Off the Porch: The distance can make the difference

Jun. 26, 2013 @ 10:10 AM

We were on the Point of Cape Hatteras, and no one was catching anything. It was a sunny summer afternoon with kids playing in the surf on the south side of the Point. Cape Hatteras is a place where someone always has a line in the water unless the U.S. Park Service has access closed off for bird nesting, but this was before those days. There were lines in the water but nothing biting.
Nothing had been caught all day that I saw, and my old Lab Ernie and I had spent the afternoon in the shade of the camper. I had all the windows open, there was a breeze and it was quite pleasant. Ernie slept on the cool floor and I was on the bed over the truck cab. I’d taken a nap. I was tired from fishing high tide the night before, or I should say morning. I’d gotten up at 4:00 am to fish the two hours on either side of high tide, but I had little to give me encouragement. The ocean had been calm for several days and the only deep water was probably 175 yards out, a narrow channel that cut through Diamond Shoals. My maximum cast in those days was about 125 yards and I’d waded out as far as I dared to cast but I knew I was a few dozen yards short of where the fish should be.
A truck pulled into the space beside my truck and I instantly recognized Howard Cator in his black Greek fisherman’s cap. Howard was a character. With a darkly burned and wrinkled face, he looked like a fisherman in a movie. He was a heavy hitter and I was surprised to see him on the beach. I normally saw Howard when the conditions were good for big fish, with a heavy current in the channel and a Southwest or Northeast wind. These were unlikely conditions for catching the big citation drum Howard loved to catch… unless one could make a cast into that channel. I knew Howard could and got my gear to fish with him. I knew I couldn’t get there, but I wanted to see just what he would do. He baited up and by the time he was ready to fish, I was walking out to the point with him. I watched him make his cast and counted the hang time of the sinker from the time it left his rod tip till it disappeared into the far edge of the narrow channel. I counted six seconds using the “thousand and’ method that allowed a reasonable estimate of time in seconds.
Howard caught a citation fish on that first cast and after he released it, he packed up and left the beach. We all stood and watched amazed. Later I asked him about it and he said some days he just liked to catch a big drum before he had his supper. It was as simple as that.
Being able to cast long distances isn’t always useful. Sometimes, a long caster catches less fish than a short caster because the good water may be close to the beach but the long caster can always shorten up his cast. I thought of Howard’s casting ability once at when I was the long caster. There was a school of blues out beyond the first bar, and the birds were tearing it up. They weren’t big fish, maybe a couple of pounds, but nothing else was biting and I love to catch bluefish and eat them when they’re fresh. My son in law, Jeremy, and Cherie were with me and I pointed to the fish and birds.
“They’re too far out” Cherie said and sat back in her chair. Jeremy and I walked out and both of us cast. My cast went twenty or more yards further than his and I instantly hooked up. Cherie then came out and cast. I caught a dozen or so fish and only had one or two casts that weren’t productive. Cherie and Jeremy only caught one or two. The distance made the difference.
The secret to long casts in the surf, either with a heavy rod like the one Howard used, or a light one like I used to catch the blues, is to use a casting reel and have a good rod. You need the technique as well, but you’ll never cast a spinning reel as far as you potentially can a casting reel. This is because, once the spool on a casting reel starts spinning, it’s pushing the line down the guides and toward the target. With a spinning reel, there is continual drag from pulling the line off the spool for the duration of the cast. Almost all distance casters use casting reels. It is possible to cast a spinning reel a long distance, but the casting reel will always have the advantage once the lure weight becomes heavy enough to get the spool spinning.
The other key to getting the distance is the rod. To catch those blues, I was using a discontinued Black Max rod from Garcia. It was just over eight feet long and had a lot of backbone and a fast tip. Combined with a Abu 6000 reel, I can cast a two ounce spoon over 110 yards. A longer rod would get me more distance, but the added weight would be a negative factor.
This week, I got a new rod for an evaluation test and I can’t wait to try it out. It’s a ten foot St Croix from the new Avid line of St Croix rods. It weighs just over ten ounces, less than my old eight foot Black Max, and it feels like it will push a spoon a country mile. Last summer, I toured the St Croix plant in Park Falls, Wisconsin and I was impressed by the way they make rods using state of the art technology and materials on machines they build themselves.
The problem is, I need to do more of a test than cast on the football field. I guess I’m going to have to call for a ferry reservation and drive down to Cape Lookout. The stuff I have to do for my job.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at