Highly commended Henry Lawson Gulgong 1999
"G'DAY, this where the casting competition is?" The slow voice rumbled from his chest.
There were about four hundred people in the park. Most of the competitors were gathered at one end testing their rods. In the middle holding court, five times champion Free Fly Jones.
"Yeah," said Shorty as he opened a can of beer, "come to watch?"
The lanky lad grinned and stuck out his hand to me. "Name's Snapper, you wouldn't have one o' them spare would ya?"
My hand felt like a babies in his big mitt. "Help yourself, plenty more in the back of the car."
He shook my friend's hand with the same gusto. Snapper pulled the ring-top off the and downed half without pausing for breath.
"I've come to play." He said as he drained the can.
Shorty looked up at Snapper. "Oh?"
"Snapper," I said watching him downing the second one, "you haven't got a rod."
Can halfway up to his mouth, his grey eyes came to rest on mine.
"'Course I've got a rod." His hand disappeared down into his long jacket. He drew out a bundle of bamboo cane.
"It's got to be no more than six feet six." Shorty grinned patting Snapper on the arm. "And you must have a spinning reel."
Out of another pocket Snapper produced a rusty looking Shakespeare reel.
Shorty whistled. "I didn't know they were still around."
"Belonged to me dad." Snapper's fingers expertly notched the bamboo cane together. Finished, he stood the rod against his chest. It rested under his chin. "Bit long ya reckon?"
Shorty held his shiny rod beside the dull bamboo. "About three inches."
The big fella nodded and bit into the top of his rod. The cane snapped cleanly.
Before our eyes, a fishing rod was being born.
Shorty, all practise forgotten, stared at the craftsman's nimble fingers.
"Where are you from Snapper."
"'Round the Alice."
"All you life?"
Snapper threaded the line through the eyes. "Mostly. No need to go anywhere else."
"Where do you wet your line?"
Snapper cast his grey eyes over the two of us. "The Todd. Me and me mates go there now and then." His face lit up, "My shout. Is that the beer tent over there?"
Shorty gripped my arm. " This fella's loony. The Todd river floods every thousand years! We can make some money on this. I'll make sure Snapper gets registered. You go to Bert. Put twenty on me, they know we're mates and put fifty on Snapper. If Free Fly wins this year he keeps the cup. We'll use Snapper as bait and I get the cup!"
"Here ya go," Snapper dropped four cans onto my lap, "get them into ya."
"I'll go and register you Snapper."
"I'm curious," I asked as I sipped my beer, "why are you going into this competition."
He emptied his can before answering.
"Never been in a competition. Thought I'd take something home for the boys. I hear there's a fella that takes bets," he slid me a hundred dollar note, "put that on me for me will ya?"
"Did you really fish on the Todd?"
"Yah, good fly fishing when the seasons right."
"Gentlemen!" The judge looked solemnly at the contestants. "The rules are simple. With a one ounce weight you cast into the circle, at twenty, thirty and forty yards. Those left will try and hit the gong at fifty yards. After that, the one closest to a beer glass at a hundred or more yards. Get ready!"
Free Fly, being champion cast first. Twenty-seven followed. Some missed. Number twenty nine was Snapper.
His style brought sniggers from the crowd. He cast underarm, throwing his left leg forward as the weight flew through the air. Free Fly hid his smile behind a flabby hand.
It landed right in the middle.
At the forty yards there were fifteen left.
Ding! Ding! Ding!
Three weights hit the gong at fifty yards. Free Fly, Shorty and - Snapper.
The crowd grew silent. This year was going to be different.
I noticed small beads of sweat on Free Fly's upper lip. Shorty checked his line. Snapper came over and took the can of beer I held for him.
"Gentlemen. With a weight of two ounces at one hundred yards, closest to the glass."
Snapper brought out a new lead weight from another pocket. I wondered what else he carried around.
Shorty landed two hands span from the glass.
Free Fly cast. The line curved into the air. It bounced once on the ground and hit the side of the glass.
Snapper did the same.
Shorty pushed past me without a glance.
Free Fly was talking to the judge.
The judge consulted his rule book.
Snapper walked over. "He's just trying to put you off your stride," I said, "there is nothing in the rules that says you can't cast underarm."
He tugged at my hair.
"My weight's a bit under and black is heavier than blonde."
The glass was moved back ten yards.
Free Fly took off his jacket. He was in trouble and everybody knew it. Snapper leaned on his rod and stared up at the sky.
The grin nearly split Free Fly's face as the judge called out, 'One hand span'.
Snapper swiftly tied my strand of hair just above the weight. Free Fly sneezed and apologised. Snapper didn't hear him as he stepped up to the line.
The line trembled in mid flight, paused and glided toward the ground. "Nowhere near it," some-one said.
The call came from the judge and echoed around the park. "It's in the glass!"
"Tell me," I handed him his winnings, "you said you went fly fishing on the Todd. What exactly did you mean by that?"
"In the summer when there's not much doing, me and me mates would bet who could knock a fly at whatever distance they nominated." Snapper's grey eyes twinkled. "Thanks for the beer."
© John W. Kelly