Tournament Technique- Plug Distance
Plug Distance Video Clips
Distance Plug Casting- Steve Rajeff
As Myron Gregory, past ACA and ICF President used to put it, “There are two ways to cast, with brute force and ignorance or skill and finesse”. He also used to say, “A good big man will beat a good little man, so strength plays a part, but a good little man will beat a weak big man every time”. One more saying from Myron that is still valid today, “distance is equal to velocity minus resistance”. Following are some fundamentals in distance plug casting stemming from lessons shared by Myron Gregory.
The goal of any distance caster is to achieve maximum velocity on the plug at the moment of release. Top plug speed and the longest casts are achieved through storing energy into a spring (rod), via the combining of centrifugal force of the plug rotating around body axis, untwisting of torso, leverage of two hands pulling/pushing (in two hand events), and from weight transfer of body weight from back foot to front, the wrist straightening and finishing off with a deliberate stop to unload the stored energy in the rod, and a clean release of the line. Lets’ dissect a cast into a few elements and analyze, starting with the grip.
The “V” grip is the description for the thumb and first finger straddling the handle in a “v” shape. This helps to promote wrist flexibility, and this is helpful during the backswing, and in the final turn over of the cast. After setting up the “v” grip, the thumb can angle back to the top of the grip, which provides a good feel and resting spot. The lower grip in two hand casting may also use the “v” grip. Allow the lower grip to pivot during the turn over and final delivery. A good starting grip span can be found by placing the end of the rod butt into your arm pit, and reach with the top hand to where you would hold the leader in spinning, or spool for revolving spool distance event. If the rod is a little on the soft, easy to load, and turns over very fast in the delivery stroke, a slightly shorter grip span may optimize the turnover for more control of direction. A very stiff action rod may be easier to cast with a slightly wider grip to gain more leverage.
The foot position for single and two hand plug casting can begin very similarly. As a right hand caster, the left foot can start between 45 to 60 degrees from the casting direction. The right foot, (back foot), should be approximately 30 degrees open to the left foot. This open stance helps during the back swing. The spread of the feet should be about shoulder width. The spread may vary depending on how much of a step into the power stroke the caster is comfortable with. During the back swing the left foot, (front foot), will pivot on ball of the foot. During the start of the forward swing the, the foot will pivot back to the starting direction and or be lifted up and moved forward, (as in stepping into a throw of a baseball), pointed at the same 45 to 60 degree from the casting direction. It is helpful to not point the toes directly down the casting direction, to help prevent “crossover”. Crossover means the rod tip goes past the firing direction and bounces back and can cause sudden slack and a wobble in the plug, or worse, a backlash.
At the start of the plug cast, the upper body position should be balanced over the stance, with a little “pre twist”. As the back swing starts, the upper body should increase the amount of twist while, reaching back with the arms and hands. The arms should be at shoulder height. The top arm in two handed events, should achieve a 45 degree bend by the final instant of the back swing. At that moment, the bottom, (left hand), should extend to fully straight off the shoulder. The palm of the upper hand should be facing up to help the rod reach a near horizontal plan at the completion of the back swing, and ready for the forward stroke.
The back swing sets up the forward swing, and will determine how many degrees of centrifugal force can be achieved. There are casters that take the back swing to extreme with a full five step running start, then into a twirling delivery cast. Recent world records have been set with a simple back swing that allows the plug to swing back to the casters back foot, and provide a 360 degree swing to the release. When the plug is taken back, do so with enough speed to create “hang time” at the apex of the back swing.
The plug should pause as if frozen in a movie frame, and hover over the ground between ankle and knee level. The level depends on the trajectory of the forward cast, relative to wind and humidity conditions. For a higher trajectory cast, lower the plug in the back swing. For a lower trajectory cast in cross or low wind conditions, a higher plug “hang” point keeps the plug flatter during the forward delivery swing.
The path the tip tracks during the forward swing, determines the direction and trajectory the plug will take. In ACA and ICSF events, whereby we use rather light weight plugs, trajectory is much lower, and distance is dependant more on speed, as compared with heavier surf casting events. In surf casting weights of 3 to 5 ounces, the aim is generally much higher than anything we do in our “inland events”. Top distance casters often have the lowest trajectory but the highest speed on the plug, relative to wind and humidity.
A common mistake during the forward stroke is to rapidly change from a side arm stroke, into an overhead stroke. This motion greatly decreases the centrifugal distance the plug will travel, essentially chopping the stroke short, thereby generating much less load on the rod, less stored energy, a higher trajectory, and less ultimate plug speed. The best forward cast has a gradual elevating of the tip to the focal stop point of the cast, and release. The rod should feel laid off to the side during the entire cast, rather than “over the top”.
