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John Holden's guide to better beach casting Empty John Holden's guide to better beach casting

Post by Admin on Sat 30 Oct - 9:59

John Holden's guide to better beach casting - part 1
Thanks to Sea Angler
By Sea Angler

11 October 2010 14:29

Confused and frustrated with beach fishing? Caught in the trap of trying to fish with rods you can’t bend? Getting little enjoyment from a sport that can offer you leisure, pleasure, fun and excitement? Then follow this brand new series as John Holden slices through the bullshit and explains how to get the best from British beach fishing by being able to cast to reach the fish

Who is John Holden?

John Holden was a leading light on the UKSF casting circuit in the late 70s and early 80s. A great friend of Terry Carroll of Zziplex fame, he was one of just a handful of beach anglers who actually understood beach casting in relation to real fishing. John helped launch our highly successful Casting Instructor scheme and went on to write his highly acclaimed books Long Distance Casting and Beach Fishing.

This new series aims to strip casting to the bare bones, throw away the bits that no longer relate to beach fishing in the 21st Century, then rebuild what’s left into a simple, but power-packed, system of achieving all the distance you will ever need to catch fish.

For newcomers and inexperienced anglers confused by tackle, tuning and casting styles, I’ll present step-by-step methods that not only get the job done but also form a rock solid foundation for more advanced casting.

For the person who already casts a long way, there will be plenty of information and tactics to squeeze out those vital extra yards on the beach and in the practice field.

I shall also be rocking the boat, for it’s my intention to wreck some of the misconceptions about casting and tackle design. That we’ve been doing things more or less the same way for the past 30 years doesn’t mean there is nothing more to learn. Mistakes were made along the way, for which we are now beginning to pay a heavy price.

Despite the excellence of today’s tackle and the mind-blowing tournament results, is the angler on the beach well served by tackle designers? On average you are so limited in casting power as to stand not a hope in hell of consistently delivering bait much beyond the 100 yard mark.

Exactly what can a 13ft long range match outfit do for you? Is pendulum style the only way to go, or should he choose a less demanding method, more in keeping with the time he can spare for practice?

By kitting yourself out with a rod that he can bend and a reel that behaves itself, and re-focusing on what actually counts in the mechanics of hurling a rig out to sea, you’d soon have 20, 30, 50 extra yards on tap.

Cost is not a deterrent: the lowliest beachcasters from back street China deliver 125-plus fishing with contemptuous ease almost regardless of style.

Good casting from the beach - obviously not by tournament standards - is straightforward and quick to learn once the key steps are clearly spelled out. A fat wallet is more likely to hinder you than to help.

Why can't I cast?

I don’t claim to have a miracle formula for teaching people to cast a long way. After 30 years of running clinics and seminars all over the world involving getting on for 200,000 people, I have seen most of the problems. Actually, there are very few.

The question always thrown at me, whether in English, Spanish, Italian, Danish, French, Japanese or a dozen other languages, is always the same: “I have good gear, I’ve read the magazines and watched the videos, I practise regularly... so why can’t I cast?”

Reasons for casting poorly are simple and commonplace.

The ‘secret‘ of success? Basics. Adapt those into an individual casting style that works best for you. There is no THE in casting style: no THE pendulum, no THE South African, no THE anything else. Every caster differs in physique, timing, co-ordination and dedication; no two casters are ever identical even if they’re using the same principles.

Develop your personal variation of those themes, and if the basics are correct at least one of them will deliver everything you could wish for. Incidentally, it’s well worth bearing in mind that rebuilding a weak cast usually means forgetting unnecessary details.

Here is the list of major headings. We shall go through each topic in depth as the series progresses...

● Body ‘engine’ is lacking
● Wrong method for the individual
● Over-gunned rod and over-tuned reel
● Preoccupation with reaching a certain distance
● Fear of letting fly
● Paralysed by irrelevant information

Where have the fishing rods gone?

