We’ve all been there: Standing in the beautiful, vast surf, casting our long fishing rods for hours without a single hit. And we wonder, maybe this just isn’t our day. Enter the surf contest, no matter your skill level or experience.

We again cast, but our concentration has ebbed, so instead of watching the line and maintaining contact with the lure, we lose ourselves in the music of crashing waves-until the music is pierced by the shriek-like howls of seagulls.

Down the beach a flock circles and dives: a sign bait fish and probably stripers are moving towards us. Something goes off in us.

An adrenaline rush? A predatory instinct? We don’t exactly what, or how to describe it, but it has changed us.

Electricity seems to surge through us. We’re wired. We watch and wait, like soldiers before battle. The seagulls move closer, then again circle and dive. But they’re out of our casting reach! And stay that way.

A disappointment. We wonder, what will we tell our wives-that the stripers just weren’t running? Will that explanation fly again?

Maybe. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The seagulls, you see, aren’t beyond out reach. They’re beyond casting skills.

Exactly what do I mean?

For years tournament fly casters have been refining their techniques, and as a result, are now casting farther than before. Can their techniques can help us surfcasters reach that faraway fish?

Yes, I believe.

But will we have to swing the lure in a wide, almost full-circle and risk hooking someone on a crowded beach?

Absolutely not.

To help me explain, let’s begin by looking at some universal casting principles.

FUNDAMENTALS OF THE CAST: 1. The lure will travel in the direction the rod rip moves just before it is stopped. 2. To effectively load (bend) the rod we must begin the cast slowly, then accelerate and reach maximum speed just before we stop the rod. (If we begin the cast too fast the lure will also move too fast, and therefore not fully pull on the rod.) 3. To use all the power stored in a loaded rod, we must abruptly stop the rod without lowering the tip from the target line. 4. All things being equal, the more we lengthen our casting stroke, the more we will load the rod.

With these principles in mind let’s now turn to the techniques of long-distance surf casting.

TRADITIONAL VERSUS MODERN: In traditional surf casting the cast begins with our surf rod pointed behind us at about 3 o’clock. We begin to load (bend) the rod when we move the rod forward. This traditional cast is often called the Slingshot Cast. In the modern approach to surf casting, we begin the cast with our surf rod pointing straight ahead and parallel to the surf. Like fly and spey-rhymes with say-casters, we begin to load the rod when we move it upwards and then backwards. (I’ll borrow a term from spey casting and call this movement my back swing.)

THE GRIP: Any slack in the line will make it impossible to fully load the rod. When casting a surf or a spinning rod we often add slack by not holding the line with enough tension. Even worse than adding slack, our index finger will often prematurely release the line. The lure, therefore, will then sail high and off to the right. To avoid this, I place two fingers in front of the reel stem and two behind. I pick up the line with my index finger, and then I move my hand back so that only my index finger is in front of the stem. Next, I pull the line up and back and gently press my fingertip against the stem, but not the line. The line rests just below my fingertip, on the inside of my joint. (Feeling the weight of the lure improves my casting accuracy.) When casting heavy lures, I recommend wearing a golf glove or putting on a band aid so that the line doesn’t cut our finger.

I flex my right thumb and rest it on the top of the handle. I grip the handle lightly.

THE OPEN (SLINGSHOT) STANCE: Most of us, assuming we’re right-handed, feel more comfortable using an open stance: Our left foot is forward and pointing straight at the target. This is similar to the position we’re in when we throw a baseball. The front of our right foot is in-line with the front of our left heel and points outward, about thirty degrees to the right of the target. (If our right foot is too far back or too far outward, we will limit our hip rotation during the forward cast.) To help increase our leverage and power, our knees are slightly bent. Our left hand is holding the end of the rod butt. The lure hangs down about two feet from the rod tip, and our weight is on our front foot.

THE CLOSED (MODERN) STANCE I believe there is nothing wrong with using an open stance, but I also believe that when we cast a surf rod, unlike when we throw a ball, we don’t bend at the waist to generate leverage and power. Instead, we rotate our hips as much as possible, like a batter hitting a ball or a boxer throwing a punch. If my left foot, therefore, is forward I will not be able to fully rotate my hips and get all my weight into the cast. Therefore, I prefer to use a closed stance: My right foot is in front of my left. At first, this will probably feel awkward for many casters, but with time, I believe it will become more comfortable.

