Golden Gate Park fly casting pools have resisted flood of change

Golden Gate Park was built as a retreat from the pressures of urban life. Yet as we know from the traffic, sporadic crime and gathering of homeless tribes, it often succumbs to it.

But one feature of the park has resisted the modern onslaught, staying as true to its origins today as it was when it opened 73 years ago. And it remains the one place in San Francisco that is probably better known in the outside world than it is within The City’s own borders.

That would be the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club, a rustic gem that, in its reflecting pools, offers fly casters and fishermen a sea of tranquility in the form of three large concrete ponds and a woodsy lodge to house their sport’s trappings and history.

Click on the photo to the right to see more pictures of the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club.

On a warm spring night — though fog won’t stop them either — you’ll find a handful of people looping their lines across the water, an almost Zen-like maneuver that they’ll repeat hundreds of times without a word. They come to find the peace and solitude contained in the snap of a line and a ripple in the water.

“The cool thing about fly casting is that there’s always going to be more to learn,” said George Revel, the club’s vice president and one of its instructors. “It also takes you to some of the most beautiful places in the world.”

Like the club itself. A visit to the angler’s lodge is like a snapshot in time, except the place happens to be timeless. The lodge, built as a Works Progress Administration program in 1936, looks like it belongs in Yosemite or Tahoe, back before those destinations became overrun with tourists. But its roots are considerably older.

The San Francisco Fly Casting Club began in 1894, when the first tournament was held at Stow Lake. The club had a lodge there and one on the Truckee River, but after the Great Depression, its members decided to build a new lodge and lobbied Recreation and Park commissioners to help them.

For its model, the group toured a similar fly casting facility in Portland, Ore., and then picked a site in Golden Gate Park (across from the bison paddock) for its new home. The lodge opened in 1938 and has been home to some of the finest fly casters and rod and reel makers in the industry.

The first glass-to-glass ferrule was created there, and design titan and club member Jim Green built the world’s first graphite fly rods. Some club members were involved in the development of new tapers, and the prototypes of the modern high-density fly rods used today were fashioned by club members.

If you don’t believe me, a visit to the lodge will clarify the sport’s history for you, where much of it is displayed in glass cases and photos from the hundreds of international tournaments which have been held here. The people who hang their rods there say it is considered the nicest fly casting facility in the United States.

Just a few weeks ago, the club held its annual Spey-O-Rama, a tournament that draws fly casters from around the world to cast for glory. They start at sunrise and stay well into the night, a sort of extended reel life for sport-fishing enthusiasts.

If the club, with its 546 dues-paying members, sounds select, it’s probably only because you’ve never heard of it. Anyone can join — if offers classes for kids, clinics for adults and regular fishing trips.

Tripp Diedrichs purchased her first fly rod in 1981 and joined a few years later, serving as a three-term president and the club’s in-house historian. The sense of pride she holds for the place is almost as bright as the lacquered lockers that date back more than a century.

“This place has been special for a long, long time,” she said. “The club is like the sport, it’s been passed down through the generations.”

Diedrichs took me on a lengthy tour and Revel gave me a lesson that proved the only thing I could catch in a stream is a cold, but the casting itself is a blast.

You can see a thread of San Francisco’s history here, a long, thin fly line dancing along the water’s surface.

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