Get a grip
  |  First Published: November 2004

When learning any new sport where a stick is held to do the hitting or throwing, the first thing the instructor focuses on is your grip. Flycasting is no different.

Any old grip will do if you want to be an ordinary caster. To be a really good caster you need to have a suitable grip.

To me, the way you grip the rod is the single most important thing in good flycasting. Get this part right and everything else will fall into place more easily.

If you use an inappropriate grip your casting ability can be very restricted.

Geometry of the grip

The most common grip taught in books, used on videos and taught by the local tackle store staff is the ‘thumb on top’ grip. An alternative grip sometimes used is the extended index finger up the grip. This extended finger grip is ok for short casting of lightweight rods, but is quite limiting for general flyfishing.

The better tournament casters in this country or, for that matter, the world, don’t use these grips. They mostly cast with the ‘Vee grip’ or ‘knuckle of the index finger on top’.

Thumb on top grip

Go and grab the bottom half of a rod and I will explain what I mean. Put a fly reel on as well. Let’s go through a simple exercise where I can explain the various grips, their shortfalls and virtues. At the end of this I think you will favour some variation of the ‘knuckle on top grip’.

Grip the rod with your thumb on top as far forward on the cork butt as you can. (It’s easier to get the hang of what I’m talking about if you don’t hold too close to the reel). Hold the rod horizontally in front of you. Notice that the butt or reel seat is located beside your forearm.

Firstly let’s look at, and feel, the back cast using the ‘thumb on top’ grip.

Using your free hand, apply a load downwards on the rod (this simulates the load of a back cast). Can you feel, and see, that the butt of the rod wants to move up beside your forearm and that the strength, or rigidity, of your wrist has to resist this load? Apply even more load and it will actually start to hurt even the strongest of wrists.

This is a bad situation because you not only end up with a sore or tired wrist casting like this, you also loose control of the casting stroke at the completion of the back cast. Because your wrist is straining to resist the back cast load, when this load finally comes off your wrist at the end of the backstroke you naturally, and unthinkingly, swing the rod back further. This ‘windscreen wiper’ action often results in a poor back cast. This is something that we must avoid at all costs.

Now we’ll go through the same motions, but this time with the ‘knuckle on top’ grip.

Use the same grip with your thumb on top, but, this time, rotate your forearm and wrist around more or less 90 so that the knuckle of your index finger is on top of the rod. If you have done this correctly you will be able to see all four knuckles when you look down at your rod hand. Notice that the reel seat is underneath, not beside, your forearm.

Vee Grip

Again, push down on the rod with your free hand and feel the reel seat ‘lock’ underneath your forearm. With this grip you can apply much more pressure to the rod. Feel that there is no load on your wrist with this grip.

To prove this, and accentuate the point further, just hold the rod in this position using just your thumb and index finger. Now apply the load again, allow the butt to press into your forearm. See how much power you can put into the back cast without using the rigidity or strength of your wrist? Incidentally, it’s possible to cast a whole fly line using just these two fingers on the rod.

The forward cast

Go back to the thumb on top cast. Now apply an upward force to the rod (this simulates the forward cast). Remember this feel. Go to the knuckle on top grip and do it again. See how you have a better ‘lock’ and more control with your knuckle on top. This is vitally important.

Knuckle on top grip

Some logical thoughts about this grip. Consider that you have spent your whole life throwing things. What angle is your hand in for a throwing stroke?

Imagine if I gave you a golf ball to throw into the waste paper bin in the corner of your office. If I made you throw it with your thumb behind it and I threw mine with my knuckle behind it, I would be more accurate than you.

If I asked you to throw the ball the length of a footy field I bet you would find it difficult with your thumb behind it. With my knuckle behind it I could throw it further than you. It would not be because I am any better than you, it is simply that the technique is better.

Casting a fly line is no more difficult than throwing stones. The hand, arm and wrist movements are identical. Knuckle behind and a short stroke for a short cast or a long stroke for a long cast.


- Make sure you can see some of your knuckles when you look at your rod hand.

- Ensure the rod butt is locked under your forearm for the loading move of the back cast.

- There should be no wrist rotation during this loading move.

- Your index finger knuckle provides the push for the forward cast.

Peter Hayes is a veteran of 30 years tournament casting experience. In this time he has been the Australian Casting Champion a total of 10 times, he has twice competed at World Championships and won silver medals each time. On one occasion casting a remarkable 74.5m.

Peter is far from just a tournament caster. Over the past decade Peter has operated a high-profile guided fishing business in Tasmania in conjunction with his popular Australia-wide flycasting schools. You can find out more about flyfishing and flycasting from Peter’s perspective by requesting his regular newsletter at www.flyfishtasmania.com.au or contact Peter at --e-mail address hidden--

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