- By: Joan Salvatto Wulff
Joan Wulff’s New
A review, and a tribute.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Joan Wulff first had an impact on my life when, as a teenager, I tightly gripped the cork of my father’s fly rod and made my first cast. Fly-fishing was to become an obsession, and at that moment I, like many female anglers, was indebted to Wulff for making fly-fishing both accessible to and acceptable for women.
When I became committed to casting I immediately bought Wulff’s original Fly-Casting Techniques, published 25 years ago. The new edition (2012; Lyons Press; www.lyonspress.com) surpasses her first great work and provides friends, colleagues, fans and me with the perfect opportunity to “cast back” and reflect upon her accomplishments in and contributions to the sport.
by Diana Rudolph
“She’s the biggest gem on her own crown as our Queen…[and] continues to lead and mentor the way we live our lives through fly-fishing.”
“She is the consummate ‘teacher,’ always ready and willing to demonstrate, [to] help improve someone’s casting with encouragement, specific techniques and lots of grace and dignity. She is for me the essence of elegance and fly-fishing knowledge in a sport that was for years dominated by men. She is the Grand Dame of our sport.”
In 1937, at the age of 10, Wulff began fly-casting and shortly thereafter was competing in casting competitions across the globe. After winning one international and 17 national amateur casting championships and unofficially setting the women’s distance-casting record, Wulff resolved to spend more time fishing and left the tournament circuit. Several years later, she met her late husband, Lee Wulff, and they established the Wulff School of Fly Fishing in 1979. Not only was she fishing more, but she was also embarking on a career in education.
“Joan Wulff is the embodiment of ‘small, but mighty.’ She is proof that technique trumps muscle in our sport. She is one small woman who has and continues to influence generations of fly fishers.”
Wulff’s superlative casting and teaching skills, coupled with her insatiable desire for perfection, prompted her to dissect the mechanics of fly-casting, a subject that hadn’t been articulately described. By doing so she created a common language. Years later, after much encouragement, her first book—Fly-Casting Techniques—was published. Now a classic, this “how-to” book diligently analyzed the fundamentals of fly-casting. Like all great teachers, Wulff continually refined her methods and evolved with her discipline and students. So,when it was time to update the title, she conscientiously rolled up her sleeves.
“Joan is one of the brightest gems in the fly-fishing world—ever beautiful, brilliant, witty—and she could teach a stone to cast.”
“Joan Wulff is a pioneer in the fly-fishing world. She was one of the few women who early on made people aware that women could fly-fish too—and well. For decades this lady has been an icon representing the very best about our sport. I count my blessings that we have shared a friendship over the years.”
Joan Wulff’s New Fly-Casting Techniquesbegins with a wonderful foreword by John Randolph, editor emeritus of Fly FishermanMagazine, and recounts her journey through life as a champion caster, pioneering instructor and skilled angler. Wulff’s introduction sets the tone for the entire book, as she invites readers to embrace casting as an art form as well as a means to deliver the fly. She transitions into an explanation of fly-casting and the fly rod before getting specific, beginning with an exploration of the fundamentals of the roll cast and basic cast. Her teaching expertise is evident in these early chapters, as key concepts, such as the casting arc, are put into words that any fly fisher can understand. There is a useful glossary at the end of the book, filled with clear and concise definitions of the essentials.
“Thirty-some years ago, when I was new to fly-fishing, I met Joan Wulff. From the first second she treated me graciously and has continued to be the consummate lady, mentor and friend. She was then, as she is now, a respected authority on fly-casting and has earned that with her many books, videos and personal appearances, and years of her famous Wulff School of Fly Fishing. Fly-fishing is very blessed to have such a wonderful lady (and she is always a lady) and expert angler at the helm.”
“Joan Wulff is the ultimate professional. She is knowledgeable, articulate, concise and eloquent. Joan is always prepared, always friendly and gracious.”
—Jeff Pill, Producer
The instructional chapters that follow cover shooting line, hauling and casting for distance, and they are organized so that each technique builds upon previous skills. The explanations of these subjects are easily comprehensible, and David Shepard’s detailed color illustrations enhance and complement them flawlessly. Throughout the book, Wulff highlights tips, troubleshoots, and provides exercises as if she were giving the reader a private lesson. Whether picking leaves off a tree or opening a screen door, she is a master at providing analogies and props to help visualize and conceptualize the casting stroke. This is a hands-on book, one that urges the reader to set it down and pick up a fly rod.
“I’ve watched Joan attract admirers at casting ponds for many years. They all approach her with bashful reserve. After she puts her hands onto theirs and helps them to experience the rhythm of casting a rod, they walk away with a smile on their faces and convinced that they too can be successful fly fishermen.”
Wulff then takes a practical approach to fly-casting, and leads the reader from the backyard to the river and the saltwater flats, where she addresses advanced casts and demystifies several different fishing scenarios—changing planes and directions, curve and mend casts and casting into the wind. Rejoice, beginner and advanced casters: It is all there. In addition, Wulff provides advice about choosing tackle, and doesn’t neglect knots (and not just the pesky wind variety). Her on-the-water anecdotes are both relevant and charming. If it were possible to end a story with a gesture, hers would be punctuated with a warm wink.
“Few anglers have done as much to promote and bring new blood to fly-fishing as Joan has. Always with a smile, always ready to help, and always a lady. I brag about being [her] friend.”
“Joan’s eagerness to share is never ending. What a wonderful friend we fly fishers have sharing the waters we fish and working so hard for the betterment of the sport. Perhaps we have a saint in our midst.”
Joan Wulff is a woman of great presence, which is evident in Judy Muller’s afterword. Her impressive career is eclipsed only by her outstanding character and dedication. It is her dignity, grace and humility that make her such an endearing heroine in our modern fly-fishing tale. Joan Wulff’s New Fly-Casting Techniquesis not simply the definitive book on casting, but also a celebration of the life of an admirable woman. Her legacy has transcended the gender barriers of this once male-dominated sport and secured a spot on the river or the bow of a skiff for anyfly-fishing enthusiast, regardless of gender. She has always claimed to be “a very ordinary woman living an extraordinary life through the magic of fly-fishing.” In any case, I’ll let someone else have the last word:
Diana Rudolph has spent the better part of 25 years with a fly rod in her hands. She is the only woman in history to win the prestigious Don Hawley Tarpon Tournament, and she holds several IGFA flyrod records for tarpon, permit and bonefish.