Two-fisted boost sends fly winging



July 14, 2002|By CANDUS THOMSON

"Wait," shouts the white-haired man standing behind me.

"I am waiting," is my reply.

"Not long enough," says the kilted one, leaning over my shoulder.

Apparently not.

Knee-deep in the Patapsco River, I watch my fly line spell out my name in flowing script as it wiggles behind my head.

Not the greatest one-handed fly angler in the best of circumstances, I am a flop with a capital "F" when it comes to handling one of Philip Krista's classic two-handed Spey rods.

Luckily, the only witnesses besides Krista are a blue heron and a 2-inch shad. The bird doesn't seem the blabby type, and in a matter of moments the shad becomes the heron's lunch.

My clumsiness doesn't stop me from having fun with the 15-foot, 3-inch forest-green rod that, in my hands, behaves like a soccer hooligan, but in Krista's has the smooth manners of an English butler.

Krista is a master instructor, a man of great patience who delights in teaching folks the graceful art of casting. But he's also the ambassador for the Spey rod, invented out of necessity by Scottish fishermen in the 1800s who needed to throw a lot of line - often into a stiff breeze - more than half a football field to catch huge salmon swimming in the Spey River.

I'd settle for 50 straight feet in no wind and a shot at the smallmouth bass lurking behind the blow-down on the opposite bank. Still, it's pretty cool to pick up and cast that much line, even if I'm not sure where it's going to land.

The Spey gear, Krista explains, allows an angler to cover more water, systematically, and with less effort. The rod construction - soft near the grip and progressively stiffer to the tip - means the line loads and explodes with less muscle. Indeed, I am surprised at how little oomph it takes to get the entire shootin' match airborne.

"It's a struggle to get 70 feet with a one-handed rod," Krista says as I practice. "But 70 feet is a close-in shot with this rod, and 90 to 100 feet is typical."

Krista demonstrates, making the fly line dance the way a cowboy does rope tricks with a lasso. It's all about patience and control, he says, as he points for me to try again.

So this time, I wait. And wait. And wait some more as the fly line arcs over my right shoulder. I'm pretty sure that the fly has crossed into Montgomery County before I redirect its flight back toward Ellicott City.

"Couples have met, married and had children in the time I've been waiting," I grumble to Krista.

"What's your hurry?" he asks.

Hmmm. Good point.

The first 7 zillion casts look, as my mother would say, like shucks.

"To step up to this, you have to be ready, really ready," Krista says. "With the classic Spey rod, little mistakes become big mistakes; the rod magnifies all of them."

This is bad news for me, a caster whose mistakes are visible to the naked eye from the international space station. But I practice on, grateful to be standing in the cool water on a hot summer day.

After a half-hour, we take a break along the sandy bank, out of the blazing sun. Krista puts some historical mortar in the foundation of my Spey education.

It seems Alexander "Battan" Grant, perhaps the greatest Spey master of all time, set the standard for distance casting - 53 yards - at a demonstration in London in December 1896. He also is believed to have made an "unofficial" cast of 65 yards a year earlier.

Grant's eye-popping performances in the pre-graphite rod, pre-nylon line, pre-steel hook days were noted in a book of that era, "Game Fish Records," by Jock Scott.

In reporting on a testimonial dinner for Grant in January 1937, The Inverness Courier recounted one of his famous exhibitions in 1893: "Mr. Grant fished the Ness [River]. ... This stretch is very wide, so the Ness angler became by necessity a long-distance caster. Mr. Grant became famous for hooking salmon at hitherto unheard distances.

"At that time, certain anglers made a hobby of looking for fish in far-out lies and then bringing the word to Battan. One day, a day of high water, a local marked a fish at the `General's Well.'

"Battan was sent for and duly arrived, to find a few fishers who had tried for the fish, but failed, as well as a large body of spectators. The fish was still rising when he arrived. He was using a heavy line, strong cast, and a 2-inch 4/0 double iron.

"He had to cast downstream at an acute angle. The spectators burst into advice: `No use casting from there. You'll never reach him.' Battan commenced to cast, gradually getting out line, before he hooked and killed an 8-pound salmon.

"The distance from Mr. Grant's stance to the lie was afterward measured and verified as 47 yards. All things considered, this must be regarded as one of the most notable fly-fishing feats on record."

An inventor, mathematician and fiddle player, Grant looked for ways to improve the Spey rod by calculating the vibrations produced by the casting motion. Except for a patent or two, little is known of his work.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.