Most Trail residents have seen him standing thigh deep in the Columbia River with a long, supple spey rod, methodically performing a graceful D-loop, then with a mighty haul, sending the fly line arcing into the stratosphere, before touching down on the rushing river.
Trail resident Bruce Kruk is a competitive fly-angler and spey caster whose passion involves throwing string from his two-handed spey rod just as far as he can.
The 48-year-old Teck employee has taken his passion to a world-class level and will compete in the World championship of spey casting at the 11th annual Jimmy Green Spey-O-Rama at the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club in San Francisco next weekend.
The Alberta native has been fly fishing for over 25 years, and took up the spey rod when he moved to Trail in 1997.
“When I moved here, the Columbia was huge compared to what I was use to fishing,” said Kruk. “Spey fishing was just kind of happening at the time, and I moved out west so I could go steelheading, so I just got into it.”
Spey casting is a relatively new development in the world of fly fishing, and it is to fly fishing what a corked-bat is to baseball, except it’s perfectly legal. But just as a corked bat will hit a ball further, so a spey rod will launch a fly across the mighty Columbia.
The typical spey rod is generally a two-handed rod that measures 12 to 16 feet, whereas the average fly rod is about nine feet. The unique rod is made for big water and big fish, and with its longer reach Kruk has had ample luck hooking massive steelhead on B.C. rivers like the Thompson and Clearwater and the legendary redband rainbows on his home water the Columbia.
“I can fish at 140 to 150 feet all day long,” said Kruk. “And the bigger fish are out there. Over the years I’ve lost so many big fish, so I just keep going up in tackle size and now I use actually heavier tippet (on the Columbia) than I actually use for steelhead.”
After years perfecting his casting technique, Kruk began competing in 2008 at events in Idaho before hitting his first Spey-O-Rama in San Francisco in 2010.
Kruk also recently travelled to Ireland in October where he competed and trained with his GaelForce Team made up of Irish and Scottish spey casters.
“When I went over there, there was a competition that was happening, but it was also like a training camp situation,” he said. “I really feel like I made some big strides during that time.”
With spey casting becoming more and more popular, and the technology rapidly evolving, the talent pool has increased dramatically. And while casting on the Columbia is a great training ground, it pales in comparison to the heat of competition.
“Competition is totally different,” says Kruk. “When fishing you’re totally relaxed, whereas competition that you’ve got in San Francisco, there will be 30 of the best spey casters in the world all watching you do your thing.”
Kruk’s best performance at Spey-O-Rama was a 13th place finish. His expectation going into this year’s event is not necessarily to win but to improve on his past performances.
“When I compete, it’s not like I’m competing against other people. I like to compete against myself. I’ve done better every year that I’ve gone to competition so I’m just pushing myself to see how good I can do.”
With more and more anglers taking up the spey rod, the bar continues to rise at annual competitions.
“It used to be that a 150-foot cast would be a winning cast, but now nobody thought that 600 feet would be broken – for your combined casts – but a fellow on my team last year broke it.”
Indeed, the world-record, a cumulative score of the sum of best of three for each of four different casts (left and right spey cast, and left and right snake roll), was set at last year’s Spey-O-Rama by Ireland’s Gerard Downey at 711 feet, while the world-record for a single cast was set when Norwegian Geir Hansen sent a right-hand single spey cast 191-feet.
Kruk is not far off the mark though, as his longest cast in competition measured 180 feet.
“There’s a little bit of luck involved with the skill. If you get the right wind at the right time anything can happen.”
The event takes place Apr. 11-13 at the venerable Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club which has a series of long pools made for competition. Kruk will compete against the world’s best in the Men’s division, where he will have six minutes to complete 12 casts, with the longest combined four casts winning the championship.