- By: Joe Healy
I have seen the future of fly-fishing and it is…surprising, not to mention challenging. I formed that opinion last autumn after visiting Bend, Oregon, to fish the Deschutes for trout (the steelhead sections of the river just weren’t happening) and to take a tour of the new Orvis retail store in town and also to sample the company’s casting course stationed along the Deschutes, which itself runs through town.
As these trips sometimes go, I was one in a group of editors and writers invited; the Orvis fly-casting course was the big topic of discussion among the group. Zach Matthews, who runs the Web site Itinerant Angler, joked about us having to cast into a windmill or a clown’s mouth, like playing miniature golf. Other child’s play metaphors ensued. I admit: at first blush, I thought the casting course would be an eye-rolling goof. Not so.
The only clowns were we media types when we couldn’t make par on most of the 18 holes, er, casting stations. (The course is designed to evoke golf; you even get a golf-style scorecard.) This was tough stuff, just like fly-fishing is.
You had to focus on your approach; you had to gauge wind direction and tippet length and make a determined decision on the best way to get to your target—like launching a curve cast around a tree to keep your line in the fairway on Hole 14. Or to rollcast your fly into five targets set at varying lengths and angles on the par-6 Hole 3. (That’s right, you get six rollcasts to hit five targets to make par.) It was not easy. But it was damn fun.
“The original idea for the casting course came from (Orvis vice chairman) David Perkins, after he watched the casting competition at the 2007 Fly-Fishing Retailer (trade show). He was intrigued by some of the features we had come up with for that event and said, ‘Have you ever built a course?’ There have been several courses built before, but none have been permanent. This was new territory,” said Hutch Hutchinson, Orvis southwest regional business manager and the course designer. (Fly-fishing’s Robert Trent Jones?) The original idea was to build just two or three stations close to the Orvis store, but seeing the property—which offers land on both sides of the Deschutes—gave Hutch the idea for something much bigger. An avid golfer and superb fly-caster, Hutch decided, “This is golf with a fly rod.”
My hope is that fly-casting courses spread to towns or fly shops near you and me—I’d be willing to play a couple times a week. It’s a good way to sharpen our fishing skills, and to enjoy the exercise and mental release of casting. Laughing with friends and colleagues is another bonus. Go to flyrodreel.com for more on this unique sport within our sport.