Anybody in America can try to qualify for the U.S. Casting Championships. The San Francisco/Oakland clubs (which between them have more than 1,000 members) have dominated the sport. After last week’s championships, all five spots for fly-casting accuracy on the All-America team were awarded to club members from San Francisco/Oakland: McCormick; her father, Glenn McCormick; Chris Korich; Henry Mittel; and Rajeff.
In trout accuracy casting, contestants use a fly rod similar to what was used in the movie “A River Runs Through It.” In three rounds, they cast at five 30-inch rings, at distances from 20 to 50 feet. Each participant starts with 100 points, and a single point is deducted for every foot by which a target is missed. Participants can also lose points for “ticking the water” and other style points based on fishing skills.
At the national championships, Maxine McCormick scored a 99, when she missed her last target by a few inches. Rajeff scored 98. The 99 set a junior national record and equaled the highest score cast in any fly accuracy event at the tournament, regardless of age, division or gender.
To put McCormick’s accomplishment in perspective, Rajeff — born and raised in San Francisco — has won 44 all-around titles since the age of 15. Considered the greatest caster in history, he was inducted into the California Outdoors Hall of Fame and has lost the national all-around title only once, to Korich in 1993. But McCormick clipped him in her specialty, trout accuracy.
Korich and Mittel also had 99s in the men’s division, and Glenn McCormick had a 97. The ages of four of the five members of the All-America team for fly-casting accuracy range from 47 to 59. While they train for the world championships, Maxine McCormick is also getting ready for the eighth grade.
My favorite subjects are science and math,” she said. “Science has so much to do with animals, and I love animals.”
She also pitches in softball and runs the 800 meters in track. “But I’m really excited to go with my dad to the world championships.”
McCormick’s first memories of the outdoors were family camping and fishing trips to trout streams in Northern California, she said. She loved trying to catch bugs and frogs and then let them go, her dad said.
“At 9, I put the rod in her hands, and she started catching fish,” Glenn McCormick said. “Then I brought her to the casting ponds in Golden Gate Park. She hit some targets the first time. She didn’t know that what she was doing was extraordinary.”
Another world champion, Donna O’Sullivan, saw that Golden Gate Park debut and called Korich, coach of the U.S. national team, to alert him to a 9-year-old prodigy in San Francisco.
Dad, a high school physical education teacher and former pro baseball player, and Mom, Simone, a lawyer, welcomed Korich like an extended family member.
“Chris is arguably the world’s best fly-casting instructor, and I let him do all the coaching,” Glenn McCormick said. “The two of them work incredibly well together, and it allows me to just be her proud dad. My jaw still drops when I watch her cast, this 12-year-old girl. I don’t want to push it on her, but she wants to be the best caster in the world.”
Otherwise, his daughter is like many kids her age, although one thing Mom and Dad restrict is the use of electronics. We’ve all gotten used to seeing youngsters walking around with phones in their faces all the time; not the young McCormick.
“We won’t let that happen,” her dad said. “We don’t even allow her to have the phone in her room. She got her phone primarily to keep in touch with us.”
Korich said that beneath Maxine McCormick’s cute smile is a burning desire to excel.
“She is Michael Jordan in this little package,” Korich said. “In 40 years of teaching, Maxine is the best listener I’ve ever had. She calls it ‘focus time.’ She’s very intelligent. She has siphoned this playful outdoor sport into competition and can’t stand losing.
“Her parents are extremely supportive and loving. I’m over there at least once a week, and they are demanding but caring, not pressuring but loving. They are there for her.”
As for Rajeff, Korich said he knew the day would come when McCormick would beat him, too.
“In local competitions, she’s beaten me a half dozen times,” Korich said. “She has the ability to outscore every man and woman in the world in fly accuracy with a trout rod. It may be hard to believe, but in Estonia, this 12-year-old from San Francisco may become the youngest world champion in sports history.”