I am lucky to have the experience to adapt to almost any length, action and stiffness of blank. But if you present me with an armful of assorted beach rods - such as you might find in any reasonable tackle shop - the odds are that half are so vicious and stiff that my fishing would be ruined.

A few are so over-the-top that I can’t cast them. Most of the rest are on the well hard side of muscular - usable, but lacking in finesse. Maybe three out of 20 models have what I’m looking for; increasingly, they are found at the lower end of a manufacturer’s range.

I’m not saying that these modest beasts are the right choice for everyone. For one thing, I have never liked super-powerful rods for general fishing. One hundred and fifty yards with baits is usually more than ample. On the rare occasion when I do need greater yardage, out comes a tournament-grade pole - and to hell with its drawbacks. Nasty rod plus fish always beats nice kit and nothing.

I do not need a blank that starts coming on song the other side of 225 yards; I don’t want a rod that feels like a scaffold pole. I much prefer a fishing rod that peaks over grass at around 200 yards, feels distinctly soft at 225 yards, yet is sweet-acting all the way down to sub-100 yard fishing ranges.

When did you last read a review that mentioned a rod’s useful minimum distance? A blank’s overall power band is what counts on the beach, not its top end performance alone.

Why is it fast becoming difficult to track down a rod that blends all-round practicality and sweet handling with a stiffness/action nicely balanced to realistic fishing distances with 150g, my favourite weight for medium-heavy work? Why do the manufacturers assume that I want to use a big pendulum cast and a long drop?

It is far more sensible to deliberately limit a non-specialist beach rod’s maximum range in order to build in user-friendliness and angling versatility. To design rods for general sale on the basis that distance is the only factor worth considering merely underlines a lack of imagination and, worse, remoteness from the real world of angling.

The risks of being over-gunned in the rod department are much more critical for beginners and those less-able casters who have yet to develop the timing and power to master anything more than a bread-and-butter beach stick.

Isn’t it plain daft to produce mass-market rods that actually block anyone’s chances of learning to cast properly? The vital question is not how many anglers benefit from powerful rods. It is how many newcomers does beach fishing lose because they were sold such inappropriate gear that they soon gave up in frustration.

It would be more rewarding for us lesser mortals to choose from a much wider selection of rods, none of them brutally over-gunned. Some all-rounders, others geared to options of casting style, sinker weight, type of reel, species of fish, nature of beach and other practical criteria?

‘Bad’ casting can come good

There are interesting choices to be considered for casting technique alone. Pendulum isn’t the only serious style, nor is it always the best. For many anglers with limited opportunity and no enthusiasm for serious practice, it is truly the casting style from hell. Only a tiny minority would suffer if aerialised casts suddenly disappeared.

Off-ground and other non-swing methods excel on almost any beach, offering effortless, impressive distances with minimal bait damage. This is not a criticism of pendulum casting, which in the right hands and at the right time is the supreme method of blasting a sinker out of sight. But an all-rounder it ain’t, other than in the shortened fishing version.

The latest materials can be fashioned into rods that were impossible to make even 10 years ago. Rods, for example, that deliver excellent on-beach distances using ‘wrong’ casting styles such as a left-hand dominant swipe. With suitable gear plus a bit of reel re-tuning, this and other methods written off 20 years ago as disastrously awful are worth a second look, especially if you lack the time to practise or cannot be bothered.

Such rods are not available because there is currently no demand. There will be no demand until anglers realise that such options do exist.

The argument for change broadens to include the wider world of beach fishing.

It is no longer realistic to suppose that today’s objectives are the same as they were when the current chapter of sea angling began some 30 years or so ago.

That being the case, a re-examination of tackle and tactics is inevitable if we are to make the best of what fishing remains around our coastline. Innovation will also inject a great dose of fresh interest and pleasure into the sport. Time to wake up and see what we're missing.

How we got here and what we forgot along the way

Modern beach fishing is rooted in the late 1960s when the cod boom and its demand for long-range casting destroyed the old ways of thinking. New tackle and radically different ideas drove a 6oz sinker and a hookful of lugworms way beyond the dreams of old timers who dibbled their baits a little way out from the water’s edge.

