Harry Aiken An Original Longcaster
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Harry Aiken and talk fishing. He will tell you … “I don’t tell fishing stories, I tell truths”. Harry has been fishing the Delaware Beaches for over seventy-five years. I was so excited I was going to talk to the man who knew every nook and cranny of the beaches and Indian River Inlet. What sort of secrets would he divulge to me? What knowledge could I extract from his life time of memories to help improve my fishing. Harry is that guy that pulls up on a beach, grabs a rod and starts yanking in fish one after another. This is usually in front of people who have been fishing all day and catching the skunk. When asked how he did it he would tell them, you’re fishing in the wrong spot, and then show them where they went wrong. I have heard this story from many a surf angler. “Yeah we weren’t catching anything and then Harry Aiken pulls up and starts hammering fish, leaves with a bucketful of kings, meanwhile we are still on the skunk … How does he do that?!?!” Well I had the opportunity to find out how, when, and why. I met Harry at his house in Georgetown, sitting around the kitchen table with Bait and Tackle the two Bombay cats from his shop Ole Salt Bait and Tackle, now known as Ice House Bait and Tackle on New Rd. in Lewes, DE. So what is the first thing I ask the master of the surf, Delaware’s living legend of surf fishing? Harry I said … tell me about the baseball. He just smiled …
On June 8, 1968 Harry Aiken cast a baseball out of Yankee stadium, over right field, between games during a double-header between the Yankees and the Orioles. In front of a stunned silent crowd. No one then or now has ever hit a ball out of Yankee stadium, Harry Aiken cast one out of the park, twice. I remember my grandfather telling me about this when I was very young, about ten years later. I have heard the story from many an angler here, but I have always wanted to hear the entire story. Now don’t get me wrong I have a million questions to ask Harry and we will get to those in good time, right now I was dying to hear about the cast that made Harry a legend. He didn’t just go to Yankee Stadium and cast a ball out of the park. His casting abilities and accuracy was what brought him to New York that year. In the sixties the American Casting Association held casting and accuracy tournaments up and down the East Coast on the beaches. it was sponsored by The Ballantine Beer – Garcia Tackle company. They used these tournaments as a way to promote their products. Back in those days it was mostly accuracy contests, since they were held near piers and boardwalks as public events. Like any promotional event they eventually run their course, but these tournaments went on for quite some time.
Harry entered one in Rehoboth in 1964 and found out he could cast very accurately, he came in fourth that day. That afternoon he went home and set up a practice field in Georgetown. He formed up a team, the County Casters Club, with his wife Dottie Aiken, John Bister, Elaine Bister, Leon Johnson, George Brown, and Jim West, the Delaware team was born. He met John Bister one day at a football field while he was practicing casting. Bister wanted to know what kind of fish he thought he was going to catch in a football field. Harry explained what he was doing, John joined the team, and they have been friends ever since. During these tournaments Harry broke the world record three times, that he set three times, finally with a perfect score of 100 out of 100, there was no way to break that score. He was called the “Goat” by many surf casters up and down the east coast during these tournaments .. Greatest Of All Time. Not only was Harry a world champion surf caster, Dottie his wife held the state championship for a year and was the highest scoring female caster. In fact when some of these boys showed up at the tournaments, people already knew who would be placing and winning.
Back in the sixties and seventies there were clubs up and down the coast and the teams came from these clubs. Some teams had a few members and others were made up of the entire club. Originally there was the Rehoboth Beach Sportsman club , that predated the County Casters Club, which today has developed into Delaware Mobile Surf Fishermen, Harry is still a director of the club and a lifetime member. For long casters back then, hitting a 450 foot cast was a long cast, Harry’s longest was 605 feet in a tournament. So how does a Georgetown boy wind up casting for the “fence” at Yankee stadium? What kind of gear do you use to get that kind of distance? I mean look at the gear now compared to those days. I wanted to know too.
During the American Casting Association tournaments Harry met Sal Muley a promoter for Ballantine Beer- Garcia Tackle, and he wanted to take this casting tournament on the road so to speak. He was looking for an event to fill in the dead time between baseball games and before games. He came up with the event Cast A Ball. Teams of surf casters or baseball players would cast for base hits and Harry would cast clean up. When Sal showed him Yankee stadium he asked Harry if he could cast a home run, Harry said no problem give me a couple of weeks and I will cast it out of the stadium. Harry noticed that the balls would just shudder and drop at about 320 feet. He needed to figure out a way to make that ball take all of the energy from the cast and not drop. He took home some balls and practiced. He figured out that if he could make the ball spin it would travel farther, little did he know just how far. When he came back a few weeks later, he was ready to cast for the fence. He knew he could easily hit the target for a home run. He was casting as clean up for the Cast A Ball teams it was not required to cast one out of the park for the home run but Harry decided where is the fun in that, he wanted to go for the “fence”.
At the first ever Cast A Ball demonstration, on his first cast Harry Aiken cranked that rod, but his foot slipped forward and the ball went into the twelfth row of the second level of the stadium, impressive, but not for Harry. The crowd was bewildered. Harry looked at Sal Mulney and said “this next one is going somewhere, I don’t know where but it is going somewhere.” Harry dragged that ball along the ground, got the spin he wanted and put everything he had into that cast. The ball cleared the stadium and was still climbing when it was over the wall at 344 feet out and 120 feet up. The crowd was stunned into silence, by the time Harry rounded second base the stadium of 43,000 people went wild realizing what just happened. No man had ever sent a ball over the wall at Yankee stadium, this guy just did it with a fishing rod. No one ever found the ball, so they don’t know how far it actually traveled. From that point on Harry was known as the man who cast a ball out of Yankee stadium. The Cast A Ball event traveled to the eastern stadiums and Harry cast two balls out of Yankee stadium, four out of Shea, two out of Kennedy, and one that hit the rim of the Astrodome. To this day no one has ever done this, nor do I believe anyone ever will. Long casting now hits distances over 900 feet, with modified equipment. I think the only thing that would top Harry’s feat is to cast one out of a football stadium, the long way.
I have spent many hours with Harry talking fishing, and I am going to tell you more about this amazing surf angler. I really wanted to hear the story about the baseball. The things I learned while talking about the cast that went over the wall, have my head spinning with well over a hundred pages of notes. Harry is a wealth of information and so are many of our “Old Salts”. These folks have forgotten more about fishing than many of us will ever learn. This article is the first edition of a new section dedicated to the “Old Salts of Delmarva” We are going to learn from them, hear their stories, and help save their knowledge for generations to come. History of fishing in Delaware is important and we are hoping this will preserve some of that knowledge. We will be back with Harry Aiken very soon to learn more about fishing, because the chapter in Baseball has been made.