For years I don’t think that I fully understood what it meant when people talked about ‘putting a bait out of sight’. I rarely found that I’d completely lose sight of where my lead and bait touched down when I was fishing (unless it was foggy or dark, obviously) even when conditions were good for distance casting. Sure, when I watched other anglers cast I’d often lose track of their end gear and not see where it landed, but this usually had more to do with viewing from a distance and not knowing where they were aiming than because they were throwing extraordinary distances. It was only on very rare occasions that I’d see someone genuinely casting baits out to the kind of range where, even with a perfect view, you would struggle to see the sinker splash.
I’ve done (and continue to do) some field casting and I’ve witnessed some very talented casters throw distances in excess of 300 yards. As a caster myself, however, I am average and lack the time and drive to really go about changing that. My current PB over grass is a smidge shy of 250 yards with a 125 gram lead. From a fishing perspective, I’ve thrown a rig and jellyworm over 170 yards on the field with my fishing gear, although on a beach in average conditions, my maximum range is undoubtedly some way short of that… or at least, it was.
I’ve been a multiplier user for all of my sea fishing life, but about a year ago I began to seriously experiment with fixed spool reels and thin braid for standard bottom fishing. I’d dabbled with fixed spools and braid for heavier fishing a few years before, but with continental style rods and I hadn’t enjoyed it. This time, however, influenced by anglers that I’d seen on YouTube like Gary Pye and Phill Dale, I paired the big mangles with my powerful Century beach rods and began to experience a real revelation in my fishing. To begin with, I was shy of really letting fly – wary of the prospect of wind knots and ring wrap – but after a few casts without any mishaps, I began to up the effort and the results were staggering. The fine diameter braid dramatically increased the top end of my casting range when fishing. My better casts were clearing 150 yards by some way and even the average ones were as long as I could ever do with a standard multiplier and mono set up.
Now that I had a powerful new weapon, the next step was figuring out what to do with it. I’ve never found that braid is well suited to fishing in turbulent conditions over clean ground, as the lack of stretch sends the rod tip bouncing around like a rude boy at a ska gig. For me at least, braid is best suited to calm conditions when distance is likely to be key. In my angling, this has mostly translated into fishing for ray and flatfish. Some of my familiar haunts reward distance well and the fixed spool and braid approach has bagged me a few fish that I don’t think I would have caught using multipliers and mono and casting a bit shorter.
One of the main drawbacks to fishing with braid is that it does not play nicely with monofilament. If you’re fishing with somebody else who is using mono and you tangle lines, your thin braid will cut through their line like swiss cheese as soon as any tension is applied. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use braid when fishing in the company of mono-users though. I tend to use one rod fishing braid and another fishing mono, taking a spot at the end of the group and keeping the braid rod furthest away from my companion(s). If I tangle, it’s most likely to be with myself and not mess up somebody else’s fishing.
For some time, my ray sessions have seen me fishing with other people using monofilament, so it was only recently that I got my first chance to go on a solo ray trip and fish both rods with braid. Finding that I had the rocks to myself, I geared up for a long range assault on the sandbanks that I hoped would be strewn with hungry ray. A favourable wind meant that if I got my cast anything like right, it would fly an absolutely ridiculous distance and I would have to squint to see it hit the surface of the sea.
Fortunately for me, the ray were at home and they were keen for a feed. It was clear early on that this session was going to be more about numbers than big fish, so I set about trying to catch as many as I could. In around six hours of fishing I landed 18 small eyes and 2 blondes, missing one or two bites along the way. Most of the small eyes were on the small to very small side but there were a few better fish among them, with a pair of ten pounders the top prizes. The blondes weren’t large either – a fish of 8.4 being the larger of the two. Still, it is always a treat to catch Cornish blondes regardless of their size.
It’s hard to say if I would have caught so many if I’d fished the same session with multipliers and mono. One thing about using a fixed spool is that you can really horse fish in if you want to – I had nearly all of the smaller fish up on the surface within seconds of starting to reel them in. This saves you time spent bringing fish in, although this might be negated by the extra distance you have to retrieve them over. Ultimately, however, there is no way that I’d have been able to fish at the kind of range I did using mono and there were clearly a lot of fish in the area I was casting to.
An interesting property of braid is the difference in how it transmits bites to you. The classic slow and deliberate ray bite becomes a totally different set of indications when you swap mono for braid. I clearly remember the first ray I caught using the braid and mangle and being dumbstruck when the dogfish I thought I was pulling into turned out to be a double figure small eye! Every little tweak, twang and drop back is clearly visible and when the fish decide to move off, you’d better have that drag backed off as you could easily lose a rod to a better one. On this session, for example, the two biggest small eyes and the largest blonde I caught would definitely have pulled the rod in with the runs they made.
For anyone interested in trying the fixed spool and braid approach on their standard gear, I highly recommend doing so – particularly if you fish venues that favour distance casting. Personally, I’d recommend trying to keep your casting style consistent with what you do with your normal set up – I fish with my fixed spool reel down and use exactly the same style that I do when using a multiplier. Initially, this was a big psychological roadblock for me: the idea of casting a fixed spool in the low position. The reality is that, although it feels a bit odd at first, if you usually cast with low reel with a multiplier, you will soon get used to casting low reel with a fixed spool.
You can use various forms of leader but I opt for a tapered one connected to the braid with an FG knot. The leaders I use are clear Varivas 18-70lb breaking strain and I’ve found them great, although I’d be even happier if they had a slightly longer section of the 70lb material – maybe a metre or so. I use a gardening glove to protect my hand and finger when casting. I try to keep the line secure but more towards the middle of the first joint of my left index finger than the joint itself when casting. If I trap the line further back towards the joint, the release isn’t as clean and the cast will sometimes pull left.
For ultra clean casting make sure that your leader knot is at the bottom of the spool before you cast. This isn’t absolutely necessary but it does make things a lot smoother. I can tell when I’ve forgotten to do this and the knot has been sat near the lip of the spool as it will clatter through the rings. I assume this is because the knot has come off the spool in a distorted coil and hit the first guide at a strange angle. This is yet to cause me any issues with ring wrap but why even risk it? The extra friction must cost the cast a yard or two also.
When it comes to rods, it’s a big bonus of Centurys that they come with fixed spool friendly Fuji K guides. This system really suits an angler like me who regularly cycles between fixed spools and multipliers. I’m not sure why but I’ve found that the more powerful of my regular rods (Excalibur C Curves) seem to suit the fixed spool better than the lighter ones (J Curves). Maybe this is something to do with the C Curve’s more through action compared to the quicker J Curve.
As for the braid itself, I initially used Power Pro but moved on to Spiderwire Stealth Smooth – an 8 strand braid that comes in a yellow colour that shows up well in a torch beam at night. I go for the 28lb breaking strain option that has a stated diameter of 0.14mm. In practice, however, I think the line is slightly coarser than this, although it is still very thin. This braid casts very well and seems to be accurate enough in terms of breaking strain. I use the same braid in 65lb for fishing over rough ground and it has served me well there also.
Fishing with fixed spools and braid has opened new doors for me in my distance fishing. If you are already a competent multiplier caster then you will be staggered by the increase in range that you will see once you get familiar with the different set up. Maybe if you are a multiplier user who has struggled to cast satisfactory distances for some time, then trying a big pit reel and braid could see you achieving them without having to break a sweat. Braid does have its disadvantages and takes a little getting used to, but it also enables you to explore areas of the seabed that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. In some situations, this could be instrumental in helping you make better catches.