Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dr. Todd Visits the Golden Gate Casting Club

Dr. Todd Visits the Golden Gate Casting Club

One of the nice things about being married to a woman who is smarter than you is that you often get to ride her coat tails to great destinations. So when my wife, who is on the Board of Directors for the American Montessori Association, told me she was going to San Francisco for her national meeting, I absolutely knew I wanted to tag along (and bring the daughter with me).

In preparation for this event, I posted to the Classic Fly Rod Forum and asked if any fly rodders on the board were in the vicinity. More than a dozen people responded and noted that the place to be was Saturday mornings at the legendary Golden Gate Casting Club, right on the grounds of Golden Gate Park. Here, a large group of fly fishing fanatics hang out every week, trying out new and old cane rods, and generally having more fun than should be allowed.

My host for this trip was Classic Fly Rod Forum member Tim Anderson and his wife Ursula. Two nicer people you will never meet in your life. Ursula and Tim--a very talented rodmaker, as we will see--even came down to the Hyatt to pick me and the daughter up to take us over to the Golden Gate Casting Club early Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, my timing could not have been worse. This was the one day per year the club had scheduled to drain and clean the casting pools, and in addition, San Francisco was undergoing its first real rainy spot in months. Fortunately, the weather cleared and despite some very high winds, we were not driven out by Mother Nature.

The club itself was built in 1938 and is everything that a lodge like this should be.

One look at the massive casting pools and you'll see why it is a fly caster's paradise. It was just incredible. A woman was practicing two handed spey casting for the upcoming world championships (held on these very pools this summer) and it was a beautiful thing to behold.

The pools were down several feet of water as they were being drained.

My first sight walking into the clubhouse itself was intimidating--you are met with a wall of trophies from world champion casters like John Tarantino, a long-time member of the club. The place absolutely smacks of history everywhere you turn. Some of the greatest fly anglers to ever pick up a rod spent many hours in this very room.

Trophies, trophies, everywhere.

A fly tying class was being taught when I got there.

Don Labbe, a noted caster and former president of the club, was on hand to fill me in on some of the history and goings on of the club. The World Spey Casting Championships the club is hosting seem to be on everyone's mind, and Don showed me some of the custom engraved Hardy reels that will be presented to the winners. We also talked a bit of San Francisco rod history.

I asked him about the surrounding lockers, and he was kind enough to open one up. Tournament casting members are allowed a locker to store their goods, and I was astounded as several members showed me the wares kept under lock and key. I saw a set of glass rods on one side of a locker and inquired about them. "Oh, that's three Claudio fiberglass rods," came the reply, as if that was no big thing.

The inside of a Golden Gate Casting Club locker.

But I was here to see cane, and there was a lot of it around. In particular, I got a chance to see up close and personal Tim Anderson's fly rods, made with carbon fiber spigot ferrules. I had read about these and very much wanted to try one first hand.

One of Tim's four piece rods with a raw carbon-fiber spigot ferrule.

It's an exceptionally pretty rod with an elegant engraving.

Tim put the four piece rod together--noting that that ferrules go together more tightly than most are used to--and we walked it out to the casting platforms on the pools. All I can say is that the rod was like nothing I'd ever casted before. It threw a line beautifully, and wicked fast. I was deeply impressed with the action of the rod and how it felt, as I like fast action rods. A dozen or so people tested the rod out and everyone came away raving about it.

Tim Anderson tries out his own rod.

Here Ursula Anderson takes a turn.

Even my daughter was impressed with Tim's rod. She asked where I could get her one, but unfortunately Tim does not make them for sale.

Another board member I coordinated with who was able to make it was Paul McRoberts, who came down from Napa with his lovely wife Jenny. A long time fly angler and fly rod historian, Paul's been making rods for several years now and he's fast progressed. He brought one of his three piece four weight rods, and we all got a chance to try it out. I loved it! it had a wonderful feel and this coming from a person who doesn't like many three piece rods to begin with. But don't take my word for it. Larry Kenny, one of the all-time legendary rod builders, took a turn with it and came out smiling. "This rod really casts a great line," he said. Larry doesn't like three piece bamboo rods very much, either, so that is high praise indeed!

Larry Kenny tries out one of Paul McRoberts rods as his friend Gary looks on.

The two rodbuilders pause for a photo--that's Tim on the left and Paul on the right.

As for vintage cane, David Borgonovo brought down some Winston and Powell rods that just sang. West Coast rods have a certain casting feel that isn't duplicated anywhere else, and these two makers were among the very best. David is also a historian of note, and shared with me some of his collection. One piece that made my jaw drop was John Tarantino's 17-foot custom built Winston Tournament casting rod. Triple built, this rod was as powerful of a casting tool as you'll ever find. It was so big it wouldn't fit into a photograph!

Tarantino won 15 consecutive world championships and died tragically when he was shot and killed in his fly shop at the age of 38.

David poses with his amazing Tarantino Winston rod.

It is a custom for the whole gang to go out to eat for lunch, so fourteen of us found ourselves at an out-of-the-way Chinese restaurant which I have to admit served the largest portions I have ever had in my entire life. The food was good and the conversation lively, and touched on many aspects of rodbuilding and fly fishing. It was a true pleasure.

We returned back to the club, which was much more quiet now that the two classes had ended. I had a chance to really soak in the surroundings, and be surrounded by fly fishing history. I had a long philosophical conversation with Paul about all aspects of fly fishing. It was a great way to end the trip.

The interior club house has many great rods and fly tackle on the walls.

I have to thank Don, Gary, Larry, Dave, Paul, Tim, Ursula and numerous others for making me feel so at home at this wonderful place. The greatest part of the Golden Gate Casting Club is that it is open to anyone, and the casting pools free to use for any person, member of otherwise.

Following our day of casting, Tim and Ursula were kind enough to give my daughter and myself a personal tour of the city. San Francisco certainly has a lot to offer! The next day I had brunch with a cousin at the St. Francis Yacht Club and heard all about the upcoming America's Cup Yacht race. This seems to have split the city into two camps--half for and half against. Parking seems to be the big issue….

Information on the club is posted on the door.

My trip to the casting club was memorable and I enjoyed every minute. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, I just joined the Golden Gate Casting Club as a member, even though I live several thousand miles away. I figure it will give me some incentive to return on a regular basis!

-- Dr. Todd

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