ENDLESS effort with only a scorched thumb to show for it. Style after style analysed in huge detail. Wads of cash poured down the drain on every new rod and reel that sparkles in the local tackle shop. Then practice, practice, practice.
The reality of casting for so many beach enthusiasts is that nothing ever works. They are not being greedy or over-ambitious; an easy 100 yards or so would be just great. Casting records now top the 300-yard mark, but for tens of thousands of beach anglers 150 yards is still a dream beyond reach.
It is the quest for the Great Casting Secret, with its emphasis of learning more and more about less and less, is what really does the damage. Paralysis by analysis some call it. We fill our heads with so much b******t that eventually the whole system clogs up.
Efficient casting is simple. I do not mean that pendulum casting or any other advanced method can be mastered in a few minutes. Two hundred yards is never without effort. Yet down-to-earth, practical casting that puts baits way out into fish territory can be achieved not only with ease, but also by using a whole raft of style options.
Good beachcasting - casting that works well enough to do the job you want – is simple, not because good casters are highly intelligent, super-athletic people, but because every efficient method is based on natural body actions.
The key word is natural; these motor skills are inborn. They are part of your biological toolkit. You don't have to learn them using step-by-step instructions, any more than a baby needs to read a text book before it can learn to walk.
Practice makes these innate abilities better, faster, stronger. But the basic system is already in place and works perfectly well. You just have to find it and apply it.
A casting method that doesn't work merely confirms that you are not exploiting the abilities you were born with. So change it now. Otherwise, you could practise for the rest of your life without gaining a single yard more distance.
When a casting method fails to deliver, the normal reaction is to dig ever deeper in search of some vital piece of information. Forget it, rooting around in the technical details gets you nowhere. Instead, put your brain out of gear for a while. Above all, learn to get out of your own way.
ARM AND BODY ACTION REVISITED
Casting is a combination of arm and body action. The obvious question is how should a caster use their arms and body?
The usual answer involves a lengthy breakdown of the casting action. Shoulder rotation, weight transfer, rod angle and arc, left arm moving this way, right arm pushing up there... complicated stuff.
Off we go to practise, then, head filled with instructions. Got the knee right that time... whoops, forgot about the left hand. Try again. Better rod angle. Shame about not letting go of the spool, though. Suck fried skin from thumb, re-tie shock leader, try yet again.
Here's another way. Write down everything you know about arm and body action in casting. If you have been casting for a while it will be a pretty long list.
Now tear it all up. Everything on the arm action list is replaced with the single word HAMMER. The entire body action list condenses to TURN. Turn and hammer, that's all you need to think about.
Of course, you already know how to do those two actions - natural, aren't they?
Two exercises for you. They're not proper casting, not practising, nothing to do with distance or any particular style. Simply play around with the ideas, and see what comes up.
You can do these exercises with an old broomstick or a piece of metal tube. Four feet long is about right. Don't use a rod butt. That would be too much like casting, which is exactly what we must avoid at this stage.
Your stick should also be light - a couple of pounds at the very most. This is to be strictly lightweight hammering. Driving nails, not breaking concrete.
A visual target is essential as well. To begin with, stick a piece of paper on the wall, just above head height and a foot or two to your right.
The picture sequences say it all. The two actions are nothing more than what you see. Turn. Hammer.
Hammer away at the target as if you were driving a nail into its centre. Notice how your arms work together quite naturally, perfectly in unison, sharing the effort. Look at the target. I mean really concentrate on it. Feel how the energy is automatically channelled slightly upward, straight toward the bullseye. Feel - that is the key word.
There is no right and wrong. It is not casting. It is hammering, and everyone knows how to do that.
Now turning. Put the stick under your right arm, trapping it lightly against your chest. Put your left hand in your pocket. Turn away from the target. Turn as far as you can without strain. Then turn back, accelerating comfortably. As soon as you start unwinding, turn your head and get your eyes focused back on that target. The stick will end up pointing toward it.
The feeling is of smooth rotation. You can sense that it is a very powerful action involving both muscle power and body weight. Do not force it. No need to analyse. Turn at whatever your natural speed happens to be. Fast or slow, it does not matter.
Think TURN away from the target, TURN back. You know instinctively that this would be the ideal way to sling a bagful of bricks at a target. It is a natural action, after all.
But if I were to say that it is also the way to put enormous power into a cast, then of course your brain might kick into gear. What does he mean by turn? How far? How much should my right knee bend? You know how it goes. So I won't mention casting. Chuck bricks instead. Feel it.
NOW SHUT YOUR EYES
Take the target off the wall. Shut your eyes and try the exercises again. The hammering and turning will feel less precise when your eyes are not locked on a target.
Keep them shut. Draw a target in your mind's eye. Imagine that target being stuck on the wall where the real one used to be. Then, with your eyes still shut, repeat the exercises. Now it feels okay again. You have a clearer sense of direction, something to focus on.
To make life even more difficult, open your eyes but focus them on the section of stick between your hands while you hammer, and on your right elbow during the turning exercise. Not so good is it? It somehow kills your natural flow.
HAMMERING. How does it feel if the right hand does most of the work? Or the left hand dominates? How does the feeling change if the target is moved down to shoulder height, or lifted a yard above your head. Farther to the right or left?
Draw a line on the floor at right angles to the wall and directly below the target. If you stand with your toes on or parallel to that line, we call the stance closed.
When the angle between the toe line and target line grows, we call that opening up the stance.
Notice that when your stance closes too far, your body gets in the way of the hammering action. During the turning exercise, a closed stance makes it easier to turn away, but blocks the forward turn.
You can feel the inherent loss of power and sense of direction.
A stance that is too open (toe line approaching a right angle to the target line) somehow reduces the accuracy of hammering, nor does the action seem so effortless.
The same over-open stance restricts your turn away from the target. As a result, the forward turn feels inefficient.
Even though you are making no effort, you can sense that this is no way to generate power anyway. Hurling a bagful of bricks would break your back because an overly-open angle puts enormous stress on the lower spine.
Switch attention to your legs. What happens to your weight when you turn away from the target? How does your right knee react as you reach your backward limit? Now turn back toward the target. What happened to the body weight? Where does your right heel naturally finish? How do these feelings change when the stance angles are made more open or closed?
Re-run the hammering exercise. Shuffle your feet around until the stance feels right. Notice the angle between toe and target lines. For the vast majority, the angle that best suits hammering is the same as, or very close to, the stance that allows the easiest, widest and potentially most powerful turn. It is a slightly open stance.
So roughly where do you think a caster might place his feet relative to the casting direction in order to make best use of his body and arms? Quite right. It's natural.
WHY IS THAT TARGET SO IMPORTANT?
WELL, It's all to do with biomechanics and spatial awareness and psychology and self-hypnosis and, maybe, whether your mum dressed you up in girlie clothes when you were a lad.
There we go again, analysing and making it all so difficult. Fact is you perform best when your eyes are locked on to an external target, real or imaginary. This is a critical step in excellence in many sports, such as cricket, golf, clay pigeon shooting. Kestrels use the same system.
Ask someone to throw a tennis ball at you. Your eyes naturally lock on to the ball. Your hand grabs it automatically. Next throw concentrate your gaze on the palm of your catching hand not on the ball. Not so easy to catch now, is it?
Hammering, turning and casting a fishing rod are equally improved by your focussing attention on an external target. Who cares why? It works best, and that's all we need to know.
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