Melaleuca Media
Casting back for the basics (Fly Life magazine)

Former shearer turned cop turned master caster Harro showed Susan how it is done

“I used to wag the Catholic convent school I was at to go fishing. In the end I figured I was better being by a river contemplating heaven and hell, than in church thinking about fishing” says Rod Harrison as he patiently talks me through my first correctional lesson.

“If you have done a bit of fishing, you will have probably picked up bad habits and you will have to unlearn them. You have to ingrain the basics”.

By the time Harro had taken me through stance, arm position, speed, timing and release, I realised I was all bad habit and decided to let go the lot and start again.

“Power and accuracy come from timing and finesse” he said. Well finesse isn't a word I have been accused of in my unorthodox, learn bits as you go from anyone nearby the water style.

From Tassie to Hervey Bay, New England to the Snowy's, as I took up fly fishing, people told me I was lucky when they found out where I lived, because “you are near Harro”.

Breathlessly they told me Harro was the best flycaster in Australia, the guru of salt water fishing, and the man who, lucky devil, traveled round the world to the best spots to giving us his experience through fishing magazines.

And there he was, peppered throughout those magazines, a big man on big adventures holding big fish.

Thing is, I didn't actually want big fish. I wanted the whole experience, and fish were an incidental bonus. But after months of trying and lots of well meaning fishers suggesting different ways, I realised my casting wasn't getting better. And a few more fish of any size would be nice.

When I finally got the courage to ring and organise a lesson he met me in a big ute, with two big mates, Shaun Ash and Bluey.

They had all come to sort me out and in truth I felt rather small and deeply clumsy.

Harro had forearms like hams and massive paws. A former shearer who was “pretty fast”, and then NSW copper during the rough period, it was hard to imagine him being one of the best at a gentle sport.

He gave a demonstration over a river pool. One false cast back, forth, back once more, an almost imperceptible jerk of the line and it flew 100 feet to the bridge. The bridge stopped it.

Mentally I compared it to my efforts where I gave, ahem, way too many false casts with line reluctantly crawling out about 30 feet at best, collapsing in an undignified heap.

Harro did it once more. Finally I understood the term shooting line, because it was as if he had pointed a gun and pulled the trigger. The line forcefully ejected from his rod, pushing out hard, again, a 100 feet to the bridge.

Shaun and Blue gave demonstrations while Harro took me through the basics covering off casting methodologies, “it is a bit like religions, there are plenty of ways to get to heaven.”

“Many people apply energy, money and time to fly fishing, thinking that will be enough. It isn't” he warned. “To be a good caster, you have to apply the subtleties.

“Men usually testosterone the cast. But the more oomph and grunt, the worse the cast. Women will listen, use a softer touch and understand they need finesse and timing.”

It might be easier to teach us to cast, but it isn't an easy sport for us to enter, though more are doing it. In tackle shops I am frequently asked if I am looking for something for my husband. The gear, particularly the well priced clothing, boots and waders is nearly always in mens sizes. The rods, have wider cork handles for bigger hands.

And the analogies are skewed to other sports which are mostly male. “For example with football... or ...use an orthodox boxing stance, shifting the power in your legs.” And the stories are about big fish on big rods. Excuse me, you fellows tell us size shouldn't matter.

Fly fishing is a higher form of fishing according to Harro who points out he isn't really interested in the “kill it, fillet, grill it” experience. A protege of Lefty Kreh, Harro became the Sage representative, “to spread the word in the southern seas”.

Note Sage distributers, your money was well spent, when I as a novice, knowing no-one who fly fished, wanted to start up, I waited until I had saved enough for my lone rod, a Sage 8 weight four piece.

And boy do I get some respect at the water front when I pull it out. That is, until they see me in action....ah well. Perhaps it isn't such a good example.

Now a representative for Strudwick, which he terms “the best value for money” it was the demonstration rod Harro used patiently with me casting in two gentle, confidence building hours.

Theory, a practical lesson, back to the theory, over to the water. It was exciting to feel line move like it wanted to, though it wasn't anything like the sort of speed and distance Shaun, Blue and Harro achieved effortlessly.

“The rod and reel is basically a delivery system, developed in much the same time as the longbow” Harro said. “The original methodologies were predicated on the era, but now they have been modernised with more understanding of the physical biodynamics and more aerodynamic materials.”

Pulling out some line, standing behind me and taking my arm Harro started swinging the rod with me “you energise the rod to throw the line to deliver the fly. The rod has to configure the line in an efficient manner so you are using maximum efficiency from the energy you apply to the rod. Back to timing and stance being a single fluid motion.”

We were rocking again picking up that gentle back and forth pace, and I could start to feel the power in the rod. “The other hand holding the line is basically a gear lever. Keep your hands no more than a foot apart the whole time. When I say, let it go. Now if something goes wrong here, the end result is the fly goes wrong there. Timing and technique are the critical elements.”

The line was working in loops so tight it was easily passing between trees I would normally have been tangled in. The rocking motion was hypnotic.

“Now” he said firmly. I let go and the line scooted forward, exactly parallel to the practice rope landing out straight and where it was supposed to.

“Your turn” he said. And it worked, I could get the rhythm and the loops on my own and was casting better than I ever had. Finishing up at the rock pool after more ingraining experience I asked, with more than fifty years of wandering the waters of the globe, what became of his contemplation of heaven and hell?

A long pause and those clear blue eyes gazed down at the water. “Well whether there is someone up there pulling the strings, I don't know. But the life I have, fishing full time, traveling the world, going to exotic places, passing on the knowledge, well it's as good as it gets.”

A different kind of church has suited him well.

At home I practiced with a wooden spoon while dinner was cooking. Swaying my body and moving my arms and counting the timing. The feeling was familiar. It wasn't from orthodox boxing. It was more like the stance and rhythm of rocking a baby.