Being Better

The importance of  your line hand/ non-dominant hand in flyfishing is often overlooked, writes Peter.

When you are new to fly casting, it seems most of your focus and practice effort goes into learning how to move the fly rod using your dominant hand. There is so much to concentrate on here. Grip the rod with the correct hand tension – not too strong a grip but not too loose either. Move the rod through the right arc. Not too big or the loops will be too wide: the cast won’t be accurate, your distance will suffer, and the leader will collapse in a messy heap.

Conversely, if the arc is too small, a tailing loop will surely occur. If you are lucky, this won’t cause the greatest tangle in the world that costs you fishing time and a brand new leader to fix. Instead, you may merely end up with a few wind knots in your leader… which with up to an 80% decrease in breaking strain, could cost you a fish of a lifetime.

Then there is the power application. If you don’t apply a smooth acceleration to the rod tip every time you move it either backwards or forwards, then the loop shape will go pear-shaped again, more than likely resulting in another tailing loop.

Lastly, there is the need to understand how to ‘pull’ into the forward loading move. This is perhaps the very hardest thing to learn in fly casting. In short, you need to learn to pull your hand down (vertically) as you rotate the rod forward.

Countless books, videos and YouTube presentations deal specifically with these issues, yet I have never seen any discussion or teaching whatsoever on the correct use of the non-dominant hand – which for efficiency, I’ll subsequently refer to as the left hand (apologies to southpaws, just reverse)

While it’s easy to focus on the rod hand, the line hand is crucial to almost every part of flyfishing.

In my years of teaching experience, I believe one of the hardest things for new players to grasp, is the correct use of the left hand. What makes things even worse, is that the learning is often retarded by trying to do new stuff with your non-dominant/ less able hand. As an example of this challenge, try to brush your teeth for the next few days with your left hand. I guarantee you will dribble a lot, whack your gums, and at some stage jag the brush into your nose! Try it.

If I ever write a book on flyfishing, the very first chapter will be on the subject of line management. Most guides will tell you that one of the greatest issues for guided anglers is line management. Line management is the job of the left hand. So many bad casts and so many lost fish are the result of unskilled left hands. As guides, we can’t correct this issue much on a fishing day – it’s a muscle memory deal that will take thousands of correct repetitions to stick.

What are the tasks you must teach your left hand to do?

When not casting, but fishing

Retrieving the line

Place the line under your rod hand finger at the end of the delivery cast. This sounds easy. You have the line in your left hand, and you simply need to pass this point to the top of your rod hand index finger. This seemingly simple procedure goes wrong if you completely let go of the line on the delivery cast. It becomes even more of a cock-up if you always reach up in front of your rod hand finger to pull the line in. I can’t tell you how many fish I’ve seen lost because of this line-gathering technique. Anglers easily pull the first strip, but they ALWAYS have difficulty getting the line back under the rod finger for the subsequent strip. The solution is, you must condition yourself to pull line in from BEHIND your rod hand finger, ALWAYS. Every strip.

Nowhere to go.

Holding coils 

I consider it’s paramount that as soon as you start your flyfishing journey, you learn to carry coils of line in your left hand. You must learn to hold 3 to 6 coils of line, which should be lined up, in the order of retrieve, on your left hand index finger. These coils should be held in place on your finger with slight pressure from the heel of your left thumb.

There’s a real knack to the lining up the coils without looking. For me, it works like this. I place the tip of my left index finger under the line, at the point where the line exits my rod hand finger. I then twist my left hand in toward my stomach, so the line slides across my index finger and comes to rest against the previous coil. My thumb instinctively moves across and clamps this coil, so it is lined up with previous coils.

Learn to ‘figure-eight’ 

The figure-eight is a single left hand twist retrieve technique. It’s often known as a nymph fishing retrieve, however it’s important to learn for other reasons too. The name comes from the fact that whilst you coil line into your palm, the loop turns over into a figure 8 shape.

Good advice would be to learn this technique from someone you know, or maybe even YouTube. After, say, 10 coils, you should drop these in front of your feet, or into a stripper clip or stripping basket, then start again for the next 10 coils. Holding too many coils in your hand will likely result in a tangle on your next cast.

Haysie’s figure-eight 

Years ago, I learned that a slight variation of the standard figure-eight retrieve made a remarkable difference to the amount of coiled line I could hold in my palm, while still having tangle-free deliveries. You simply need to learn to wrap the coil around your index finger so every loop is looped over this finger.

While casting

Be aware of never holding your left hand down for back-casts, then lifting it up toward the rod hand on the forward cast.

If you don’t understand correct hauling, then be sure your hands are close together at all times while you are casting. A good thing to remember is that both your elbows should stay at about 90 degrees whilst you are false casting. It’s really bad form to be casting with one, or both, arms straight.

Single haul or double hauling – properly

To my mind, hauling is the single most beautiful and enjoyable aspect of fly casting. I would consider giving up fly casting if I was told I could never haul again. Seriously.

It’s the addition of the minimal but critical movement of the left hand which turbocharges your casting. If you haul properly, it gives balance between the left and right sides of your body. It allows you to make tighter loops and use the rod with a much smaller, more condensed and less aggressive movement. It feels so sweet and effortless when you get it right.

Do yourself a favour: get someone to teach you how to double-haul properly. Practice until it becomes second nature for casts of any length – even short ones. Understand that double-hauling is not just for saltwater flyfishing or for casting long distances with heavy flies.

If you are trying to learn the technique yourself, remember:

  • The left hand should always be moving AWAY from your rod hand whilst the rod is making a forward or backward stroke.
  • Never should your left hand move TOWARD your rod hand while you are applying power.

The skill of transferring line and retrieving without looking away from the delivered fly

Your left hand should never completely release the line on the final delivery cast. Instead, make an O by touching the tip of your left index finger to the tip of your left thumb.

When you shoot line into the delivery cast, this left hand O should be open enough to let the line run smoothly through it and into the stripper guide. Then, a moment or two before the line is fully unrolled, this O should be squeezed shut quickly and tightly. This action will immediately transfer any of the loop’s ‘bottom leg’ energy into the loop’s ‘top leg’. This helps the leader turn over, as well as taking the forward energy out of the line – something which can otherwise result in noisy, messy, splash landings which scare fish into the next postcode.

As soon as the fly lands on the water, the left hand should immediately transfer the line to the rod hand finger. You need to learn to do this automatically and without looking away from the fly. If you simply touch both hands together, the line will easily transfer to your rod finger.

The exact opposite to this would be when the angler completely drops the line from their left hand on the delivery. Consequently, the line will jump up and wrap around the rod as it shoots, meaning not only will the line fail to shoot as freely, but once the fly lands on the water, the angler needs to look down to see where to grab the line. Often, they then have to unwrap a turn or two from the rod, and subsequently get the line under their finger for control. Too bad if a fish heard the fly land and ate it within the first couple of seconds of it landing – which they often do. It’s similarly bad news if the current on a stream has moved a metre or two of slack back toward you while this stuff-up is going on. I kid you not, in both cases this is one of the most common causes of missed strikes.

In summary, take my advice and put some concerted effort into learning to flyfish using both hands well.

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