A Modern, Spey-Like Approach to
Long Distance Surf Casting
We’ve all been there: Standing in the beautiful, vast surf, casting our long
fishing rods for hours without a single hit. And we wonder, maybe this just
isn't our day.
We again cast, but our concentration has ebbed, so instead of watching the
line and maintaining contact with the lure, we lose ourselves in the music of
crashing waves—until the music is pierced by the shriek-like howls of
Down the beach a flock circles and dives: a sign bait fish and probably
stripers are heading our way. Something goes off in us.
An adrenaline rush? A predatory instinct? We don’t exactly what, or how to
describe it, but it has changed us. Electricity seems to surge through us.
We're wired. We watch and wait, like soldiers before battle. The seagulls
move closer, then again circle and dive. But they’re out of our casting reach!
And stay that way.
A disappointment. We wonder, what will we tell our wives—that the stripers
just weren’t running? Will that explanation fly again?
Maybe. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The seagulls, you see, aren’t
beyond our reach. They’re beyond casting skills.
Exactly what do I mean? For years tournament fly casters have been refining
their techniques, and as a result, are now casting farther than before. Can
their techniques can help us surf casters reach that faraway fish?
Yes, I believe. But will we have to swing the lure in a wide, almost full-circle
and risk hooking someone on a crowded beach?
To help me explain, let’s begin by looking at some universal casting
FUNDAMENTALS OF THE CAST: 1. The lure will travel in the direction the rod
rip moves just before it is stopped. 2. To effectively load (bend) the rod we
must begin the cast slowly, then accelerate and reach maximum speed just
before we stop the rod. (If we move the rod too quickly and/or at constant
speed, the lure will not fully load the rod.) 3. To use all the power stored in a
loaded rod, we must abruptly stop the rod without lowering the tip from the
target line. 4. All things being equal, the more we lengthen the casting stroke,
the more we will load the rod.
With these principles in mind let’s now turn to the techniques of long
distance surf casting.
TRADITIONAL VERSUS MODERN: In traditional surf casting the cast begins with
the surf rod pointed behind us at about 3 o’clock. We begin to load (bend) the
rod when we move the rod forward. This traditional cast is often called the
Slingshot Cast. In the modern approach to surf casting, we begin the cast
with the rod pointing straight ahead and parallel to the surf. Like fly and
spey—rhymes with say—casters, we begin to load the rod when we move it
upwards and then backwards. (I’ll borrow a term from spey casting and call
this movement my back swing.)
THE GRIP: Any slack in the line will make it impossible to fully load the rod.
When casting a surf or a spinning rod we often add slack by not holding the
line with enough tension. Even worse than adding slack, our index finger will
often prematurely release the line. The lure, therefore, will then sail high and
off to the right (assuming we're right-handed). To avoid this, I place two
fingers in front of the reel stem and two behind. I pick up the line with my
index finger, and then I move my hand back so that only my index finger is in
front of the stem. Next, I pull the line up and back and gently press my
fingertip against the stem, but not the line. The line rests just below my
fingertip, on the inside of my joint. (Feeling the weight of the lure improves
my casting accuracy.) When casting heavy lures, I recommend wearing a golf
glove or putting on a band aid so that the line doesn't cut our finger.
I flex my right thumb and rest it on the top of the handle. I grip the handle
THE OPEN (SLINGSHOT) STANCE: Most of us probably feel more comfortable
using an open stance: Our left foot is forward and pointing straight at the
target. This is similar to the position we’re in when we throw a baseball. The
front of our right foot is in-line with the front of our left heel and points
outward, about thirty degrees to the right of the target. (If our right foot is too
far back or pointing too far outward, we will limit our hip rotation during the
forward cast.) To help increase our leverage and power, our knees are
slightly bent. Our left hand is holding the bottom of the rod handle. The lure
hangs down about two feet from the rod tip, and our weight is on our front
THE CLOSED (MODERN) STANCE I believe there is nothing wrong with using
an open stance, but I also believe that when we cast a surf rod, unlike when
we throw a ball, we don’t bend at the waist to generate leverage and power.
Instead, we rotate our hips as much as possible, like a batter hitting a ball or a
boxer throwing a punch. If my left foot, therefore, is forward I will not be able
to fully rotate my hips and get all my weight into the cast. Therefore, I prefer
to use a closed stance: My right foot is in front of my left. At first, this will
probably feel awkward for many casters, but with time, I believe it will become
THE BASIC MODERN CAST: I begin the cast by keeping my right elbow in place,
and rocking backwards. Raising my left elbow, I push the rod handle up.
