Doug is six foot six, I am five foot four. We stood in the Kankakee, he had the long fourteen foot Spey rod and I had the eleven foot switch rod. He made perfect casts like a wizard with a wand and I fumbled about like a hobbit with a stick.
Earlier in the day I followed my GPS to locate Doug's house. I admire anyone who says, "Here's my address mate, you'll need to use your GPS to find the place."
It was like going to find a wizard, you know, over the river, off to the forest preserve, last house on the block, over the sleeping policeman and there you are kind of trek. No dragons, no dwarves and no trolls threatened me on my trip. Although I was nearly killed by the driver of a Chevy truck who merged without looking. I followed the voice from my phone and not the one in my head and arrived safely.
After meeting his lovely wife I loaded my gear into his truck and we drove off to the Kankakee to work on my casting.
"First we'll start out on the grass, then into the river." I had been visualizing my casting all week as it had been rainy and cold and my work schedule had been hectic and long. In the middle of the week, I spent an hour on the Des Plaines River and made the best use of it.
“We’ll start on the grass mate, it’s a bit easier.”
I never thought about casting on the grass. Where I work there is a perfect place to stand and practice. Just add a grass leader and I'd be good to go. Better than staying in for lunch, I thought. Although people would probably do what they always do and ask, “Any fish in the grass?”
Doug’s voice woke me from my daydream,
I stopped visualizing and picked up the rod. "Single Spey, let's see it."
I made the cast and it was awful. "What was that?"
"Do it again."
"Cast Van Dorn, cast."
I slowly pulled the rod up, then accelerated the rod back in an arc, bringing the anchor point close, made the D-loop and fired the rod forward.
And then I heard it, "Easy mate, easy mate, this is Spey casting, effortless power, but otherwise, good job, good job, now make ten more and we'll go onto the other casts."
I wondered how much I'd remember. For the next hour we worked on the Snap-T, the circle Spey, Double Spey and slowing my casting down. I remembered at least a couple of the names, as I'd spent the entire week reading Simon Gaeworth's book on singlehanded Spey casting.
If you have a good memory, Spey casting has a lot to challenge you. If you have my memory, you’ll need tattoos on your forearms.
"Let's wader up and get into the water."
I finished lacing up my boots, grabbed my rod and headed into the water.
"Easy mate, just to your knees, no need to get up to your wedding tackle."
"Wedding tackle? Oh - Wedding tackle."
So I stopped with the water at my knees.
"Cast to the island over there."
So I did.
"Spey cast Van Dorn, two handed, not single handed."
"Water must've erased my memory."
I liked casting on the grass, the anchor stops on the grass, it doesn't move downstream on you. You can clearly see where the fly and fly line are and you can wait as long as you want before making that forward cast.
"Now face the island and make a cast, two handed please."
Good instructors are polite, with a touch of sarcasm. Mean ones shoot over your head with automatic firearms and real bullets. Doug doesn't own any automatics, at least if he did, I didn't see them come out in the next three hours.
I was better this time around and I heard a lot more, "Good job mate, good job, much better, now slow down, work on keeping your rod tip low."
Then I heard what I've been waiting for, "Let's go fishing mate."
I was thinking, "I get a real fly, no fluffie, a fly with a hook! Look out fish, here I come!”
And so it began, Gandalf the Wizard leading Bilbo the hobbit out into the river in search of bass.
The words, "it isn’t deep mate," have a different meaning when the person you're fishing with is about sixteen inches taller than you are. Making a cast with both elbows in the water isn't covered in any DVD that I'm aware of. Or if there is one called, “Casting for short people,” I checked but there isn’t a you-tube video either.
It was a good day for practice casting. Doug and I waded across the Kankakee and back and got into his truck to go try another spot. We went to Momence, drove over the bridge and took a short walk upstream. A bar was located not far from where we’d get out of the water. I thought, “Ah hah, the teacher knows how to get the best out of the student, no carrot and stick here.”
"Easy mate, the water is shallower over here."
Shallow water is a relative term to tall people. Up to your armpits isn't.
We walked up and across the Kankakee past where an old dam used to be. The fish were cooperating and I got to celebrate catching my first fish on a Spey rod with a proper Spey cast. The next one came on a one handed cast. I caught a few fish and Doug made lovely Spey casts.
"What d'ya think mate?"
"I think my arms are tired."
"You're moving along alright."
"Yep, but I'm still about a hundred hours of casting or more, which is quite a way to go till I'm ready for the conclave."
"You want to keep going?"
"Sure, Bilbo had to make the trek to the mountain."
"We'll meet in two weeks mate till then I want you to practice going from low to high and making a proper D-Loop before you make that forward cast and slow down."
I drove from his house listening to my GPS. The ride home was without event. I read more of Simon Gawesworth's book, tried to memorize the movements of Andy Murray and tied up a grass leader to try out on my lunch hour.
There is much work to do and it seems to me, that on this climb to the mountain, all I’ve done is pack the tent.
Stuart Van Dorn