Hardly an hour before dusk, we found ourselves sliding into our waders next to the turquoise ponds of the Golden Gates Angling and Casting Club; silently wondering where this past year had gone. It was just one year ago when I had stepped into these iconic ponds for the first time, and I was just as nervous this time as I was last. We were fresh off the plane with just moments of daylight left before stepping in for the first time this year. The harshness of winter had kept both still and moving waters frozen well into the second week of April, mitigating any practice time I so desperately needed.
I entered the ponds this year with a different feeling than last. This year I was under practiced, my left side needed some major attention, and my mind was lost to the dwindling confidence I had in myself. I masked my attenuating fear of disappointment with spurious excitement and philosophies surrounding the power of positive thinking. As the week leading up to the qualifiers progressed, the ponds started to fill with competitors from across multiple countries and continents, bringing gifts of tactile gratuities and alcohol.
Last year, with just days before the competition I had apprehensively switched my rod, a CND ISpey which I had been practicing with all year for a Bruce and Walker Norway Tournament Caster with an 11 wt tip. I had succumbed to the well-intentioned pressures of 'do it my way' and 'you'll cast better this way' advices that my cast had completely changed, psychologically requiring me to find a new rod just 48 hours before I competed. This fall my new rod arrived, which was a customized Bruce and Walker Norway Tournament caster with an 11wt tip. However with little time to try and dial the rod in with my previous line, I was given the opportunity to test drive a prototype line from a friend. I was excited to try and compete with something new, but my cast was still off; I was rushing my forward stroke, there was too much top hand, not enough bottom hand, I wasn't lifting, I was pushing and I was simply doing everything off tempo. Four days I struggled in the ponds, practicing from first light to last light. There were no obligatory tourist trips to break up practice hours; only midday naps to escape the heat and customary dinner breaks at Mexican restaurants with the best Yelp reviews. Once again, 48 hours before I competed, a friend suggested I try his old comp rod, which was essentially the same as mine- a Bruce and Walker Norway Tournament Caster, but with a lighter tip. That was the change I needed. I put my old Gaelforce line back on, cut a new one and that was all the difference. I'm starting to wonder if this is my thing now though; I suppose next year will tell if 48 hours before I compete, I need an entirely new set up.
I was still a mix of emotions, frustrated and anxious about a looming disappointment all held together with a smile of forced zeal. It's a hard feeling to transcribe; this competition is more than just competing against someone-it is more so the intrinsic desire to better oneself; to better our scores from last, to better our technique from yesterday and to better ourselves as casters. This is a competition against no one more than ourselves. Over the next 48 hours I could hear the whispers behind me of 'slow down', 'lift high', 'drift high' from some other competitors who took the time from their own practice to help me find my pace again. Come competition day, I was feeling confident in my right single, and my right snake, but my left still struggled. I could feel my nerves surfacing through my trembling hands and my shallow breath. One of the official fly tenders asked me to tie a simple loop knot to attach the fly, and it was then when I realized just how violently my hands were shaking; I couldn't even hold the line properly. It was a loop knot; a knot I've tied millions of times, and suddenly I couldn't. Thankfully my partner, Will was behind me and noticed me struggling to hold the line between my fingers, and took over. I didn't know what to expect walking into the centre of the pond, but much like last year, I could feel myself slow down as I was wading through the thigh high water. Calmness flooded throughout my body, my hands stopped shaking, and I could feel my breath naturally take over. I started with a right single, and rushed it; not a great start. I was scared to even attempt my left single, let alone my left snake but somehow everything just aligned and I hit my left snake perfectly with 132 feet of vera-vis and coated dachron uncoiling off the top of the water. A rush of endorphins pushed past the fear of failure and the fear of disappointment I had been wearing all week. I decided to do a right snake next, and same thing happened, everything aligned and all I could hear was the announcer over the loudspeaker calling "right snake, 1-4-8." If I had any fear left in my body, it had left with that cast. I could hear the plaudits from the audience behind me and I couldn't help but let out a little cry of excitement. It was an overwhelming moment of complete exaltation; short-lived by the announcer calling " correction, 1-2-8." Not nearly as exciting. Ironically the cast that I had been worried about all week turned out to be my best cast, and the cast that I was relying on with pure confidence turned out to be one of my poorest. What I learned however, was to not overcompensate for my faults as that in turn became a new fault.
I came into this year with three goals, to land 4th place or better, to increase my score and to score all four casts. I ended up in 4th and increased my total score by 70 feet and managed to score all four casts. Did I want to better than I did- of course, but I am content. Next year my goals will be the same, moving my placement up but I also might add to have a little more fun as well; not that I didn't have fun in the slightest, but I was mentally unprepared this year for the swings of elevated emotions between the fear of failing myself to physical attributes of stress consuming my psyche.
Slideshow from Spey -o- Rama 2018:
This competition is the hardest Spey casting event in the world, with six minutes and three chances at four casts. You are humbled by the winds or lack of winds from mother nature, by the audience filling the grassy knoll, edging the pond with cameras and competitors from across the world watching your technique. However, it is also quite a wonderful phenomena. All of us casters are anglers, some even non-anglers, some of us work, some of us are retired, some of us are just fly fishing junkies living the guide life or managing fly shops, some don't share the same language, some of us are from the same country and some of us couldn't be further politically, fiscally or geographically; yet we all share one commonality- who can cast the piece of fuzz the furthest. Travis Johnson said it best that, "we are people with clearly too much time on our hands," but that is what makes this competition so emotionally voltaic. Until next year, you will find us all in different countries spread across our world, passing up fishing opportunities, dedicating hours upon hours to see just how far we can cast a little piece of antron yarn.
"Skagit Casting Sucks"