Getting a grip.

When it comes to fly casting, probably one of the least thought about aspects is how we actually hold the rod itself. In this post I look at how “getting a grip” of the fly rod is an important factor when it comes to fly casting.

Fly anglers can spend hours on the bank fishing and then practicing their casting without even thinking about how they are gripping the rod and how this is affecting the cast they make. We all strive for that “perfect loop” and a nice presentation as our line floats to the water’s surface, so next time you pick up a fly rod please consider the following points.

When casting, try not to grip the rod handle too tightly. This can restrict the free flowing movement of the rest of the arm by tensing the muscles which can lead to a very painful arm ache at the end of a day’s fishing or even cause injury, remember using tense muscles is bad news.  Adopt a lose grip but one that’s firm enough so you can still control the rod throughout the casting arc. It’s easy to spot someone who is gripping too hard when I am teaching as their knuckles usually turn white after about 10 minutes!

Hand too far back, rod becomes unbalanced in the hand.


Hand position is another important factor. There are three main grips you can use. Firstly the thumb on top grip, my preferred grip and one I teach most of the time. As it says grip the rod with your thumb on top of the handle. The thumb then becomes a great training aid as it is in your eye line, so you just watch what your thumb is doing and the rod tip will be doing exactly the same, so in essence the rod becomes an extension of your thumb, far easier to see what your thumb is doing rather than the tip of your rod. With a fly cast the line will only travel in the direction of the rod so therefore the line will only travel in the direction your thumb is moving. Try it out, push your thumb towards the target on the forward cast and the line should simply follow your thumb.

Thumb on top.


The next grip is with the index finger on top of the handle. Most people find this grip uncomfortable if using it for any length of time, although it can be useful for short range casting when accuracy may be the key to fooling a fish, use the finger as an “aiming sight” in the same way you used your thumb in the previous grip. I use this grip occasionally when I am teaching people who suffer with excessive wrist break in the cast as this restricts the wrist break because of the position of the hand.

Finger on top.


Lastly there is the “screwdriver” or “golf grip”. This is where you hold the rod with your index finger down one side of the handle and your thumb down the other. Although this grip may feel natural and comfortable I wouldn’t recommend it as the rod can move excessively in the hand thus making it hard to control the cast.

The “screwdriver” grip.

Which Fly Rod? Part 2 – Rod Length and Line Rating.

I get asked a lot by newcomers to fly fishing when purchasing their first rod “which fly rod should I buy to start with?”

With an array of rods on offer in today’s market this is not such a simple question to answer, there are many specialist rods out there now for specific fly fishing situations. I remember in my early fly fishing days, around 35 years ago, I was bought a rod by my parents and made do with that one rod for many types of fly fishing from small West Country streams through to large reservoir fishing. The rod was around 9’ 6” for a 7 weight line and if I remember rightly and I had to make do with this! This rod was used in all sorts of situations, poking it through the bushes on a small stream and just hanging the fly off of the end of the rod, a method now called “short lining” and using it in tight situations with Roll casts and Spey casts when I didn’t even know what these casts were at the time, I just got on with it and improvised with the rod I had, looking back I now wonder how much more successful I would have been having a more suitable rod for each situation.

Choosing the right rod length and line rating makes things a bit easier.


For a beginner nowadays they need to identify what type of fishing they will be doing and for most this will be cutting their teeth on small commercial fisheries where the banks are maintained and there is no need for a long cast.

For this type of fly fishing in mind I would suggest a rod of around 9’ which casts a line of either a 5 or 6 weight. This rod would also be fairly versatile in respect that it could be used on a medium sized river or in calm conditions on a large open expanse of water such as a reservoir. The 5 weight version would be more suited to river work where lighter lines pay dividends.

Listed below are some recommendations for rod sizes:-

Small streams – 7’ to 8’ rod with a line rating of 2 to 4.

Medium sized rivers – 8’ to 9’ with a line rating of 4 to 6.

Large rivers and small stillwaters – 9’ to 9’6” with a line rating of 5 to 6.

Reservoirs – 9’6” to 10’ with a line rating of 6 to 8, 10’ rod for boat fishing.

Saltwater and Pike fishing – 9’ to 9’6” with a line rating of 8 to 9.

This is a very broad list bearing in mind there are some very specialist rods out there now, one example being a 10’ for a 3 or 4 weight line now used on rivers for a method called “Czech nymphing”where a long rod is used for greater line control.

Which Fly Rod? Part1 Rod Actions.

‘Which fly rod should I buy?’ is probably one of the most common questions I get asked when teaching someone new to fly fishing. Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this but I hope to make a bit clearer when you come to choose your first or next rod.

In simple terms, the ‘action’ of the rod is the way it bends or flexes under the weight of the line as you make a cast.  Firstly you should choose a rod with an action that suits your casting style and the type of fishing you intend doing , there are three main actions to chose from :-

THROUGH ACTION – These fly rods are designed for close range fishing with small flies and light tippets and are not designed for distance casting. When casting, the rod will flex through the entire blank from the handle to the tip ring. These rods are not that common these days and are a bit of a speciality tool, they can feel a bit like waving a length of limp spaghetti around in the air and are definitely an acquired taste. The through action rod was common place many years ago when rod manufacturing was in its infancy but there are still a few rod makers out there that produce this blank for the ‘traditionalist’ but to get the best out of this rod you will need a very smooth and slow casting action.

My worst experience with a through action rod came a few years ago whilst guiding a client on a river. He had an old split cane rod which he offered me a cast with. I happily took the rod from him as I’m always interested in casting a rod that is new to me………I soon handed it back after my first forward false cast!! I had made a nice crisp, abrupt stop on the forward stroke and watched in horror as the tip of the rod just carried on going for what seemed an eternity………almost submerging itself under the water…..this rod was not for me!!

MID TO TIP ACTION – The best action for all round fly fishing, this bank will flex or bend from the middle of the rod through to the tip. These rods have the benefit of being able to deal with fairly small flies and light tippets but also have some power in reserve for achieving some distance in the cast. I always recommend this type of action to a beginner or to someone who does not have a very powerful casting stroke. From a beginners point of view they will get a ‘feel of the cast’ with this action and they are ‘forgiving’ so a beginners timing does not have to be spot on. This does not mean that this rod will cast itself; you will still need to have a reasonable casting action to throw a good loop.

TIP ACTION – As it says on the tin, this rod will flex in just the last couple of feet or so. This is a rod designed with distance in mind. Master casting with a tip action rod and you will be hitting the horizon with your fly!! If you are a beginner steer clear of this action as your timing will have to be spot on and you will find it hard to get a feel for the cast with its stiff action. The best bet would be to learn with a mid to tip action then progress to the tip action if you want to achieve greater distance with your cast. These rods are not really suitable for light tippet work as you are likely to ‘snap off’ when you strike into a fish as there is little give in them.

This is of course a basic guide to rod actions, there are rods that fall in between these categories, mainly down to the recovery rate of the blank (the way the rod straightens after being bent), and some recover quickly, others not so fast. This is what makes each rod feel unique when you cast it and why different rods suit different people in different fishing situations. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking all rods are the same, my advice is if you get the chance cast a rod before you buy it, it can be a big outlay so that you want to get it right!!

If you would like to learn to fly fish or improve, I am running a beginners day at Burton Springs Fishery near Bridgewater on 18th June, drop me a line for more details.