Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dr. Todd Attends a Casting Tournament, Part I

This is the first of my two-part report on the recent 99th American Casting Association National Tournament.

Dr. Todd Attends a Casting Tournament, Part I

Sixty-seven years ago, if you were lucky enough to be in attendance at the 1940 National Tournament sponsored by the National Association of Angling and Casting Clubs (NAACC), you would have been lucky enough to meet some of the true legendary figures in American fishing; men such as Al Foss, Fred Arbogast, Tony Acetta, Sid Liotta and others were still active casters as well as titanic figures in the sport of fishing. At the time, national casters all maintained sponsorships from the leading fishing tackle manufacturers, ranging from Heddon to Shakespeare to Creek Chub. Indeed, many prominent tackle companies were founded by tournament casters (even E.A. Pflueger was a part-time competitor).

Fred Arbogast at the 1918 NASAC Nationals

I was reminded of this fact as I attended the 99th American Casting Association National Tournament held July 30 to August 04. This fine event was hosted by the Cincinnati Casting Club at the Lebanon Sports Complex about twenty miles north of Cincinnati. The ACA is the successor to the NAACC (and its predecessor the NASAC) and the standard bearer of the sport of casting in America, and the tournament was an absolute delight to witness.

The sport of casting is integrally tied to the history of fishing in America. Some of the founders of the sport include such legendary figures as Reuben Wood, Seth Green, Fred Peet, and Eddie Mills, and reel makers who constructed special tournament casting reels included Talbot, Meek, and Welch, all of whom worked on numerous tournament specials that deeply influenced their craft. Many tackle manufacturers used tournament casters to test out new equipment, and thus the sport of casting left an indelible print on angling in America as a whole. I have been working on writing some of this history when I am not busy writing about fish hooks and blogging.

Fred Peet with Talbot Reel ca. 1900

What was conspicuous by its absence at the 99th ACA Nationals was much of a presence by modern tackle manufacturers. This is a shame, as there are probably few people more attuned to what makes a good rod and reel than the current crop of casters who plied their craft under the balmy Cincinnati sun. One can hope that this link—so integral in the history of sportfishing in America—can be reconnected in the near future, as both manufacturers and the sport of fishing stand to benefit greatly from a renewed relationship.

A Shimano GT7000 Spinning Reel—evidence of how manufacturers could use tournament casters as testers for new equipment.

There were numerous events and categories held at the nationals, including distance and accuracy in fly, spinning spool, and revolving spool competitions for youth, men, women and seniors. The morning I visited was the 3/8 and 5/8 ounce one and two-handed spinning and two-handed revolving spool (baitcasting) distance casting competition.

Andy Statt is a mirror image of himself in the before and after shots of his 3/8 oz. Spinning Spool attempt

For those who have never seen a casting event before, it is almost surreal to watch a casting weight travel over one hundred yards in a single cast. You read that correctly. These weights travel well over three hundred feet, or the length of a football field. The casters put so much torque on their reels and rods that they have to use a shock trace and are constantly retying their traces and weights after every second or third cast. This still does not stop them from occasionally breaking off a weight, which as one caster noted wryly, would "probably go right through you" were you unlucky enough to get hit by one. Not surprisingly, I observed the competition from behind the casters.

With my guide, the genial ORCA member George McCabe, I made my way down the rows of competitors, stopping to introduce myself and chat about the events and particularly the tackle used.

George McCabe was the ACA's designated photographer

The highlight of my day was meeting the legendary Richard Fujita of Cleveland, who was competing (and doing extremely well I might add) in his 69th national tournament at the youthful age of 81. Fujita’s background is fascinating; the son of champion caster Henry Fujita, he began casting at the age of 10 originally as a way to get out fishing more often, but soon discovered that he enjoyed casting more than catching fish. He entered his first national casting tournament in 1939 at the age of 13, and in 1944 won his first national championship for accuracy. His gear at the time was a bamboo rod and Bluegrass Kentucky NLW casting reel, and his competition included such titanic figures as Arbogast, Liotta, Foss, and Accetta. Some of Fujita’s records still stand today.

Dick Fujita, Legendary Caster

Fujita shows off championship form at age 81

Another legendary figure was John Seroczynski of the Chicago Casting Club—the same CCC that founded The Izaac Walton League. This was his 50th national, and he regaled me with tales of growing up in Indiana and being tutored in his youth by caster Wally Krause, who used to regularly take him over to see the legendary reel maker Jack Welch. Best remembered for his work at Heddon, Welch was a big supporter of tournament casting and made many custom reels for prominent casters. Seroczynski fondly recalled visiting Welch’s basement workshop, where Welch would turn out all his reel parts on a tiny jeweler’s lathe.

Jack Welch Tournament hand-made reel, from Tom Greene’s antiquereels.com

TOMORROW: A World Record Cast!

-- Dr. Todd

The Home Page of the American Casting Association (ACA) can be Found Here.

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