Thankfully the likes of Lefty Kreh, Pat O'Reilly, Jim Schollmeyer, Mark Bachman and other fly fishers, both in the UK and the United States, helped me to get rid of some bad casting habits.
For a hundred years or so, fly fishing writers discussed casting with the aid of the hands of a clock, they suggest the rod should between nine and one o'clock. This might have been ideal for small chalk streams, but not for big rivers, reservoirs or the ocean - and definitely not so when chucking big flies in the ocean against the wind. I suppose that great angler Lefty Kreh has had the greatest influence on my casting, and my approach to saltwater fly fishing through his teaching in print and film. His personal tuition certainly helped me. I often describe Lefty as America's answer to the late Richard Walker. How wonderful it would have been if the two anglers could have spent time together. What a wealth of knowledge they would have given us.
Over the past fifty years I have used dozens of fly fishing rods. In the early days, I used greenheart, followed by bamboo. These were nice rods provided you waited a week on the back cast. In those days I wasn't fly fishing in the ocean. Fibreglass followed on from bamboo, then we had carbon fibre or graphite as it was known in the United States, though I felt we didn't take glass fibre to its full potential, switching too quickly from glass to carbon. Over many years I have used rods from various companies such as Sage, Able, Greys, Scott and Winston. Today, after some twelve months of field testing the Thomas and Thomas range of fly fishing rods, I have chosen them for all my fly fishing.
The T&T rods were tested under some horrendous ocean fishing conditions. Bonefish, barracuda's and sharks on the flats of the Bahamas. False Albacore, striped bass and bluefish on the east coast of the USA, Kingfish and big Jack Crevales in the Persian and Arabian Gulf. I can say with confidence, I am very happy with the Thomas & Thomas range of fly rods which are now used for all my fly fishing.
The company started life in the 1960's building top quality bamboo fly rods, later to be followed by a range of graphite fly rods. In the 21st Century the company still build quality bamboo fly fishing rods. The company is headed by Tom Dorsey a man who demands a hundred percent quality product. Every employee makes sure craftsmanship and quality control come first. They take pride in their work, making sure we the customer have a product that is the best possible one for the job. A product that will work for many years.
I was while working in the United States on some programmes for my "At The Waters Edge" radio show. (Which you can hear on the Internet. www.bbc.co.uk/lancashire then click on sport. On the right hand side you will find a drop down menu, click on Fishing then on Go. You will also find an Ask Martin section). I had the chance of spending some time in the Thomas and Thomas factory at Greenfield, Massachusetts. At the Greenfield factory I was able to interview some of the craftsmen and woman who told my listeners about their job. I quickly realised how dedicated the employees were in producing a fine product. Employees talked about quality control with pride. There certainly was pride in a job well done. On several occasions various craftsmen and woman said. "Quality control was the first priority". Everyone from the office junior to master craftsmen were proud of the label. "Made in the USA".
The Horizon models
No one rod will cover every aspect of fly fishing or the fly fishers casting style. Fly fishers in the salt water environment need something entirely different to their freshwater counterpart on the chalk stream, as does the angler who fishes big reservoirs. Casting styles and fishing situations differ from angler to angler.
During 2001 World Fly Fishing Championships in Swedish Lapland, Trevor Bross gave me the chance to fish with a Thomas & Thomas Horizon model. The rod loaded quickly, cast tight loops and lifted line off the water with ease. The Horizon model, a nine foot five weight proved ideal for fishing the bigger rivers for grayling. It responded effortlessly when fighting a good fish, or casting a long line over the water in a strong wind. If you like a fast action rod this model is for you
Recently I was on a fly fishing trip to Connecticut for the Little Tunny / False Albacore, a fish that doesn't have a swim bladder - it can raise its body temperature twenty degrees above the ocean temperature and can change direction very quickly. It's a smooth skinned fish which can fold its small fins tight to the body, then, with its big sickle shaped tail, it can power itself through the water at some forty miles an hour. Fly fishing for these beasts demands the best in tackle. The rod must be built to withstand the ocean elements, and we all know how saltwater can destroy most things. The rod must allow you to quickly load, then accurately cast the fly to a moving fish. Having set the hook, you might be attached to that fish for an hour or more. I used a nine foot, ten weight Horizon, which responded perfectly, quickly and effortlessly in getting the fly fifty or sixty feet to a fast moving fish. It was the perfect tool used with either a Teeny 450 grain shooting line or an intermediate line.
The saltwater environment is one of the most challenging. The HS graphite resin system is meticulously crafted, into finely tuned tapers precisely designed to meet all our fly fishing requirements. The ten weight comes with two good stripping guides, good size snake intermediates with a hay fork top guide and fighting butt. The company machine their own anodised uplocking salt-proof reel seats with double-locking rings. These are machined in another T&T factory by engineers who also care about quality. These top quality reel seats are fitted to all saltwater rods. You will not find better. I have used my ten weight Horizons in the Arabian and Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, the Bahamas and the Gulf of Mexico with complete confidence.
During my time at T&T I spent a lot of time on the casting deck and pool situated alongside the factory. It was like being in Aladdin's Cave surrounded by dozens of rods, a wonderful experience. I have said on many occasions. "The same rod doesn't suit everyone's casting style". My many hours spent at the casting pool putting rods through their paces made me realise how true this was. During casting sessions I tried the Vector, Paradigm, Light Presentation, The Helix and the XL2 series of rods. In line weights from a four weight through to ten weights.
The Helix series were certainly made for me, several occasions I cast all the fly line along with several feet of backing. The Helix rods are a lightweight model, with a slightly softer action than the Horizon models. Helix rods load quickly, cast accurately and easily with both floating and sinking lines. They will also lift off a long floating line from the water. (Whatever make of rod you are using, please do not try lifting off a submerged sinking line, you can easily break a rod tip.)
I used the Helix model on my recent trip to Alberta where conditions were tough. My T&T didn't let me down. My friend using an inferior rod couldn't cope with the windy conditions, he had to change over to spinning. If you have tried the rest then, why not try what I feel are the best, from Thomas & Thomas.