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Carroll shakes his head, like a revivalist preacher contemplating souls on the straight route to hell. "Then they get angry when they see you catch fish!" he says. "Had this club here the other Sunday, some group from London. 'You seem to be doing well,' said one of the members. And the next thing, the club secretary came over to make a formal complaint, because, he said, I was intercepting their cod before the fish could reach their baits!"
Carroll and other dedicated English surf fishermen have a definitely elitist term for run-of-the-beach anglers like the visitors from London. "Ditters" they call them. And truth is, in all probability Carroll and his friends do intercept the ditters' fish, because skilled surfcasters have overcome the congestion along the shore by pushing the techniques and technology of long-distance casting to their current practical limits.
The distances achieved by Carroll and numerous other English anglers, using production tackle under tournament conditions, are astonishing. Until he quit tournament casting in 1979 to attend to his rod-making business, Carroll was No. 1 in the world when it came to casting with the 150-gram (5¼-ounce) sinker, regarded as the closest to that used in average surf conditions. His best throw in a tournament was 693 feet; he did an unofficial 753 feet in a demonstration. And since Carroll's retirement, a 26-year-old engineer from Norfolk named Paul Kerry, the new No. 1, has hit 723 feet, in the 1980 United Kingdom Surfcasting Federation tournament.
All those distances were made, of course, without a bait aboard. With a baited hook, men like Carroll, Kerry, John Holden and Dave Docwra toss their rigs maybe 550 or 600 feet. More or less for the hell of it, in a recent tournament another leading caster, Peter Coull, threw a rig 495 feet with three baited hooks.
The news of such performances has percolated through to the U.S. in recent months and been received with frank incredulity. Not surprisingly. Professional guides on the beaches of the Outer Banks estimate that around 300 feet seems to be their limit, even when they are trying for as much distance as possible.
Carroll doesn't find the disparity hard to understand, given the tackle Americans use. "I used to drool over an American tackle catalog I had as a kid," he says. "Dated 1954, it was, and the gear looked good. But I've got another one now, 1979, and the only thing that has changed is the quality of the paper. How come the Yanks got stuck in the 1950s?
"Look at those short, stiff rods they use, only nine-or 10-foot! The grips like tennis-racket handles, the reel fittings that weigh a quarter pound, all the cosmetics, the varnish, the colored bindings. My God, they're still using metal ferrules. And nothing but guzzlers, guzzlers, for casting!"
Guzzler is the disparaging name used in Carroll's circles for a spinning reel, or fixed-spool reel, as the English call it. England's long-distance casters claim that a spinning reel goes guzzle, guzzle as one reels in. By some odd quirk, it's the older American-invented conventional reel that the best British surfcasters favor, while on American beaches one sees little but the British-invented spinning reel. Or guzzler. And in an even odder twist, as will shortly be seen, the guzzler is on the verge of becoming respectable again.
What baffles and saddens Carroll, who 25 years ago was a firm believer in the excellence of American technology, is why this state of affairs, why the stagnation in the development of U.S. surf-fishing gear? And he looks around for reasons. "Perhaps the beach fishing in the States is so much better than ours that the anglers there don't have to think of long casting so much," he says.
There's a partial truth in this, though the difference is not as marked as some Americans may think, and other factors would seem to invite the introduction of more sophisticated equipment. Especially along much of the East Coast of the U.S., where so many open beaches are within a day's drive of one large city or another, ever increasing numbers of anglers are chasing a seemingly ever decreasing supply of fish. The crowded beaches alone would appear to put a premium on gear that would enable a serious angler to break free of the mob. And the final, unanswerable argument in favor of having the tackle and skills to cast a great deal farther is that while a surf fisherman doesn't need the capability all the time, there will be occasions when he does.