Underarm casting

There are two reasons for perfecting this gentle casting skill: to deliver unwieldy end tackle and complex shotting patterns without mishap and to reach those inaccessible, overhung swims.


One of the most neglected skills of many anglers is casting. It should be a smooth operation designed to use the action of the rod to place the tackle in the required spot. It is easy to find anglers who have not even mastered that basic skill, so it is little wonder that they have not explored the various alternative casting techniques.

One particularly useful skill is the underarm cast. This technique once turned an apparently hopeless peg in a national match on the Severn in-to a productive spot. It is also useful in casting delicate baits, such as wasp grub, which would be ripped off the hook by the force of an overarm cast. The peg on the Severn had a 6ft gap between the water and some overhanging willow branches. Quite a lot of competitors in that match would surely have given up, but the author was able to underarm cast a loaded slider float 15-20 yards into the main flow and catch fish.

Perhaps the actual term, underarm cast, while commonly used, is something of a misnomer. The correct description should be the ‘backhand cast’, for in many in-stances the cast is more of a side sweep delivered from the back of the hand. It is similar to the action of a spin bowler in cricket involving a nice steady arm movement across the body, with a smooth sharp delivery imparted by the wrist.

The starting position for underarm casting is with the rod positioned across the body and the point down. The bait is held in the free hand. So, if you are right-handed, the rod is in that hand and the bait in the left, the line being tight to the rod top—not too tight, though, as you can easily hook yourself. The rod tip should be positioned on your left side—vice versa if you are left-handed—with the point near to the surface of the water.

The ‘follow-through’

A smooth, sweeping action then sends the tackle on its way. The next second is vital to the action, for the rod must ‘follow through’, with the tip raised high and pointing directly at the spot aimed for. As the end tackle starts to fall the rod tip is used to straighten or mend the line—either by moving it upstream or, on a Stillwater, against the wind—while the line is ‘feathered’ off the reel with the forefinger to retard the float and allow the length between float and hook to straighten out and so enter the water smoothly.

The rod tip is now dropped and should finish up just above the sur-face of the water again, if the line is to be sunk.

It all sounds easy, and it is, with practice. Most probably, the first few attempts will be disastrous, but practice will make perfect and a skill that leads to improved catches will have been acquired.

Points to watch are the follow-through—vital for direction; dropping the rod point, and ‘feathering’ the line off the reel to eliminate tangles and give clean entry. Do not expect to cast as far with the underarm method as with an overhead throw if using similar tackle. You need plenty of weight in the float, but, properly placed, it will not affect bait presentation. Loaded floats, such as the author’s own sliders, and stick floats, which carry weight in their base, are the right choice for this job.

Shotting is important. With a ‘waggler’ or loaded slider, normal shotting is right—the bulk shot should be about 5ft from the hook with the tell-tale shot around 18in from the hook. The stop-shot—to stop the float running down and fouling the bulk shot—should be 10ft 6in from the hook. When fishing shallower water, the shot should be positioned in proportion.

Correct shotting

If you are using a stick float, then the shotting should be ‘pokerline’, that is, the shot strung out at regular intervals between float and hook. If the shot is not correctly placed, too much fishing time will be spent unravelling tangles at the business end.

Slightly modifying this method by putting a little more ‘bite’ into the delivery and keeping the rod tip low, will produce a flat cast which is very useful in windy conditions. Keeping the end rig low and fast minimizes the effect of the wind, helps ac-curacy, and leads to far less of a ‘bow’ in the line, thus giving quicker control of the float. This method is practised extensively on the Staffordshire canals, where it has been developed into a fine art.

It seems appropriate to emphasize one or two general points about casting, for these apply to the underarm technique as well. First, see that the reel spool is correctly loaded. The line must be just fractionally below the lip of the spool. Do not fill it level otherwise there is a danger of line spillage and ‘bird’s nests’. If the line does not fill the spool to within, say, rin, then energy is wasted in lifting it over the lip, causing a potential loss of casting distance.

