He was the Dick Walker of pre-war England, and as such was employed by Hardyís to endorse their high quality bottom-fishing rods and reels, which bore his name. The Hardy No.1 Wallis Avon was the Rolls-Royce of pre-war coarse fishing rods, and good examples now command high prices. The exquisite little Hardy Wallis centre-pin is sought after even more keenly.
Apart from his long-standing barbel record, FWK is probably best known for his very beautiful and difficult method of casting directly from a centre-pin reel. Wallis didnít invent the cast. Thereís some debate about who actually did, but the most likely candidate seems to be the great Nottingham angler William Bailey. What is sure is that Wallis popularised and possibly perfected the art. It is also sure that it was the invention of the very free-running Aerial reel by Henry Coxon that made the cast a practical proposition for most anglers.
Crabtree readers will remember that their hero was pictured casting right across the Royalty fishery using the Wallis cast. But the drawings and limited text somehow contrived to make the cast impossible to learn, so those of us who tried very quickly gave it up as a lost cause. Line was very expensive in those days, and it certainly didnít take long to ruin it when attempting to emulate the good Mr.Crabtreeís Wallis casting skills.
Thirty-something years on, Paul Witcher, best known for his superb Aerial reels, became increasingly incensed by my Wallis casting antics, and politely insisted that I learn to perform the cast properly. I have to say that his firmness of purpose in making me buckle-down to the practice regime required, has produced one of the most significant improvements in my angling career. My only regret now is that I didnít possess the will-power to try a bit harder thirty years ago.
The essential difference between Paulís Wallis casting lesson, and those to which I had been subjected previously, (notably, by a particularly impatient Dave Steuart) is that he insisted that I start with a _oz. lead, rather than float tackle. If one is ever to master this delicious art, then a decent sized lead is the preferred, nae, essential key to the retention of sanity, and to ultimate success.
In the distant days of Wallis and his cronies, very few anglers practiced leger fishing as a method; at least not those who considered themselves to be skilled and finessful exponents of bottom fishing. Conversely, it is probably true to say that these days legering accounts for the vast majority of all barbel caught, and a goodly percentage of the chub too. It follows that apart from its place within the learning process, the ability to perform a good Wallis cast with a lead is in itself extremely valuable. Once that is achieved, the angler can hone his art by degrees until quite light float tackle can also be cast using the method. The important thing is that confidence will have been established, and fish caught, due to the initial efforts.
The first thing to understand and accept completely is that it ainít easy. Having said that, itís nothing like as impossible as I had always previously thought. If you have anything approaching a sense of timing, plus the determination to achieve something worthwhile, you should be able to cast useful distances after perhaps six or seven hours of practice (not necessarily all at once).
Aspiring newcomers to the art will find that the Wallis cast as described by Crabtree is a total pig to do; in fact I reckon itís nigh-on impossible. I would advise any would-be Wallis caster to ignore those wonderfully seductive Venables drawings in favour of the step-by-step method suggested below. There are about a dozen variations on the basic Wallis cast. The method described below is a modification of what the infinitely patient Paul Witcher spent hours inculcating into me, and I really believe it to be the easiest way to learn the essential timing skills.
I shall assume that you hold the rod in your right hand and wind the reel with your left. If you are left handed, or insist for some cock-eyed reason on doing it the other way round, then all hand instructions should be reversed. Youíll need a bit of space to practice, but a small lawn is enough to start with.
Start with a rod of between 10í - 12í long. Iím mostly using an old 11í0" Jamesí Avocet at the moment, and that seems to suit the easy action required perfectly. Of course, although the easy action of cane is ideal, those of more modern persuasion can as easily use carbon. It is vitally important that the reel employed be as free-running as possible. It should be an open type, without a standard cage, loaded with line of about 8 lbs.
