We all need to learn how to cast a surface iron, or maybe even re-learn. The way people fish surface iron has changed more in the last 10 years than the previous 40 years combined. Much of that has to do with the advancements in the rods and reels we use to fish iron. The days of casting with a big, bulky reel spooled up with monofilament and clamped onto a 10-foot fiberglass jig stick are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Despite the tackle changes and improvements, many anglers still cling to the notion that if you’re not throwing the plug on a long rod with a Newell reel and a spool full of 40-pound mono you’re not a “true” surface-iron aficionado. After all, they’ve spent their entire lives watching hotshots, deckhands and other random fishing gurus use that very same tackle to out-cast and out-fish them trip after trip. What these dyed-in-the-wool dudes might have missed is that many of the top iron fishermen in Southern California have already made the move to a new style of jig fishing spurred on by braided line and smaller reels.
Fishing Surface Iron
Improvements in fishing reel technology coupled with the use of small-diameter Spectra and braided fishing line has allowed fishermen to cast farther, present lures more effectively, increase their hook-up percentage and pull harder on fish. And, the best part is that all of this is being accomplished while using smaller and lighter tackle than ever before. This is the new standard.
My preferred setup, for example, includes a Shimano Trinidad 16 narrow-spool reel filled with 65-pound Spiderwire Stealth Braid and mounted to a Rainshadow graphite composite rod. Quite a few manufacturers offer high-end reels with the proper tolerances to effectively fish the surface iron with Spectra, but I’ve been happy with the Trinidad 16. This little powerhouse holds more than 250 yards of 65-pound braid and since it’s capable of almost 20 pounds of drag, you’d be hard pressed to hook a fish that you couldn’t stop. More importantly, the reel’s high-efficiency gearing allows you to turn the handle when fighting a big fish with a heavy drag setting. When matched with a fast-taper, graphite-composite blank, such as the Rainshadow JB106MH, you can effectively cast anything from a Tady AA Light to a Salas 7X.
The ability to cast a variety of jig sizes is one of the biggest advantages that this rig offers. Everyone knows that an experienced fisherman can cast a 7X a country mile with a Harnell and a Newell 338, but have them tie on an AA light (or anything smaller than a Tady 45 for that matter) and watch what happens to their casting distance.
Do you think the “gurus” constantly throw the 7X because it’s always the best jig to use? No, they throw it because the rod-and-reel combos they are using won’t throw smaller jigs effectively. So guess what happens when the yellows are keyed in on small anchovies? These guys throw the 7X at them and if the yellows don’t eat it, they assume the fish aren’t biting the surface iron. Would those same fish have hit a Tady A1 or a P5 Killer Jig? I guess they’ll never know. The point is, it’s nice to have the ability to put a smaller jig in front of them and find out.
Placing Your Jig on the Fish
Choosing the right lure size and color is important, but finding the perfect jig doesn’t mean much if you can’t consistently put it in front of the fish that you’re targeting. So, the first step in becoming a better surface-iron fisherman is to learn how to cast accurately. Casting distance is important, but if you practice your accuracy, distance will eventually come along with it.
As an example, we’ve all seen “that guy” on the boat. You know, the guy with all the right gear and he looks like he knows what he’s doing, but when he steps up to the rail to cast at some boiling fish his cast goes long and his jig lands with a loud splash 30 feet past the fish. By the time he’s picked out his backlash, his jig has sunk 50 feet down and he winds it back while wondering why he didn’t get bit. Sure, he can cast a long distance, but he has no control over his accuracy and the time it took him to pick out his backlash stole away any chance he had of catching any fish.
Sadly, there is no magic wand that you can wave over someone to improve his or her casting ability.
It takes a solid grasp of casting fundamentals and lots of practice. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or if you’ve been throwing the jig your entire life, there is always a new tip or technique to learn that will improve your casting abilities.
I have been throwing the iron for more than 25 years and I am still constantly tinkering with variations to my casting style. There is always a new skill to master. Sometimes just thinking about exactly what you are doing while casting will lead to improvement.
Good casting starts before you ever get on the boat. The first step is to make sure that when you fill your reel with Spectra, you get it on there nice and tight. If you have your reel filled at a tackle shop, you should be fine. But if you wind it on by hand, have someone hold the spool and keep a heavy amount of pressure on it while you wind the line on. This will save you a lot of headaches when you’re fishing because when not properly packed on the spool, Spectra will dig into itself and your casting will suffer.
