Steve Rajeff was 10 the first time he used his fly rod on real fish. Trout were rising all over the Truckee River and he got so excited he forgot everything he had learned. At San Antonio he forgot nothing. He scored 99 points in the dry-fly accuracy event, but Farley, hoping for a miracle, had scored a perfect 100. And now it was Schneider's turn. Accuracy targets consist of 30-inch rings set inside 54-inch rings, at five varying distances, and on his second cast Schneider missed both rings and lost two points, which dropped him down to 98. Suddenly dispirited, he hurried his remaining casts and scored a 92.
Rajeff was all but in. He won the next three events, two with a plug, and then the trout-fly accuracy, tying his national record in the latter with a perfect 100. Everyone stopped to watch during that one. The Hemisfair monorail train screeched by above his head but he didn't flinch, and one spectator said, "He just seems nerveless. Nothing bothers him."
But Rajeff was used to even greater pressures. His favorite fishing is for big rainbow trout with a dry fly, and one day last June he was in northern California's Lassen County, wading a creek which he will not name. He was using the same outfit he scored the 100 with in the trout-fly accuracy event, and he saw a good fish feeding 50 feet away. It was in a little pocket in the tules, a foot wide and two feet deep. It was dead calm in the pocket, with fast water just outside, and Rajeff dropped the fly in there as gently as a shadow. He mended the line so the current wouldn't yank it out; the fish hit, and during a 10-minute fight it took 30 feet of backing from his reel. It was a three-pound rainbow, which Rajeff landed and released. And that is coolness under pressure.
There were two more events at San Antonio—bass-bug accuracy, in which Rajeff took a fourth (he loves to bug for bass in California's Berryessa Reservoir), and ?-ounce plug accuracy. He also tied for fourth in that. Terry Schneider won it, but Steve Rajeff was national champion again.
That night there was a party for the casters at a local brewery. The tickets noted that no one under 21 would be admitted. No exceptions. But they made exceptions, and Rajeff all but wore a trench from his seat to the MC's microphone. He collected an armload of trophies and plaques, and someone called him the Mark Spitz of casting.
Next morning Rajeff flew home to prepare for the world championships and for his senior year at San Francisco's Lowell High School, where he has a B-plus average. He plays trumpet in the school's symphony band, and he thinks he wants to be a dentist. Those are things that people understand. Not like fishing for grasshoppers.