At a pinch you can get by with most makes of centre-pin, even an ancient but free-running star-back will do the job. Inevitably, such reels impose a handicap, and to give yourself the best possible chance of success it pays to use the best tool for the job that you can afford. I believe that three reels stand head and shoulders above the others: the pre-war wide drum twelve-spoked Allcocks Aerial, Plowman Royal Aerials (virtually unobtainable), and the latest Witcher Aerials. Of these, only the Witcher Aerial can be obtained with any certainty, and then only if you are prepared to wait your turn. Chris Yates uses a 4" Witcher Bisterne Aerial, and other Wallis Masters have said that that this is the finest Wallis casting reel of them all. There are several very worthy grade B reels: the post-war wide drum Allcocks Aerial (still obtainable second-hand for about £170), pre-war Allcocks Aerial Populars (rising in price at an amazing rate,) the excellent Youngís Purist wide drum, and Richard Carterís Aerial types. At a budget price, Swallow centre-pins, and the under-rated Grice and Young centre-pins offer good performance. Good centre-pins are expensive, but in the unlikely event that you decide to discontinue your Wallis casting regime your investment may even show you a healthy profit. However, anglers with real spirit find that there is profit enough in the joy of its use.
The first picture shows some of the best Wallis casting reels. From the bottom right clockwise Ultra-Rare Witcher Millennium. Witcher Bisterne. Plowman Royal. 1935 Aerial 12 spoke 4" wide. 1920ís Aerial 12 spoke narrow. 1935 Aerial 3_" wide. Centre 1935 Aerial 3" wide (which casts like a demon, but retrieves rather slowly in fast water).
The second picture shows some excellent grade B reels. Top right 1960 3_" Aerial. Top left 1939 Aerial Popular. Bottom right 1930ís Allcocks No 9. Bottom left Youngs Seldex (an excellent but as yet underrated reel).
If ever there was a skill that should be taught man to man(or woman), and hands, on itís Wallis casting. Many have said it would be useful to have an instructional video, and maybe Iíll get around that that one day. In the meanwhile, I hope following regime and pictures will help to get you going.
One more thing: by nature most Wallis casters are kindly, contemplative folks. If you ever see one in action, watch well, and if a moment seems clear, donít be afraid to ask him to spare five minutes to show you the basics.
The cast: First steps
Put a marker on the ground, and always stand on that spot. In this way you will be able to monitor your progress accurately. We are going to concentrate on a simple under-hand swing cast, with the lead making as little lateral movement as possible.
Ease out line until you can hold the lead, or the line immediately above the lead, in the fingers of your left hand. Your thumb should be crooked over the line just in front of the spool (as it leads forward off the bottom of the spool towards the butt-ring). The right hand thumb presses on the rim of the reel to prevent it moving (during this stage of the learning process). This starting position of the hands is fundamental - you must get it absolutely right before attempting any sort of movement. (Fig.1)
Hold the rod parallel to the ground, at about waist height. (Fig.2)
Lift the rod in a very gentle swing to about 11 o/c, and at the same time release the lead, so that it swings out straight ahead of the rod, and Ďplaceí it on the ground. Itís very easy, and float fishers do it all the time with no conscious effort or thought. Place a 6" target mark on the ground where your lead has landed. I would suggest that you do this swing and place exercise a hundred or so times, until you can Ďplaceí the lead on the 6" target every time.
A vital tip to help you progress - To prevent the lead from hitting the ground as soon as you let it go, you will find it helps to take in some slack line by drawing it back with your left thumb (or the whole of the palm of your hand, if you prefer it). Believe it or not, youíre already well on your way to a basic Wallis cast.
The next stage:
To progress to the next stage you have initiate turning of the spool to feed out line. By perfecting the initial stage, learning to draw in slack line with your left thumb, and becoming used to the correct position for the thumb that performs that action, you have already laid the foundations of the cast proper. Here is where you start in earnest.
You have been swinging your lead out to the target mark. Now move that mark away from you (or step back) - 3í NO MORE. That is your new target.
Using exactly the same hand position as before, swing the lead out as before towards your new target, and as you let go of the lead, gently pull the extra line that you need off the reel with the thumb of your left hand (which you will remember is crooked around the reel-line). The thumb pulls the line - and itís that pull on the line sets the spool revolving. You will need to ease your right thumb off the rim to allow the spool to revolve, and you will need to stop the spool from moving when the lead has reached the target. Whilst you are learning the basic casting technique, keep the reel below the rod at all times - it helps to stop extra loops of line falling off the spool, and catching round the saddle of the reel.
