looking back

‘Looking Back’: Angler’s Lodge

By Kinen Carvala

Tokyo is hosting the Olympics, but did you know about the international sports competition venue hidden beyond the trees near Golden Gate Park’s Polo Field or Bison Paddock?

The Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club (GGACC) was organized in June 1933 as an offshoot of the San Francisco Fly Casting Club (SFFC), which itself was formed in 1894, according to the club’s website.

“Casting” refers to using a fishing rod to throw, or cast, a line out into the water. A casting pool in the City makes a convenient place to practice techniques. Local casters had small facilities at Stow Lake, which the club was outgrowing by the late 1930s, according to FoundSF. As part of a response to the ongoing Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was established as a job creation program. The San Francisco club heard about the WPA funding a casting pool in Portland, Oregon, and was inspired to get in on the action, according to Episode 233 of the Western Neighborhoods Project’s podcast. The WPA funded and built Golden Gate Park’s Angler’s Lodge and casting pools in 1938. Legendary Park Superintendent John McLaren himself picked the new site, according to FoundSF.

Fly fishing champion Maxine McCormick demonstrates her expertise in 2019 at Golden Gate Park’s Fly Casting Pool. A local talent who honed her skills at the facilities, McCormick became the youngest adult division gold medalist and world champion in sports history at the age of 12. Photo by Michael Durand.

The pools are concrete with sloping sides, 450 feet wide by 185 feet long, according to the National Park Service. The pools have floating ring targets and lines spaced out on the pool bottom. The lodge is a one-story wood frame building north of the casting pools. If you look closely at the lodge’s shutters, you can see carved fish motifs.

On George Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1938, the San Francisco Examiner reported exhibition casting being held at the new pools, advising readers to watch and talk to experienced casters for advice in advance of the approaching fishing season. They displayed different techniques used to cast while aiming at a specific target, versus trying to cast as far as possible.

A formal dedication for the casting pools was held on March 5, 1939 (as reported by the SF Examiner the following day). In attendance were Ralph G. Wadsworth, deputy Works Progress administrator for Northern California; Clyde Healy, assistant city engineer; and John J. Lermen, park commissioner. (Footage of the dedication is available to watch online at https://vimeo.com/188550829.) Casters were generally standing on the shore, i.e., the pool’s concrete walkways, though at least one caster stood a few feet below the water level but stayed dry due to the dyke-like inset built into the western pool shore.

The pools and the Polo Field hosted the 1939 National Association of Scientific Angling Clubs Tournament, Aug. 23-27. “Doc” Howe covered the tournament for the December 1939 Pennsylvania Angler magazine. In the third event, a distance plug event (with the rod swing compared to a baseball bat by the American Casting Association source), A.C. Kellogg casted an average of 310.4 feet – longer than the length of a football field – beating the record by 6.4 feet, and he came in 11th place. Winner Walter Willman casted an average of 348 feet.

The club website mentions how members have innovated new materials and parts to be incorporated into how fishing rods are constructed and new techniques for using those fishing rods.

An example of recent activities at the Golden Gate Park site was a casting lesson for club members held on Saturday, July 10, 2021.

One club member, Maxine McCormick, became the youngest world casting champion at the age of 12 by winning the women’s World Casting Championship in Estonia in 2016.

The GGACC holds the annual Jimmy Green World Championship of Spey Casting (a technique for long casting), with the 17th annual competition planned for 2022. By 2021 rules, each competitor enters the water to warm up and then has six minutes to make 12 targeted casts in four categories. The sum of a competitor’s farthest cast in each of the four categories is the person’s score.

The GGACC facilities are located on the south side of JFK Drive, across the road from the Bison Paddock. 

For more information, go to www.ggacc.org/.

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