Whether it’s a friendly wager on who can drop a fly closest to a lily pad or an organized tournament, the occasional foray into competitive casting will improve a fly fisher’s skills.
That perspective comes from the master: Steve Rajeff, an avid angler who also has won the biannual World Casting Championships 13 times and the American Casting Association’s All-Around Championship for 36 consecutive years.
Losing the national competition his first two tries – when he was 16 and 17 – only spurred his enthusiasm for improvement.
Working for G.Loomis Rods in Woodland, Wash., Rajeff also enjoys unleashing his skills on everything from steelhead to permit.
“No, I wasn’t born casting,” he said, answering the first in a series of questions this week.
“Casting can be intimidating until you learn about it. Without some training or instruction, it doesn’t work.
“But a skillful instructor can get somebody well under way in a two-hour session. At that point you should be able to lay out a nice fly cast where casts don’t need to be too long and the fishing is not super difficult.
“From there, fly fishing is a lifetime sport of learning and improving.”
Even with his extraordinary skills with a one-handed rod, Rajeff also has become an expert with the Spey rod. “It’s an advanced version of roll casting that expands your range as a fly fisher,” he said.
Tournament casting also expands an angler’s range, he said.
“Sure, devoting time to tournaments means time off the river fishing, but it also is an incentive to get your hands on fishing equipment during the week when you might not have time to fish, but you have time to practice.”
Competition is Rajeff’s motivator.
“Most tournament casters are first and foremost fishermen. They hear about it from a fishing friend and give it a try. They meet friendly people. Tournament casters share information and help each other out.
“The sport is as much about pinpoint accuracy as it is about distance. So ultimately it improves your control, and often results, in catching more fish.”
Rajeff holds the American Casting Association’s single-hand distance record of 243 feet, while most sport anglers are challenged to cast 60 feet.
The rod he used is made from a custom tournament blank available from the ACA.
“I designed the rod and had it made at G.Loomis,” he said. “We trim the 10-foot blank to 9.8 or 9.9 feet. Its rating would be about 14-15; very stiff but very thin and lightweight. If you used a size 14-15 for fishing you would want a sturdier blank for tarpon. This tournament rod is made just for casting, not for landing big fish.”
Anglers can function well with less sophisticated equipment, he said. “A skillful caster can make most rod-line combos work, but as you improve you can appreciate how well a better piece of equipment performs,” he said.
“You appreciate the lightness, the componentry and how it flexes and makes a loop. You can lay it out there with any rod, but good anglers value performance and quality.”
Distance casting isn’t necessary for most anglers fishing small trout streams.
“But there are times, if you can cast an extra 10-13 feet, it will increase your success, especially for salmon and steelhead,” he said.
“If you cast a little farther when fishing a lake, you get a longer retrieve and therefore you cover more water. Saltwater anglers definitely benefit when they can lengthen their cast.”
At 54, Rajeff qualifies for tournament casting master divisions, although he’s still competing and dominating in the open divisions.
“That’s one of the beauties of the sports of tournament casting – and fly fishing as well,” he said. “Excelling is more a matter of hand-eye coordination. If a person can maintain quickness and sharpness, he can be very competitive into his 60s.
“And fly fishing is much like golfing. In the all-around game, technique is more important the pure strength.”
• Cast-Off 2011, with free casting instruction, fishing seminars and a national fly-casting competition qualifier, is set for June 11 in West Glacier, Mont.
Info: (800) 235-6781, glacierraftco.com/