All Maxine McCormick does is win.
The fresh-faced fishing prodigy, dubbed “the Mozart of fly casting” by The New York Times, is currently between her sophomore and junior years at Portland’s Cleveland High School, but she is already a legend in her field. She won her first world championship in 2016 at age 12, becoming the youngest global titleholder in any sport, ever. Two years later, she trounced the field in accuracy at the 2018 Fly Casting World Championships in Port Haverigg on the west coast of England.
Asked the last time she lost a match, McCormick pauses for a full 10 seconds.
“I…don’t know,” she laughs. “I was 10 or 11 the first time I went to nationals, but when I was that young, there was nobody else in my division. I guess I did good for my age. I’ve definitely improved since then. Probably my second or third time, I started beating all the women. I just compare scores with the top men now.”
While fly casting—essentially fishing without fish, where contestants compete in a series of accuracy and distance challenges—remains a niche activity on the periphery of traditional athletics, McCormick is as big a celebrity as the sport has. She and her coach, Chris Korich, are recognized on the water and at the airport. She’s the subject of a book, The Girl With a Fly Rod, by fellow famous fly-fisher Cecilia “Pudge” Kleinkauf. She just recently returned from an Alaskan tour signing books and demonstrating that magical technique, achieved through a mixture of transcendent hand-eye coordination and freakily powerful wrists.
McCormick has accomplished so much in such a short time that she’s already considering what to do next. Though she plans to defend her championship at the 2020 Worlds in Sweden—and dearly hopes the Olympics Committee brings fishing back to the games—she is gradually drifting away from active competition.
“I do want to go to continue competing,” she says. “I could work with rod companies. Maybe I’ll do some of that. But I don’t think I’m going to have a full career in fly fishing. After spending time with kids and helping them learn how to cast, I think pediatrics will be my main thing.”
For now, though, she’s just another 15-year-old, with friends who are supportive yet somewhat mystified by her medal-strewn second life and her father, Glenn, who takes her on outings to the Metolius and Crooked rivers. However prodigious her gifts, McCormick still credits Dad as the family’s top angler.
“There are things you can’t really catch just from casting—stuff like being able to mend your line or read the water. He’s for sure better than me at fishing,” she says. “He’s been doing it so many more years.”