Keeping my wrists locked, I increase acceleration and slowly swing the rod tip
up, then back. Toward the end of my swing, I continue pushing up with my left
arm, then I break both wrists down. I stop the rod at about three thirty. (The
lure must not touch the ground.) My rod hand is about eye-level and not past
my rear shoulder. My right forearm points to about 1 o'clock. The rod butt
points straight ahead and slightly upwards. Finishing the vertical back swing
in this position will make it easier for us to execute our forward cast without
lowering the rod tip from the target line, and also to move our right arm in-
sync with our body rotation. (More about that later.) All our weight is now on
our back foot. Our knees should still be bent. If they’re not, we won’t be able
to fully use our legs to rotate our body and to generate full power on the
THE CORRECT SPEED: If we execute the swing at the correct speed, and if the
surf rod is not too stiff, and/or the lure is not too light, the rod should be
slightly loaded at the end of the swing. (We'll feel the lure tug on the rod.) If,
however, we execute the swing too quickly, the lure will bounce and add
slack in the line. (We will not then be able to load the rod until well after we
begin the forward cast.) When in doubt, I believe it is better to execute the
back swing too slowly rather than too quickly.
THE CAST: Without stopping at the end of the swing—if we do the rod will
unload—we continue accelerating and begin our forward cast, leading with
our right elbow, and moving our right arm in-sync with our weight shift and
body rotation. We move in-sync for two reasons: 1. If our arm moves faster
than our body we will not utilize all our body’s power and, in effect, become
an arm caster. (Ever wonder why major-league pitchers look as if they’re
throwing so effortlessly?) 2. If our arm gets ahead of our body, we will lower
the rod tip from the target line at the end of the cast, and the rod will not
unload all of its power at once.
Back to the cast: Pushing up with our right hand, and pulling down with our
left (almost as if we’re executing a double haul in fly casting), we tighten our
grip, and accelerate the rod forward. Once the rod butt is perpendicular to
the target line, we keep our wrists stiff and begin to rotate our hips and move
the rod without changing its angle. This is the loading move. (Fully rotating
our hips and shoulders allows us to increase the length of the loading move.)
When we have rotated about three-quarters of the way, we begin the power
snap by rapidly increasing acceleration, and breaking our bottom wrist back
and our top wrist forward and down (as if we’re hammering a nail).
We aim the cast at an upward trajectory of about 45 degrees. (If I’m casting
into a strong wind, I aim a little lower.) We squeeze the rod handle and
abruptly stop the rod at about 10:30. Our right arm is fully extended. Our
weight is on the ball and toes of our front foot, with our front leg straight.
THE SPEY-LIKE SURF CAST: So, we practiced these techniques, and we're
casting farther than ever, but wouldn't you know it: We're on the beach and
the fish are again beyond our reach. Is there anything we surf casters can do?
We can borrow techniques from archers. The more they pull their arrows
back, the more they load their bow, and, therefore, the farther their arrows
will fly. We surf casters also can load our surf rods even more. How? By
lengthening our back swing. To do this, we begin the spey-like cast the same
way we begin the modern surf cast, but as soon as the surf rod points to
about 10:30, we swing the rod outward. Thinking of our right elbow and left
wrist as swivels, we keep our right elbow in place and begin to shift our
weight back. Slowly increasing acceleration, we pretend we’re using the rod
tip to draw a big half-circle in the sky. When we’re almost finished drawing,
we push up with our left arm, break our top wrist down and back, and lower
the rod to about 3:30. (With the rod already beginning to load, we are now in
the start position for the Slingshot Cast.)
We begin the forward cast.
SETTING THE HOOK: After we’ve made a long surf cast we have to execute a
longer, more powerful hook-set. To help us do this, we have to fully rotate
our hips backwards. Therefore, as we retrieve the lure, we put our left foot
forward and balance the surf rod in our right hand and hold it across our
body, almost as if we’re holding a guitar. (Holding a heavy surf rod this way
will also reduce fatigue.) The rod butt is under our left armpit, and our weight
is on our front foot. When we feel a strike, we quickly point the rod towards
the fish, reel in slack line, and then rip the rod tip up and back as far as we
IN CLOSING: So now if you don't catch a fish what will you tell your wife?
Luckily, we anglers are blessed with a treasure of excuses.
Copyright 2007 by Randall Kadish. All rights reserved.
Versions of this article have appeared in Nor'east Saltwater and Gaff
FOR FURTHER READING:
Power Surfcasting by Ron Arra and Curt Garfield: Lyons & Burford, 1991.
The Complete Guide to Surfcasting by Joe Cremel: Burford Books, 2011.
Starting to Draw a Big Circle
The End of the Back Swing