Controlling Your Casts

Your forefinger is better for controlling spinning reels.
The distance of a cast can be manipulated with the touch of a finger.

No backlashes. No overruns. No bird’s nests. No thumbs” reads the advertisement for a reel described as the “first anti-backlash reel that really works.”

Well, if the ad agency will pardon my blasphemy, lots of us have had such reels for years. I got my first in the fourth grade, in 1950-something. It was called a spinning reel.

Unlike my father’s baitcasters, however, you couldn’t use your thumb on that newfangled reel. But boy, could you cast it into the wind–and with a line way lighter than anyone would think of using on a baitcaster.

Which, for the next few decades, was about where I left the tradeoff. While often fishing with live baits that tended to kite and sail into the wind, I was happy with my no-backlash spinners. But when it came to zinging a plug right up to where the bushes meet the water, if I didn’t have a baitcaster in hand, I knew I was giving up a lot of casting control.

There is nothing like an educated thumb putting just the right pressure on a revolving spool for landing an artificial softly in the strike zone–or so I thought at that time.

Because one thing I didn’t know was how to properly stop an errant spinning cast. I just clapped my off hand around the face of the reel. The line jerked tight, the bait flew off the hook, and the sinker came flying back at my head, or at my boat partners. Then I started all over again.

But one day I learned I had digits besides my thumbs. A friend who was tired of my scaring bonefish tipped me off. If I would extend the forefinger of my casting hand during the cast, he explained, the line whirling off the spool would touch against my fingertip. The resulting friction would slow the cast, thus decelerating the bait before it hit the water and giving a softer splashdown.

He was absolutely right. It made an amazing difference. It not only made the baits land more softly, but I quickly learned that it also made it possible to make accurate casts with the fixed-spool reel.

If you practice with your forefinger, which for most of us is a lot “smarter” than our thumb, you can get back a whole lot of the casting control allowed by baitcasters. For most, it’s never quite a match for a well-tuned revolving spool, but it’s close enough that the fish probably won’t notice.

However, when casting with spinning gear, there are four easy ways to miss: right, left, short or long. You can’t do anything with the fingertip to help the right-left problem; that’s controlled by your casting stroke. But we can affect the short-long thing. Just as in baitcasting, spinning accuracy can be greatly enhanced by firing with more velocity than is needed to reach the target. Thus, falling short ceases to be a problem, and the educated finger, judiciously applied, prevents overshooting.

Even when not attempting pinpoint casts, fingering or “feathering” a spinning cast has advantages. Under crosswind conditions that tend to billow the line during a cast, feathering it at the end of the cast causes the line to straighten. That takes a lot of the bow out of the line, providing a more direct connection between bait and angler. This makes for a more responsive lure when you twitch the rod, and you can also feel what’s going on much better, and be better able to set the hook if you get a strike.

Even in calm conditions, a more taut line between hook and rodtip can make all the difference in setting the hook on a strike that comes at the moment of splashdown. Such strikes are particularly apt to occur when casting to structure where fish lie in ambush.

To feather the line, you extend your index finger slightly beyond the lip of the spool and maybe 1/8-inch above it. The line whispers against the inside of the finger just below the tip, and you can move the finger toward the line, increasing drag, if you want to shorten up the cast quickly.

And, when you get an errant cast heading for squirrel habitat, the forefinger can stop it dead; you simply touch it directly to the spool. The line instantly snubs; end of cast.

The position of the bail before casting is important. If, when the bail is opened, it blocks access to the spool, it can parry the out-thrust finger and prevent feathering. Position the bail so that it’s next to the grip or on the right side of the spool before you open it, and you won’t have the problem; when the bail is opened, it cocks off to the left, allowing your finger to slip up next to the right side of the spool, if you’re a right-handed caster.

As with any casting discipline, even something as simple as forefinger play improves with practice. And the time to make it a habit is in the back yard or on the practice pond, not when the school of tarpon is bearing down on you. There’s nothing like a little mental pressure to make an educated finger forget everything it ever knew, unless you’ve practiced so much that the moves are completely automatic. FS