A group of men made huge casts with fishing rods in the middle of a farm paddock on the outskirts of Kaitaia on Saturday.
No it wasn't an outtake from Monty Python's Flying Circus but the Kaitaia leg of the NZACA (New Zealand Angling and Casting Association) Tackle Tactics tournament, one of three regional events leading to the nationals at Gisborne in March.
Organiser Jock Bielski noted the event was designed to allow distance casting specialists to get their arm, eye and aim in before nationals, helped anglers test and perfect their long distance casting technique, and provided a forum to teach anyone else - from newcomer to experienced - interested in learning more about the craft. Despite the event initially appearing to be the very antithesis of fishing with nary a drop of water, ocean or otherwise, to be seen or sniffed at, exponents generally believed this sort of competition naturally improved fishing skills.
One queried about the seemingly unusual location was Gary Whittaker, all the way from Wellington. Hitting 214m with one cast, Whittaker noted it was more practical to measure distance inland than on a beach. Also, "It gives you an opportunity to perfect your casting but it's not the be-all and end-all [for catching fish]," he said frankly.
He also spoke of how he had seen some anglers in the Snapper Bonanza on 90 Mile Beach swim out to a sandbank with their rods and reels and then stand up and cast from there, whereas the average experienced long distance caster did not need to go to such, cough, lengths.
The sport could certainly do with a stronger profile. Kaitaia only attracted a total of eight participants while the other two events in Feilding and Papamoa drew more but not by much, around 15 anglers featuring at each.
Europeans were traditionally the best in the world at distance casting as the sport was apparently more popular in places where there weren't much fish. World champions such as the infamous Big Danny Moeskops could cast more than 300m, in a game where greater weight and height was seen as an advantage.
The anglers use specialist rods and reels and have the option of working with different sinker weights and line combinations: 0.28mm line/1.25g sinker, 0.31mm/150, 0.35mm/175 etc. Surprisingly, lighter weights often worked better with a good wind under them.
There were several different divisions able to be contested from midgets (e.g. aged up to 12), juniors (up to 16 years), open men and women, golden oldies (over 55) to veteran golden oldies (over 70). Fair to say, most of those in the Kaitaia regionals were contesting the open men's division.
All use a pendulum technique where the sinker is not supposed to touch the ground, and casting was always wind assisted. The course in Kaitaia was re-set during the morning - after a small shift in the wind direction was detected - by the tried and true method of releasing tufts of grass to see which way they blew.
The best cast of the day was 231m by Peter Froggatt from Dargaville who held a national record of 242m and has also cast 247m as a personal best (not officially ratified). While he wouldn't confirm whether he would attend the upcoming nationals due to the cost and time involved, the affable Froggatt was a firm believer the sport gave him an advantage outside the arena.
"I use it for fishing all the time." On technique, he added, "I religiously pendulum cast ... Keep everything slow - hit it right at the end."