A long distance cast from the shore is usually rewarded by a good catch. And for this you need a long rod. But there are other factors to consider when choosing a beachcasting rod
The first shorefishing tackle was a simple arrangement of hook, line and sinker either lowered into the sea from rocks and piers, or cast out with the aid of a pole. The line and pole are still used in parts of East AiYglia and the West of Ireland. Roy Cook, a highly successful Suffolk however, the simple handline is superior to rods and reels.
At the turn of the century, shore-fishing became a sport rather than the means of catching fish for the table. Rods were huge Burma canes or redundant salmon rods cut down at the tip. The emphasis was on strength. Crane-like designs continued to be employed until the late 1950s, although appearance and construction became more sophisticated. Even so, the first glassfibre rods still retained the weight and clumsiness traditionally associated with seafishing.
Leslie Moncrieff’s ‘Springheel’ rod heralded a new era of shorefishing, and was the first production beachcasting rod to exploit the advantages of glassfibre. It became a huge success, not only because of the introduction of glassfibre but because for the first time the average angler could expect to cast 100 yards. Moncrieff himself demonstrated that the rod, used with his ‘Layback’ casting style, would hurl 4oz and 6oz sinkers well beyond 150 yards – greatly in excess of contemporary tournament records. The effects on beachfishing were shattering – overnight the sport became highly technical and socially accepted.
The beachcasting tournaments became a battleground for designers and manufacturers. A second breakthrough arrived in the form of ABU’s 484, a stiff-butted rod with a very fast action that boosted casting range beyond the 200-yard barrier. Since then tournament distances have increased marginally to the current record cast of 241 yards, using a 5lAoz weight and a multiplier reel. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that as casters and rod-makers strive for extra performance, many shorefishing rods have become excellent casting implements but at the same time are second-rate fishing tools.
Carbonfibre, advanced casting techniques and finer lines open the way for experiment on rod length and power. Pendulum casters who change from glass rods to carbon-fibre may find they can easily handle a blank up to 18in longer than before. The lightness, speed and slim cross-section of carbonfibre blanks encourage greater casting power, and, because the rod itself can be swung faster, extra length generates even more sinker speed without taxing the caster himself.
The construction of beachcasting rods follows a general pattern. A glassfibre tube, the blank, is mould-ed around a cylindrical rod or man-drel, hardened, removed from the mandrel and ground smooth. It is cut and spigotted or ferruled to give two or three interlocking sections. The butt is sheathed in cork, sleeved with a plastic shrink tube or fitted with grips. Traditional winch fittings or simple sliding clips secure the reel. The rings, preferably of stainless steel or hard-chromed steel, plain or lined with ceramics, are whipped on in a combination of sizes and spacings so that the line follows the curve of the blank. Handles, rings and other fittings, however, are almost irrelevant in terms of fishing performance except on very specialized rods. The heart of the rod is the blank, which determines power and action.
When selecting a rod the best guide is to choose the kind that is best suited to the fishing you pro-pose to do. A rod for casting 6oz sinkers and hauling big fish through fast tides needs far more power than one used to catch flounders from quiet estuaries. Power in excess of the angler’s physical strength is wasted, leading only to heaviness and severe handling problems. Most manufacturers recommend a sinker weight range for their products, and this may be taken as a fair estimate of the rod’s power, but it is worth remembering that most rods are deliberately under-rated to insure against abuse. Many 4-6oz casting rods handle 8oz with ease. The only confirmation of a rod’s suitability is to use it. If it suits your fishing without failing under pressure, it is adequate, provided that in casting you can bend it to its full curve.
The action, or how the rod responds to load, is controlled by the taper and wall thickness of the blank. A steeply tapered rod is faster than one which slopes gradually from butt to tip. Speed and action may be further enhanced by the process of compound tapering, a design where extra glassfibre is applied at certain spots along the blank. Absolute rigidity of the butt may require the splicing on of high tensile Duralumin tubing. The merits of the various actions are debatable; there is no concensus among the world’s top anglers as to which is best. Fast rods bend and flick straight in immediate response to casting and may improve distances with some styles, particularly tournament swings. They handle a wider range of sinker weights and are more sensitive to bites. On the other hand, slow rods cast far enough for fishing, are less >- sensitive to casting errors, and have I a pleasant feel that many of the fast s rods lack.
Action alone is unlikely to affect » practical fishing but does influence | rod length, the most important I criterion of all. A rod is a two-way lever which allows the angler to generate high sinker speed for long casting, yet magnifies the strength of a fish so that it seems to pull harder. Small fish seem much bigger on long rods, and, although this makes for better sport, it leaves the angler at a disadvantage should he hook a monster. In addition, casting heavy sinkers becomes more difficult as rod length increases.
Overall length is related to action because the significant dimension is not the unflexed length but the distance from tip to butt when the rod is under full compression. Fast rods shorten dramatically as they bend, which increases the mechanical advantage of the system. Casting is therefore easier than it might be with a slow rod to retain overall length under stress.
Rod length formulae are computed from the ratio between handle size and compressed tip length. The ratio is based upon the angler’s physique, his casting style and the sinker weight he prefers. The first dimension to establish is handle size. The hands must be spaced roughly at shoulder width. Too far apart, and full power is impossible; too close, and casting is a considerable strain. As most anglers require a 25-30in handle, the ideal rod length for nor- mal beachcasting to 150 yards range will be around 14ft for 4-6oz sinkers, cast pendulum style.
South African style casters always prefer long rods. 12-14ft blanks are standard for tournaments and practical fishing. Once again, modern materials like high tensile aluminium, carbonfibre and ‘S’ glass cut the weight and air resistance of the blank, contributing to longer casts and more sensitive bite detection.
Tournament casters on the East Coast have resurrected the ancient Norfolk back cast with remarkable results. There is no finer method of casting the fixed-spool reel: the current tournament record cast of 225 yards is but the beginning. New tackle regulations proposed for 1981 favour the back casters, who should dominate that event, and perhaps close the gap between fixed-spool and multiplier once and for all.
Back cast rods are long and heavy – up to 14 1/2 ft is normal for everyday fishing. The casting action is a backwards ‘shovel’ over the shoulder, which relies on brute power and leverage rather than the caster’s own speed. Rods are constructed of 6ft of large diameter aluminium tube joined to 8 1/2 ft, extra-tough glass blanks. The best results are usually achieved with sinkers of over 6oz.