The second step is to make sure and place your reel in the proper position for the length of your arm. If your rod has a reel seat, you have to live with where the manufacturer decided the reel should be. If you have a “deckhand” style handle, it’s up to you to put the reel in the right place.
To get the reel exactly in the right position, place your arm on the butt section of the rod like you would if you were going to make a cast. After you mount the reel, make sure you can grasp it with your hand while the end of the butt is even with the back of your elbow when your arm is bent. This may seem like a pretty unimportant thing, but if the reel is a couple of inches higher or lower, it will negatively effect your casting distance. Make adjustments until everything is just right.
Now that your reel is spooled up and you’ve got it clasped in the right place on your rod, let’s look at the actual mechanics of casting. The first and most obvious part is the position of the jig and the movement of the rod through the casting arc.
To start the cast, I hold the rod back at a 45-degree angle with the jig hanging about halfway between the rod tip and the reel. This starting position works best for me, but don’t be afraid to try starting with the iron at different lengths to find what works best for you. I place my arms in front of me (at a 90-degree angle from my body), with my elbows bent and the rod cocked over my right shoulder. From this position I can look back behind me at the jig. Always look behind yourself when casting to prevent hooking anything (or anyone).
To start the casting motion, I bring the rod over my shoulder. My left elbow begins to drop towards my body while my right arm begins to extend outward. Casting distance is generated by the speed with which you perform this motion. Basically, the faster you can move the tip of the rod from the 10 o’clock to the 2 o’clock position, the further your jig will fly. The speed of movement will start to bend the tip of the rod towards the jig. As you sweep through the cast, the rod will bend more and build up energy. This energy will be released (and imparted to the jig) when you snap your cast to a stop at the 2 o’clock position.
Once I have swung through the entire casting arc, my left elbow is completely tucked against my body, while my right arm is straight and fully extended. When casting, you do not need to drop your rod below the 10 o’clock position at the start of your cast and if your cast ends above or below the 2 o’clock position, you will lose casting distance.
The second factor in getting good casting distance is to use your lower body to amplify your arm movements and as a result heighten the force that goes into your cast. If you’re new to casting, I would work on perfecting the upper-body portion of the cast before introducing any lower body movement. This extra force gives you more distance, but if you are not in control of your casting mechanics, it’s going to cause a lot of backlashes because your thumb won’t be able to manage the speed at which line is coming off the reel.
To really load up the road, place your left leg forward with your feet apart. Again, look behind yourself to make sure you’re not going to hook another angler.
Once you begin your cast, twist your hips toward the direction you’re casting as the rod tip begins to come over your shoulder. This hip movement transfers your weight to the front foot (usually your left).
Swing through the arc as you shift your weight to your front foot. At this time, you may feel your abdominal muscles begin to tense as you prepare to place all of your weight on your front foot. Use your core muscles to snap the cast to a stop at the 2 o’clock position.
As the casting arc ends, you should have all of your weight on your front foot, with your left elbow tight to the body and your right arm fully extended. Take your thumb off the spool as the jig takes flight (as can be noted by the water spraying off the spool).
As the jig flies, transfer your weight back to both feet and while your right thumb feathers the spool, bring the left hand down to the reel in preparation of throwing the reel in gear the moment the jig hits the water.
Casting takes practice, but if you fish at your own abilities and pick up a few tips along the way, you’ll master the process in no time. Stick to the fundamentals until you’re comfortable casting, then move on to more complicated casts. Keep practicing and it won’t be long before you’re one of the guys out-casting and out-fishing everyone on the boat.
About the Author: BD Pro Staffer Erik Landesfeind has more than 25 years experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California and Mexico. He has divided his fishing time on local boats, long-range trips and Mexico excursions. For the last three three years, Erik has been competing in the Salt Water Bass Anglers tournament series with his tournament partner Matt Kotch as team “Snook Hunter.” He now spends 95 percent of his time targeting saltwater bass and has several tournament victories to his credit and finished the 2010 SWBA season in fifth place overall. His sponsors include Blazer Bay Boats, Humminbird, Minn-Kota, Batson Enterprises / Rainshadow Rods, MC Swimbaits, Uni-Butter Fishing Scent and Bladerunner Tackle.