While on the tail end of a stop for about 70 mixed yellowfin and bluefin tuna, I was reminded of the most significant distinction between journeymen-level anglers and those in the novice stage of the sport. The example was so obvious at the time that I couldn’t help but recognize the moment, and jump at the opportunity to share this all-important tip to anglers seeking to improve their skill level and results.
Before I present the actual tip I want to address the onboard scenario referenced above to paint a very common portrait of San Diego long-range, and Southern California style sport-boat fishing. Of the 20 or 30 anglers at the rail, the majority usually struggle for a bite while a handful of “experts” make it look easy. Setting the hook time and again, these journeymen anglers dominated the late stages of each stop, hooking fish five-to-one over the remaining majority at the rail.
Such anglers are typically adept at three things — bait selection, bait presentation and casting. And of the three, casting, though it may be debated by fishing’s elite, is in my opinion the most crucial skill to develop for consistent results in our style of fishing.
Even when the fish are lacking enthusiasm for biting, or the last aggressive few are patrolling the perimeter, a distant, well-placed cast with a marginal sardine will very likely draw a reaction strike. Even if the sardine is a hammered “red boy” barely flopping bait, that long-distance presentation often gets bit within seconds, if not instantly, when it hits the surface.
Whether presenting live baits or surface lures, the cast is a critical component to consistent catching. If one aspires to improve his or her fishing skills, I would recommend learning, practicing, and perfecting their casting skills, especially with live baits, which are by far the most challenging to master.
The most effective way to learn is by practicing on board a vessel at sea. There is an old saying that it takes 10,000 repetitions for an individual to master something — so get casting.
How many times have you been on board a local or long-range sport-fisher and been blown away by the casting skill of a crewman? Even the kids on the local half-day boats can sling a bait with an unbelievable degree of skill. They get lots of practice, daily. That practice translates into exactly what one would expect. These crewmen can deftly underhand flip a sardine 50 feet on 60-pound mono with a midsized two-speed reel.
If you want to improve your skill to this level, it’s going to take time and effort.
Here’s a quick tip for novice-level anglers — begin with a nose-hooked sardine. The bony structure is more forgiving and you can exert quite a bit more effort toward achieving distance with less concern of the bait tearing off.
Create a large arc, much like the old Kareem Abdul Jabbar “sky hook” when tossing the bait.
Leave about three feet of line from the rod tip, begin with the line almost parallel to the rod pointing straight up, then swing the tip down, out, then up to create lift and forward momentum. When the bait just passes the tip of the arc, release your thumb pressure on the reel. The forward momentum will carry the bait quite a distance when executed properly.
Once good distance and comfort are established with the nose-hook bait, switch to the belly or shoulder hook that requires much more finesse.
The soft tissue of the belly and shoulder tears easily if the angler exerts too much pressure. As anglers advance, most prefer to underhand cast tissue-hooked baits for this reason. Some distance is usually sacrificed with the belly or shoulder hook but almost zero shock occurs when the bait makes contact with the surface at the end of the cast. This translates into a more robust swimmer that enters the water with all of its wits as opposed to being stunned by the hard fall or belly flop of an overhand cast.
Just like any other sport, “practice makes perfect.” If you want to improve your angling ability, practice your casting both at home and while on board. Take advantage of the abundant down times at the end of the day, or during a slow period of fishing. Grab a rod, head to the stern or bow, and start making casts. Learn by doing and utilize the obvious surrounding advantages — cast downwind and engage the momentum of the vessel as it rolls in the direction you’re casting. You can only get the feel of these little enhancements by doing it.
If you are on a sport boat, ask a crewman to evaluate and critique your casting and provide direction on any areas for improvement. It is amazing how often one little pointer claps a Clarion bell that propels an angler to the next level.
Monitoring from up top, I constantly marvel at how many anglers are content to fish without catching, or are simply unaware of the fact that there is easy catching to be had with a decent cast. During these times I usually ask the crewmen to make some quick assists directing the less successful anglers to wind in and begin anew. The crewmen makes a quick bait selection, a quick cast and hands the angler their rod with the well-placed bait, and goes about their duties.
At least half of the time, probably much more, the angler that had been unengaged for some time is typically pulling on a new fish within seconds. In the majority of cases, the cast is the difference.
So I ask you, what kind of fisherman do you aspire to be? Are you content to put a bait in the water and wait your turn? Or, are you an angler who seeks to make it happen? If you are among the latter, well-developed casting skills are the most significant advantage you can wield.