Merwin: Getting a Grip on Fly Fishing

This is in response to a reader question on how to grip a fly rod when casting and fishing. (Thanks, … Continued

This is in response to a reader question on how to grip a fly rod when casting and fishing. (Thanks, buckhunter.) The best grip in this case is different than the one I described for baitcasting gear a few weeks ago. It is also different from how you might hold a spinning rod.

Most commonly, a fly rod is held with the thumb on top of the grip and the first and second fingers slightly extended underneath as shown in the photo. The opposition of the thumb and index finger helps to provide both a snappy backcast (index finger lifting) and forward cast (thumb pushing). The thumb-on-top position, meanwhile, helps to prevent the casting hand and rod from angling too far backward on a backcast–a common beginner’s fault. If your thumb is on top of the grip during the entire cast, it’s harder (but not impossible) to bend your wrist too far to the rear.


All that said, there are other, optional grips that you might like to try as an experiment. One is a suitcase-style grip in which all four fingers are together with the thumb still on top, much as you might grab the handle of a suitcase. You’re most apt to see this among saltwater fly anglers, some of whom feel this grip style allows a little more power in the cast. I think the difference is marginal.

Another option has the index finger on top of the rod grip and the thumb to the side. The late Lee Wulff liked this grip, which as he told me allowed him to “aim” a cast while trout fishing by the simple expedient of pointing his finger. For novice casters, especially, this grip is problematic because it allows the wrist to rotate too far to the rear on a backcast and offers less power on a forward cast.

Finally, there’s a “free-wrist” grip, which I first learned about from a skilled caster named Ed Mosser in California many years ago. In this case, the thumb is on one side of the grip and the first knuckle of the index finger is on top. This is similar to a tennis-racket grip or that used in swinging a baseball bat.

It’s my opinion–not universally shared–that this grip offers the most forward-casting power of all possible grips. I switch to this grip once in a while for that reason. The problem, though, is this grip allows extreme wrist flexure, and makes it very easy to lose control of your backcast. But if you’re a skilled caster, both aware of and able to control rod movement, the free-wrist grip might be worth your while.