The personalities, the methods and the products that powered the sea fishing revolution are well documented and lead directly to the modern tournament and beach scene. It’s a logical progression of technology and technique keyed exactly to catching fish, you might think. Half right. We’ll be looking at another aspect of the story in the next feature.

John Holden's guide to better beach casting - part 2

By Sea Angler

12 October 2010 11:03

It was Les Moncrieff who linked distance beach casting to cod fishing during the 1960s that sparked the UK beach fishing revolution. His Layback method and reverse taper Springheel rod delivered 6oz or 8oz of lead and a big hook-load of bait way beyond the 100 yard mark, which he regarded as the minimum distance for successful codding, says John Holden, who sets the casting scene which has lead to today’s stalemate...

You can imagine what an influence Les’s articles and demonstrations had on cod anglers who were hungry for information about anything connected with long-range fishing.

Enthusiastic about all kinds of casting, Kent-based Les was hugely encouraging to up-and-coming tournament casters like me, helping us to develop rods and casting methods that smashed record after record.

Stiff butted rods and the pendulum cast is a by-product of his pioneering work, though he was personally none too keen on either.

Ironically, it was Moncrieff’s success as a teacher that eventually helped to kill his own Layback system. The style was still as effective for long range codding as anyone could wish for, but it could not cut it on the tournament field.

It is sad that fishing rods came to be judged by their tournament casting performance, but that is life. The demoli¬tion of Layback casting by rigid rod handles, fast tips and pendulum casts was completed by the early 1970s.

The arrival of carbon fibre technology then brought us to the current state of affairs. Some say that we have reached the ultimate in rod design and casting techniques. Others, more sceptical perhaps, suggest that perhaps some aspects of fishing have been spoilt by an over-emphasis on casting.

Fast pendulum rods thrash the older rod designs over grass. But, compared with Layback and other older methods, what are the benefits of the latest kit if your casting ability is less than expert? Obsolete as they seem, reverse taper rods and even the Layback style deserve a second look.

With the majority of beach anglers still unable to cast anywhere near as far as they would like - and only a tiny minority able to reach Moncrieff’s own distances of 40 years ago - can the sport afford to ignore any system with a track record for delivering excellent distances and all-round fishing ability?

If you have trouble casting, would a slower rod and Layback-type cast add many yards and be more pleasant to handle? It would be easy to create an improved version of the Springheel action. The reverse taper design is capable of being developed way beyond that.

Other candidates for revival

Massive distances and heavy artillery do not tell the whole story of beach fishing as it evolved from Moncrieff to Mackellow, from relaxed efficiency to athletic powerhouse. Dozens of new ideas came along, mostly disappearing within a few months unless they helped in the quest for more and more distance.

Twenty-five years ago, there was a great interest in light tackle as well typified by the old Angling magazine’s campaign to bring greater finesse to sea fishing. The full story is best left to the anoraks.

Two anglers do deserve a special mention, though. In an attempt to inject a more sporting flavour into cod fishing, the late Ian Gillespie of Breakaway Tackle and Southend tackle builder Bill Roberts came up with the lightweight Cod Pole series of beachcasters.

Even in 5oz spec these rods were so light and flexible that you felt that the blanks could safely be bent into a hoop. For their time they were of relatively quick action. Despite their flimsiness by today’s stan¬dards, Cod Poles delivered excellent beach distances, easily topping 150 yards.

All models made fishing hugely enjoyable because they were designed to do exactly that. Casting performance was set at “far enough” because anything more would jeopardise the rods’ other characteristics and was wasted on the beach anyway.

Nothing compares to the sheer joy of hooking a 4lb or 5lb fish on a Cod Pole. Few of today’s carbon rods rival the balance and precision of that old all-glass blank with its wire rings and minimalist handle fittings. ‘Bare Bones,’ they called them back in the glory days.

Again, it is well worth asking: Is the Cod Pole merely a footnote in angling history, or could it be resurrected as a serious player in the beach game?

