Something sexy about the whooshy, swooshy Spey cast
Saturday 25 March 2000
"You might," Pete said, "get to meet Michael Daunt."
"Um, actually that is who I'm spending the whole day with," I replied.
It is rare for Pete to sulk and be anything less than generous where my fishing adventures are concerned but that morning his face took on a twisted, pained look. He was jealous. Not of me spending the day with a strange man - he's quite used to that - but because Michael Daunt is the principal of the Hugh Falkus School of Spey Casting (01962 882000).
Hugh Falkus was (he died four years ago, on Pete's birthday: this, he thinks, somehow connects him to Falkus) and is hugely well regarded. His books on salmon and the sea trout are regarded as definitive works. The way Falkus taught Spey casting is also regarded by many to be the final word on the subject. He said of Daunt - who took over the school after Falkus' death - that there was "no one more capable of teaching my new methods of Spey casting". So you can see how all this cult-hero stuff could turn a young boy's head.
I have to say I was more excited about getting out of London and (yet again) riding in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Daunt had said he would be outside Winchester station in a black Land Rover. One hearty handshake later we drove to the custom-built lake where people who attend the one or two-day casting courses learn to Spey cast.
Daunt made me coffee in the posh hut. "Drop of whisky in that?" he offered. "Oh no... oh, all right then," I said.
"Falkus used to say whisky took away the taste of the darned coffee."
Anyway, it was very nice and I could sense a habit coming on. Daunt took me out on the lake, handed me a divine Sage 14ft rod which I was to fall in love with (my birthday: 7 July) and we began.
Now, what the devil is Spey casting, I hear some of you ask? Well it is very fancy and it was "invented" nearly 300 years ago on the banks of the River Spey. When you cannot overhead cast due to trees and such (which is nearly always, with salmon rivers) you have to Spey cast, because the fly needs hardly any clearance behind you. It is all very whooshy and swooshy and looks like rhythmic gymnastics.
The ability to Spey cast well in fishing circles brings almost the same admiration that being able to vault gate railings or whistle with two fingers does in everyday life. I hope you get the picture. It is veeeeeery sexy.
The basis of all Spey casting is the roll cast which I had to "master" first of all. Words like "key position", "Wait!" and "vital" were to become popular that afternoon. After having adopted the key position it was vital that I waited. We took lots of breaks, it is quite hard work (and my biceps still hurt) and if you do not rest it really all falls apart.
Then we started on the double Spey cast, which is where a bit of whooshing came in. Then the most difficult of all, the single Spey. I was okay, but not great. "Casting well is like making love to a good woman," Daunt said. "It's about timing, technique and not rushing it." And what was making love to a bad woman like? "Much the same but more fun."
After lunch something strange started happening. I was slightly drunk for about five minutes after another Falkus coffee special (really, Starbucks wants to think about putting this on the menu). So I had a much more cavalier attitude towards casting and... I mastered the single Spey and I don't know who was more pleased, me or Daunt. He clapped me so hard on the back I almost fell in.
We proceeded on to a cast of Daunt's own invention: the Daunt Roll, or to give it its vernacular name: the Fanny Puller. Yes it really does mean what it sounds like, and is so called because of "its great beauty". You use this cast in certain wind conditions (down stream wind on the right bank) and it's spectacularly showy-offy yet not that difficult to learn. I had seen it done before (some people call it the Snake Roll) and thought it was the sort of cast that I might just be able to do when I was 70. Finally it was the Contrived Loop, a cast for when all else fails and there are rocks and cliffs and high banks behind you.
So after two years of being rubbish at it, I can now Spey cast. The arrow on the chuffed chart was quite high that day.
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