Ultra-light plug casting - rewards for patience

by Dwayne Rigby

Of late there seems to be an increase in interest in the use of bait caster reels in Tasmania. Whilst these reels, also called plug caster, feature prominently in mainland fishing articles it appears that, until recently, they weren't very popular with Tasmanian anglers.

The usual scenario from their use here was generally lake trolling, especially with lead core line from which they are ideally suited. It was quite uncommon though to see a local angler casting with one. In many respects this is understandable. Bait casters do require a degree of practice before the novice user develops some proficiency and the often windy conditions we encounter can make casting a frustrating business.

The generally high cost of a good reel and fear of the so called "˜backlash bogey"also undoubtedly combined to limit the popularity of these reels. This is a bit of a shame really as many of the popular trout lures are an ideal casting weight for an average bait caster.

Lures such as the standard size Tassie Devil weigh 14 -15 gms and are ideally suited to reels like the ABU 5500C or Shimano Calcutta 200. With 3 kg line and a matching rod, long trouble free casts would be quite easily achieved. Heavier minnows such as the Rapala CD-9 also work easily and efficiently on a typical bait caster. Even the 7 gm Devils are easy to cast once you've had a bit of practice and developed an "˜educated thumb'.

It is possible to go much lighter in the lure casting spectrum though. Some enthusiasts are regularly using 3 -4 gm lures on specialised ultra light bait caster outfits. Such as rig, if well balanced, then becomes a potent weapon for the lurecaster targeting trout in the lake margins, bream in the rivers or estuary perch (Macquaria colonorum) in the northern estuaries and streams.

Before going into some of the advantages of such an outfit it would be wise to look at the issue of minimum lure weights as it seems to be the area subject to most misconceptions. The design of the bait caster reel does dictate an optimum and minimum casting weight that will work efficiently with each reel.

Basic laws of physics demand that a certain minimum force is required to over come the inertia of a stationary spool and bring it up to a sufficient speed to allow the relatively unhindered flight of the lure. This design parameter has always applied to any kind of overhead reel and always will. It's this point that has led to much of the current misunderstandings about bait casters e.g. "You can't cast lures under 7 gms, it's asking for a backlash" etc. Until recently these comments were probably true.

During the 1960's and "˜70's the smallest reels available were around ABU 5000 size and they weren't terribly kind to the ultra light aficionado. They could be tuned to deliver reliable performance down to almost 3 gms but such tuning was a job for an expert, involving as it did the manufacturing of spool arbors, ensuring perfect bearing alignment and so on. Six to seven grammes was about the practical lower limit for most reels and anglers.

The release of the ABU 2500C in the late seventies was, consequently, a major event for bass anglers and other light baitcaster freaks. The 2500C and the smaller, much rarer, 1500C have set the standard ever since although they've always been hard to find. The situation in the 90s is much kinder to anglers. "˜Micro"reels with small light weight spools are now freely available albeit some what pricey. ABU 2500Cs are a little easier to get these days and a small number of the 1500Cs are currently available. ABU also make the S1600 and SM1600, both perfectly suited to this type of sport.

The Pro Max 1600 by ABU is now discontinued but there may be some old stock around. This 8 ball bearing reel is fantastic for this kind of angling.

Shimano have entered the ultra light field in a big way as well. The Chronarch and Calcutta 50 are tailor made for ultra light fans. For the well heeled angler (or the absolute fanatic) Shimano also offers the Calcutta 50XT which is the smoothest reel of its type I've ever seen and must surely be the best bream bait caster ever made. As a dyed-in-the-wool ABU man I have to concede that Shimano have probably built the ultimate weapon in the 50XT.

All these reels have rewritten the parameters of baitcaster use. Used sensibly on appropriate rods these reels are quite capable of casting 3gm lures a useable distance. To illustrate this point I should refer to some of my own reels. I regularly use either an ABU 2500C for trout and bream spinning.

Lures such as the Rebel Crawdad and Heddon Mini Tad are their staple fodder. These lures weigh around 3gms but can still be cast out to about 20 metres. Whilst not making them horizon busters this is more than adequate for a lot of bream busting and lake margin work.

Go up in size to a 7gm Tassie Devil and you can stretch out to about 40 metres which is starting to cover a lot of water for a single headed outfit. Why bother though? Surely a spinning reel would be a lot easier to use. In the short term this may be true but for the serious lure caster there are definite advantages to be had in using a baitcaster.

