Some of North America's finest casters congregated at
Cabela's, at Dundee, MI., August 1 to 7, 2005 to compete
for a number of casting championships in both accuracy
and distance. Sponsored by the American Casting Association
(ACA), this was the 97th Annual Tournament, but casting
competitions can be traced to the mid-1800s.
BACKGROUND: At one time, the tournament casters
and the fly-fishing companies enjoyed a close relationship,
and, as a matter of fact, some of the owners/presidents
of numerous prestigious fly tackle companies competed in
these tournaments and provided the impetus, energy and
publicity for these contests. This even included a
world-casting tournament at the Columbia Exposition in
Chicago in 1893. Some of the famous names of cane fly-rod
makers who competed in casting tournaments included Hawes,
Leonard, Hardy, Winston, Heddon, Mills, Hewitt and Shakespeare.
Through the years, this mixture of tournament casting
and tackle manufacturers proved to be of tremendous
mutual value to the development of tackle, the evolution
of fly-casting methods and the casting fraternity. Marvin
Hedge first demonstrated the double-haul in 1934 at a
tournament. The shooting heads evolved from tournament
casters. Jimmy Green and Phil Miravalle introduced the
monofilament running line. Green also invented the
tip-over-butt ferrule system used on almost all fly
rods today. Tournament caster Myron Gregory introduced
the current fly-line calibration system. Other casters
helped to develop rod and fly line tapers, introduced
different rod blank materials, and in general contributed
heavily to today's fly-casting tackle and technique.
Tournament casting flourished decade by decade, so that
by 1950 many cities had elaborate casting clubs. In Chicago,
for example, there were eight casting clubs. I know this
is true because as a youngster, I would take a streetcar
to the different park casting clubs every Sunday to compete.
Not only were there custom-designed casting platforms at
various park ponds, but many casting clubs had their own
clubhouses, with fly-tying tables, lockers, workshops,
kitchens and rest rooms.
A Chicago Tribune article (circa 1948) said that the
indoor casting tournament (plug and fly) would be limited
to 850 participants during the eight-day sport show,
because the previous year drew 950 contestants and
that many was unmanageable! We're talking one city,
Casting club platforms were crowded with activity in
those days. People flocked there to learn to cast, or
to test new equipment before a fishing trip. Others
tinkered with tackle or casting methods. Everyone was
having fun. It was a great era for casting clubs. It
was good for tackle sales. Everyone obviously had to
buy tackle to cast. Usually a participant started out
with perhaps a single, plug-casting outfit, eventually
ended up with numerous rods and reels, including several
While many participated in actual competition, others
merely loved the art of casting—whether plug or fly—and
enjoyed casting for what it was (and what it is today):
A healthy outdoor activity. Some enjoyed the sport of
casting even more than fishing and considered casting
an independent activity. Several champion casters never
fished! Casting was so popular in the "Golden Years"
(as casting historian, Cliff Netherton described it)
that many clubs in the northern climes offered casting
during the winter months in school gyms. It became a
And then something happened. I don't know what it was
exactly, but the relationship between casters and tackle
companies widened. My guess is that the casters and the
tackle companies, for whatever reasons, didn't think
they needed each other anymore. It was not a messy
divorce, by any means, just two parties going in
different directions. Hence, casting clubs were reduced
to a precious few, and surely the tackle sales that were
created by casting clubs and casters diminished. That's
THE HOPE: I believe that the sport of casting and
the tackle industry would do well to consider an informal
reconciliation: If not an actual marriage, at least a
cooperative understanding. It would help the sport of
casting immensely, which it turn, would boost tackle sales.
Now at first one might giggle at how the casting
sport could help tackle sales because of two
significant reasons: (1) the casters don't have
the "numbers" and (2) casters tend to use
specialized equipment that isn't available even
in the best-equipped tackle stores.
So how could the casting sport increase sales?
Let me address the specialized equipment issue first.
