Steve Rajeff - Fly Fisherman par excellence
- and a great ambassador for the sport

Fishing instructor, fly fishing tuition and fishing trips based in Scotland. Salmon and trout fishing advice, flies and articles.

Fly fishing by Steve Rajeff - by Ally Gowans

Steve Rajeff - expert fly caster
Steve Rajeff

Perhaps you have never heard of Steve Rajeff and that is not altogether surprising. He is a quiet, reserved, unassuming, matter of fact kind of guy who does not seek the limelight. His casting skills are phenomenal, his fly line follows obediently behind the rod like a draughtsman’s pencil drawing lines on a board. He achieves a fluid mixture of precision and poetry of motion and the result is perfection. Less well known is Steve’s fishing prowess because unlike some expert casters he is also a top class guide and angler. Very few anglers will ever emulate his ability but we can do no harm in trying and for those wishing to reach the fly fishing stratosphere he is an inspiration.

Steve tell us a little about yourself, introduce yourself to our readers.

I was born and raised in San Francisco and got started with the sport of fly fishing when I was ten years of age. The Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club is close to my parents house, it is a very fine facility with a tremendous pond of about 180 yards long with targets in it and a Club House that has rod lockers. I was able to go there and practice my fly casting. I got introduced to the sport of tournament casting and this would have been about 1968 or so and quickly caught on to the sport and winning local competitions soon after. I entered an American Championship in 1970 and I got third place in the men’s division and in 1972 I won my first American Championship which includes spinning and bait casting, surf distance casting, fly accuracy casting and fly distance casting. It was a lot of fun and I met so many wonderful people who encouraged me to attend the World Championship in 1973 held in Scarborough. I went there and managed to do so well, winning the overall Championship and so at age 16 I won the World’s all round competition. It was amazing, we had so many visitors from other countries. I thought it was wonderful and decided to keep doing competition casting. So year by year I managed to maintain that all round Championship. It changed from an every year venue to every other year venue and now I have won 13 World Casting Championships all-round so what I can do with the fly I can do with the spinning or other tackle and that kind of paralleled itself into a career within the fishing rod industry and I became the fishing rod designer for the Loomis Co. I enjoy designing all types of rods but my personal favourite is fly fishing.

Have you achieved any world records in all these accomplishments?

Over the years I have set some distance fly casting records and I hold the American Record currently but at present the world record for single hand fly distance is held by a gentleman from Poland and it’s like 72 metres that like 240 feet nearly and the two handed fly event the record is 97 metres, over 300 feet but my American record is 290 feet for the double hand fly and 238feet for the single. There is a slight difference, in the American contest we stand flat on a level grass whereas in the World competition we have a bit of a raised platform a half a metre high. Its not a big change but enough to make a few feet of difference.  

Do you have any great fly fishing people that you looked up to when you were young? Did you think wow this guy is somebody.

Well I got started in San Francisco and there we had a great teacher that was an inspiration as a young guy and he was my first coach and his name was Mel Kreger and he is world renowned as one of the top instructors. He started one year before me but I still looked up to him and I thought wow this guy knows it all and he took me fishing a few times. Then I met another great caster in San Francisco that was very familiar with National Championships a gentleman named Phil Mervalley. He coached me into the fly distance competitions and then along the time of entering my World Championship. John Taratino was the World Champion for a few times on International and he coached me as well but I was able to join a lot of famous fly fishermen here in the States on an annual summer holiday to Yellowstone Park and I met people like Ernie Schewbert an author, fine artist and fly fisherman. Rene Harup is another great fly tier. I met up with Dave Whitlock. I met up with some of the other boys on the East Coast, Vince Marinero and Art Flick early on. I had a chance before I was 16-18 years old to meet the top known best tiers, fisherman and casters of America, I was so fortunate.

Absolutely that’s a tremendous introduction. Now here at the show we see lots of people thrashing rods around on the pool and some people are doing better than others. Supposing for the average caster who may never be interested in competitions, he just wants to go fishing. What kind of advice would you pass down in the way of hints or tips as to how to improve their casting?