THE BASIC MODERN CAST: I begin my cast by keeping my right elbow in place, and rocking backwards. Raising my left elbow, I push the rod butt up. Keeping my wrists locked, I increase acceleration and slowly swing the rod tip up, then back. Toward the end of my swing, I continue pushing up with my left arm, then I break my wrists down. I stop the rod at about three thirty. (The lure must not touch the ground.) My rod hand is about eye-level and not past my rear shoulder. My right forearm points to about 1 o’clock. The rod butt points straight ahead and slightly up. Finishing the vertical back swing in this position will make it easier for us to execute our forward cast without lowering the rod tip from the target line, and also to move our right arm in-sync with our body rotation. (More about that later.) All our weight is now on our back foot.

THE CORRECT SPEED: If we execute our swing at the correct speed, and if our surf rod is not too stiff, and/or our lure is not too light, the rod should be slightly loaded at the end of the swing. (We’ll feel the lure tug on the rod.) If, however, we execute our swing too quickly, the lure will bounce and add slack in the line. (We will not then be able to load the rod until well after we begin our forward cast.) When in doubt, I believe it is better to execute the back swing too slowly rather than too quickly.

THE CAST: Without stopping at the end of our swing-if we do the rod will unload-we continue accelerating and begin our forward cast, leading with our right elbow, and moving our right arm in-sync with our weight shift and body rotation. We move in-sync for two reasons: 1. If our arm moves faster than our body we will not utilize all our body’s power and, in effect, become an arm caster. (Ever wonder why major-league pitchers look as if they’re throwing so effortlessly?) 2. If our arm gets ahead of our body, we will lower the rod tip from the target line and prematurely unload the rod.

Back to the cast: Pushing up with our right hand, and pulling down with our left (almost as if we’re executing a double haul in fly casting), we tighten my grip, and quickly accelerate the rod, and move the butt perpendicular to the target line. (Fully rotating our hips and shoulders allows us to increase the length we can move, and therefore load, the rod at this angle.) When our right arm is about three-quarters extended, we reach maximum acceleration by pretending we’re hammering nails and breaking both wrists halfway. We aim our cast at an upward trajectory of about 45 degrees. (If I’m casting into a strong wind, I aim a little lower.) We squeeze the rod handle and butt and abruptly stop the rod at about 11 o’clock and release the line. Our right arm is fully extended. Our weight is on the ball and toes of our front foot, with our front leg straight.

THE SPEY-LIKE SURF CAST: So, we practiced these techniques, and we’re casting farther than ever, but wouldn’t you know it: We’re on the beach and the fish are again beyond our reach. Is there anything we surf casters can do?

We can borrow techniques from archers. The more they pull their arrows back, the more they load their bow, and, therefore, the farther their arrows will fly. We surf casters also can load our surf rods even more. How? By lengthening our back swing. To do this, we begin our spey-like cast the same way we begin our modern surf cast, but as soon as the surf rod points to about 10:30, we swing the rod outward. Thinking of our right elbow and left wrist as swivels, we keep our right elbow in place and begin to shift our weight back. Slowly increasing acceleration, we pretend we’re using the rod tip to draw a big half-circle in the sky. When we’re almost finished drawing, we push up with our left arm, break our wrista down and back, and lower the rod to about 3:30. (We will now be in the start position for the Slingshot Cast.) We begin my forward cast.

SETTING THE HOOK: After we’ve made a long surf cast we have to execute a longer, more powerful hook-set. To help us do this, we have to fully rotate our hips backwards. Therefore, as we retrieve the lure, we put our left foot forward. We balance the surf rod in our right hand and hold it across our body, almost as if we’re holding a guitar. (Holding a heavy surf rod this way will also reduce fatigue.) The rod butt is under our left armpit, and our weight is on our front foot. When we feel a strike, we quickly we point the rod towards the fish, reel in slack line, and then rip the rod tip up and back as far as we can.

I’m a native New Yorker. My writing has appeared in many publications, including The Flyfisher, Flyfishing & Tying Journal and Fishing And Hunting News. I’m also the author of the historical – and recovery – novel, The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make Peace With the World. Much of my writing is about the techniques of spin and fly casting and about the spirituality/recovery of fly fishing. I often fish the streams of Westchester, the piers of New York City and the lakes of Central Park.

My website is: http://www.flyandspincasting.com.

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