Read an Excerpt
In This Chapter
- Casting without backlashing (most of the time)
- Underhanding, sidearming, and other contortions
- Why I love my thumb
If you want to know if a person can fish, watch how he or she casts. Good casting form is a sure sign that someone has put in serious practice time while learning to use a delicate, yet powerful tool. No one is born knowing how to cast. In fact, no one achieves the proper technique the first time out. After all, you didn't learn to walk all at once, and you didn't learn to throw all at once.
Think of a fishing rod as a new part of your body. To become proficient at any new skill, you have to educate your body. Of course, when you learn to walk and everyone laughs at you because your walking style looks really cute, that's kind of fun (if you are one year old). When you are older and are learning how to cast, you don't want to be laughed at and told that you're cute. You want to catch fish.
The Purpose of the Cast
If you could walk up to a fish and drop a lure and line in front of its mouth, you wouldn't need to cast. But you can't do that because fish are not that suicidal. They head for cover long before you can get within arm's length of them. The cast is the long-distance method you use in order to deliver the fly, lure, or bait to a spot where a fish may be enticed, rather than alarmed, by your offering. So in addition to delivery (which is concerned with where your hook lands), casting also involves presentation (which is how the bait, lure, or fly lands).
Only Three Factors
Casting involves three elements: the rod, the reel, and the line.
All casting -- bait, spin, and fly -- requires the ability to handle a rod and to get it to flex and release your offering in a controlled way.
In addition to proper handling of a rod, bait casting (and spinning) require proper handling of the reel and the line as it comes off the reel.
Bait casting is difficult to master initially. Everybody has a natural tendency to produce depressing backlashes, but proper casting technique isn't rocket science. With a little persistence and a healthy dose of caution, you can actually be up and running pretty quickly. After that, it's a matter of finesse, and that comes with practice.
Line handling, while critical to the flyrodder, is less so to the baitcaster. Once the lure or bait is cast, there isn't a whole lot of line handling involved.
Casting and Hitting a Baseball
There is a fourth element in the casting equation -- you. The closer you get to making your cast into one seamless motion -- from body to rod to line to lure -- the more effective you can be. The one big concept I can give you is this: Think of what's going on at the end of the line. This notion is something I learned while writing a magazine story about Charley Lau, the great batting coach who has had such an influence on modern hitting technique. Lau used to tell his hitters to "think the ball straight up the middle, over second base." His theory was that if a batter did that, he would be more likely to make proper contact with the ball. And by making proper contact, he would get more hits (and even the occasional home run).
Charley was also a great fisherman. In fact, in the years between retiring as a major league catcher and starting as a batting coach, he spent some time as a fishing guide in the Florida Keys. He applied the same spirit of analysis to casting. Every angler tends to think about what is happening right next to his or her hands, he said, where the rod and reel are. But the critical point is farther away -- way out there at the end of the line. If you think about where your bait, lure, or fly is and what it is doing in the water, you can affect your cast in a positive way.
If you don't think the body mechanics of baseball and fishing are related, you should look at a video of the casting technique of baseball great Ted Williams. The way that The Splendid Splinter handles a fly rod and line is the same as the way that he handled a bat -- smoothly, fluidly, powerfully, and accurately.
Bait Casting: It's All (Well, Almost All) Thumbs
Each type of casting has its own techniques. Bait casting is often very frustrating at first, but, as they say, "No pain, no gain."
The overhand cast
This is the cast that you will use in most situations. Before you move on to the more specialized casts, really try to get this one down pat.
- As seen in Figure 12-1, the overhead cast begins as you grasp the rod with the crank facing up. The shoulder of your casting arm is pointed toward the target.
- Put the reel into free spool by disengaging the clicker.
- Point the rod at your target.
- Crisply lift the rod, applying power until the rod is pointed at the 12:00 position.
- As soon as you stop the backstroke, begin the forward power stroke, releasing thumb pressure as you do (so that the lure can pull line off the reel as it travels to the target).
- Continue to allow the line to unspool.
- As the lure nears the target, apply more and more thumb pressure so that the reel gradually slows down and comes to a complete stop just as the lure hits the water.
You should have anywhere from two to six inches of line hanging out of your tip top (the top line guide on the rod). Keep your thumb on the spool so that it doesn't move.
Your body is aligned so that, if you are a right-handed caster, your left foot is forward. (If you are left-handed, your right foot is forward.)
Before you start the lifting or backstroke of your cast, position the rod at about a 35-degree to 45-degree angle.
This action will put some flex into the rod as you begin your cast. Keep your thumb on the reel and keep the reel locked all through the backstroke.
The momentum of the cast will bend the rod farther backward, putting flex into the rod. The rod is designed to do this. You don't need to apply any more power on the backstroke. If you do, you will overload (develop too much torque on) the rod.
The power stroke ends when the rod returns to the original 35-degree to 45-degree position.
This is the key part of the cast and the part that is most prone to backlashing unless you successfully complete Step 8.
If you don't do this, the reel will keep spinning as the lure hits the water, a sure recipe for a backlash.
