Sea trout look safe thanks to casting doubt

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Thanks a lot, Mike Marshall. Two days before I set off sea-trout fishing, one of the country's top casters tells me that I'm wielding a fly rod like a man beating a seal pup to death.

Once upon a time, my line would snake out 20 yards or more with reasonable certainty. Now it's scarcely reaching beyond the rod tip. I'm a broken man. And it's all Marshall's fault.

Things wouldn't be so bad if you could write him off as a grey-haired has-been. But even at 68, he can still outcast almost anyone and reckons he is casting better than ever. He proved this at the British Fly Casting Club's latest event, where he cast a salmon fly line 71 metres - further than most people can throw a tennis ball.

Of course, salmon casting means big rods and heavy lines. But with a single-handed trout rod, Welshman Hywel Morgan holds the British record with a 238-foot cast. Hell, I'd have trouble getting that far with my beach-fishing tackle. At the Club's competition last Sunday Carl Hutchison cast nearly 200 feet, into a wind.

Anglers just love casting a long way. Women catching more big salmon than men has nothing to do with pheromones. Blokes want to impress partners by heaving a line so far that it gets caught in trees on the far bank. These hernia-inducing efforts don't impress the fish swimming a few yards out. Women, without the need to show off, cast a comfortable distance and empty the river.

But give a man a rod and a line, and he'll see how far he can cast. Casting events used to draw bigger crowds than most league football matches. But entertainment is a bit more sophisticated now. Casting competitions have fallen out of favour.

Marshall helped to revive the British club last year after nearly 20 years in limbo. "I don't want this to be an élitist club," he said. "I would like to set up regional clubs so that we can have a true national championship. It's not all about casting 60 yards: we have badges you can earn for casting 25 yards. It's all about improving your personal best. We want to help people cast farther, which makes their fishing more enjoyable."

But he is highly critical of the official line taught by the Association of Professional Game Angling Instructors. "Most of them do it all wrong," he said. "Having your thumb one-quarter of an inch in the wrong place can make a huge difference to your casting."

I should have watched and admired. But they make it look so easy, I just had to have a go. Guess what? My line didn't whizz out to the horizon, but flopped in fat loops just beyond the casting mat. I did so badly, the club would have needed an extra badge: the five-yard distance.

What could I do? What most long casters have done: book a few lessons with Marshall. Those sea trout may get away with it this weekend, but I'll be back.

For information on the British Fly Casting Club from Mike Marshall, 01277 214568, email