Loading a double handed fly rod (the Scandinavian style)
In this article I will write about how you, in the best possible way, can utilise the power of a modern double handed fly rod. This way of casting should be used in all the different casting techniques, this is simply the theory behind loading the rod d in modern fly casting using a double handed fly rod and shooting heads!
In Norway we have used and developed this technique for around 20 years now, there are several well-known fly casters who have contributed to the development of this technique. My inspiration comes from the Syrstad brothers, I was lucky enough to be in the same team as these guys for many years – and as such I have often been able to study their technique. Today, many years later, I too have contributed to the development of this phase of the double handed cast, and now have my own “variant” of loading a double handed rod.
The casting technique has developed in line with the constant development of the fishing equipment, a lot of positive things have happened in terms of both rod actions and fly line profiles over the years. If we look back to the time when most of the fly lines in use were full length (Spey lines), i.e. different variations of the WF line, the rod actions were also quite different as the materials used in the rods offered a very different rod action, weight, and power. For the double handed rod caster, it was more common to use the upper arm the most when loading the rod. Today, rods are produced using lighter and more powerful materials, which again yields better rod actions, and of course we have much better fly lines in the shape of modern shooting heads. This enables us to effectively fish all kinds of situations, and not to forget the fact that this enables a growing number of fly fishers to use sinking lines.
The development of the equipment has as such contributed to the technique we use today in order to load the rod has changed, as we now use the lower arm in order to put as much a bend in the rod as possible when double hand casting.
What actually happens with the rod in the modern way of casting when we pull the lower part of the rod towards the body is that we can more easily bend the whole rod, from the tip to the butt. This pull with the lower arm coupled with the fact that the whole shooting head/ weight of the fly line hangs outside of the rod tip results in maximum flex in the rod!
The action is shorter/faster in the modern rods, and the fly lines are also shorter today, most people use shooting heads for their double handed fishing in lengths between 11,5 – 13,5 metres. All of this means that you can cast using shorter movements, which again saves your arms and back. At the same time, this also means that you can fish more effectively in windy conditions or in tights spots. If we add to this that the rods are much lighter as well, there are many advantages in terms of fishing/casting using the modern technique and modern equipment!
Personally, I feel that it is the actual loading of the double handed rod that has seen the greatest development, the basic theories for the various basic casts such as the spey cast and the snake roll have not changed as much as this is still all about anchoring the leader nicely in the water. I often notice fly fishers discussing what the different casting techniques should be called based on whether new or old equipment is used. Personally, I believe that I represent the modern fly fishing, thus I say that my basic techniques are modern spey or modern snake roll, furthermore I mention the most recent variations of these casts such as Air snake and Air spey.
It is the lower arm which has the most important tasks, it is also this arm creating most of the technique – the upper arm is almost only function as a steering instrument. The most important task of the upper arm is to steady the rod during the cast, which means that the angling of the cast is done using the upper arm. Also in the stop and let go phase of the cast the upper arm has a very important role. As the lower arm hits the body in the forward cast the casting motion should be stopped, now there will be a slight angle between the lower and upper arm, this is the correct position for the upper arm prior to letting go of the fly line, thus: do not extend the upper arm!
The lower arm is as such the one with the most movement, and it has the longest movements when loading the rod during a modern double handed cast. If we were to put this into a system that tells us something about the best work load in terms of the length of the arm motion, and if this length and of course the application of force stems from the upper or lower arm, I would say that at 80-20 split is ideal. If you are able to load the rod using the lower arm to generate 80% of the power, you will be able to cast insanely well in all situations.
Imagine that the line is lying in the water in front of you and you are about to start the cast, lifting the line off the water is performed in the normal fashion. When you have lifted the line off the water you will be in a very important phase of the loading of the rod, when starting the inwards cast the lower arm must be moved before the upper arm is moved. This will help you get a longer motion with the lower arm out from the body, and not to forget that this will mean that your lower arm will be in a position that is optimal in terms of loading the forward cast as the leader hits the water. In fact, the lower arm should start moving before the upper arm both in the inward and forward cast. In a way, this gives us a pendulum-like motion of the arms. In my casting courses I often use a “rifle strap” (a device made for stabilising the arm when shooting), this strap is an effective aid in feeling how to move your arms, you cannot move the upper arm much with this strap attached, thus your lower arm must be used much more in order to create any movement of the rod at all.
I have developed my own grip for the lower hand; I place the thumb upwards on the side towards the reel seat, whereas the other 4 fingers is held at the upper side of the cork handle. This makes it more natural to pull the rod towards the body, and this grip also loads the butt section of the rod better. Another advantage is that you will hit the body with the cork handle only, this is much more comfortable than to smash the thumb into the zipper, fly boxes, etc (see picture of this grip)!
