Bait-casting is the fishing method most sportsmen use. It's easy to learn and its tackle is inexpensive. And it isn't limited to catching small fish, as fly-casting and spinning are unless you're an expert. A big cannibal Trout will hit your bait-casting spoon or plug. So will a hefty citizen of the sea such as a Striped Bass, and between these extremes there are hundreds of species willing to do the same. Accuracy is a great advantage of this tackle. Soon you'll be able to sight your casting rod the way you do a rifle and hit the target every time. Distance is another advantage; you can cast 150 feet or more with almost no effort— if you let your springy rod do the casting for you instead of trying to make your arm do all the work. Also, with bait-casting you don't need a lot of room behind you as in fly-casting.
Your rod can be made of either fiberglass or split-bamboo. Both are suitable, but glass is better. Bamboo is more expensive and glass isn't as likely to snap when a big fish bends it in half. A long rod (6 to 7 feet) has more spring than a shorter one and with a light reel it will cast lures weighing as little as ¼ ounce, such as the ones you use for large panfish. For the ⅝-ounce to 1-ounce plugs and spoons used to lure big Pike, Black Bass, and so forth, you'll need a stiffer rod of 5 or 5½ feet. Although on a fly rod and spinning rod the reel hangs downward from the rod's handle, on a bait-casting rod the reel must be on top where you can reach its spool with your thumb. Therefore, this rod must have a reliable locking gadget to clamp the reel and keep it from slipping. It's usually a threaded band which screws out and over one end of the reel's base after the other end of the base has been slipped under a flange in the reel-seat. Make sure a bait-casting rod has some locking arrangement similar to this before you buy it.
Guides are important on a bait-casting rod. On a cast, the line shoots through them at terrific speed, so they must be absolutely smooth or else their friction will gradually wear and fray the line. Then, some day that prize fish you fight almost to the net will snap off and give you his fish-laugh. Polished steel guides, which are all right for light spinning lines and slow-moving fly lines, are only second-best for bait-casting lines. Your guides should be made of uncracked agate, the genuine hard mineralj not ordinary glass. Or else they should be made of one of the new crackproof plastics. This is especially important for the tip guide over which the shooting line passes at an angle, generating the most friction and wear. To assemble your rod, hold its sections so their guides line up perfectly with each other, then push—don't twist—the rod sections together. Guides out of alignment will cause more line wear.
The bait-casting reel is a tricky little gadget. Once you've learned to control it, the rest of bait-casting is a cinch because it's the main part of the whole operation. A fly-casting reel simply holds the line; a spinning reel just holds the line and then winds it in after it's been cast; but a bait-casting reel does three things—stores line, lets it out, and pulls it in. It fastens to the top of your rod handle, its double-handle crank on the right (left on left-handed reels). Turn this crank and note how the spool of the reel revolves. It turns faster, usually about four turns for each turn of the crank. It's a "multiplying" reel—it multiplies the turns of the crank handle so you can reel in a lure quickly at a small fish's natural swimming speed. Reels come in different sizes which determine the length of line they'll hold on their spools. This information can be obtained from the folders which accompany them.
As you turn the crank, you'll also notice in the front of the reel a slotted device that moves from side to side. This is the "level wind" which distributes the line evenly on the spool as you wind it in. If it weren't for that, the line would build up in a mound on one spot on the spool, reducing the spool's capacity and slipping into an impossible snarl. On the side of the reel opposite the crank handle is a small sliding button—the "click" adjustment. Push it one-way and the spool and handle can be turned freely; push it the other way and you'll hear a distinct "click" as they turn. This "click" is like a car's parking brake; it keeps the spool from unwinding when not in use. Push the "click" to "off" before casting. Large reels, such as those used for surf-casting, necessarily have large, heavy handles and so they also have a built-in arrangement to keep these big handles from windmilling during a cast. Such a reel is called a "free spool." Before the cast, the handle is turned slightly forward. This disengages it from the spool. Therefore, when the cast is made, only the spool revolves, not the handle. For the retrieve, the first backward turn of the handle re-engages it and the line is reeled in as usual. Large reels also have an adjustable "drag," or brake, to protect the line. This drag allows the spool to slip and release the line before it breaks when a fish pulls too hard, even when the angler may still be reeling in with all his strength.
