A Fishing Tradition That's Still Kicking: How Today's Champion Casters Compete For Distance and Accuracy

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How far can you cast a fishing line? How about 200 feet or more with fly tackle? Or maybe 100 yards or farther with spinning tackle? These were some of the distances achieved during the 104th American Casting Association 2012 National Casting Championships. The event, held in the greater Cincinnati, Ohio area from July 31 to Aug. 4, doesn't get a ton of attention and casting competitions aren't what they were in the early 20th century, but many advancements in tackle and techniques that anglers use every day in modern sport fishing have roots that can be traced back to innovative tournament casters. See how today's casters compete and what specialized tackle they use. Top photo courtesy of Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife
Many modern advancements in sport fishing can be directly attributed to tournament casting. For instance, it was tournament casters who developed aluminum spools for casting reels, weight-forward fly line tapers, shooting lines, the double-haul fly casting method, feathering an open-face spinning reel for pinpoint accuracy, the fly line calibration system, hook size standards, and many other pieces of equipment and techniques commonly used by anglers today.
According to Zack Wilson (pictured), a long-time competitor from Upper Sandusky, Ohio, the heyday of competitive casting in the U.S. was from about 1940 to the mid-1950s. "At that time, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 casting clubs just in the state of Ohio alone," Wilson said. "Almost every small town had a club." Wilson, a six-time national all-around casting champion, won his titles during the 1960s. Now age 80, he still competes in the Senior Division.
Casting clubs and casting competitions were popular in the mid-20th Century because of the revolving-spool baitcasting reel. "That was in the days before push-button spin-cast reels," said Wilson. "So if you wanted to fish with artificial lures, you had to learn how to cast a revolving-spool reel without back-lashing it. Casting clubs were the places to learn that skill, introducing many anglers to competitive casting."
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Photo courtesy of Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife_
Beth Statt of Lebanon, Ohio is pictured holding typical spinning distance-casting equipment. Her husband, Andy, is president of the Cincinnati Casting Club. "I got into the sport when Andy and I married 35 years ago," said Beth. "I've always enjoyed fishing, and when we married he talked about competitive 'casting' and I didn't quite understand what he meant. But once I tried the sport -- I'm not a person to sit on the sidelines -- I really enjoyed it. And as our kids came along, we introduced them to casting and have found it a real family sport."
In addition to participating in the ACA championships, Steve Rajeff of Battleground, Wash. has competed in world casting championships since 1973. He won the world tournament 14 times. "The world championships are usually held in Europe," said Rajeff, "but they have been in the U.S. a couple of times, as well as in Australia and South Africa. More than 30 countries now have national casting competitions."
Rajeff went on to explain some of the differences in the equipment used for competition. "For accuracy events, the equipment is just the same as standard fishing equipment," he said. "But there are limits as to how long a rod may be or how heavy a line or certain casting plug may weigh. In the other half of the sport -- distance casting -- we do use more specialized equipment. For instance, the rods are lighter but stiffer than standard fishing rods, making them quite powerful. When you bend a rod like that correctly, it really springs and gives you extra speed and distance." Pictured is an over-sized line guide on a spinning rod used for distance competition.
Spinning reels for distance casting are modified by lightening their weight and tapering spools, which allows line to flow off more freely. "During competition, just one to two meters of distance can separate the winners from losers," said Rajeff, "so we look for every advantage. At world tournaments, fractions of a meter often determine the winner." For distance casting, the line can be no smaller than 10/1000 of an inch in diameter. Tied at the end of the main line is a section of line called a "trace" or shock line of thicker diameter, lessening the chance of the plastic casting weight breaking off during a cast.
"For the distance events," said John Field, ACA president, "men and women compete separately in the following categories: 5/8-ounce two-hand spinning, 5/8-ounce two-hand revolving spool, ¼-ounce one-hand spinning, two-hand fly, one-hand fly, and angler's fly." The fractions of an ounce refer to the weight of the plastic plug being cast. For the accuracy events, 30-inch circular floating targets are placed at various distances, and it often takes a perfect score, or close to it, to win some events. For the plug (lure) accuracy games, targets are placed from 40 to 80 feet from the competitor. In the fly-accuracy events, targets are 20 to 50 feet away, with bass bug targets at 20 to 70 feet.
As for distance-casting technique, competitor Austin Emmerling of Nevada City, Calif. uses a simple pendulum motion to get the plastic weight on the end of the line moving. "Some other competitors use a more complicated method of winding up," said Emmerling, "but I just do what's comfortable for me and have found it works. The idea is to start the tip of the rod low so you can finish the cast high."
According to ACA rules, a distance cast may land anywhere within a half circle (180-degrees) in front of the caster. More men compete in competitive casting than women, both in the distance and accuracy events.
Immediately following a distance cast, the competitor and a judge will both walk to where the plastic weight landed and push a numbered marker into the ground.
After all the competitors have cast in a certain event, the distances are measured by the judges using a laser range finder.
Field competed in the 5/8-ounce, two-hand spinning distance competition -- one of the more physically demanding events in the ACA Championships. Like most competitive casters, he became interested in the sport through fishing. Field has been president of the ACA for the past four years, and has worked to see that tournament casting does not fade from American culture. "One of my goals has been to get more young people into the sport," he said.
Unfortunately, of the dozens of casting clubs once located in the Buckeye State, only two remain today: Cincinnati and Toledo. The downturn in casting club memberships and competitive casting in Ohio and across America happened not only because of advances in fishing equipment (the invention of spinning and spin-cast reels), but also the proliferation of the automobile during the second half of the 20th Century. In short, anglers gained the mobility to drive out of town to fish, rather than stay home and cast.
In the distance events, competitors cast plastic plugs weighing 5/8 of an ounce (pictured top) using either two-handed spinning equipment or a two-handed revolving-spool reel. One-quarter ounce weights (pictured middle and bottom) are cast one-handed using spinning equipment.
In the accuracy casting events, specialized equipment is not needed. Regular fishing tackle will suffice, as long as you can consistently place a plug or fly in a 30-inch circle. Fly accuracy events include: dry fly, trout fly, and bass bug. Plug accuracy events include: ¼-ounce spinning, 3/8-ounce accuracy (spinning or revolving spool), and 5/8-ounce revolving spool.
Notice the length of the rods and size of the reels used in the two-hand spinning distance competition. Pictured far right is Steve Rajeff; who won his 40th Grand National Champion title when the week's various events were over. Pictured next to Rajeff (seated) is ACA hall-of-famer Zack Wilson. Much of the fun in tournament casting is the camaraderie developed among competitors through the years.
No cash prizes are awarded to the winners at American Casting Association events; just medals, trophies and bragging rights. If you'd like to try tournament casting yourself, there is likely a casting club or two in your state. Visit the American Casting Association website for more information.

How far can you cast a fishing line? How about 200 feet or more with fly tackle. Or maybe 100 yards or farther with spinning tackle? These were some of the distances achieved during the 104th American Casting Association 2012 National Casting Championships.

The event, held in the greater Cincinnati, Ohio area from July 31 to Aug. 4, doesn't get a ton of attention and casting competitions aren't what they were in the early 20th century, but many advancements in tackle and technique anglers use every day in modern sport fishing have roots that can be traced back to innovative tournament casters.

See how today's casters compete and what specialized tackle they use.