Maybe You’re Holding the Fly Rod Wrong

by | Dec 17, 2020 | 16 comments


 

You might think it would be intuitive. And I guess I did. How to hold a fly rod never seemed like an important point to make, until recently. But the more I guide good anglers, the more I pick apart the intricacies of their game. I learn, and I teach. We all know that success in any sport comes back to the fundamentals. And our literal connection to the fly rod — how we hold the cork — is at the very beginning of making things easy or hard for ourselves.

Balance the Cradle

There really shouldn’t be much gripping going on. Because if everything is set up correctly, there’s no need to squeeze the rod. And what does that mean? Balance.

The rod should balance at the trigger finger. For a thumb-on-top position, the index finger is your trigger, and for my preferred finger-on-top technique, your middle finger becomes the trigger finger and balance point.

READ: Troutbitten | Let’s Talk About Your Trigger Finger

Take a look . . .

Finger on top, middle trigger finger at the balance point. (We got a little snow yesterday.)

 

Thumb on top, index trigger finger at the balance point.

The rod’s center of gravity (with the reel on and the leader or line out) should rest directly on your trigger finger. That’s the fulcrum for the rod. So either choose where you want your finger and then balance the weight of your reel to make it happen, or accept where the fulcrum is and train yourself to put your finger there.

Why does this matter? Because with your trigger finger at the fulcrum point, you don’t have to squeeze the rod to keep it in your hand.

Think about it. With a well-balanced rod, right on your trigger finger, your hand merely cradles the cork. Keeping it in position is effortless, because neither the tip nor the reel is pulling one way or the other. And if you don’t have to work to grip all the way through the cast, then you can use a slight squeeze at the end of the forward stroke to put a nice pop in the rod tip — just a little extra push to turn things over crisply.

After years of doing this instinctively, I finally understood that the slight squeeze at the end is how I adjust the strength of my tuck cast for a nymph. That squeeze also controls the amount of recoil in the leader for s-curves fed to a dry fly.

But none of this is available is you’re squeezing and gripping the rod just to hold on. Only a balanced rod on the trigger finger allows for the effortless cradle. With an unbalanced setup or a misplaced trigger finger, your casting options are limited — and you’ll work too hard, all day long.

So find that fulcrum, like this . . .

There’s that fulcrum point, right where we want it.

Then and Now

For years, I didn’t care much about balance. I had friends who obsessed about it, and I went through a short spell of obsession myself. But I’m not a collector. And once I had my favorite rod and reel combo that balanced itself right where I wanted my trigger finger, I stopped thinking much about balance.

Nowadays, I cast a lot of fly rods. My guided guests bring every make and model on the market, it seems. And I cast their rods a few times each day to demonstrate a tactic or two. Fly rods are all so different. But I find the balance point immediately, without thinking about it.

For my own lineup of rods (I do seem to be a collector now) I take care to match the reel weight with the rod weight and length, because I’ve learned how much all of this matters.

My friend, Roome, working the river.

More Goodness

There are a few other benefits to having your trigger finger at the balance point . . .

It’s a lot less taxing on the hand and arm if you aren’t squeezing something from sun up to sun down. Merely cradling the rod lightly is a sustainable approach that anyone can do for days at a time — let’s hope we can all get those kinds of extended trips.

Rod tips recover and settle faster when everything is in balance and at the trigger finger. Someone with a physics degree can explain this in the comments sections for us, but it seems that the reel on the other end dampens the tip motion quicker, allowing the rod to settle. This is especially important while tight line nymphing, because once we are in contact with the flies, then everything the rod tip does is translated to the nymphs. In short, we want a tip that recovers and does not bounce after the cast.

READ: Troutbitten | Thoughts On Rod Tip Recovery

Even after the rod tip recovers from the cast, it’s much easier to hold the tip still when the trigger finger is at the balance point. With the counterbalance effect, the reel acts as a stabilizer. And I’ve seen enough jiggling rod tips caused by rod hands too far back on the cork to see the difference immediately.

Josh Darling, of Wilds Media, with a good wild trout on the release.

Do It

Finding the fulcrum with your trigger finger, and cradling the rod in your hand makes for effortless casting. If your rod hand aches at the end of the day, you’re doing it wrong.

Everything about casting and drifting improves by holding the rod with barely enough pressure to keep it in your hand. Good fishing will follow.

Buy Simms boots here, and support Troutbitten

Fish hard, friends.

** For a list of my favorite fly rods and reels, visit the Recommended Gear page here on Troutbitten. **

** Find all articles about Fly Rods HERE **

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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16 Comments

  1. Thank you for this wonderful article! This is a area of Fly Fishing that gets zero attention. Since I started Euro Nymphing August of 2019 I’ve discovered that having your hand anywhere other than the point of the fulcrum is exactly what you described. -Very Tiresome- Again thank you for this article and Tight Lines to you!

    Reply
    • Cheers, Gerald.

      I think it gets zero attention because many anglers may not understand the importance. Most don’t spend enough time on the water to notice these kinds of things (life gets in the way of fishing.) And others, like myself for many years, never think much about it because the reel and rod are already nicely balanced. It takes doing it wrong for a while to understand the importance.

      Happy holidays.
      Dom

      Reply
  2. Any suggestions on how to add or remove weight to the reel?

    Reply
    • Hi Jim,

      Good question. Let me first emphasize that the best way to balance the rod is to simply find the right reel. If you keep an eye on reel weights, you’ll know what balances with your rod. Try a few, if you haven’t already. Then know the weight, and look around.

