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There are a lot of myths surrounding fly-fishing and its attendant difficulties. Surely the percentage of excellent casters among fly-fishermen is lower than the same level of competence found in most other sports. Perhaps this is because the rewards are private. Put a few hundred grand on the line and no doubt some very cool hands would begin appearing at the casting tournaments.
The Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club in San Francisco is famous for having produced many great casters. I spent a lot of time there when I was younger, and while my abilities never progressed much beyond high mediocre, I did gain a very clear idea of what can and cannot be done with a fly rod. You cannot, for example, stand in the stern of a fiats skiff and cast a tarpon fly a hundred feet into the wind. No matter who you are.
Bill Schaadt has more physical ability and coordination than any fisherman I have ever known. I am often embarrassed to cast alongside him because he is so superior. Jon Tarantino, until his death last year, was considered by many to be the greatest distance flycaster who ever lived. He was the only man clearly the equal of Schaadt.
Schaadt's tackle is inexpensive and shabby. He uses one-piece fiber-glass rods fitted with rough thick handles and with guides that are crudely lashed to the rod. His equipment would shock an Abercrombie & Fitch salesman. In spite of this, everything Schaadt uses functions smoothly. There is no naivet� in its preparation or application.
Most well-known anglers have gained their fame by catching large fish, and Schaadt has caught more big steelhead and salmon than any man who ever lived. Included is a 56�-pound king salmon, the largest ever landed on a fly, but this does not seem to be the criterion by which to best judge his merit as an angler. His overall sense of understanding, deep love of the natural world, energetic effort and his style are the qualities that set him apart from his contemporaries. "We're in the bucket!" Schaadt exclaimed, lacing another cast over the Early Hole.
The intensity with which he fishes is inspiring. He began to eat his lunch one-handed. He would cast, then in the several seconds it took for the line to sink, he would take a quick bite of a sandwich, set it down and retrieve the fly, cast again, take another bite. He fishes from dawn to dark with no stops in between for food or conversation. One time he was fishing a run so wide he had to wade within two inches of the top of his chest-high waders and then make 100-foot casts. Realizing this effort was far too strenuous to maintain for long, he went up to the car and brought down his sign painter's step ladder, which he then carried out to where he had been wading. He climbed up on it and fished in comfort. And when Schaadt arises tomorrow or the next day, or next year, it will be with the same enthusiasm for fishing that he had 20 years ago. When he hooks a fish he often screams and yells. Fishermen nearby who don't know him figure, "Boy, that must be the first one that guy ever caught."
Fishing slowed to a standstill under the brightness of midday, but Schaadt did not think of taking a break. Instead, knowing salmon were still milling in the pool, he tied on a 20-foot leader with a light tippet and a No. 10 fly, hoping to get a take from the reticent fish. Strain your imagination and visualize this outrageous tackle behaving perfectly in the air, landing in an immaculate turnover with the nearly invisible fly extending itself to the end of that unlikely leader.
An hour of casting produced nothing. When I reeled in to eat lunch, Schaadt threw me an accusing stare. He reeled in his line with blinding speed, wrenched his anchor up and began churning toward the corner.
"Sometimes they go back in here during the middle of the day," he said, surging across the pool. He backed up his boat against the cliff and tied it to a rock. I was not paying close attention as I ate my lunch. Soon I became aware of something peculiar going on. Schaadt was making long casts, but this did not seem possible because his back was to a high cliff. I began watching intently. I could see violent slashing motions, water flying everywhere, then an incredible drive that seemed to miraculously lift the line into the air, sending it out a full 80 feet. He was making a kind of roll cast. Every fly-fisherman learns to roll cast as a means of bringing a sunken line to the surface or simply making a very short throw when there is no room for a back-cast. But this was something far beyond that. Schaadt had discovered a method of building line speed with a series of circular lifts while keeping a precise amount of drag on the front of the line, which remained in the water. On the final lift, line was allowed to sag slightly to the rear so that the double haul could be used. Ultimately a tremendous drive forward and a strong pull with the left hand lifted the shooting head cleanly into the air, putting a point on it to deliver a fishable cast.
I've practiced this in the years since that day on the Smith, never fully admitting to Schaadt I could not manage what to him was a routine cast. I get about two-thirds of his distance. Nor have I ever met another fisherman who has mastered the cast.