Fashion is a much stronger driving force than necessity. These old rods were highly successful fishing weapons. They died because they became old hat, not because they failed to perform excellent service on the beaches.

Modern versions would be even better. Their deliberately limited performance - if you call the best part of 200 yards limited - means that they are particularly suited to practical beach fishing where 150 yards is more than enough for most people.

My view is that if the Layback or Cod Pole systems were invented today and marketed as ‘easy cast’ products, they would take the market by storm.

Pendulum casting a soft rod

Almost every rod on the market has a stiff handle and fast tip. To pendulum cast them for fishing (as opposed to tournaments), the sensible way is to build the power slowly and smoothly.

This avoids pre-loading the blank too soon in the casting arc, which is a fatal error for all but the strongest of casters. A modestly pre-loaded rod given a distinctly late hit when the arms flick over in a whip¬like action produces excellent fishing distances with the least fuss. Slow build-up, late hit is the winning formula.

Pendulum casting a soft butted rod that way gives poor distances and a plague of backlashes. This is the basis of the well known ‘fact’ that you can’t pendulum cast a soft rod at all.

So why did Cod Poles and similar old gear still produce their best performance with a pendulum style? The short answer is that it was a different version of the cast.

A soft rod pendulum needs a radically different energy flow, almost the reverse of fast rod recommendations. This is achieved by first setting the drop length and swing angle to produce high sinker inertia at the beginning of the cast. A fast rod loaded like this will make a reel spin rapidly, often out of control.

Then build the power quickly and early using shoulder rotation so that the blank is almost fully loaded at the point when the arms turn the rod over. There is no powerful late flick.

With this variation of pendulum casting, there is no need for the arms to do much more than guide the rod while it unwinds almost of its own accord. Early build up, no need to hit.

It is the big distances tournament casters have clocked up that has driven the rod building market with the result that expensive super-fast rods have become the 'must have' accessory on the beach. Wrong!

Discovering your own casting style

Casting is nothing more than applying a certain amount of force to a rod as it travels along a pathway of certain length and shape. Energy is drawn from the caster, stored in the rod then released to propel the sinker into the sky. Sounds complicated. It is simple if you know what goes on when your rod begins to bend - and we’ll be looking into that next month.

There are a few points you should be clear about before we start to analyse casting tech¬nique. As a prelude to mastering any particular style you will need to discover the force pattern and rod path that suits you as an individual.

That knowledge will point you towards a suitable style or styles to practise. It is an unfortunate fact of life that there will be some kinds of cast at which you will never be able to excel. The good news is that at least one style will be absolutely right for you.

We shall be looking at ways to make you more aware of this interaction between a caster and his tackle. Pendulum and other sinker-swinging methods are quite critical in their demands for correct flow and cast ‘shape’, but all styles are affected to some degree.

You really do need to discover your own natural flow and timing. The wrong choice of method and tackle might well see you fighting a losing battle no matter how hard you try.

For all levels of beach fishing, the two main options for working a rod efficiently are ‘arm casting’ and ‘body casting.’ Most casts are a combination of both actions, but one of them will tend to dominate the other.

Arms-dominant casters load the rod slowly and finish with a whip-like action. They do well with stiff butted, fast tipped rods; the slow build, late hit formula.

Body casters exploit a powerful but effortless body rotation and shoulder action that can extract a wonderful performance from softer, slower rods.

This does not mean that body casters don’t use their arms, or that arm casters don’t rely to some extent on body rotation as sources of power. What counts is the natural balance of one action to the other. Get the balance too far wrong and you will end up.

Six key casting points you must consider

● It is a myth that you can’t pendulum cast a soft rod.
● Soft pendulum rods need a radically different energy flow.
● Load fast rods the wrong way and they will rip your thumb off!
● Remember there is a casting style right for you.
● Arms-dominant casters load the rod slowly and finish with a whip-like action.
● Body casters exploit a powerful but effortless body rotation and shoulder action. quick tips

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