When I started fishing in the surf, I had the absolute worst time casting my bait out. By the worst, I mean a cast that would go 50-70 yards max on my 11' Sea Striker Beach Runner, which at a rod of that height, I should be reaching out to 80-100 yards reasonably easy. In hindsight, I know that it was a combination of my casting form and my lack of finger control on the line that was causing that. To fix the problem with my lack of finger control, I had heard about something called a Breakaway Casting Cannon and decided that I would look it up to see what it was all about. BLUF: I like them and still use them occasionally.
I went onto Salt Strong first to see if anyone had a review about one (Salt Strong is one of the few places I like to get information from anglers out there fishing all the time), but sadly I came up empty. I posted asking for information, and one person replied that they had it and gave me a great rundown on them. I found a few things via Google but nothing that would give me the feel-good about picking one up. Then I had a conversation with a local angler, Tom, who gave me a bit of information about them, and I felt more confident in picking one up.
The shopping for these things turned out to be a little more aggravating than it should have. The price at the time was anywhere from $15-$30 depending on where you looked, and the vast majority were eBay. I luckily heard that The Sinker Guy had them in his shop, and they were on sale! Double win since I was already due for resupply on sinkers at the time. I placed my order and waited a couple of days before it arrived at my door (Chip does ship orders out fast, it is impressive).
When it arrived, I went out and installed it on my 11' Beach Runner and my 12' Ugly Stick. I attached it with two zip ties directly behind the bail and at a position that I would typically hold my finger when holding the line. This seemed like the most obvious place to set it up for casting, right? I learned that position is not the most ideal (we will get to that a little later). It also interferes with my grip on the rod while reeling in, so I had to adjust myself to make it work. This should have been a red flag, but I had a new toy, and I wanted to use it.
I went fishing shortly after getting it all installed down at the local beach, and the lessons started to pile on very quickly and in the best way possible, painfully. I wrapped my line twice around the post as I had been instructed, opened the bail, and set myself up to cast out. I threw forward and, nothing happened. Confused, I looked at the cannon and realized that my finger had not moved far enough away from the trigger to allow it to go (you're welcome if you're laughing at me right now, I truly deserve it). I rechecked everything and set myself up to launch it out. I threw forward and, SNAP! I watched my pyramid sinker and bottom half of my Pompano rig go flying off into the surf. I looked again at the cannon, and the same thing happened where I had not moved my finger far enough away from the trigger to let it fly.
I'm pretty annoyed at this point, but mostly at myself. I adjust the cannon up about half an inch so the post isn't interfering with the bail, and it is still within reach comfortably of my finger. This time, there are no adjustments needed to my hands as the grip is back to how I like it and am comfortable. I put a new rig on the rod, another pyramid sinker, and double wrap the braided line over the post. I slow it down significantly this time, so I can make sure that if it doesn't let go, I shouldn't lose my rig and sinker (this is what I should have done in the beginning!). I set up my body, open the bail, threw forward, and the line was sailing away from me correctly this time. SUCCESS!
I reel the line back in and set it up again to cast it with more power now that I feel comfortable. Again, no issue on the cast, but I am not seeing more distance than I would if I was using my finger. Confused; I try one last time but at max cast power. I set up, open the bail, threw forward, and watched it heading out to the surf. Only to see it land a few feet from where it would with my typical cast. Dejected, I stopped using it and continued to fish.
While out a few days later, I met Matt Baker, a local fisherman who had cast cannons on his rods. I told him the issue I was having, and he mentioned turning it 90º in so that I have to use my thumb to release the cannon (how he does it is in this video here). I went over and did just that and set myself up to cast. I wrapped my braid around the post, held the trigger with my thumb, threw it forward with slight power (I learned my lesson, as you can see), and watched the sinker sail ahead towards the surf. That felt better, and the distance seemed to be ok for that light of a cast. I reeled in and set it up again in the same manner but added some power. Again, smooth sailing and a bit more distance. Now we are getting somewhere! Let's max cast this thing over that sand bar and catch some Pompano! Loaded up, launched, and was on the sand bar. Well, it is further out, at least, so that was a positive.
It took a lot of practice, but I was finally able to get myself a little more dialed in with the cannon. As I adjusted my casting form, I noticed changes in my distance for the better. I also adjusted the weight I was throwing on the rod (4 oz instead of 5 oz ), and again, I saw an improvement. Now that I had those things a little more dialed in, I started to feel complete confidence and satisfaction with buying the Breakaway Casting Cannon until I learned a few more valuable (and expensive) lessons.
The user entirely manipulates the cannon. That means you need to move your finger off of the trigger at the EXACT right moment. Too early, you come up short and too late; you send sinkers to Davey Jones. Yes, that was an expensive lesson I had to learn several times. When you're launching $5.50 out into the water and can't get it back, there is a moment of rage and sadness that combine into one, and it sucks. Chip will even tell you that he has done this same thing several times and it hurts him as well. It is essential to get the timing down when using this tool on your rod.
Meaning you need to practice with it frequently, and once you think you have it down, you will need to practice some more. You can become very good at casting with this tool attached to your rod, but please remember that it is just a tool in your fishing arsenal and not the end all be all.
I still like the Breakaway Casting Cannon, and I use it from time to time. I primarily utilize a glove now, but that's mostly because my grip isn't fantastic (and I hate getting stabbed by fish!). Do I think they are a waste of money? No, not at all. Is it a good training tool? Absolutely! Would I rebuy it if mine magically disappeared? Not likely as I am comfortable casting with my finger (gloved) now.