As in all casting the most impor-tant aspect is accuracy, particularly at long range. To improve this, try casting with the rod point positioned above the opposite shoulder to your rod hand. As with underarm casting, the rod is across the body, but with the point up in the air. A smooth sweep with the rod tip moving in the direction of the required point will give you accuracy and, with practice, distance.

Though rarely used in the North of England, Midlanders have developed it to a fine art, the advantages being most aparent in canal and drain fishing. Where it is necessary to land the bait close to the far bank, particularly under overhanging trees and bramble bushes, an overarm cast just will not do the job because of its high angle of trajectory. An underarm cast, however, can skim the float across the canal a few inches above the water with the bonus that the float preceeds the bait. Where the far bank is lined with foliage, often dip-ping into the water, it is important to allow the unchecked entry of the float to prevent the bait from looping over, with the inevitable snagging that follows.

Because of the extremely fine tolerances required in fishing the far bank of a canal or drain, it is a pointless exercise if wind or surface drift is allowed to pull the float away from the cover so much sought by fish. The answer lies in careful treat-ment of the line, by squirting a little washing-up liquid on to the spool, to ensure rapid sinking.

Ling fishing guide

This is the largest and most common member of the cod family. Growing to weights of over 100 lb, ling sweep all manner of ground and infest deepwater wrecks in search of edible prey.

The elongated and eel-like ling (Molva molua), though often found sharing a habitat with the conger, is not related however, but is the largest member of the cod family, the Gadidae. A large ling, living in deep water, may be 6-7ft in length and weigh up to 60lb. In shallow waters, however, fish weighing 10-25lb are more common.

The ling is broad across the head and back. Its mouth is large with sharp teeth around the jaws and a crescent of large teeth in the roof of the mouth. There is a long barbule beneath the chin, as there is in most members of the cod family. Similar to an eel in shape, the feel of the body is also eel-like, having a mass of tiny scales deeply embedded in the thick skin, and generously coated with slime. The slime is secreted from the skin and acts as a protective covering against disease and abrasions.

Predominantly olive green, tending towards various shades of light brown and with grey as a common additional colour on its back, the ling has a distinctive creamy white underside. Often a light and dark marbled appearance is evident; at other times markings of any kind can be entirely absent. The colour depends on the environment within which the fish is living. Ling taken in deep water from a wreck, for instance, are darker than those taken from the shallow areas of broken rock and sand.


From a point just below the lateral line the dark hue of the back gradually fades into the light cream on the stomach and around the vent area. The lateral line itself, however, is not a pronounced feature, showing rather as a thin, broken, indistinct line of lighter colour. More obvious are the white edgings around the second dorsal, anal and tail fins, accompanied by a dark band immediately below. A dark blotch is also present on the rear of the first dorsal fin.

Positive identification of the species can be made from the fins. The second dorsal and the single anal fin are of almost equal size, both running almost half the length of the body, although the anal is marginally shorter. The first dorsal fin, though of equal height to the second dorsal and the anal fins, is smaller and rounded in shape. The tail fin also shows this unusual rounded shape.

The ling is not only the largest member of the cod family—it is also the most prolific. It has been estimated that a large fish can con-tain more than 60 million eggs. Spawning takes place from March to June in deep water between 50 and 100 fathoms in spawning grounds in the North Sea and in Icelandic waters. The eggs are about 1mm in diameter and float in the sea.

After hatching, the small young fish, 3-8in long, live on the seabed. They grow rapidly at first, females growing faster than males. They measure up to 8in at the end of their first year, 12-14in at the end of their second, and 12-22in at the end of their third. For the first two or three years young ling live in shallow water between eight and 25 fathoms, but after this they tend to migrate down to deeper water.

