Isn't it wonderful there are so many ways to enjoy the art of fly fishing? There are so many kinds of fish and so many ways to fish for them that you could just fish your whole life away. And that’s just one portion of the fly fishing experience. One can tie flies, build rods, join clubs, cook fish, write books, and I don’t know what all else.
Amazingly, whether due to career obligations, physiological limitations or just plain lack of interest, there are many people who enjoy some portion of this sport yet don’t fish at all. For instance, I have friends who only tie flies and that is enough for them. I have other friends who are so consumed with the art of fly casting, that is all they do.
What ended my dreams of trips to Christmas Island was helping to make babies. It’s hard to rationalize even a cheap fishing adventure when you, your wife and your knucklehead kids are trying to pay for college. We live in Los Angeles, certainly not a fishing Mecca, but in Pasadena, a city very close, there is a wonderful fly casting club that has a casting pool. It was there that I was introduced to casting techniques and started casting to target rings. My obsessive nature clouded any clear thinking, to be sure. I was hooked and totally fine with the barb.
I had the sweetest of sticks, a 6-weight Sage XP. I knew nothing about tournament fly lines, leaders or even the rules for that matter, but I knew that a tournament was coming up and I wanted to try. It was a hideous debacle; so bad in fact that one of the real casters told me to ‘get serious and stop playing around.’ Perhaps the worst part was that I didn’t think I was playing around.
There are all kinds of games at these tournaments. I am most interested in the three that emphasize accuracy, as these greatly improve the kind of fishing that I love. For these games, there are five floating, double-ring targets set in a Christmas tree pattern with the closest target placed around 20 feet from the casting box, and the farthest target set at about 50 feet. Each game is a timed event; there’s a casting judge, a scorekeeper and a second judge that watches for ticks. A contestant is given 100 points and it’s all downhill from there. Each target has an outer and an inner ring; if you land your fly inside the 18” inner ring, no points are deducted and it’s called a ‘perfect’. If you land it between the inner and the outer ring, one point is deducted. If the fly lands outside both rings, it costs you two points. If you tick the water while false casting it costs you a point. If any of this makes you cuss out loud, that costs you a point as well. And don’t forget, you’re on the clock!
As another example, here are some of the rules for a game called “Trout Fly”. In this game, you are given six minutes to complete three rounds of Christmas tree Hell. The first round is unlimited false casting to the five targets; the second round, the caster gets only one false cast between each target; the third round is the roll cast round. If you don’t finish in the six-minute time limit, surprise: you are penalized two points per target that you didn't finish. I still read the rules before every tournament.
You can use just about any fly line that you want. There is a maximum diameter restriction, but custom-designed lines are available through the American Casting Association. I clean mine after every other session. There are official ‘flies’ that are also available at that same website; you can't use just any old piece of yarn for a fly!
Regarding reels, my preference is that lighter is better. Reason being, a reel’s weight affects the balance of the system. I personally like the balance further up the rod, above my thumb, so I can feel load even in a resting position. The lighter the reel, the higher on the rod the balance point moves.
I think that just about all tournament casters tie their own leaders. Of course, there are rules regarding total length of leader and tippet as well as the tippet diameter. These limits are checked and the tippet diameter is measured with a micrometer before you can compete. The idea for these leaders is turnover, not delicate presentation; this is not fishing, this is casting. I use leader formulas developed and published by Steve Rajeff.
When I started this tournament thing, I was in love with a 6-weight Sage XP. It loaded and unloaded so smoothly, I didn’t want anything else. But, staying in touch with that load while attempting close targets was sometimes an adventure. With lots and lots of practice I learned to make it work. Then, some way better casters than myself convinced me to change to a slower rod. So, I switched to a much slower rod that I already owned, a 6-weight Sage DS2. It was wonderful feeling it load all the way to my hand, but even with lots and lots of practice, the adventure came when I moved to the far targets; I had to be perfect to hit targets beyond 40 feet. I was not a very good caster then and six years into this, I still have a long way to go. But the search for the perfect rod had begun.
I tried all the others, even an old fiberglass rod. Then I read that Sage was making a rod they said dampened lateral distortion, was a little slower than most modern rods and it weighed virtually nothing. Since I practice two hours at a time and three days a week, this old man needed a lightweight stick. In addition, one of my good friends suggested that perhaps I should choose a rod that was closer to the action of rods that I fish. This is in keeping with the idea that tournament casting would improve my fishing. Truly, that was the last piece of the puzzle: I set my sights on the Sage MOD.
I got my hands on the 6-weight in late 2016 and for months learned the rod and applied it to the games I play. I found if I took most of the power out of my cast and let the rod do its thing, it truly was dampening my miscues. After seven months of obsessive practice, something must get better, don't you think? And so, in the next tournament I improved greatly. This summer I took gold in the senior division in three accuracy games at the American Casting Association’s national tournament.
Now the knuckleheads are out of school and gone, and I can fish a little more. Christmas Island is back on the list but so too is the continued investigation of tournament casting. I know that occasionally I will do well. More often it will crush my expectations and humble me, but this world could use a little more humility don’t you think?
Michael Miller is a retired advertising photographer and life-long outdoorsman. He is 70 years old with an amazing wife and two adult children who are not, nor ever were knuckleheads.