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.
Take a look . . .
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N