It’s a common misconception that we can only cast well with our dominant hand. Generally speaking, what is lacking is the “right” incentive, or proper motivation to commit to a new skill set, unless, of course, life hands you a circumstance that gives you no other option. Yes. It might take you a little longer to instinctually reel with your non-dominant hand, but trust me, you can do that, too.
10 years ago, my carpal tunnel syndrome was raging. I couldn’t sleep at night without two pillows, keeping my arms straight. While I was 20lb thinner, I was spending so much early morning time in the hoods on my road bike only to share the daytime manipulating the reins on several horses per day and then gripping a fly rod throughout the week in the evening light to not only soak tired leg muscles in cold water but enjoy tricking a trout to a dry fly. Something had to give in order to find healing.
A natural-born lefty, I knew the only way to cool down this incredibly painful inflammatory response was to mitigate my use of the left hand as much as possible. While most of the sports I indulged in required that I use both hands, it was a great opportunity to start using my right hand when casting a single-hand rod and ultimately, unlocking the magic of being able to cast off both shoulders on the spey with proficiency. Prompted by the rules as Spey-O-Rama requires both touch and go casts (single spey and snake roll) to come off both shoulders at a minimum of 80’ for women, and 90’ for men, with all casts in bounds in order to get on the scoreboard. Committed to the practice of making quality casts, I quickly saw the benefit of balancing time between my dominant and non-dominant hands which further prompted me to get my act together with my right hand when using my single-hand rod.
Rarely do I receive a phone call from a wounded veteran who has either lost an arm or severely damaged a shoulder badly enough that they no longer are able to operate a fly rod, but the situation has occurred before. Usually, I get a request for a lesson from a person needing to learn to cast with their non-dominant hand because of a torn rotator cuff, Carpal tunnel surgery, or an old trigger finger injury that has popped up again. As Murphy’s Law would have it, which always seems to coincide with a much anticipated tropical fly flying trip “with all the favorite college buddies” is just a few weeks away.
“I so should have learned how to cast years ago!” is the common loath. While necessity is oftentimes the mother of invention, how great would it be if you had already acquired the skill set of being able to cast and double haul with both hands long before you actually needed to?
The good news is that if you already know how to cast with one hand, teaching the other side of your brain to step up and get in line is just a matter of diligently practicing basic fundamentals of the casting stroke. And, if you’re new to the flyfishing game, now is the time to start teaching the non-dominant side of your brain a new skill! Learning the importance of a smooth acceleration to a stop & training your “new hand” to smoothly accelerate to a stop in the stroke will only make your dominant hand’s casting skills improve simply because you have to slow down. Maybe for once, you will actually FEEL the rod load up and tick in your hand, telling you it’s time to smoothly accelerate forward to a stop. If you’re ready to say goodbye to sloppy old habits, and tailing loops, and really up your game with an endless supply of new aerial options, angles, and accuracy, commit to making this new skill a must-have in your arsenal.
I never recommend that anyone cast a fishing line they plan to use for angling on asphalt, but heading down to an open grass field or a quiet boat dock are ideal places I like for practice and lesson time. With me, I bring an Echo Lift in a 6wt 9’ rod with an old Scientific Anglers WF line as a warm-up because it’s light enough for both wrists. Remember, it’s just delicate tendons and ligaments that make up your wrist so using something light will help strengthen this joint. Gradually increasing your rod/reel weight will not cause injury and bring far less fatigue when done properly on a regular basis.
To start, review the basic mechanics of learning to smoothly pick up the line off the water to a stop prior to forward stroke and then work to refine excellence in your roll cast, a commonly overlooked skill. After five or eight minutes of casting off both shoulders with simple motions, I will switch to a basic single haul off of both shoulders. I also take this opportunity to practice laying the line down on my back cast. When I’m happy with that, I do several double hauls off of both shoulders before starting to shoot more significant distance. When my stops are all positive and the leader keeps turning over, I pick up my 9wt Scott Fly Rod with a Permit line and a Nautilus reel to begin practicing single and double hauls. Do not overlook rollcast as that solid stop in the front will help send power down the line, resulting in a positive leader turnover; which will also help train your eye to look down the line as it unrolls in the air and gives you the exact timing of when to lower your rod tip to the water.
I finish my double haul sessions with a Winston Air2 Max in a 10wt or 11wt with a Rio Flats Pro Line on a Bauer RX6 reel. Alternating go-to setups that are hard to peel away from my hands are the Sage R8 Salt 8wt with a Bauer RX5, the GLoomis Asquith with an Abel Rove reel with a Scientific Anglers Amplitude Smooth Salt, and GLoomis IMXProVS2 with a Nautilus Eight-Nine with that beloved Rio Flats Pro line. We are in exciting times for modern fly rods, lines, and reels; with so many technological advances, it’s hard to pick just one as a favorite...first world problems, I know!
Without question, consistently using heavier rod weights and matching reels keeps me game day ready for anything from salty Searun Trout to Tarpon trips, and far more enjoyable casting sessions to toothy Bull Trout or coastal salmon from the drift boat with full sinking intermediate lines.
Mindfully retraining the specific methodology and corresponding kinesiology aspect of casting a fly rod will only make your overall fly delivery when fishing far better on both your single-hand and two-handed rods. Many of the very basic casting techniques can be accomplished in your living room chair while holding a wooden spoon or butt section of a four-piece rod for your single hand or spey; sorry, nippier winter weather conditions will not cut it as an excuse not to practice on a consistent basis! The encouraging news is that you don’t have to drive anywhere to make these skills come together, and the practice sessions should be short, precise, and consistent.
In a season where many of us are looking for a productive and lasting New Year’s resolution, I couldn’t encourage you more than to pick up the skill set of being proficient at casting and being able to double haul with either your left or right hand. When we elevate our skills, we unlock an abundance of opportunities.
If you need further guidance or a swift kick in the pants to get this new plan in place, give me a call and I’m happy to assist. Just ask Scott Richmond, Adam Silverblatt, or Jim Hillas…I promise that your “beatings will continue until morale improves” and that you will outperform all of your colleagues on your next fishing trip with new skill set options and greater line control.