Learning to Baitcast – Blind?

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**Published in Ontario Fishing Network Magazine March 2010: http://www.ontariofishing.net/emagazine2010/march2010-2.html

I’m not sure exactly when it was that I thought I should give baitcast reels another chance.  It may have been when my buddy J.P. Ostiguy slapped my spincast reel on his frog rod one hot summer afternoon fishing Bass on Constance Lake.  Even though setting the hook on the feel of the tug came naturally, my reel’s painfully slow gear ratio made for some interesting moments extracting Bass from the lily pads.  Chucking spinnerbaits for Musky using a 12-foot Carp rod and baitrunner spinning reel with my buddy John Anderson on the Ottawa River may also have worked, but my attempts at executing figure eights at boat side left much to the imagination.  I remember raising the idea of my trying baitcasting with Big Jim McLaughlin who laughingly said that since he could cast a baitcaster at night, I should have no trouble mastering the technique.

The first step in selecting a baitcaster was determining which hand I wanted to use for cranking.  Lot’s of different schools of thought on this one, but in the end I took the advice of a local Bass tackle dealer, Ed Puddephatt.  Ed advised the best way to figure out which hand to use for cranking is to try both and watch the rod tip.  My wife noticed immediately that the rod tip moved far less when I cranked with my right hand – problem solved. 

My different hand configurations I now use during a cast are1, cast with right hand and use left hand on bottom for added leverage when required; and 2, cup reel with left hand and move right hand to the reel’s handle during final seconds of cast, stopping reel spool with thumb of left hand. 

While not essential, cupping the reel has several advantages.  The balance point of the rod / reel combo is normally located just ahead of the reel, and by cupping the reel the rod feels more balanced resulting in less arm fatigue.  Cupping also increases the transfer of tactile information from the rod to the hand as the hand isn’t gripping the rod as hard, and with rods with split reel seats or minimal fore grips, one has direct access to the rod blank.  Finally, the line can be passed over the forefinger of your rod hand ahead of the reel when finesse fishing allowing for better access to tactile information conveyed by the line. 

Adjusting a reel’s tension knob to match a lure’s weight is quite simple.  My good friend Doug Catton demonstrated while pre-fishing with me for an up-coming tournament that a properly tuned baitcast reel can be used without ever having to apply thumb to spool.  Start by tightening the spool tension knob.  Reel the lure up to the tip, switch the reel to cast, and then begin slowly backing off the tension knob until the lure begins to fall.  The instant the lure hits the water the spool should stop turning.  A good place to start, and in time and with practice I was able to further back off the tension knob to gain greater distance. 

Now many of you may wonder just how does someone without sight like me know when to apply thumb to spool for that perfect cast?  I have no trouble sensing the instant I release the spool with my thumb if the cast will go well.  Feedback from the rod during the loading and launching portions of each cast generates tactile data that the arm relays to the brain.  If something doesn’t feel right causing a wonky lure trajectory, a sort of alarm goes off in my head which tells my thumb to hit the breaks.  The sounds of both the reel’s spool winding down and the line stripping through the guides, and the feel of the rod returning to its relaxed (straight) position, are all clues for determining when the lure has reached the end of its trajectory.

Setting the breaks on the reel is a matter of being tuned in to ones environment.  If the wind is up, then additional breaking power is a good thing.  If the wind is calm, additional distance can be gained by reducing break pressure.  I fine-tune the breaks by holding my thumb just above the spool during the mid-point of my casts to judge if more break pressure is required by feeling for the amount of loose line building up on the spool surface.  Two much loose line means the lure is slowing down faster than the spool and a backlash is immanent.  No loose line at all means the breaks are working excessively.  A slight amount of loose line is perfect. 

I reel with my right hand which means the handle on the reel points out to the right.  When I cast overhand, I turn the rod 90 degrees to the left so the handles are pointed straight up.  This allows the maximum strength in my wrist to keep my thumb from inadvertently applying pressure to spool just after the cast commences, which is common due to the mechanics of the wrist. 

Removing backlashes from spools was my greatest fear.  Far too often I witnessed colleagues picking at their spools with surgeon-like precision, thinking to myself, “not bloody likely”.  However, I listened to a very helpful U-Tube video on removing back-lashes that involves no visual skills at all. 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDI5kwR5zjc
Begin by lightly pulling as much of the loose line from the spool as possible.  When the line seems stuck, tighten the drag on the reel, apply your thumb with maximum pressure over the section of the spool where the line seems to be stuck, and turn the reel’s handle several times.  If the line remains stuck, repeat.  This system has worked every time; just don’t forget to back the drag off afterwards.

I’ve been fishing pretty much exclusively with baitcasters for some time now.  I can consistently cast a set distance when cruising weed beds, and have the torque and drag needed to extract stubborn Bass from their weedy dens.  Presentation of lures is also stealthier as I apply pressure to the spool just prior to the lure splashing down causing the lure to stop just over the water and land quietly. 

My favourite outfit is now a Shimano Curado E and Cumara rod for several reasons, such as the ability to set the centrifugal breaks on the reel using touch only, the tactile clicker on the star drag, and the light weight and excellent ergonomics of both the reel and rod.  I’d say the only thing I miss about spincast reels is their ability to release line with zero resistance – ideal for allowing light baits to drop naturally through the water column.  To make up, I’m now “bowing to the Bass” just after each cast to ensure a slack-line drop of my lure through the water column for a more natural presentation.  Fishing with seven-foot long plus rods is also helping, as is finishing my cast with my rod in the 11 o’clock position so I can lower my rod’s tip to follow the bait down. 

That’s it, you can feel confident that following the above steps will get you more than up and going on baitcasting.  And hey, if a blind guy can do it, so can you.   

Anchors Up,

Captain Lawrence Euteneier
Blind Fishing Boat .Com

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