What can I say about Italy?  I suppose “fabulous” is a good word but it does not capture the smell and taste of the food, the wine and the fragrance of the mountains. Nor does it capture the feeling of friendship and the hospitality shown.
 
When I first accepted the invitation to attend the S.I.M. Festival I really had no idea what to expect.  To be honest I did not even know what the initials of S.I.M. stood for.  But I do now and for those who are unaware, the initials stand for “Scuola Italiana di Pesca a Mosca” which in turn means Italian Fly Fishing School.
 
Way back in the in the early seventies Roberto Pragliola developed a unique method of fly casting the Italians call TLT, or Tecnica Lancio Totale, which, when translated means, Total Cast Technique.  Roberto, along with Osvaldo Galizia, founded SIM during that period.  The method is a little complicated to explain here but it entails casting a very tight loop by using a wide arm action hinging off the shoulder, rather than the elbow, as is traditionally done.  The method is highly effective for casting into difficult places such as heavily overgrown areas.  As an example of the benefits of the cast, I watched a group of the head instructors actually cast the line and fly through the space between the back rest of a canvas camp chair and the seat, which, as one knows, is only about 8 to 10 inches wide.  This was done from about forty feet away.  The skill level I must admit is very, very impressive.

Note how they take the fly rod right back to expand on the distance of the arc. The casters are Mauro Nini and Marino Di Luca; seated is Piero Scortechini.

S.I.M. FESTIVAL 20TH ANNIVERSARY
CASTEL DI SANGRO, ABRUZZO, ITALY
19th – 27th June 2007
 
by Mick Hall

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Casting are Bruno Righetti and Piero Scortechini; standing is Marino Di Luca

The festival runs over a week and it is a week of casting and more casting.  The theme is teaching the TLT method of casting for up and coming instructors.  It is not a course for beginners and believe me, the instruction is intense, not only in actual practice form but in theory also.

Casting in the Sangro River.  Line management and mastering current and flow variations.

Casting and line management tuition on the artificial section which is still part of the Sangro River.  It is specifically designed to recreate all of the hazards you would find on any stream.
 

At the end of the week and after continuous assessment, those who passed the grade are awarded their instructor’s     certificate.  
 
S.I.M. has built a stream around ½ to ¾ of a kilometre long in a section of the river that runs through the town of Castel di Sangro.  The stream is so designed to feature fish holding areas such as around large boulders, under shrubbery and so on.  It is a true teaching ground.  At the start of this section and off to the side of the river they have placed a bronze “larger than life” statue of a fly fisherman and behind, over on some parkland, is an old monastery that was built in the mid fifteenth century and it is currently being renovated.  It already houses a museum of ancient artefacts but the key feature of the museum is the collection of fishing gear and a sign which proudly states, ‘Italy’s first fly fishing museum’.      

 

Convento della Maddalena (A.D. 1487) Castel di Sangro, Abruzzo, Italy

Statue of the unknown fly-fisherman created and made by Alberto Coppini, a well known sculpture and casting instructor.

Each evening back at the Ski Lodge headquarters for the festival, bottles of cold beer were eagerly sought as pre-dinner refreshments, followed by a hot shower and a chance to change before dinner.  Italian food; what can I say?

           Mario Andrea Fracassi & Aldo Bardeggia                                                       Mick Hall, Australia

That old saying that ‘Italians live to eat, not eat to live’, I feel is so true.  Cold beer, Red Wine and a Brandy after dinner and who wants to go home?

One evening over dinner during the early part of the week, it was suggested that I become an ambassador for S.I.M. in Australia.  We laughed and left it at that.  The comment was made somewhat loosely and I thought no more about it but the conversation reflected the warm feeling of friendship that was so evident by all of those involved with this great organisation.  

On the Friday night after all the casting instruction had finished, they held a huge BBQ outside a two storey building a couple of hundred metres from the lodge that acts as a Café during the ski season.  The night was called “Casting under the stars”.  We started at 8:30 under a very clear sky studded with stars.  We were only seated for a few minutes when everyone around me started looking up at the stars.  The excitement was created by a cluster of three stars that were rotating high in the sky on the horizon.  For at least a couple of minutes we watched in amazement as these stars, holding a triangle formation moved, stretching the triangle, then came back again.  First one disappeared and shortly after another and as I said, it was all over in just a couple of minutes.  Some said space ships, others laser lights; the guy from Sweden said it was satellites.  Me, I am still out. For lasers you need something to bounce off and there were no clouds, the lights were too high in the sky to be reflections and when do satellites go around in circles?