Growth of young ling

At the end of three years, the average length of a young fish is about 18in, but the fish does not become sexually mature for another five years. During this time they increase in size steadily by 3-4in a year and at the end of it males are about 30in long and the larger females some 35-40in. Females live up to 14 years but males rarely survive beyond their tenth year. 0&


The ling is a widespread North-East Atlantic fish, ranging well beyond the Arctic Circle and southwards to the deep water of the Bay of Biscay. It is particularly common around the coasts of Iceland, Norway, Orkney and the Shetlands. Around the British Isles it is found off the west coast of Ireland and along the western approaches of the English Channel as far east as Eastbourne. It is a valuble commercial fish but it is not fished selectively, being taken only with other fishes.

Mature ling are not to be caught on flat seabeds of mud and sand in shallow water. They are a bottom-living, deep water fish with a decided preference for steep, submerged rocks. Although fish up to 20lb can be taken on rough ground in 20 fathoms of water, fish of double this weight are common on rocks around the 40 fathom mark. Almost certainly, in depths exceeding this, where rod and line angling is almost impossible, larger fish of 60lb and over must be present. The best ling are therefore generally caught from boats drifting over the deep underwater reefs and rocks.

Specimen ling

However, there are exceptions to this general rule—in particular in the western end of the English Channel, as far east as Portland Bill, where numerous shipwrecks of both World Wars lie in very deep water on a flat sandy seabed. These massive rusting hulls, with a twisted maze of superstructure, have a great attraction for many fish. Conger, ling, pollack and coalfish all take up residence in them. Such wrecks provide very good fishing for the amateur fisherman as they are avoided by the commercial trawlermen’s nets and immature fish are thus able to grow to maturity in relative peace. In these ideal conditions, ling grow to specimen size very quickly, for sheltered from the tide they expend the minimum physical effort needed to satisfy their appetite, so that fish weighing between 30 and 40lb are commonly taken.

Ling are active predators, preying almost exclusively on small fish.

Pout and cod are particular favourites, but herring and flatfish are also commonly consumed and very occasionally crustaceans and starfish too. Almost completely without fear, ling are a simple fish to catch. A ling will continue to attack an angler’s bait, coming back time and time again until it is either hooked or takes the bait to freedom. Wait until you feel the weight of the fish before striking; but if you miss, drop the bait quickly back down again to the fish. The same fish, or another, might take the bait again. Although ling are not true shoal fish, they do tend to congregate when feeding conditions and habitat are suitable.

Fierce and predatory ling

Because of their fierce predatory nature, ling are best caught by using whole small fish 4-6in long, such as pouting, whiting, small mackerel or herring, on a 60 or 90 hook. Alternatively, a strip of mackerel can be used. The fierce ling has no trouble in swallowing large baits like this.

When fishing for ling off wrecks, use a 6-9in wire trace to the hook. It is possible that conger, instead of ling, will take the bait, and they are able to bite through monofilament. Conger and ling are often found together, although ling are generally the first to take the bait. Indeed, many boatmen maintain that it takes several days of concentrated fishing of a virgin wreck to thin out the ling before the slower moving eels have a chance to bite. With both species it is the smaller, more active fish that are generally taken first. Only then are the larger fish given sufficient time to take the bait.

When drift fishing, where conger are not expected, it is possible to fix the hook to the line by making a 10in loop at the end of the trace, effec-tively making a double length of monofilament above the hook. Although fish have very sharp teeth, and could possibly sever 20 or 30lb monofilament, they are unable to bite through this double line.

Despite their size, ling are relatively easy to land. They fight vigorously to begin with but once raised from deep water their swimbladders become extended because of the change in water pressure. Inevitably the fighting qualities of any fish in this distressed condition is greatly impaired and the ling is no exception. In fact, if taken from a depth of about 40 fathoms, it will often lie almost motionless and exhausted when raised to the surface.

Landing the catch is an operation where many good fish have been lost by an overanxious angler jabbing excitedly with the gaff. The angler should remain calm. A slow, deliberate, upward stroke in the region of the head is all that is re-quired. If the gaff is kept moving the fish can be swung aboard in a single positive movement.