      Also, don’t miss a major point of the article above. If the balance is close, you can simply find the fulcrum and put your finger there. This article isn’t as much about a PERFECT balance as it is to find the fulcrum and use it. There’s a range on my rods of about two inches where I’m happy enough to put my trigger finger. And two inches either way allows for a BIG difference in weight.

      All that said, if you want to add weight to the reel, I’ve successfully used lead core trolling line and golfer’s lead tape.

      Lastly, the Sage ESN has become my favorite reel over the last nine months. It’s has a weight adjustment system that is just perfect. Not sure why no one thought of this sooner. It’s a fantastic solution to balancing any rod.

      https://amzn.to/2K8lw72

      Hope that helps.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
      • This is similar to a golf grip. Just like holding a golf club, they always say to grip loosely. You will subconsciously grip the club when you start your downswing. Same as when you begin your cast. Your mind won’t let you let go of rod.

        Reply
  3. Hi Domenick,

    As always, thank you so much for your hard work on this blog.

    For the settling of the rod tip, I have an explanation that is not strictly physics. But with your finger on the fulcrum, as you described, you get the best feel of what your rod does, and with your finger above and your palm behind it, you can influence the rod with ease in virtually all relevant directions with little effort. (You get the best leverage across both sides of the fulcrum) You can feel the vibrations from the tip bouncing coming back, and then you instinctively absorb their energy into your hand and let the tip recover. Even the most expensive rod does not recover the tip itself; it’s you taking up the momentum you put into it. Take your best recovering rod, make a forward cast, and then stiffen up your hand and arm as much as you can. The rod tip recovery will take forever. A good rod just makes it easier for you to get it to a still. At least that’s what I think is going on.

    Best, Gabriel

    Reply
    • Hi Gabriel,

      That’s perfect! Thanks for putting that into such a great description. I especially like what you said about stiffening up after the cast. It does no good. Again, great breakdown of what’s going on there.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  4. Good article Dom. I’ve been struggling the last couple of years to pair rods with corresponding reels in an effort to balance them. It’s especially difficult with some of the longer rods like my 10′ 4-wt. Orvis Recon. Reel manufactures are bending over backwards to make lighter and lighter reels and I wish that effort was long over with.

    About the only way to balance a longer rod now is to buy a reel that’s oversized for the rod. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to have that bit of extra weight be enough to balance your rig but, if not, you’ll have enough spool volume to load a section of lead core line under your backing.

    Reply
    • Hi Alton.

      I agree. The industry was obsessed for many years with making extra light reels. But now, they are a poor match for extra long rods. But I do find there are plenty of great options for us now. And some of them are full cage, which is also great for long lining. I don’t necessarily agree that an over sized reel is necessary, though. I use 4/5 a lot. And I fish 4 weight rods.

      Like I mentioned in another comment, it’s more important to find the fulcrum with your finger than to obsess over the perfect banace and the exact point on the rod cork where you want the finger. But if you are picky about placement, then the Sage ESN is a perfect solution.

      https://amzn.to/2K8lw72

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  5. Dom,
    Always excellent thought in your writing. In conventional fly casting, almost everyone holds the rod where it doesn’t balance, but also with a death grip. The two are definitely related. A first-time caster and many advanced fly fishers share this issue. The heavier the rod size, the worse it becomes. Bringing this to their attention, and making the necessary correction, will always bring a smile to their face. Ever hear someone say, “I don’t fly fish as much as I would like because it’s too much work?”

    Reply
  6. Dom, First, really hope to fish with you one day, I cannot conceive how much I would learn.
    This is a good article but I still don’t understand the point of balance. if you are balanced with the reel and full line on it, then as soon as you make the first cast, the balance changes. The longer your the more your balance/fulcrum point moves away from the reel and down the rod. So, based on that how do I reconcile the importance of the balance spooled up prior to the cast? Not arguing, just trying to analyze the situation so I can understand it better. v/r Steve

    Reply
    • Hi steve,

      Good stuff. And I wouldn’t mind if you were arguing.

      You are saying that the rod is often not held parallel to the water, as in the photo above, so what’s the point of balancing it that way. It’s a fair point. And there’s also the weight and hand of the line and leader to consider.

      Of course, the rod travels between angles and ends up in all kinds of positions through the cast. And when we tight line nymph, we often keep the tip elevated. When we fish dries or streamers, the rod often ends up parallel to the water through the drift. So, we must pick a position of balance that is a compromise. And balancing that fulcrum point, right on your finger while the rod is parallel, is best for most people in most situations.

      I’ll mention, while tight lining, I find myself sliding the finger and hand back, just a bit, to allow the tip to pull down more.

      Basically, I encourage everyone to try many different balance points. And you’ll find where it works for you. That said, I think we should strive to find the point that is most natural — with the least amount of squeezing necessary, for both comfort and performance.

      Make sense?

      Dom

      Reply
  7. Thank you for this topic Dominic. I think that you may have mentioned something in a previous posting about achieving a balance point with with your rod/reel combination because when I purchased my first Euro nymphing rod I was motivated to do so. It was a Moonshine Epiphany 10’6″” 3 Wt and fortunately it came with a detachable ‘fighting butt’ because the 3 Wt reel that I had didn’t have the mass to achieve a balance point near the front of the handle. I was able to use a couple of large chrome washers from a local hardware store as spacers between the butt and the reel seat and this brought the balance point back to where I wanted it. It was a cheaper option than buying another reel.

    Reply

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George Daniel’s book
Strip Set
Purchase here to support Troutbitten

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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