The way to learn bait casting with minimum heartbreak is to try it a little bit at a time:
- Before you make your first cast, get yourself up to Step 4.
- Next, while holding the thumb on the spool, lift the rod another 15 degrees or so.
- Release some thumb pressure so that the lure descends pretty freely; then, as it does, put more pressure on the spool to slow it down so that it stops completely by the time the lure hits the ground.
After you have accomplished this smoothly, you will have at least an idea of the thumb control technique needed for real casts. Try short casts at first, using the thumb as a brake (better to use too much braking rather than too little when you start out). Your casts may be short of the mark this way, but you will not have a backlash. As with all the casts discussed in this chapter, I recommend that you practice on a lawn before you try it out under combat conditions. The more you continue practicing your technique on a lawn in between fishing sessions, the better you will become.
The sidearm cast
When Joyce Kilmer wrote "I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree," he wasn't thinking about fishing. Trees and tree limbs are the enemy of the caster. They are immovable obstacles that have been the graveyards of more lures than any other feature of the natural world. I would say avoid fishing around them if it weren't for the fact that fish like to live under tree limbs. Think about it: It is very hard for a hawk or an eagle to dive around a tree limb to snatch a fish. For similar reasons, it is hard for a bear or raccoon to reach in and around underwater tree roots. Fish know this, so you can always find them in the shade of trees or nestled in roots that project underwater. Face it: You are going to have to deal with trees if you don't want to pass up many great fishing spots.
One trick you can try is to cast upstream from the tree and then allow your lure to drift under it (or, if there's no current, cast beyond the branch and reel your bait or lure under the tree). While this does the job in many cases, sometime, somewhere, you are going to have to get under that limb in order to have a prayer of catching a completely tantalizing fish.
In that case, having a few different casts at your command is helpful. After you have mastered the overhead cast, you can proceed to the sidearm cast (shown in Figure 12-2). But make sure that you have truly got the overhead cast at your command first; otherwise, you are just kidding yourself. Making two lame casts is rarely better than making no casts at all, and it certainly is worse than making a good overhand cast consistently.
- The right-handed caster faces the target with left foot slightly forward. (The reverse is true for the left-handed caster in this and the following steps.)
- Using a short casting stroke, crisply move the rod to the right no more than 90 degrees.
- Stop the backstroke and begin the forward stroke. As the rod approaches 45 degrees, release thumb pressure.
- Stop the forward stroke when the rod is in front of you, pointing at the target.
- As with the overhead cast, begin to apply pressure as the lure nears its target.
Note that the spool is facing up. The amount of line coming through the tip top is the same as in the overhead cast.
Remember to stop the forward stroke when the rod points at the target. If you continue the stroke past this point, your cast will veer way to the left.
Don't try the sidearm cast in a boat with another angler. One day, you may flex too much going forward or backward and drill your companion with some fast-moving treble hooks: not a great way to lay the foundation for a long-term fishing relationship.
The underhand cast
This is another good cast for getting under obstacles. It is usually more accurate though less powerful than the sidearm cast. I have to confess that when I first saw this cast diagrammed in Al MacClane's New Standard Fishing Encyclopedia, it looked wrong. Years later, when I had the chance to spend some time with "The Master" (I mean it; MacClane was the greatest writer and angler), I asked him about this. He demonstrated the cast, and he was right. Again, I urge you to become a good overhead caster before you start to mess with the underhand cast (shown in Figure 12-3). In all casting, remembering to let the rod do the work is important. With this cast, it is critical. If you try "to muscle" or try "to put too much arm" into the cast, it won't work.
Just like the old-fashioned foul shot in basketball, the underhand technique is sweet and accurate.
- Aim the rod at the target.
- Crisply, but not overpoweringly, lift the rod tip to shoulder height.
- Start the rod's downward stroke, stopping the stroke when your wrist returns to the starting position.
- Release the spool and point the rod at target in a straight line.
- Apply thumb pressure to slow down the spool as the lure approaches the target.
For the right-handed caster, the right shoulder points at the target as well (lefties point the other shoulder, etc.). Note that the crank handle is pointing upward.
The weight of the lure flexes the rod tip down.
Momentum carries the rod tip downward again, adding even more flex.
The rod tip naturally returns to the starting position.
The bend in the rod sends the lure toward the target.
After the Cast
As soon as the lure hits the water, it is time to transfer the rod from your casting hand to your fighting hand. As shown in Figure 12-4, when a fish strikes, you reel with your right hand and work the rod with your left hand (if you're right-handed).
Your cast may wind up with some slack in the line. You need to retrieve this slack line so that you can strike effectively when a fish hits. If you leave the slack in, a fish may go for your plug, decide it is a phony, and spit it out before you have a chance to drive the hook home. Get rid of the slack. To do this, point your rod tip at your lure or bait. Then grab the line and press it against the shaft of the rod so that some tension is on the line as you reel up, as shown in Figure 12-5. If you don't keep tension on the line, it will coil loosely onto the reel, and you will get a backlash. Actually, I don't know if this is technically a backlash, a frontlash, or just a plain old-fashioned mess. The result, however, is the same: You won't be able to fish until you straighten it out.