Turning and hammering are the mechanical basis of powerful casting. These simple, natural body actions are as relevant to tournament work with the advanced pendulum styles, as they are to an offgrounder that lobs sinker and bait an easy 80 yards, says Britain's top casting instructor John Holden
DON'T be fooled by different casting styles, rod design, reel tuning and a hundred-and-one more technicalities. All good casting uses a spring-like turn of the body, blending into a hammering arm action. Minor variations apart, that's all there is to it. Simple, powerful and natural.
I don't blame you if you find it hard to believe that casting can be so easy. Like all technology-based sports, casting becomes as complicated as you care to make it. But this article is about everyday beach work, not breaking records. It focuses on how to be successful on the beach.
If tournament casting is Formula One, then fishing at 100 yards is driving around the town. A cool 150 yards with match tackle is comfortable cruising on the motorway.
At this stage in the series, we are still learning to pass the driving test. The Turn-and-Hammer exercises covered so far contain every mechanical step needed to generate more than enough power for a wide range of beach fishing.
Nothing more is needed to drive baited tackle a respectable distance. Before moving on to 'proper' casting, though, we need to finish building the foundations. Our basic exercises are good for distances over 125 yards, but fall short in one vital respect. They collapse when called upon to handle and control a great deal of power, such as you might use for throwing 8oz of lead into a gale or driving 150g towards the 200 mark.
The original Turn-and-Hammer exercise now needs a small modification to make it produce full power. Most people can get away without this extra step for casting moderate distances, but it is a must-have before advancing to any style that uses a big rod arc driven by full body rotation.
Heavy hammering - feeling the load
Power build-up during a hefty cast makes a rod feel heavy in your hands. It appears to increase in weight because it is storing energy. The weight and tension reflect the blank's compression against the sinker's inertia. During the final stage of a cast, the feeling you should get is of taking hold of that load and driving it skyward.
When people talk about casting by feel rather than as a step-by-step sequence, this is one area to which they refer. It is hard to describe, but crystal clear when experienced. Casting pendulum style, I feel the blank 'tighten' just after the sinker begins to accelerate down from the inswing and into the main power arc. Halfway around, tightness becomes a moderately heavy weight balanced between my hands.
I push that weight forward and upwards using body rotation, then flip it over in the final push/pull arm action. Getting the right feedback from the rod is all I think about. Muscle memory takes care of the step-by-step mechanics of the process. I never give a passing thought to technique.
The drawback is that in order to feel the weight and learn how to handle it, you must first be able to cast well enough to produce the necessary rod compression. Another Catch 22 situation.
Let's fake it instead. Make a second hammer, heavier than the first. The weight should be sufficient to make arms-only hammering difficult. The idea is deliberately to overload the system. A sledgehammer is the perfect tool. Seven pounds is a good starting point.
Swing that hammer slowly
A word of warning, especially if you have been casting pendulum style for some time; swing that hammer slowly. Rest between blows. Do not fight your body's natural reaction to the heavy load on the arms. In other words, do not struggle to retain the normal 'shape' of your casting style.
Warm up with the lightweight hammer, using the original hammering exercise rather than the combined Turn- and- Hammer featured last month.
Arm action only. Now pick up the sledgehammer and try to move it in exactly the same way. You might manage a few arms only swings if you are strong. More likely you will struggle - and that is exactly what you want to happen.
Before making the next swing, hold the hammer steady for a few seconds in the starting position. Feel and listen to what your body tells you. It knows exactly how to handle the extra load, if only you let it. Your biological machinery is already programmed to solve the problem.
Forget about casting, and allow your body to adapt itself.
As you lift the hammer into the normal arms-only starting position and focus on the target (a foot or so above eye level and to the right), the weight becomes uncomfortable.
The right arm responds by bending at the elbow, bringing the hand towards the shoulder.
The left arm prefers to stay fairly straight; it might even extend a little more than normal. If it wants to, let it. The shoulder dips a little and the body rotates into a semi-coiled position. Body weight favours the right leg.
