Improve Your Catching!

September 5th, 2005

Casting Sport Could Help Tackle Sales?
By Jim C. Chapralis

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, one tournament.

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 fly-casting outfits.

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 year-round activity.

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 background.

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." Whatever.

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 competition.

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

About Jim:

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

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