There are many common aspects to distance plug casting and swinging a baseball bat. Starting with the feet position, a batter will spread the feet approximately shoulder width apart. The toes are pointed 90 degrees away from the pitcher and incoming pitch, with weight on the back foot. Many good casters stand sideways to the casting direction and shift weight to the back foot during the back swing. As the pitcher winds up, the batter twists the upper body back, then, starts into the forward motion of swinging the bat. Good distance casters will swing the rod, leader and plug back, to create a “wind up” twist in the body and legs. The batters left foot may lift off the ground so to “step” into the pitch. Once the casters back swing has caused the plug to reach well back, and the plug suspends for a brief moment, the caster should begin the forward delivery. Next, the batters hip rotates leading the torso with the arms following, bringing the bat around in a sweeping arc parallel to the ground. So too should the caster bring the rod around with a sweeping arc, nearly parallel to the ground, and a slight upward delivery at the moment of stopping the rod and the sharp release of the leader.
All these forces should be applied in a smooth, powerful acceleration to a sudden stop. Another most common mistake in distance plug casting is to accelerate, then decelerate, and accelerate again during the casting stroke. The momentary deceleration can create slack between the plug and rod tip and will often result in a wobble of the plug. A wobble of the plug during the flight of the cast creates tremendous air resistance, which dramatically reduces plug speed and distance. The stiffer the rod a caster can bend, will store more energy and release more speed to the plug. The faster your body rotates during the forward delivery, will contribute to loading the rod and increases speed to the plug. Champion distance casters typically use very stiff rods. They learn how to accelerate and focus the energy into a precise stop point, and specific trajectory. Too high of a trajectory will cause too much air and gravity resistance. The perfect trajectory depends on the wind and humidity. A world champion distance caster from the 1960’s, Arne Shultz from Norway used to say the perfect trajectory was 22 degrees. I’m not sure if the wind was always the same where he cast, but it is almost intuitive to aim high with a strong tail wind, and much lower in a dead calm or high humidity conditions.
The forward casting stroke for top casters is similar. How they get into position sometimes looks complicated, but the fundamentals are the same. Ideally the rod tip to butt plane, should be nearly horizontal to the ground, (sidearm), as though it were a baseball bat when beginning the forward delivery motion. Another common mistake and crucial casting technique is for the angle of the plug to rod tip to be at 90 degrees, with the plug hanging motionless for an instant, when starting the forward delivery. If the plug is greater or lesser than 90 degrees to the rod tip, then the initial rod and body rotation is wasted until the 90 degree position is achieved. It is when the 90 degree position occurs that significant rod load can begin. Chris Korich, Gold Medal winner in 18 gram Two Hand Revolving Spool event, strongly advises the 90 degree concept, with any deviation resulting in wasted stroke, load on the rod, and distance. The upper hand should be near the shoulder, and the lower arm extended with a straight elbow position. At the start of the forward cast, the hands should ideally be at shoulder height, with both wrists bent wide open. Similar to a baseball batter swing, the caster may step into the cast while unwinding the hips. Positioning of the foot somewhat right about 20 degrees short of the down field direction, may assist in helping to stop the rod sharply at the end of the delivery cast, and prevent “crossover”. Crossover is the result of not stopping the rod tip in the precise down field direction. If the tip sweeps left of the casting direction, and flows with a sudden bounce back to the casting direction, sudden slack can occur causing a backlash and or a wobble.
Rods and reels are highly personal to style, strength, and ability. Noteworthy in the 2004 World Casting Championships in Bern, Switzerland was the smashing of the world record in 18 gram revolving spool distance event, by Peter Thain, of Great Britain. Using a 13 foot extra stiff rod and an ABU 2500 reel with special spool, he broke the record by 10 meters, in an event frequently won by millimeters. Peter optimized bending a very long and stiff rod, using a very simple back swing, a smooth rotation of upper body, and maximized two hand leverage into the final delivery of the cast. Peter had a lot of experience casting heavy surf casting weights, and applied the simple but powerful body rotation and stop to effectively rewriting the record book. He is a good big man and capable of using the longer and stiff rod. A less strong caster would be much better off with something that bends more readily and one the caster can control.
A training session focusing on body position and trajectory will pay greater dividends than simply hitting it harder. A quick check list of the afore mentioned casting elements like foot position; body rotation; arms at shoulder height; open wrists; 90 degree angle of leader to rod starting the forward stroke; crisp stop to unload the rod, should pay off in gained distance much more than resorting to “brute force and ignorance”.