True, we are not going to find gear used for distance
events (e.g., single-hand distance fly and two-hand
distance fly,), but we could easily find tackle at
most fly shops for the three fly accuracy events (Dry
Fly, Trout Fly and Bass Bug) and probably for the
Anglers Distance Fly, which emulates steelhead tackle.
The three accuracy events closely resemble, if not
mirror, most angling applications.
As we all know, years ago, many people were attracted
to fly fishing because of A River Runs Through It
movie. "Boy that looks so graceful, so beautiful," many
said. They went out and bought fly-fishing tackle. They
took a lesson or two. But then they didn't practice, and
lessons soon evaporated into a blurred memory, and the
fly rod sat in an attic or a closet or was sold at a
garage sale. I have several relatives who did exactly
that. I have friends that took up fly fishing but because
they didn't practice after the initial lesson or two,
brought their fly rods on fishing trips, but never
assembled them and used a casting or spinning rod
instead. "It's too windy," they offered as an excuse.
Or, "I'm not good enough to use it in a boat with others."
Of course, the "River" movie is long gone; however,
people are still attracted to fly fishing for its
intrinsic values, but for similar reasons, many lose
interest and do not advance to the next step in fly
fishing. One fly shop told me that they sold fly-fishing
outfits and/or gave fly-casting lessons to about 500
new customers in one year. Good start? You bet!
Unfortunately, most did not practice and soon lost
interest. Expected future sales obviously didn't
materialize. Opportunity lost.
On the other hand, if the casters, with the help of
the fly tackle industry, encouraged novices to practice
their casting, they would become more proficient and buy
more tackle. I know. I graduated from panfish, to bass,
to bigger freshwater species to light saltwater to
finally billfishing on a fly. Result? Probably 40 fly
rods. But it started when I was a kid and bought my
first rod with pennies from a newspaper delivery route.
I strongly believe there is a wide open market, for
casting and fly fishing, just waiting to be tapped.
While it's nice to have a beautiful casting setup
like Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club in San
Francisco, the remarkable advantage of casting is
that one only needs to have a lawn, an athletic
field, a gym or any open space to practice casting.
There is nothing more boring than to practice
accuracy casting on a lawn. Zzzz! But add some
Hula Hoops for targets, provide a series of games
or events and it suddenly becomes interesting. It
becomes even more interesting when one practices
with friends or family members who strive to improve. . .
like in golf, tennis, bowling, or most activities.
But that's just the start of things. The sport of
casting surely would be of interest to most fly-fishing
clubs. Fly-casting competition could be a major
attraction at sport shows, and just about every
city has at least one sport show. Look at the
increased popularity of the 5 wt. Distance Fly
at the ISE shows. And for every person interested
in distance casting, there must be at least 20 times
more people interested in accuracy casting.
Let's go further. I think the industry and the
casting fraternities are missing a tremendous
potential, in that casting is not actively being
introduced in schools and colleges. Not everyone
has the athletic ability to compete in baseball,
football or any of the major sports. But fly casting?
You bet. One of the all-time great tournament casters,
Zack Willson, 73, and his scores in tournaments are
among the best: just a notch below Steve Rajeff and
a couple more. Besides distance casting, he is one
of our most accurate fly casters. The amazing thing
is that he is blind in one eye!
In some of the East European countries, casting
is very important in high schools. Competitions
are often held in school gymnasiums and are treated
like, say, basketball games in this country. Some
even have cheerleaders, cheering the young casters
on. Henry Mittel, who tied Steve Rajeff for the ACA
All-Round Casting Championship last year, became
interested in casting while in school in his native
Germany. He immigrated to the United States as a
young man, and today he is one our best casters. But
his immense interest in casting started in school
There are many, many other ways on how the casting
sport and tackle industry could help another.
Exploratory talks would be a good start.
I think the opportunity is there. ~ Jim C. Chapralis
Jim Chapralis is a world traveler, a pioneer in the international fishing
travel business, and author, most recently of Fishing Passion,
reviewed in our Book Review section. He is an avid angler - and caster.
You can reach Jim via his website