When I was at the Federation of Fly Fishers Florida Council Conclave a couple of weeks ago in Celebration, Fla., I was surrounded by many excellent fly casters.
As I watched them send fly lines out 100 feet or more, I began thinking about the difference between fly casting and fly fishing. Obviously, they are not one in the same.
There are some excellent casters who can perform magic with fly lines, throwing tight loops and putting the fly wherever it needs to be. There are some anglers, however, who struggle to cast 25 feet.
If length was the measuring stick for angling success, then the person who casts the farthest would be the best angler. But there's no real correlation between length of cast and angling success. They can complement each other, but it's not necessarily so.
Back in my early days of fly fishing, I spent a day with my mentor, the late Addison Gilbert, a retired Sarasota County educator who began fly fishing in the 1940s in Florida. He often was target of laughter as he used the long wand to cast at tarpon and other marine species.
"Ain't no rainbow trout in Sarasota Bay," someone inevitably would say.
Gilbert ran the skiff as we looked for tripletail around markers in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. It was my first attempt to nab tripletail on fly. Turned out to be a great day as I landed five trips to 20 pounds.
I wrote a story on the outing. After reading it, two anglers, one of whom was considered a "world-class caster," contacted Gilbert and talked him into taking them out for a bout with tripletail. A couple of days later, I asked Gilbert how they did.
He laughed, started shaking his head and said, "It made me feel good to watch one of the best casters around lasso himself time after time with fly line."
How in the world could anyone do that? How could he wrap the line around himself?
"He couldn't handle the pressure," said Gilbert. "The pressure of casting for distance at a show or in a clinic was home for him. But casting for a big fish was not.
I've seen that happen to a number of fly casters over the years. When the pressure to put a fly in front on a big bonefish, snook or redfish is great, they wilt like spinach in a pot of boiling water.
It's just the opposite with me. I wouldn't stand at the casting pond at a fly fishing conclave and cast in front of the experts. I probably wouldn't do all that badly, but that's not my cup of tea. However, I'd gladly cast to a tarpon or other big fish in front of anyone.
I spent a day in Miami-Dade County fishing with Marty Arostegui, arguably the world's most successful fly angler. Arostegui, a Cuban immigrant, was looking for world-record oscars. He took a break from his world-record quest when he spotted a decent peacock bass along the shoreline. He cast to the fish, let it sink and then began stripping it back. The fly hadn't moved 18 inches when the 4-pound peacock charged and inhaled it.
After landing the fish, Arostequi looked at me, handed me the fly rod and said, "Now it's your turn."
No big deal.
It was like Babe Ruth handing you the bat after socking a monstrous home run and asking you to duplicate the feat.
I cast to a peacock bass and caught it.
Style and grace are appropriate words to describe fly casting. There is inherent beauty within the endeavor. It's not difficult to watch a great fly caster. You often find yourself mesmerized by the rhythmic ebb and flo of the fly line.
Not all casters are like that, though. Some are difficult to watch.
That reminds me of the time that I played golf at a mountain-top course in West Virginia. I was paired up with an older gent whose swing in no way resembled any good swing I'd ever seen. His legs weren't involved in the process as he did it all with his arms. The swing was on three different planes -- at the same time.
But somehow he was able to put it all together when he had to. When the club head met the ball, it was square. And the tiny white orb would land 250 yards right down the middle of the fairway. He wasn't overly long, but he was accurate.
He was also greedy. He took me for $50.
A few years ago, I was fishing with a fellow who I figured didn't know the tip from the handle of a fly rod. His loops were wide and his accuracy lacking. But he was somehow able to put the fly where it needed to be when he had to. Asking him to cast 100 feet to a tailing bonefish was out of the question. But if he was within 70 feet, most fish didn't have a chance.
There's a myth that fly fishing is only for the rich. I disprove that theory. Still, that myth is perpetuated by some of the snoots that call themselves fly anglers. However, fly fishing is for anyone who has the desire. And it doesn't have to cost an arm and leg.
Temple Fork Outfitters has done a lot to help the sport. TFO puts out very reasonable priced rods and reels. And they're not junk.
An acquaintance told me that he knew why I use TFO equipment.
"Because you're sponsored by TFO and you get the stuff for free," he said.
I am sponsored by TFO, but I don't get the product for free. I get a decent professional discount, but that's all.
But let me tell you this: Even if TFO gave me everything, I wouldn't use the rods or reels if I didn't like them.
I'm proud to be associated with TFO and I like their equipment. And I like that TFO has taken fly fishing out of the mansion and put it within reach of anyone.
TFO got the picture a few years back and it has paid off. More folks are beginning to understand that it's more than looks these days.
It's how you perform when the pressure's on.
And money ain't going to buy you that.