But for whatever reasons, surf casting—limiting that expression to casting with a natural bait and a sinker—has been a somewhat neglected art in the U.S. No American versions of Carroll and Kerry have appeared. The art of angling never advances on a broad front. Innovators in any specialty are almost always a small group, and in recent years what has interested the more forward-looking among U.S. saltwater fishermen has been fly-fishing and various other light-tackle techniques. Also, unlike the case in England, where the opacity of the water is greater and different species offish are involved, much of American surfcasters' energy is spent on improving the throwing of plugs and other lures.
What, precisely, have the innovators in England come up with that enables an average English angler to cast farther than an Outer Banks guide?
Though Carroll himself would take considerable exception, the story is best told through his angling career. As early as 1960, there were English surfcasters who saw the need for improved techniques and gear, most notably a man named Leslie Moncrieff who preached the notion—modest as it seems now—that every angler could hit 350 feet if he tried. Moncrief was 6'7", and when he toured angling clubs, demonstrating his techniques (for free—all Monty wanted to do was help), they told him the only reason he could cast 500 feet or so was because of his height. So he'd get down on his knees and throw 500 feet from that position.
The young Carroll was a very early convert and had the perfect qualifications for a fishing innovator, first because he was a passionate angler and second because he had an engineer's training. He was an instrument maker for ITT and was no run-of-the-mill technician. He was one of a team of eight allowed to fool around in a back room and come up with ideas in their own good time.
One suspects that much of Carroll's good time was given over to rod design, and he was specially disenchanted with the tapered, mass-produced rods of fiber glass—blanks, as they are known in the trade—that were available for rod building. "Some of the Conolon tips from the U.S. were O.K.," he recalls now, "but they didn't suit long-distance modern casting techniques. They were basically slow taper blanks, easy to produce, simple to market. They set the standard in fiber glass to this day. They are still being marketed because there's so much investment in tooling and so on."
The first chance of a breakthrough that Carroll saw was when graphite came on the market in the late '60s. "I went to Farnborough," he recalls, "to the Royal Aircraft Establishment where the stuff was invented for the aerospace industry, and talked to the guys there. But it was very expensive and there were production difficulties."
Nevertheless, working then for a company called Morgan Crucible, Carroll helped produce the world's first batch of graphite rods, 200 of them, in 1970. The next step was for him to go to the National Research Development Corporation, a governmental body in England founded to help establish new industrial processes. There he was told firmly that such an expensive material had no future in the production of sporting goods—not fishing rods, golf clubs, vaulting poles, yacht masts, tennis rackets or anything. "So we came to a grinding halt," he says wryly, "and we sat back to wait for graphite to come on the market at a competitive price."
Other disappointments followed in Carroll's effort to build the perfect surf-casting rod. Finally, a year ago, he sold his house in Brighton, rented the old railroad car at Dungeness and a big shed a few miles up the road, which he equipped with a lathe, an oven, a press operated by a car jack and other bits and pieces. There, when he's not fishing, he produces about 40 blanks a week, all by home cooking, that retail at around $240 apiece.
Oddly, as casting distances have grown greater, rod building has turned into a kind of cottage industry in parts of England, with mass-produced rods being scarcely marketable. Even the ditters insist on custom jobs. Carroll says, "With carbon-fiber [graphite] sheets at $25 the small piece, there is no way you can use semiskilled labor on it, man, or you'd rapidly lose a lot of money."
So in the shed, Carroll works with only one assistant. "The breakthrough really came," he says, "when we put together a combination of the right ingredients, modern resins, modern tape that will take the stress put on it. Some of the stuff is American; my tape is from DuPont, my mandrel is from California. The graphite sheet is Japanese."