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|Originator: far&fine||Date: 8/5/2001 11:23 PM|
A New Spey Line
In 1895 on the river Ness in Scotland Mr. Corballis, a magistrate anxious to see how far the local Highland talent could cast, organized a casting competition. In Jock Scott’s account of the event we learn, “The competitors stood in an anchored boat and cast straight down stream alongside a measuring board supported by stakes driven in the river bed. Mr. Corballis and his fellow judges stood by to mark the fall of the fly.”
Upon his turn to cast, Alexander Grant boarded the boat “anchored in a fair stream, of the kind which makes ideal salmon water.” Using a 21-foot greenheart rod, Grant switch-cast 65 yards, a record which has stood over a century and is unsurpassed even today. Grant didn’t shoot line; he picked up and switched the entire line.
Was it the car or the driver? Undoubtedly it was Highlander Grant. For his record to stand yet today in this era of graphite and plastic, we are compelled to scrutinize his tackle and ask what line was he casting.
Grant’s square plait silk line was plaited solid through to its center, unlike a round line which was plaited over a core that lacked solidity and flattened under pressure. In comparison, the square plait was heavier, size for size, than the round and therefore traveled further when cast. Jock Scott tells us Mr. Grant, “tried endless numbers of lines and never found anything to equal the square plait for density and carrying power.”
Grant demanded his line lift and drive easily, fall lightly, and mend well. Only a line with a continuous braided taper without level points met his standard. Wind resistance was reduced and the line’s inherent weight offset any tendency for the cast to die before turning over. Grant’s line fell to the water like a feather, according to Jock Sott.
So why aren’t we all casting continuous tapered silk? Silk has a density slightly greater than one and must be dressed if it is to float, thus the “greased” lines of yore. If uncared for, wet silk rots. At the end of each fishing day, yesterday’s angler had to unwind his line from the reel employing a line winder to dry the line. A continuously tapered silk line was labor intensive to produce (braid being removed by hand to achieve taper) and was therefore inordinately expensive.
The greatest advance in tackle in the last half century came with the introduction of the plastic coated line. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) extruded over a level braided nylon core, allowed line manufactures to offer a host of durable lines unbound in variety. Too, lines where standardized in weight so they might better match rods similarly designated to correspond with their weight.
Despite these advances, today’s line have one crippling drawback that prevents us from casting as far as Mr. Grant. They are too fat and air resistant. Can line manufactures produce a better line? Certainly.
Using high-tech, computer driven braiding machines such as those developed by the Swiss and square plaiting thermoplastic polymers such as polypropylene (which floats), a modern line that emulates yesterday’s silk but exceeds it in quality can be made. Until then, Grant’s record will stand.
|Originator: Dana||Date: 8/9/2001 6:24 PM|
Thanks for the thought-provoking post, John! Grant’s achievements are the pinnacle of Spey casting and a tremendous example of an innovative approach to tackle and technique. I think the fact that Winston rod designer Derek Brown looped a long taper of square plait line to the front of his Spey-Driver to achieve 62 yards without shooting in June of ’96 tells us a lot about the difficulties of matching the properties of traditional square plait with other line types. It would be very interesting to see how a modern version of these lines would behave in a skilled caster’s hands.
I think there are several reasons why Grant’s casting has remained unrivalled. Grant was a complete Spey caster in much the same way that Steve sand Tim Rajeff are complete casters—like the Rajeffs Grant was immersed in casting, designing rods, rod rings, and lines as well as continually refining and perfecting his technique. Whereas many of us are anglers who like to cast, Grant was a caster who loved to fish. There was complete synergy with Grant—all the elements required to make incredible Spey casts came together and produced casting records that may never fall. A few modern casters have come close to Grant’s distances, but to my knowledge all except Brown employ line shooting.
I recently read an article on the Loop website by Henrik Mortensen in which he discusses among other things casting efficiency. Mortensen is known for launching monster casts using the Underhand method and shooting heads, and he knows a thing or two about getting the most out of a two-handed fly rod. In corresponding with Henrik we have discussed casting efficiency and I am struck by how similar his ideas are to those of Grant, Derek Brown and others—the methods and casting schools are different, but the underlying principles are the same—refining technique to enhance efficiency and get the most out of a fly rod. I think that this is Grant’s greatest achievement, the ability to combine cutting edge tackle with top notch athletic skills to get the most out of a Spey rod.
A few years ago I had a lengthy phone conversation with an individual involved in fly line design and production, and I asked if there were any plans to introduce a longer bellied Spey line than those currently manufactured. The response was interesting—in a nutshell, the answer was that until refinements in tackle and technique warrant such a product there would be little use in introducing one, as the market would be tiny. At the time I was disheartened because I was spending a lot of hours splicing up custom lines and I thought my angling life would be a whole lot easier if I could just buy one, but today I know that there are very few casters out there who could really benefit from an extended long bellied line—I’m aware of only a handful of casters who can consistently pick up and throw extended bellied lines (combined belly and front taper length of 100ft or more), plus shoot additional line. Most of us who prefer long bellied lines find the Accelerator and Mastery Spey pretty much the limit of what we can consistently move over a long fishing day. I think the fact that the Windcutter is such a popular line tells us something about the preferences and line-length comfort levels of most casters out there.
Can a line or other piece of tackle make us better casters? I think the answer is “yes and no.” The Windcutter made it easier for us to throw long distances with two-handers, but did it make us better casters? Everything is relative. Some of the very best Windcutter casters that I know cannot throw a long bellied Spey line; some of the best long bellied casters are lost when you give them a Windcutter—they pop it out of the water and fold it up on the forward stroke. I think sometimes tackle can be a “quick fix” to other issues that continue to trouble a caster, and eventually anyone who hopes to really bang it out there will need to begin to seriously look at refining technique no matter which line system they use.
But I agree with you that it would be great to see some of the work of a classic caster like Grant put together with modern materials. I think that a few of us would be putting out some pretty scary casts with such a line, and someone like Derek Brown might get even closer to Grant. Yet the Romantic in me hopes that Grant’s cast will never be equalled.
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