Top view of reel mounted on rod
Bait-casting line used to be made of silk until nylon, with its greater strength for its size, greater hardness and greater resistance to mildew, showed itself to be far superior. It comes in various strengths and lengths, dyed all different colors for camouflage. Green or black seems to be least visible to fish. For most fresh-water Bass casting, an 8-pound-test line is strong enough. Use as light a line as you can because the heavier it is, the more difficult it is to cast and the shorter your casts will be. However, for fish larger than Bass you'll have to settle for stronger, heavier line. In order to make casting as easy as possible, the line should fill the spool of your reel almost to its edges. But 100 yards of 8-pound-test only cover the bottom of a standard spool! The answer is to use a "backing"—more line to fill the spool partially before you wind your casting line on it. This can be an old or cheap line since it probably will never see action. Before it could, some Bass would have to run away with all 100 yards of your good line, which isn't likely. But a Muskie might! As a safety measure, tie the backing tightly to the spool of your reel and after winding it on, make sure to tie it securely to your casting line.
There are thousands of lures for bait-casting—plugs that splash and gurgle, that perform on the surface and at all depths, and that imitate everything from small fish to swimming ducklings. Some recent ones look as though they might have come from Mars. There are also spoons of all descriptions that wobble fast and wobble slow, with and without hindquarters of colored feathers. They all catch fish and all are easy to cast. Spoons, especially, cast like bullets. Use them when you have to cast into a high wind. Use a "snap" (it looks like a small safety pin) at the end of your line to make changing lures easy—and change them often. With every snap there's a "swivel" to keep your line from being twisted bv a revolving lure.
How to Cast
For your first bait-casting attempt, cast a f-ounce rubber practice plug you can buy at your tackle shop. Assemble your rod and reel, being sure to pass the line through the level-wind slot of the reel before threading it through the rod guides. Tie the plug to the line and let it hang about 8 inches from the rod tip. Now, turn the rod so the reel is upright and grasp the rod handle with one hand, holding it so your thumb can rest on the spool of the reel. Holding the spool tight with your thumb, push the "click" button to "off" with your other hand. Next, release your thumb.
The spool unwinds as the plug falls and pulls out line. But what happens when the plug hits the ground? The spool got started; there's nothing to stop it; it keeps right on turning. The line on it loosens and snarls. That, friend, is the curse of bait-casters—the "backlash"—but you have only a little one. Wait until you fumble a cast and get a king-size one! Straighten out your line, wind it in and do it again, but this time press your thumb on the spool as soon as the plug touches the ground to keep the spool from overrunning. No snarl! That's what your thumb must do during your cast: it must act as a brake to keep the spool from unwinding faster than the plug is pulling out line, and it must stop the spool completely before the plug touches the water.
Now let's try a short cast. With your thumb on the spool and the plug hanging about 8 inches from the rod tip, raise your rod and swish the plug in a fore-and-aft direction directly over your head, moving the rod tip back and forth only a yard or so each time. Notice how the spring of the rod keeps the lure moving! Now, just as the rod tip snaps the plug forward and just before the plug reaches its forward position, release your thumb so it exerts only a very slight pressure on the spool. The plug will sail out farther than you think! And if you've remembered to use your thumb to stop the spool before the plug drops, you won't get a backlash. Repeat this exercise, lengthening the casts by swishing a little harder until you've learned at which stage in the cast to release your thumb and when to start increasing the pressure on the spool again. For your next step, eliminate the swishing entirely. Point your rod tip ahead of you, sighting it at your target. Imagine there's an apple stuck on the tip and you're going to throw it. Bring the rod up and back sharply to your old swishing position, let the rod tip bend backward with the momentum of the plug, then bring the rod forward to about a 45-degree angle and release your thumb as the plug begins to pull forward—you know when from your swishing exercise. As the plug flies out, apply light thumb pressure to brake the reel slightly. When the plug is directly over the target, stop the spool so the plug will fall directly on it. Sounds easy—and it is! The whole secret is to educate that thumb. Once you've done this, there are a couple of additional tricks. When you cast, turn your rod on its side so the reel is vertical with its crank handle on top. This puts the weight of the spool on the end bearing so it will turn more easily, and you'll get more distance. Also, keep pointing your rod tip at the lure as it flies through the air, to lessen the line friction at the tip guide. You might try some side casts, too, which come in handy when there are trees overhead. But overhead casting is most accurate—and safer—especially when you're casting with a companion in a boat.
When you get a backlash, don't yank the line from the spool in desperation. Pull gently while rolling the snarled line from side to side with your thumb and you'll gradually work it loose. To reel in a lure, or when playing a fish, you switch hands. Take the rod in your other hand and turn the reel crank with your first hand. Now your other thumb must control the spool—acting as an adjustable drag when a fish wallops your lure and starts to run with it.