A Different Way to Hold Your Fly Rod...?
How do you hold your fly rod? Do you always use the same grip?
Sometimes in fly fishing, a short, soft, accurate presentation is essential if you want to have success. Those who chase trout a great deal likely know all about this, as they often ply smaller waters that are shallow, gin clear, and full of nervous fish. Make just one harsh or sloppy cast and, congratulations, you've just messed up that spot for a while.
I wish I could say I've never caused a bunch of trout to rapidly vacate an area, but of course I have. I'm sure many of you reading this have, too. Using the right setup is important here to help achieve that precise, delicate presentation, but what about the cast itself? Setting aside the mechanics of a proper fly cast, have you ever thought about gripping the fly rod differently when fishing in scenarios requiring finesse?
By and large, the most popular way to hold a fly rod is with the thumb somewhere on top of the handle. Whether lawn casting, tossing a nymph rig, or chucking mega poppers to marauding trevally on the flat of some remote Pacific atoll, this grip provides the angler with comfort and a great deal of accuracy, control, and power. For the type of fishing I do most of the time, it's what I typically go with.
Although it's a popular way to grip a fly rod, it's certainly not the only way. I've seen other grip styles in my time — some pretty questionable — but the one I'm leading you on to here is where you extend your index finger on top of the handle.
When I need to make a soft, delicate, pinpoint cast at close range with a rod of a light line weight, this grip style feels really natural. These lighter rods often have a tapering handle design such as a reversed half-wells or cigar which makes the extended index finger grip quite comfortable. This is definitely not a great way for me to hold a rod if I'm wanting to generate a lot of power, but that obviously isn't the goal. I tend to have somewhat of an aggressive casting stroke to begin with, and using this grip helps remind me to tone down my presentation each and every cast.
Another big reason I like this grip style is because it helps my accuracy due to finger placement and the way this slightly changes the wrist/forearm angle. My extended index finger acts like a precise guide of where to aim the cast. Think of it as a pointer. As the cast completes, I'm pointing that finger directly at my intended target which helps my control when trying to get that fly into a nearby tight spot.
I guess there's some variance here, but I personally like having my forefinger extended flat or nearly flat against the cork. I've also seen folks with more of an arch or bend in their finger. I prefer having more finger contact on the cork, but I say go with whatever feels good and seems right to you.
There is one little annoyance with this style, and that comes when it is time to hold or strip your fly line. With the typical thumb-on-top grip, your index finger is always positioned underneath the handle which makes it super easy to quickly trap the fly line. With the index finger-on-top grip, that finger has to constantly switch between the top and bottom side of the handle before and after each cast. Some people like to strip with their middle finger, so in that case this minor issue won't even apply.
The next time you find yourself on a farm pond, pristine spring creek, or anywhere else requiring a short, pinpoint cast with a light rod, you might want to give this grip a try to see how you like it!