1. ROD SELECTION
Look to a rod that suits your style of fishing. For most long-distance casting situations, a 10- to 12-footer capable of casting 1 to 8 ounces or more of weight (including sinker and bait) is a good choice. Also consider rod action and power. Action refers to the taper of the rod; the most common ratings are medium, medium-heavy, and heavy. Power is the amount of force needed to bend the rod. A medium or medium-fast action suits most needs, and medium-heavy power is a good compromise since most options in this power range can cast up to 8 ounces of weight (e.g., a 6-ounce sinker and a small bait).
Rod material affects price and performance characteristics, but which material you choose is a matter of personal preference. Graphite is lighter and offers better sensitivity, while E-glass is more durable and forgiving to less-experienced casters. Many good rods are available, even for the budget-minded angler. A more affordable graphite option is the 12-foot Okuma Solaris Surf. Rated for 3 to 8 ounces, it retails for about $110. For fiberglass, the 12-foot Ugly Stik Bigwater sets the standard. This one retails for about $70 and is rated for 2 to 12 ounces, although I find it casts best with 2 to 6 ounces.
2. THE RIGHT REEL
Long-distance casting can be accomplished with either spinning or baitcasting equipment. Select a baitcasting reel with a large line capacity and without a levelwind, which increases resistance on the line during the cast. Some options you should look for on a spinning reel are an aluminum spool, instant anti-reverse, and a free-spool or "baitrunner" feature, which allows the fish to peel line as it takes a bait, without the threat of it pulling your rod into the water. The reels I currently use are the Shimano Baitrunner 4500B and Okuma Epixor EB50.
Choose a reel that has a line capacity of at least 300 yards. That sounds like a lot of line. But when you consider you might be casting 100 to 150 yards or more, and that a trophy fish can make a 100-yard run, you can be down to precious little line in no time.
3. USE PREMIUM LINE
Never get fooled into buying off-brand line: A lot of it is unstable and unreliable, often testing out heavier than the label indicates. Premium lines cost more and are generally stronger at a smaller diameter a benefit because lighter line casts farther. Filling a baitcasting reel to within 1/8 inch of maximum spool capacity leaves enough room to thumb the spool to prevent overruns. It's best to fill spinning reels flush with the spool lip. Some long-distance casters even slightly overfill a spinning reel; however, for beginners, too much line and you might be doomed before you cast.
Lighter line casts farther than heavier pound tests. Factors such as the size of fish you're after and the presence of snags, dictate what pound test you should use. Sometimes you have to sacrifice casting distance in order to ensure success.
Braided line in the 20- to 40-pound range is a good choice when fishing in open water with a clean bottom, and for extreme distance. For snag-infested waters, turn to monofilament no heavier than 25-pound test. Fluorocarbon is another good choice under these conditions, due to its lower stretch and higher abrasion resistance.
4. USE A SHOCK LEADER
A shock leader is a length of heavier line tied to the end of your mainline to provide added abrasion resistance and withstand the forces generated during a cast. A general rule is 10-pound test of shock leader for every ounce of weight you cast. So, if you're casting 4 ounces, you should use a 40-pound shock leader. All of my fishing is done with 40- or 80-pound shock leader.
To attach the shock leader to your mainline, loosely tie an overhand knot in the leader and pass the mainline through the overhand knot (serves as a stop-knot). Then connect the mainline to the leader with a uni-knot, cinch both knots, and pull them together. Now reel in a length of shock leader until you have 5 turns of it around the spool, plus enough to go up through the tip of the rod and back down to the reel.
5. PROTECT YOUR HANDS
Never attempt to power cast without a thumb guard (baitcaster) or a finger guard (spinning). I prefer to use a glove because it offers additional protection when landing fish. It also protects your hand if you need to grab the shock leader to guide fish to shore. Just about any leather work glove is suitable. I prefer "The Gripper" by Wells Lamont an economical option available at discount retailers.
6. SINKER SELECTION
For more casting distance, choose a sinker that's aerodynamic and holds in strong current. Bank, flat bank, pyramid, Halls, storm, and grip (Breakaway) designs work well.
7. STREAMLINE OFFERINGS
Instead of using a single large chunk of bait, try threading several smaller chunks on your hook. Even if the overall presentation is smaller, it's better to put a small bait where the fish are than a larger one where they're not.
8. CHOOSE THE RIGHT RIG
The fish-finder (slipsinker) rig is one of the most useful for long-distance fishing, and it's easy to tie. Pass your shock leader through a sinker slide testing at least 75 pounds strong enough to safely cast a 4- to 6-ounce weight; slide on a bead, and then tie a strong swivel to the end of your shock leader. To the other end of the swivel, attach the hook leader. For long casts or hard-running current, I use a 6-inch leader; for shorter distances or mild current, a longer leader up to 36 inches works best. The snap on the sinker slide allows you to switch sinkers quickly for changing conditions.
A variation on this rig is to pre-tie your hooks and leaders and have a supply of sinker slides on hand. If you break off, you can simply add another sinker slide, tie on a hook leader, and crimp on a small split shot to act as a sinker stop. When used with a reel on free-spool, the split shot prevents the sinker from sliding and actually helps set the hook, especially when you're using a circle hook.
9. LEARN THE BRIGHTON CAST
This is a great cast for a beginner: It's easy to master, it can be used in a crowd, and it's excellent for baitfishing. To describe where everything is in relation to this cast, I'll use a clock face with the target at 12 o'clock. If you're left-handed, just reverse these steps. Stand with your left foot pointing at 12 o'clock and your right at 3 o'clock. With the sinker hanging halfway down the length of the rod, swing the sinker in towards your foot and place it on the ground at 6 o'clock.
Now move the tip behind you to 5 o'clock. Maintaining tension on the line and with your right arm bent, raise your left hand as high as you can the rod and line should form a V, with your left arm about head high or higher and your right arm still bent. Now, without stepping forward, look high above your target and execute a punch-pull: Punch out with your right hand pull in with your left. If done correctly, you have just dropped your bait 100 yards away.
This is one of the most overlooked keys to success. Go fishing as often as you can, but practice casting in all seasons. You might get strange looks from people who see you out casting plain sinkers in the chill of winter on an empty field, but they don't see you for what you are, a dedicated enthusiast honing your skills for the upcoming season and for the rest of your life.