, a men's PGA event, but it was nice to see a woman do well in a man's world. Obviously for Annika, competition matters.

I've encouraged folks to get involved in some competition too, one which I think requires learning a lot about casting. I'm talking about casting competitions of course, either distance or accuracy. It is a different ball game than fishing - but I believe it enhances the fishing experience. We've had casting competitions as part of some of the FAOL Fish-Ins - and even resorted to exchanging raffle tickets for entries in those competitions to drag folks into it. These have been casting competitions run by American Casting Association rules. Those who do enter usually discover they don't know as much about casting as they thought - and many do much better than they expected.

Sometime when you have a buddy or two around, see if you can get a little friendly 'shoot-out' going. Measure out a distance and see who can cast the farthest. Once a distance is established, put a paper plate at that distance and see if the same people can hit the paper plate. Have anyone left? Now put a $5 bill on the plate and challenge them to hit it again - they get to keep the five bucks if they do. (If that seems like too little money, make it a $20.) You will discover that casting under pressure - even self-imposed - will cause all sorts of reactions. Some of the reactions are mental - but the tightening up of the muscles is a physical reaction which occurs in everyone under stress. And believe me, that little muscle tightening can cause a person to perform poorly.

The other side of the coin is, if you can perform under stress/pressure in a casting competition, you are not going to have problems freezing up with a big fish. Or casting to a fish you know is a record breaker. It's not a fool-proof guarantee, I've seen some of the 'big-boys' tear their shorts in a effort to beat a competitor and forget everything they knew doing it. There has to be some mind-over-matter in competition as well.

I think it was Oscar Wild in a conversation with a famous stage actress, who asked her "if she would go to bed with him for $1,000."

"Certainly not!" she exclaimed.

He retorted, "Well, how about for $1,000,000? "

When the actress didn't immediately reply, he said, "We've established what you are, now we're just haggling about price."

I'll admit it, I've set you up.

Yes, I am in favor of competition. I believe there are things about casting, line control, timing, and the action of rods to be learned by competing in casting competitions. Perhaps not the same things in accuracy and distance, but enough to really make one a better fly fisher.

Having competed in other sports, (tennis and archery), there is also a sense of self-accomplishment which isn't to be taken lightly either. Since money was not a factor in either of those sports, I can't personally say how important winning money pots is to any individual. But it does seem to me the road to the top money isn't cheap either, so the financial costs of getting to a position to be in major competition may be a trade off.

Until recently money hasn't been a big deal in any fly fishing competitions - it's been more about bragging rights, and maybe how much one could charge for guiding or personal appearances. With the upcoming OLN Fly Fishing Masters (good grief more 'Masters'?) there may be a whole lot more to debate. I can't put my finger on exactly why, but it just doesn't feel right. I don't like it.

For women in whatever sports, more power to the gals who want to play any form available. We won't see another Babe, and Annika set a high hurdle for herself - and just maybe that is what this is all about. She had won almost every LPG (Ladies Professional Golf) tournament available - and like Tiger Wood in the PGA (Professional Golf Association) maybe she had run out of competition.

If a mid-level tennis player wants to improve their game, the common knowledge is to play against someone better. It is nearly automatic, the player will raise their level of play to compete against the better player. I'm not a golfer, but I can accept the same thing working in golf.

I'm not going to surprise you a bit with this - it also works in fly fishing! Fish with a better fly fisher and you will learn things to improve your fishing! Or tie next to a better tier! Cast alongside a better caster and your casting will improve. I don't look at the results as having been in competition, it is just what happens. I wonder how many times the new fly fisher has watched someone else on the stream to see how he casts? Or where he puts the fly?

One of the significant things about fly fishing is no one person will ever know it all. So for all of us, there is a learning curve. Competition? Maybe. ~ The LadyFisher

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