There have been countless articles written on the subject of pitching, each one offering unique arguments for when to pitch, where to pitch, why to pitch, and even what equipment to use for pitching. On the other hand, none of them offers any real instruction in how to pitch, beyond pointing out that a pitch is a short underhand cast with precision and stealth as its highest priorities.
What’s lacking are the mechanics of pitching, such as the proper grip, stance, rod position, and other subtleties of the technique. And absent this information, a typical angler may quickly become frustrated with poor results when left to figure out for themselves how to execute a perfect pitch.
It was out of this frustration that I resolved to dissect the technique and figure out how I could pitch with confidence and consistency when it really mattered. That was about two years ago, and since then I’ve worked hard to become fairly adept at placing a lure into ridiculously small openings from as far away as about 30 feet. As a result, I’ve caught countless fish that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to even get close to.
What follows are the fundamentals of pitching as I learned them through trial and error. Hopefully you can use them to accelerate your own mastery of the technique and start pulling big bass out of heavy cover that you previously would’ve fished right past.
Step 1: Gearing Up
I won’t spend a lot of time on choosing the best rod and reel for pitching since it has been well covered and depends largely on personal preference.
However, it’s worth noting that a long, heavy action rod and a good baitcaster seem to be universally accepted as the best setup for pitching. My personal rig is a 7’6” graphite rod with a low profile, 6.2:1 baitcaster that’s spooled with 60-pound braided line.
Step 2: Lure Selection
Again, I won’t belabor this point because the right lure is whatever the bass will take on a given day. Figuring that out requires a bit of experimentation.
For my part, I start with a jig-and-pig when pitching into brushpiles or laydowns. But when I’m fishing matted grass or other very dense cover, it’s a simple plastic grub and a 1-ounce tungsten sinker.
Step 3: The Practice Field
The lake is no place to practice pitching. Before taking this technique to the water, you need to spend some time practicing in the backyard. Otherwise, you’re likely to come away with nothing but snags, backlashes, and bad feelings.
To set up a practice field at home you’ll need a bucket and an elevated casting platform. Use a small bucket like the one in the photographs. This will provide a large enough target for you to enjoy some early success while still encouraging you to keep your casts precise. As for the raised platform, mine is nothing more than a stump in middle of the yard. It positions me just enough higher than the rest of the yard to simulate the difference between the water and the deck of my boat or the bank of the lake. Anything that positions you six to 18 inches above the yard (which represents the water for the sake of our practice sessions) will do nicely.
To get started, position your bucket so it’s about twice your rod length away from the platform (so if you’re using an 8-foot rod, put the bucket 16 feet from your casting platform).
This is simply a starting distance. With a little time, you can reasonably expect to pitch accurately up to twice this distance, though it’s important to note that as the length of the pitch increases, the accuracy decreases. You’ll figure these limitations out as you your skill develops. For now, twice the rod length is the place to begin.
Step 4: Assume the Position
An accurate pitch, just like a good golf swing, relies on using the proper grip, stance, and address. However, proper is not necessarily the same as comfortable. If you’ve ever taken a golf lesson, you already know this.
The point is, some of what I will ask you to do may feel awkward at first. But if you’ll give these things an honest try, I think you’ll see that they work for you. And nothing creates comfort like success.
First, is the grip. There are two keys here. First, you need to position your thumb over the reel to control the speed, which you are probably accustomed to doing already. Second, turn the rod in your hand so the reel is pointing sideways.
These two details will prevent a lot of backlash. With your thumb in this position, you’ll be able to feel when the spool is spinning to fast and stop it before it gets too far out of control. And with the reel laying on its side, you’ll limit the amount of centrifugal force that you transfer to the reel as you execute the pitch.
Now let’s work on your stance. Start by facing directly at your target with your shoulders square. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart and staggered slightly. You shooting enthusiasts will recognize this as a variation of the Weaver stance. It’s a comfortable, well-balanced position that will allow you to move easily and haul back for the hookset when the time comes.
That leaves the address, which is a term I’m using loosely here, but it at least gives you an organized way of thinking about all these details. What we are concerned with here are two things: the position of your rod arm and the resulting position of the rod itself. And this is where things might start to feel a bit awkward, as I warned earlier.
The photo at left shows the proper starting position. Notice that my elbow is held up so it is just below shoulder height. My elbow is also bent so that the rod handle is just a few inches in front of my chest, at about sternum height. The rod is pointed markedly downward.
The first time you try this, I promise it will feel as silly as it looks. But trust me on this, it’s the quickest way to a controlled pitch.
Your other hand, the one that has a light grip on the lure, should be about waist high slightly in front of you.
Step 5: The Pitch
From the position I’ve just described, you may feel like your movement is a bit constricted, which is precisely what you want. The pitch is a subtle cast and should be done with as little physical movement as possible.
With your elbow thusly bent and raised, you won’t be as likely to swing your arm. Which is good. Too much arm action almost always results in an errant cast and often imparts too much energy to the reel spool, which leads to backlash. The action you’re going for is actually quite delicate. It’s a combination lift and push.
You lift the rod tip by bending your wrist upward and you push the rod forward by straightening your arm. These motions happen simultaneously. This will take some getting used to, and I encourage you to practice this motion for awhile without casting the lure. Don’t depress the reel trigger, just swing the lure out and let it come back. Do this a few times to get a feel for the motion and to learn how the lure moves in response to the lift/push action.
Then you’ll be ready to work on your release, or releases actually, since are there two of them to consider.
The first release is the one you do with the hand that’s holding the lure. The important thing to remember here is that you’re releasing the lure, not tossing it. The perfect time to release the lure is the instant you feel it being pulled from your hand. In essence, you are letting the lift/push motion of the rod actually take the lure out of your hand. This will ensure that the line stays taught and allow the rod to load slightly, which imparts additional energy to the lure to speed it on its way.
The second release is at the reel. The reel trigger should already be depressed and your thumb should be the brake that holds the spool from spinning. You should release the brake (your thumb) when the rod tip points just over the top of your target (the bucket). This will send your lure on a trajectory high enough to travel the necessary distance, but not so high that it crashes down into the water.
Step 6: What Went Wrong?
Fair warning – your first few attempts at this won’t be very good. The lure will either go too far or not far enough (this is controlled by how fast you raise the rod tip), will probably land right or left of the target (this is the result of where the rod tip was pointing when you released the reel), and you may even have some backlash to deal with (this is all about thumbing the reel).
Bringing all of these elements together will require practice. And if you can devote about 20 minutes per day, two to three days per week, you will see some real improvement in your pitching skills.
I would caution you against practicing any longer than 20 minutes at a session. I find myself starting to get lazy after about that long and the quality of my practice falls off, which does more harm than good. You can always add more sessions per week, just don’t let them run any longer.
Also be sure to practice with realistic expectations. You won’t hit the bucket every time. You won’t even hit it most times when you first get started. But try to focus on particular elements. Did the lure go the proper distance? Or was it at least headed in the right direction? Are you keeping the lure low, as though it were just skimming the top of the water?
Celebrate each small success in these measures as you go along. And remind yourself that anything worth doing right takes practice. Eventually, you’ll feel confident enough to take the technique out onto the water. And once there, you’re likely to haul in some bass that you previously would’ve fished right past.
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