Now the hammer is supported more on to the shoulder and chest; a far stronger platform than the arms. The body is coiled under and behind the downward force. Notice how much more comfortable and powerful this feels.
The hammering begins, perfectly naturally, with a relatively slow, powerful shoulder push that drives the weight forward and upwards towards the target. Once under way, the hammer feels lighter as it gains momentum. Now the arms can do their work in the normal manner.
Of course it is awkward at first. If you have been casting the wrong way for years, then it might feel very odd indeed. Practise will strengthen the muscles and develop greater speed, but there is nothing new to learn in the mechanical sense.
If you do run into trouble, chances are that your mind has switched into casting mode. You are consciously analysing and tinkering, which kills the natural flow. This isn't casting. It is swinging a heavy hammer. All you are interested in is feeling the weight.
Power without the pain
Heavy hammering is the glue that bonds the turning and hammering phases of a powerful cast, building and controlling great power with little apparent effort. A shoulder push, or something very close to it, is featured in most powerful off-ground and pendulum styles.
It is not an action that needs particular emphasis in everyday beach fishing with sub-6oz tackle or where distances remain below about 125 yards. However, even in those circumstances it still makes casting more relaxed and less prone to errors in tuning and timing.
The Back Breaker sequence shows what happens when the sledgehammer is swung without proper use of the body.
Beginning with my right arm too straight and held too far from my body, I'm already fighting the weight.
It's a real struggle to get the hammer swinging. Halfway through the action, something has to give. The strain becomes too great, triggering a selfprotection mechanism.
My body allows itself to be pushed off line to the left, away from the hammer, avoiding the pressure. If this were a real cast, the rod would immediately decompress, dumping the sinker low and left. The reel would surge towards backlash; even if I could bring it under control, distance would be poor.
That was the good news. Far worse is the risk of back injury. Hard casting with straight(ish) arms and powerful body rotation puts enormous strain on the lower back.
The longer the rod, the greater the damage.
There are big casters – pendulum mostly - whose arm strength is so great that they can control a rod this way. Yet in almost every case they eventually develop back trouble, sometimes so serious that they must stop casting. The irony is that the error that leads to injury also robs them of maximum distance.
At lower levels, too, back trouble and improper load control go hand in hand with poor distances. Again, the pendulum caster is most at risk. The most common error in pendulum casting is cutting the corner – coming off the pendulum swing by lifting the rod around high and abruptly on straight arms, then hitting hard. It's a spine crusher, and never produces decent power.
Many styles, one foundation
The Body Rotation sequence shows the common ground between casting styles. Begin with the off-ground cast on the right; work back to the full pendulum. Notice how each cast builds on the one before.
The South African cast is a body extension of the simple ground cast. The fishing pendulum uses the same body rotation as the South African, but holds the rod higher. Further extending the arm lift and body turn produces the full or tournament pendulum set-up.
Run through these set-up positions with the sledgehammer, finishing each one with the usual Turn-and-Hammer action. Notice that each style flows into the heavy hammering position at some point during the forward body turn. Your right shoulder moves naturally behind and under the load as the rod comes around. The exact point at which this happens alters with the style.
The pressure also grows with every increase in body rotation. A full pendulum generates a lot of mid-arc 'weight' that must be properly controlled.
A big cast with a stiff, fast blank demands that you grab the rod by the scruff of the neck and give it a damn good thrashing. It is the mishandling of this mid-arc pressure that condemns so many casters to failure.
Try the exercises again using straight arms and without the sense of getting your shoulder behind and under the load. Feel how the system loses power and causes the spine to be shoved off line, transferring pressure to the lower back. Do these tests slowly so as not to hurt yourself. Back sufferers would do better to skip this one.
A casting action that incorporates the natural heavy hammering stage is easier, far more powerful, more controllable and forgiving. Getting your right shoulder behind the rod is the secret of being able to use big sinkers and long rods. Done properly - naturally - it makes casting ten times easier and is your insurance against back damage.
The simple off-ground in action
To look through the whole range of articles in this series, click HERE.