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The Sciences

The Physics of ... Fly-Fishing

Angling for Momentum The quest for a unified theory of fly casting

By Curtis RistSeptember 1, 1999 5:00 AM

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By Curtis Rist

Joan Wulff handles a fishing rod with grace and explosive power. In 1960, she set the women's unofficial world record for distance casting--a blistering 161 feet. Now the grande dame of fly-fishing at age 72, Wulff has not lost her touch. Standing on the banks of the Beaverkill River near her fabled fishing school in New York's Catskill mountains, she raises and points the tip of an 8-foot rod just over her shoulder, gives a sudden backward snap of the wrist, and sends 40 feet of the line sailing straight back behind her. As the line hangs in the air, she drops her arm down toward her waist. Then she launches the line forward, depositing a feathery fly silently out on the water exactly where she wanted it. "If you do it right," Wulff says, "the fly shoots by your head like a bullet."

Full text of this article appears in Discover magazine.

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