Tournament Technique- Plug Accuracy
1/4- 3/8 Oz. Plug Accuracy-
When you select a spinning reel, the most important thing is that you can hold the line before the release and brake the line after the release as comfortable as possible. For that, the tip section of your index finger (more or less the entire piece with the last bone) needs to reach the side of the edge of the spool - while you hold the rod (not just the reel - that's important in the store or wherever you try it) with the remaining fingers and the thumb. If you can only reach the rim at the part closest to the rod, the head is way to far away. If you finger tip can wrap around the spool edge, the reel is too close. You'd be braking the line with more of the middle section of your finger which is not as sensitive.
Before the release, you want to "press" your finger tip against the spool edge to prevent the line from coming off the spool. At the release, the finger lifts off the spool edge. As the plug approaches the target, perhaps as early as half way there, you start narrowing the gap - more if the plug is too fast and/or too high and less if the plug trajectory is almost right. The more narrow the gap the more friction is on the line and the more slowing is applied.
Of course, you can also stop the line, which stops the plug hard. You can even pull the plug back (using the rod tip too). But I try to avoid that since it's not very accurate at long distances (a lot of stretch in the line when the tension varies greatly - less change when more or less constant braking tension is applied). That pulling back is reserved for "emergencies" and for underhand and left and right side casts over short distances in an ICSF game.
When you start practicing plugs, it's very worth to practice the braking (and of course the casting technique) without trying to hit a target. Get used to making a consistent stroke and always apply a smooth braking force to bring the plug down. That's something you can do over the winter (don't have to waste any time setting up targets...) - just cast.
5/8 OZ. Plug Accuracy-
The path the reel/your thumb is supposed to take during the casting stroke can be described as an inverse U shape. Imagine the "U" upside down with the rounded part somewhat tilted towards you. In the beginning of the stroke, you start moving your hand/arm up fairly slowly through the leg of the inverse U that's farther away from you. Near the top of your up stroke, you allow the wrist to break. That permits the reel to move through the curved part of the U. As you stop the wrist-breaking motion, you start going down with your hand - to make the second leg of the inverse U closer to you.
It is very important to really put on the brakes for both the arm and the wrist at the end of the stroke when the rod tip is still fairly high. You want the rod tip to stop in line with the target, as the green arrow indicates in the diagram. Otherwise, you increase the pull exerted on the line. This accelerates the spool of the reel faster than the plug is pulling line off the reel. This causes slack and the overrun we commonly call backlash. The stopping point at the yellow arrow is incorrect, and at the red arrow backlash is almost certain! After the plug is half way or so to the target, you should lower the rod tip several inches, to help guide the plug to the target.
In general, start by keeping the thumb on the spool at all times. Press "hard" to hold the spool and less to allow it to move. As you make cast after cast, slowly reduce the amount of pressure your thumb exerts during the flight of the plug. While the plug is in the air, very little pressure is needed to avoid an overrun (even without any brake weights or magnets in the reel). Eventually, you will get to the point where the thumb can be removed from the reel for some initial part of long casts. For short casts, the thumb can stay on the spool for the entire casts. At the end of the cast, when the plug reaches the target, water, or grass, stop the spool by increasing the pressure with your thumb. That avoids loose line on the spool and the associated trouble. If you stop too late, you are well advised to pull off the loose line first before reeling in with a taught line.
If you watch the method of the best plug casters, there seems to be two schools. First, the ones who use softer rods, cast slower and with a higher trajectory, and secondly, those who use a flat trajectory with more plug speed. It's a matter of personal preference, but it makes sense that the faster you do something, the faster your reaction time has to be. Another personal preference is the line overhang between the plug and rod-tip. One-half to eight inches of overhang seems to be the range used.
The more overhang, the more it loads the tip but the more time it takes to swing. When you step into the box to cast a a target, you should line-up your rod with the target and do a couple of soft check-casts to feel the rod load while you're aiming, without releasing the cast. This coordinates and readies your muscles and aiming. Then when you're ready and the plug is swinging in the correct path, make the cast. As I mentioned above, you need to see the path of the plug and make adjustments in-flight. By braking slightly and moving the rod can pull the plug back into the target, or make fairly large left or right adjustments too.
In the world of baitcasting rods marked for use with a 5/8 oz. lure, there is a huge variation in stiffness. After all, many rods are designed for craning bass over the gunnels. In 5/8 oz. accuracy, you need to select a rod blank that has the right balance of butt and tip stiffness. If a rod is too stiff, the trajectory tends to be high, and if too soft, it unloads early and dumps the plug too low. If you're new to this event, feel the rods we're using and it'll help you select equipment so you can get set up and concentrate on practice.