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Practice makes perfect in fly-fishing

Balancing on a rock on the shore of New Zealand's Lake Taupo, an intrepid fly-caster talked about his craft.

"Most evenings, you'll find the trout feeding on this shallow shelf out here," he said, pointing to the large open expanse. "That's when you'll see all the lads out here."

But this night, with 10-knot winds delivering a sheet of rain like a wall of BBs, the grizzled angler stood alone.

"But trout aren't stupid," he continued. "They're over there on the other side of that dropoff, nice and cozy in deep water."

A good 100 feet away, he didn't have a chance, especially in this wind.

"Right, mate," I said. "Pull a rainbow out of that hole and the pint is on me."

He smiled and I knew at once that it had been unwise to taunt a Kiwi, especially one armed with a 9-foot fly rod.

The graybeard snapped the line through the air like a bullwhip in answer to my challenge. Back and forth the line screamed, each effortless move of his wrist carrying the streamer closer to his goal.

He looked back over his shoulder, winked and let it rip. The fly sailed past its mark.

A few seconds later, as he gathered in the slack, the line pulled tight.

The master angler laughed.

"Forget the pint, Yank," he said. "Just go home and tell 'em that's how it's done."

I sat in the rain and watched, and when he stopped to change flies, I asked for his secret.

"Just remember " he said, "the more you learn, the less you know."

Once you pick up a fly rod, you'll understand. For fly-fishing is one discipline that becomes harder as you get better.

You quickly discover that no matter how good you are, you always can tighten the loop or soften the presentation.

Sure, now and then, you come across as a natural, like the New Zealand angler. But for most mortals, it takes practice. If you work at it long enough, you'll get good. Once you're good, you'll want to be the best.

But there is only one way to tell: a showdown, a shootout for all the big guns. That is what they are calling Saturday's first annual Tampa Bay Fly Casting Tournament _ The Big Gun Shoot-Out.

Sponsored by the Tampa Bay Fly Fishing Club, a recently formed organization for fly-rod enthusiasts, the Shoot-Out should draw the area's top fly-casters.

"It's going to be a fun thing, something for the whole family," said Tom Theus, one of the organizers. "We'll have casting clinics, fly-tying a good introduction to the sport."

The Tampa Bay Fly Fishing Club is different from most fishing clubs. One of its main goals is to protect the "environment, natural resources and its species."

"It is our moral duty to pass along to the next generation these things in the best possible condition, for them to enjoy as we have," their literature states.

It's what you'd expect from anglers who continuously are coming up with more challenging ways to catch fish.

The Big Gun Shoot-Out is a good excuse to come out and learn something about the art of fly-fishing. Clinics start at 10, with the competition scheduled for noon.

For information, call 932-3140.