It sounds desperately complicated, but if you have spent enough time just placing the lead onto the 6" target as described, then this new stage will not be too great a step. It is quite likely that you will get an over-run or two when you first try this extended distance; you may even get hundreds of over-runs, but this is the essential step that must be mastered. When you have cast that one extra yard, you have achieved your first proper Wallis cast, albeit a very modest one.
At this stage, donít even think about attempting to cast across the Avon. If you do, expect an over-run that will bring tears to your eyes. When I achieved my first serious Wallis cock-up the reel all but disappeared under a tangled mass of line. All I could do was stare at the result in stunned disbelief. The Chinese have a wonderfully appropriate saying: Ďthe longest journey starts with but a single step.í You have just made a single step, and you still have a long way to go. Itís worth putting the far side of the Avon into some perspective though, because itís generally only about 25 - 30 yards away, and itís seldom that you will need to cast even half that distance. You simply have to extend that single yard until you can reach the distances you need for your own fishing. Ten yards will cover the majority of angling needs. Talking of the Chinese; you should try to obtain a copy of Confuciusí excellent book - Zen, and the Art of Wallis Casting. This book will transform your fishing. If you canít find it, anything on Zen will help.
As with the initial swing and place stage, you should now do no more than ease that extra yard of line until you can hit the target every time. When you can do that a hundred times without a single error - move the target out to 2 yards, then 3 yards, and so on. That is the method and system in a nut-shell.
Progress from that 1 yard cast is simply a matter of practice and patience. The movements, timing, and power required to put the lead out to thirty yards are somewhat different to your 1 yard effort. But by extending the range in 1 yard increments, the technique, including in-flight feathering of the spool, becomes completely natural, and automatic. The rod is loaded just a little more as the distance increases. The speed imparted to the spool by the thumb pulling line, is increased also. Fear not: the whole thing is so subtly done, that these changes evolve without fear, drama, or conscious additional effort. If you get into trouble - go back a yard until your confidence is re-established.
As your distance increases you will find that the action of the rod in the right hand, and the left hand initiating the reel-spin, are both changing. Itís not something that I need to describe, or something that you need to learn: as I said before, by moving out a yard at a time the changes will evolve so imperceptibly, that you will hardly know that they are occurring. The final movements of the rod and reel hands vary between anglers, and those differences donít matter a bit. Paul Witcher seems hardly to move the rod at all, and his reel-spin action seems almost be slow-motion, yet his Wallis casts reach the far bank with ease. Demus Canning is another polished Wallis caster with an effortless action, whereas Chris Yates has an awkward sort of style, but he achieves good distance, puts the bait where he wants it to be, and catches far too many fish. My own casts go a long way, and generally where I want them to go, but at the expense of having evolved a somewhat embarrassingly flamboyant action that would frighten the life out of me if I were a Barbel.
The final Wallis cast (Underhand)
The rod is compressed by the weight of the lead. As the lead is propelled forward, the right thumb lifts to release the spool, and left thumb strips the line back to the left side of the body to set the spool spinning. The blur of the rod and hand give some idea of the dynamics of the cast.
Maximum left-arm extension. The line is flowing around the left thumb. Right thumb hovering just over the rim damping-out any inclination to over-run.
As the cast nears completion, the left hand is moved back slowly towards the reel.
The lead reaches its target. The left hand is back beside the reel where it started, and the right thumb stops the reel from revolving.
The Wallis cast is by no means a lost black art; it is alive, thriving in the misty dells of traditionalist dwellers, and as applicable today as 100 hundred years ago when it was invented. The fixed spool reel has removed the absolute necessity to learn to cast off a centre-pin, but the pleasure and accuracy offered by the pin more than make up for the effort involved. Most anglers acknowledge the efficiency and pleasure of playing a fish off a centre-pin, with its direct contact, rather than the remote feeling imposed by a fixed-spool gearbox. Mastery of the Wallis cast allows the use of a pin for all but the most distant swims.
Youíll have to reconcile yourself to a regime of slow progress, perseverance, and patience. Learning to Wallis cast can be a bit character-forming at times, but once achieved, you will find its perfect execution to be one of lifeís great pleasures.
Next month, I will tell you more of Wallis cast derivatives, Eastern influences, and about the high art of those who are admitted to membership of the World Council of Wallis Grand Masters.