After dinner out came the casting boards, three each with a hole cut in them.  The hole started at around five inches in diameter the next slightly larger and the third around 12 inches in size.  The idea was to cast the fly and line through the hole.  I thought that was alright until they placed the boards behind each other with the goal being to cast through all three at once.  Amazing stuff!

Saturday, back down the mountain to the museum and time to do some work.  We tied flies, talked about fluff, feathers and hooks and gave away a whole heap of flies.  You know the stuff, doing the bit about flying the flag and having lots of fun.

Just prior to the tying session I had heard that one of the tyers had actually tied up a miniature platypus and sure enough I met up with Fabrizio Gaiardoni, who actually put it together; clever stuff.  Check out his website, www.gajaflies.it.

The Platypus Fly & Fabrizio, who tied it.  He caught this trout on the Sunday morning just before we started fly tying again.

On the Saturday night it was time for the feast, the feature being a whole spit roasted pig.  Need I say more?  Again, great wine, this time a local Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2003, especially bottled for S.I.M. to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the organisation.  The label was of a painting called “Gold Fly Fishing” by Lino Alvani.  Dribble, dribble good.  After dinner it was time to hand out the certificates to those who had passed the course. 

Paolo Testori with his certificate; he was my main     interpreter at the festival and he worked really hard; was not sure he had passed but just look at the smile

                   Success for Mario also.

               Luca & Mauro with their Award
               Roberto, Luca, Mick, Mauro & Gian

On the Sunday morning it was back to the old Convent for more casting and fly tying and during this session I was to participate in a seminar on issues affecting fishing and what was amazing was the fact that so many issues that affect us in Australia are common throughout the world.
 
Along with other international guests, I was invited to address the seminar on the problems facing flyfishing in Australia. Among the attendees of the seven-day festival were delegates from England, France, Northern Italy, Switzerland, Macedonia, the United States, Australia and host country, Italy.

Then came the awards to congratulate those who had achieved in one way or another over the previous year.  During this segment were gifts and certificates of thanks for those Internationals who had come so far.  Mauro Raspini and Luca Castellani won the much sought after and highly respected “Fly fisher of the Year” award and did the Champagne flow! 

The President of SIM, Mr Osvaldo Galizia, preparing to address the assembly.
          Mick Hall addressing the attendees.

Common amongst all speakers at the Festival’s seminar were the following concerns:
 
1/        Water pollution.
2/        Water usage and future water availability to maintain river health.
3/        Animal liberationists.
3/        Increased use of canoes on rivers and their anti social impact.
4/        Introduction of children to angling/ fly-fishing.
5/        In-stream rehabilitation.
6/        The preservation of introduced salmonid species such as Rainbow trout in Europe,
           Brown trout in America and both species in Australia.
7/        Social values versus radical/extreme Conservation implementations.
 
During my impromptu presentation, I outlined the Victorian Government's Family Fishing Program and the importance of introducing families and especially children into fishing, highlighting the success of this very popular program.
 
I also talked on Victoria’s ‘Classified Waters’ and ‘Adopt-a-Stream’ concepts proposed for Victorian waters and the recognition and implementation of "Social Values" in policy development. 
 
Finally I spoke briefly on how the Victorian Government had sent scientists to America to see how in-stream river rehabilitation practices have been beneficial in recreating major stream fisheries in a number of locations across America.
 
Remember that question about Ambassadorship?  Well guess what, it is now official and my role is for the promoting and sharing of fly fishing between Australia and Italy.

Well that’s about it.  What a week!  My thanks to Osvaldo Galizia, the President of S.I.M. and his great team who put the festival together.  You never know, one day I just may get back to Castel di Sangro but by chance I don’t, the memories are well and truly planted in my life.  Would I go back if invited?  Oh yes and I would not give it a second thought. 
 
Mick Hall
Australia

 
The S.I.M. website is
http://www.simfly.it/index.php but is only in Italian!

  "S.I.M. appoints to Mick Hall the assignment of Ambassador of the S.I.M. in Australia.
For the promoting and the sharing of fly fishing between Italy and Australia."
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