Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Casting From the Shoulders of a Giant

 In 1960, 34-year-old Joan Cummings — later to become Joan Wulff — used a one-handed bamboo fly rod to cast 161 feet and set an unofficial women’s record. Unofficial because there was no women’s distance division in casting events at the time; Joan competed with the men.

In 2018, 14-year-old Maxine McCormick used a graphite rod to cast 161 feet in a similar one-handed event, matching Joan’s distance. This time, McCormick set an official women’s record at the World Championship of Flycasting and followed that up with a 189-foot cast in the two-handed distance event, another one of the six women’s events.

Joan Wulff casting in Canada in 1997.

Although the distance of McCormick’s record-setting cast was the same as Joan’s, competitive casting and fly fishing had undergone a sea change in the intervening six decades. “The arc of Joan’s life perfectly encompasses the development of modern fly fishing,” says Tom Pero, fishing writer and long-time friend of Joan’s, “from her graceful tournament casting with heavy bamboo rods and high-maintenance silk lines during the 1940s, to her flawless teaching with ultralight graphite rods and synthetic lines into the 2000s.”

The First Lady of Fly Fishing, as she is known, has both witnessed and helped bring about changes in fishing tackle and gear, along with influencing the popularity, demographics, and conservation ethos of the sport. Over her life and career, Joan Wulff, now 95, built a strong foundation for fly fishers, both women and men.

Read more of my latest article at Big Sky Journal.