Using this grip at the butt section of the rod and the upper arm’s task in mind, imagine that you are trying to bend the butt section of the rod, the part that is between your arms. Remember that when your lower hand hits the body, the casting motions should be stopper and the line should be released. You will now have a small angle between your forearm and biceps for your upper arm!
This grip creates a natural pulling motion towards the stomach.
Extend the lower arm completely in the inwards cast; this creates a long loading time for the forward cast.
Another thing to keep in mind in terms of the stop position for the upper arm in the inwards phase of the cast is that this stop position should be varied in terms of how tight the spot you are fishing is. In the most difficult places we have to anchor the leader in the water in front of us we should use a shorter arm movement so that the upper arm comes to a halt earlier, resulting in the tip of the rod not travelling as far back, again leading to the spey loop hanging in the water in front of the body. In normal places the stop position of the upper arm is further back, i.e. by the shoulder. Fishing tight places, or during deep wading, and sometimes during strong winds, you also have to adjust the inwards cast somewhat. I am very concerned with the importance of variation of casting techniques in order to solve casting challenges.
Looking at the spey loop itself, the D-loop: the spey loop hangs in the air like a “D” between the rod tip and the water surface, so you can easily vary the look of this loop by using a higher speed of the inwards cast, and also how high/low you move the upper arm towards the stop position at the back. By working at a low height you can increase the speed of the inwards cast without the leader letting go of the water surface in the anchoring position, this produces a “V” shape of the spey loop, which loads the rod better and ultimately yields longer casts.
- I adjust the speed of the inwards cast using my lower arm, imagine that you in a controlled and accelerating fashion push the lower arm away from the body with increasing force. When you, after a while, are able to control this movement, you will effectively load the rod in all situations.
- If you are able to extend the lower arm totally in front of you, you will be able to cast very far in all positions, as the fully extended arm gives increases the “loading zone” towards the forward stop.
- Increased line speed during the inwards cast means more power in the rod, because when the leader hits the water surface the rod will be bent forcefully backwards. This will give you a better loaded rod already at the start of the forward cast, and this coupled with a long loading movement toward the forward stop means that you load the rod to the fullest so that you increase line speed in the forward cast, this also means better control of the cast in strong winds and in the tight spots.
- I also vary the timing of the forward cast, in normal situations I wait with initiating the forward cast until the leader is well anchored, I must admit that I also in normal situations want to have a high speed of the inwards cast. This means that I can wait somewhat longer before starting the forward cast, as the spey loop is so tight that under no circumstances will it collapse on the water. This effect loads the rod to the limit, offering me a comfortable and controlled finish of the cast.
- In the tight spots where I must place the leader down in the water in front of me, as I have to avoid that the spey loop gets tangled up in trees and branches, I start the forward cast earlier. In these situations I start the forward cast just before the leader hits the water. This little manoeuvre means that avoid hitting obstacles behind me with the spey loop. The movements when loading the rod here involves very short arm movements, with an early stop of the inwards cast with the upper arm, the upper arm stops perhaps as much as 20 cm from the shoulder. This ensures that the rod and spey loop are not positioned behind the body.
The rifle strap prevents the upper arm from making mistakes.
Wearing this means that you have to move the lower arm.
Tips for practising.
If you are struggling with achieving the 80-20% split of the arm movement when loading the rod, you have to remember that the stop and let go points are some of the most important aspects for succeeding with the cast and the presentation of the fly. With a modern double handed rod and a shooting head you will be able to perform quite ok casting even with a split of 50-50% or better. If you are able to abruptly stop the rod early enough in the forward cast and then let go of the line in the same instance that you stop the rod, you will achieve an ok line speed when shooting the line. This will not create the tightest loops, but you will be on your way in terms of fishing with this equipment. I have many course participants who create great tight loops with a good line speed even with a 60-40% split.
The reason as to why a tight loop is the best, is because this is the proof of you having loaded the rod correctly; a tight loop id less affected by wind, and will give you longer casts.
Get yourself the rifle strap, contact www.hakedaljakt.no they stock this item. Then you can practise loading the rod in your living room, you just use the rifle strap and the butt section of your rod – thus you can practise fly casting without leaving home, something your wife will probably appreciate.
Best of luck,
Regards Jan Erik
Read related articles:
The stop points.
Watch a short film clip on loading the rod, demonstrated by a Double Spey cast. Notice the position of the lower arm in the forward cast, also notice the angle of the upper arm after the cast is finished.
Watch the clip here.