One of the most obvious is, of course, accuracy. Much of the local bream spinning in smaller rivers is based on very precise casting to within centimetres of bank side structure such as overhanging branches. The ability to make gradual reductions in spool speed to softly drop a lure on target is a definite bonus. Other advantages aren't hard to find. One if the most significant is the reduced likelihood of lures tumbling in flight and fouling the line. The very slight drag caused by spool friction ensures that lures generally fly in a direct line with the tow eyelet facing the angler. This can be a critical point when you only have one chance to make a presentation to fish.

A further bonus in opting for a baitcaster is the lack of line twist if you aren't using lures that spin eg. bladed lures.

The fact that line travels on and off the spool in the same plane means that line twist should never be a problem. Admittedly, much of the line twist experienced with spinning reels is a product of angler misuse rather than any inherent deficiency in design.

Daiwa's recent Twistbuster design has done a lot to limit the amount of line twist on their spinning reels however. Finally, anglers who specialise in lure casting for bream, trout and other fish in the saggy confines of small rivers will benefit from the spool control offered by a bait caster. An angler can fish a light mechanical drag in case a real smoker turns up with the option of going to a "˜thumb override"locked drag in the event of a fish bolting for the snags.

For anyone interested in taking up this branch of the sport there are a few issues to be considered. Reel choice is the first. You'll be looking for the smallest reel offered by the manufacturer of your choice. Any of the reels mentioned previously would be superb for this work and prices range from around $150 (ABY S1600) to nearly $600 for the Shimano Calcutta 50XT. A reel from the cheaper end of that list will still be a top class unity though. Well maintained, any of these reels will last a lifetime. Whilst manufacturers seem intent on cramming more and more bearings into their reels I wouldn't judge a reel on that basis alone. Models such as the original ABU 2500C gave exemplary performance with just two good quality bearings. Factors such as a small light weight spool and the overall quality of construction are more important to the prospective purchaser.

It should go without saying that reels need to be kept clean and appropriately lubricated. Remember, at this end of the lure casting spectrum too much lubricant, especially in the bearings and level wind drives gears, will hamper performance as much as under lubricating. In striving for maximum light lure performance it's crucial to select the right rod.

I suspect that most people who come unstuck in the light plug casting field do so based on their choice of rod as much as the reel. In order to achieve trouble free casting it is, important to select a rod slightly longer than the generally accepted morn for bait casters. A length of 1.65 to 1.8 metres is a useful compromise between casting performance and portability. The reason for this extra length is tied to the acceleration of the lure. If the lure can be accelerated through a slightly longer arc then it can be brought up to casting speed at a more gradual rate. Controlling the spool is easier as a result. "˜Snap"casting with short fast taper rods is incompatible with light, air resistant lures. It's the fast track to backlash. Rods should be a medium to fast taper rather than a radically fast action. A suitable rod also needs to be flexible enough to load at least partly with 3 to 4gms of lure weight. A by product of this flexibility is that, obviously, light lines are essential - 2kg would be optimum for most of these rods although some may, just, handle 3kg.

The range of off the shelf ultra light rods has increased greatly in recent years and many manufacturers now offer suitable models. Check through the catalogues of the major names and you'll eventually find something suitable. Dedicated rod builders needn't feel left out as there's a growing range of suitable blanks available. A couple I've had pleasing results with are the Silstar Traverse X SX-501-BCXL and SX-501-BCL. A somewhat older blank also worth considering is the venerable UB 510 Ugly Stik. I've been using mine, built to 1.75m, for ten years and it's never looked like faltering. Loomis and Composite Developments also make exquisite blanks in this category.

Anglers who are already familiar with heavier baitcaster tackle may find that a few adjustments to casting style are required to accommodate the lighter lures that we're discussing. As mentioned previously, the kind of lures we're talking about virtually preclude a wrist snap style of casting. Plugs such as the Heddon Mini Tad and small Crawdad are quite air resistant so a full blooded burst of acceleration will have line spewing everywhere. We've already looked at the virtue of longer rods as an aid to imparting more gradual acceleration to the lure.

There are also a couple of casting tricks that can magnify the benefit of a longer rod and assist trouble free casting. The first is to use an extended arm movement. Rather than making your wrist the focus of power use your whole forearm. By making your elbow bend a bit more and employing a small wrist snap at the end of the cast, the rod tip travels through a longer arc.

Your not employing your forearm to develop more power. Your simply delivering the power through a longer casting stroke. Another "˜trick"is to use a slightly longer drop when casting. Very light lures may require a drop of up to 40 cm from the rod tip. Until you're used to this though you can expect a slight decrease in accuracy. I hope I've outlined an argument that's at least partly convincing.

This style of fishing is not for everyone obviously. For anglers who like the challenge of trying new methods and techniques though there is a lot of satisfaction to be gained from using such tackle. It certainly takes more than a smattering of patience and dedication but, once mastered, the rewards can be many.

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