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Guitar virtuoso hits right string as angler

Guitar virtuoso Christopher Parkening is accustomed to answering questions about the classical music.

His former teacher, the legendary Andres Segovia, once referred to him as "one of the most brilliant guitarists in the world."

His recordings have earned two Grammy Award nominations. His concert appearances, such as the one scheduled tonight for Ruth Eckerd Hall, in Clearwater, routinely draw sellout crowds.

But if you really want to get the maestro excited, just ask him about his favorite sport.

"I had a fly rod in my hand years before I ever picked up a guitar," Parkening said. "My father had me flyfishing when I was 6 years old. I didn't start playing the guitar until I was 11."

Long before Parkening captivated audiences from New York to Tokyo, he displayed another world-class talent by winning the Western United States All-Around Casting Competition, sort of the Super Bowl of flycasting.

"When I was young, my father and I spent many long hours in the casting pool," he said. "We were always trying to develop distance and accuracy."

Those skills are what an angler needs when stalking tarpon in the clear waters of the grass flats off Homosassa. Parkening loves to pursue the silver king of sportfish, and has traveled several times to the west coast of Florida and fished with two local guides: Capt. Al Dopirak and Capt. Ed Walker.

"There is nothing quite like sight fishing in clear water," Parkening said. "That is why I like Florida so much.

"When you stand there and face a 150-pound tarpon 80 feet away, your knees start to shake. You realize that if you cast the fly properly, you are in for one of the most exciting times of your life."

That's why Parkening finds flyfishing similar to performing in front of a packed concert house.

"When flyfishing for tarpon, bonefish and permit, you have to be able to control your nerves under pressure," Parkening said. "In order to accomplish anything of excellence, it takes discipline and hard work."

Eventually, it pays off. Parkening has won the International Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament, often called the Wimbledon of flyfishing. The event is conducted every year in Islamorada, in the Florida Keys.

"I'll never forget the last day, when we won the tournament," Parkening said. "The fish literally pulled the guide overboard. I can still see his red bandana as he was pulled along 12 feet underwater."

Nothing quite compares to the thrill of tangling with a tarpon on light tackle, Parkening said.

"A friend once said it's like "being attached to a freight train,' " Parkening said. "I think that is the best way to describe it."

In June, Parkening landed three tarpon, estimated at 180 pounds, 170 pounds and 160 pounds, fishing with Dopirak near Homosassa.

"You don't have many days like that," Parkening said. "We released all of the fish.

"I release all the fish that I catch, trout or tarpon. I'm an avid conservationist, and I'm in it for the sport. I enjoy catching them, setting them free, then watching somebody else catch them."

To drive home his point, Parkening recalled one fish that inhabited a brook high up in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains of California.

"It was a 6{-pound rainbow trout, and everybody called her Josephine," he said. "She had been caught and released at least six times on dry fly."

Despite his celebrity status, Parkening considers himself just another fisherman.

"The guides like to kid me," he said. "They say if we run out of shock tippet (leader material) they could always use my third guitar string. And you know, it would probably be about the right size."

Kingfish seminar: Capt. Joe Genovese of the charter boats Ramble On and Sea Cap II will offer a free seminar on how to catch fall kingfish. This session is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the St. Petersburg Beach recreation Center, 7701 Boca Ciega Dr.

For information, call Ralph or Marcia Seeders at 522-7435 or Capt. Larry Blue at 595-4798.