The number one most important aspect of good casting is maintaining nice loop control. The loop is the curling shape of the line on the back cast as well as the front cast. Most people neglect the back cast, I learned early on that if I learnt to stop the rod crisply to form a narrow loop then relax the rest and if needed, reach with more stroke and more arm reach behind for extra distance but the most important thing people should improve on is the back cast loop.

Next thing I notice is a misalignment. The back cast and the front cast are not in a straight line path Imagine if you painted a stripe on the ground and you let the line hit the ground in a pile behind you it needs to land on this white line and if you go forward it needs to land on this white line again in front. What happens is they don’t have correct alignment and when they cast there is a tremendous curve or hook at the end of the cast.

Thirdly and probably as important is not quite generating the right power application when we want to go for that last cast. The tendency is to punch the power rather than smoothly apply the power in a gradual way and the result is what we call a tailing loop, a tangle of the leader results if you punch the cast. Again a much smoother application of power helps a lot of people.

So better loop control, alignment of front to the back casts and smooth power application generally helps most casters to improve.

We try to avoid getting ourselves hit with the fly we think if we throw the back cast away from ourselves in the back a little way that it keeps it away but actually if we throw the back cast away when it comes forward it wants to hit us or the rod and then go straight out and that's where this whole hooking and curving happens.

You are a famous caster but maybe not such a well known angler but I have heard that you are a very good angler. What type of fishing is your favourite?

I have grown up in the North West US and we have tremendous mountains and streams and I worked in Alaska as a fishing guide for 5 years and then I did the rowing of those drift boats on rivers in Montana for two more years. I really enjoy the clear water for salmon, trout and steelhead, where I can see a fish and make a presentation. I often enjoy those spring creeks where you have to match the fly to the hatch and select a trout but because I have lived so long in the North West my during holidays I take to the Tropics. I have been travelling to Florida or the Bahamas where you do bone fishing, tarpon, permit and red fish and other species where the water is shallow and you are sight casting. It’s a game of hunting as much as it is fishing, you have to see the fish, you have gotta make the perfect cast and retrieve it just right so that’s also fantastic for me. I have got to take selective trout, clear water for steelhead and the flats fishing, those are my favourites.

One of the problems the industry appears to be facing is the lack of recruitment, the lack of youngsters somehow or other fly fishing and like lots of other things and other games to these days, kids are not coming into it the same. Do you agree with that and if so how can we change it?

I agree with it and I am not sure if there is an easy answer. There are so many distractions and so easy access to electronic games or sports that are on television. If its not on television or its not easy access then its tough about the only thing I can consider if there is a National organisation like we have here called Boy Scouts. Boy Scouts have access to hundreds of thousands of kids and with them we recently enacted a merit badge for learning fly fishing we also have in the States the Federation of Fly Fisherman. Their bylaws require them to encourage education. So when you can have youth education tied in with the Boy Scouts that would be the way to generate the most contact and exposure. Then it boils down to the family and the parents, they can take the children fishing or help to coordinate but how do you inform the parents to do their job. That’s a tough one.

Finally if we can through your eyes look into the future, where’s fly fishing and the environment going?

There’s going to be an increase long term of fly fishing as what we call the baby boomers in our country after World War 2 generation of people move into retirement this group of people will enjoy relaxing sports such as fly fishing. In their youth they were skiers, tennis players, joggers, went hiking and so fly fishing in the long run, in the next 20-30 years should grow a bit. The environment is another story we see all kind of disasters happening World wide it’s a scary thing for me to think how we are destroying our forests and in North American area I just know that we are trying in little ways within the fly fishing community to preserve things and the more we can do locally ourselves in the long term it will be better.

I said finally I should have said almost finally because there is one question I did mean to ask and almost forgot, have you any favourite books?

Well there is a book called The River Why and I have forgotten the authors name but it’s a sort of comedy about a fisherman, he is so hard core he is a recluse, he goes into the forest and doesn’t ever come out except to rescue a young lady along the way and a dead body floating by and before long he becomes a hero and raises up a family. The River Why is a great story and for anyone who was ever a hard core serious fisherman, this is the life! The River Why – author David James Duncan.

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Copyright 2007 Alastair Gowans AAPGAI and FFF Master and THCI, APGAI. All rights reserved.