Add Twenty Feet to Your Cast (Spin, Fly, and Bait)

When it comes to casting and fishing, you could do worse than become an apple slinger. This is an old country boy's trick in which a small apple is impaled on the end of a long, flexible sharpened stick. If you whip it overhand, you'll toss that fruit much farther than you possibly could with your arm alone.

Stopping the stick abruptly as it comes forward makes the apple come off the end faster and fly even farther. This also allows for better accuracy, a fact I took advantage of when I was a child and liked to take out the windows of my uncle's barn from long distances. As techniques go, this was pretty exciting for a little kid, in spite of the painful aftermath.

As an adult, I've found that the same principles apply to almost all casting. Whether you use fly, spinning, or baitcasting gear, a smoothly accelerated forward stroke ended with an abrupt halt is the key to both accuracy and distance. Do it correctly, and you'll add at least 20 feet to your cast. The stop is what makes it all work.

Forward casting strokes with fly rods and spinning rods are almost identical. In each case, a smooth forward stroke followed by a sharp stop provides the power and directs the cast; the hand and forearm motion is basically the same. The difference comes at the stop. With fly gear the line unrolls in the air. With spinning, it is released and is pulled through the air by the lure.

That U-shaped loop of fly line will continue to unroll in the air only if one end is anchored. At the completion of the forward casting stroke, the rod hand is stopped in an instant. The rod unbends, propelling the line forward, and the tip then also stops abruptly. At this moment, the loop is formed in the air, and the rod becomes the anchor. The sharper the stop, the better the energy is transferred to the unrolling line. Conversely, whipping the rod forward with no stop robs the cast of its power, no real loop is formed, and the line will most often collapse in a pile.

Experienced casters sometimes "shoot" the line for extra distance, which means allowing the force of the unrolling line to pull slack through the guides. Here, again, the stop is critical.

Timing is crucial. If you brake too soon, with the tip held too high, the forward-moving line will collide either with the rod or with itself, creating what's called a tailing loop. And if you brake too late, meaning too far forward, your loop will be too broad and you'll lose distance. A few minutes of practice with various stop positions should make those differences self-evident.

With spinning and baitcasting gear, the reasoning is very similar: An abrupt halt at the end of the forward stroke transfers maximum energy to the lure at the release point. Practicing this over and over again brings discipline to the cast. As you fish, you're developing a technique by repetition, which builds the kind of hand-eye coordination that's essential for accuracy.

That sounds harder than it is. When I take novices out to the local pond and start them with spinning gear, it takes about an hour for them to develop a consistent casting stoke--with a stop--and reasonable precision. Those who persist in using a broad swipe never hit their marks because the cast is too unpredictable.

Once the concept has sunk in, it's easy to tell if things are working. With both types of gear, the line (or baitcasting-reel spool) is let go at the forward stop. If the release is too late, the lure smacks the water in front of you. Too early, and it goes too high in the air. It takes a little practice to make things just right.

Ideally, your forward-stroke stop will occur with the rod pointed along the eventual trajectory of the lure. In trying to cast for distance, you'll want to aim your cast--and stop--a little higher. After the stop-and-release, keep the rod aligned with the flight path to minimize friction between the guides and the outgoing line. You'll be amazed at the result.

Good casting is not based on muscle; it's all about technique. Pushing a cast harder doesn't usually make it better with any kind of tackle. Adding a solid stop to your forward stroke takes minimum effort, but it does require a little thinking. You will fish better and have a lot more fun besides--this I can guarantee.