If you’d told me a little over a month ago I would be competing in the world championships of spey casting, I would have busted out in hysterical laughter. Not that my casting hasn’t come a long way since I began wielding the mighty spey rod a little less than two years ago, but I just never imagined that it would be something I would do. I’ve always had it in my mind that bringing competition to fishing wouldn’t enrich my fishing experience at all.
Well, a month ago, I competed in the world championships of spey casting. I was at the Spey-O-Rama event with Gino Bernero and Dax Messett, my fellow guides at Confluence Outfitters, and we were promoting SpeyCamp. (SpeyCamp is an epic four day camping/fishing/instructional experience on the Klamath river. My favorite river in CA and such a mind blowing experience. Click here to learn more.)
Another guide pal of mine, Travis Johnson (a world champion spey caster), started giving me a hard time for not competing. In fact, at the encouragement of Travis, the entire Gael Force team started egging me on to complete. After all, there were only two other women competing this year. The worst that could happen is I would get third place. Never mind that I’d never practiced casting with my left hand, had very limited experience with long bellied lines, and had never even touched a 15′ #10 spey rod. Well, never one to shy away from something new and challenging, I decided I was in. Bring me some gear to use, give me some instruction, and I’ll do it!
I now had two days to learn how to cast these set ups. Originally, we decided on a 50 foot line, since I could still do double spey and cack-handed casts so I would not have to cast with my left hand. According to the rules, any line over 55 feet required the traditional right and left handed casts (snake rolls and single spey). Martin Kiely from the Irish team, graciously allowed me to borrow a rod he had built himself. Before it had actually hit me that I was in fact doing this, I was wadered up and beginning a two day journey I won’t soon forget.
The first thing I noticed was how heavy the set up was. The muscles all over my body told me so the next day. Unlike rods I typically fish with, competition casting technique uses your whole body and quite a bit of strength. But by the second day, I was starting to get the hang of it. I decided that I would still do the left handed casting. Snake rolls have always been a favorite cast of mine while fishing, and these were the first of the two casts that I began to really jam out there.
But the timing, rotation and arm elevation on my single speys were still vexing me, both right handed and left handed. I just couldn’t quite get it. And then after lots of instruction and help, I finally started to connect the dots. I went home that evening with sore, limp arms, but I felt much more optimistic about competing than I had the previous day.
Practicing in the competition pond with the targets was an entirely foreign environment. Put me on a river, and I know where I want to cast, and how to mend my line. Put me in a pond with still water and targets and well… let the confusion ensue. Time in the actual competition pond was limited, so I did my best to pull it together and dial in a program has quickly as possible. Start with the left handed single spey, then the right hand single spey, followed by the left handed snake roll, and finish with my favorite cast a right handed snake roll; then repeat twice.
Before I knew it, it was competition time. Kara, Donna and myself lined up to measure our comp rods, leaders and collect our special yarn fly. Just minutes before I was to compete I was hit with a bit of a shock; the rod I had practiced with for the entirety of my competition casting practice was too long by about a half an inch. I couldn’t use it for the competition.
Kara and Donna both offered to lend me one of their spares. I quickly attached my reel to one of Kara’s Pieroway rods, and gave it a few roll casts. It was stiffer than my trusty practice rod (as Kara uses a 70 foot line thus it would need to be stiffer to load a longer line), but it would have to do, I was up.
The last minute rod change had shaken me up a bit, but as I waded out to the casting platform, I calmed my nerves. Years of competitive swimming at a high level in combination with years of classical ballet performance seemed to have mentally prepared me. The next 12 casts were methodically made, even though they weren’t my best. My short line just wouldn’t load the rod enough. And two days just wasn’t enough preparation. However, the experience was exhilarating. Although I was disappointed with my performance, I left the pond with a smile on my face and determination to come back next year with more practice under my belt and a properly balanced set up.
Competitors from around the world came to compete, and the best part of this experience was the wonderful friends I made along the way. Thank you to everyone who helped get me into the competition and support me along the way!!!