People often talk about “feel” when it comes to casting a fishing rod of any sort, especially a fly rod.
The more in-tune you are with the subtle flexes and the more you feel weight transfers of the line in the handle of the rod, the more you make adjustments that lead to straighter, more accurate casts.
That’s also the case when you’re fighting a fish. The more you can sense the fish’s every move through the rod, the more adept you are at fighting it, and consequently, the better your chances are of landing it.
There’s one simple trick that will put more “feel” into your fishing, help you cast more accurately and farther, and probably help you feel the movements of fish as you are fighting them. Doesn’t matter if you are fly casting, surf casting, spin casting, bait casting, or even spey casting. And no, it doesn’t involve buying a fancy new rod.
Just loosen your grip.
Don’t loosen it so much that it’s like a mushy handshake. But you definitely don’t want to grip the handle with so much tense pressure that you leave indents in the cork. You don’t really even want to grip it so hard that you can’t rotate the grip in your hand with minimal effort.
Casting expert Glen Nagumo showed me a good indicator the other day at the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club in San Francisco—the cradle of fly casting and fly rod design in America.
He had me grip the rod with the reel sideways, parallel with the ground. Then I eased up on my grip so that gravity just barely started to pull the reel downward, and it started to slip and rotate toward the ground, turning the rod handle in my hand.
“That’s how hard you should grip a fly rod,” Glen said. “If you hold the rod with the reel sideways, and it just starts to slowly slide toward the ground… that’s the right amount of pressure.”
To prove the point, he had me point the tip of the rod toward him and he grabbed the line. As I gripped the handle firmly, I could barely feel short, subtle tugs on the line. But if I loosened the pressure in my hand just a little bit, every micro bounce was amplified tenfold.
All of this is, of course, counterintuitive.
When you’re fighting the big one, you’re hanging on with all you have! Far be it from me to suggest holding a fishing rod so softly that a fish yanks it out of your hand. And you should be firm and steer the rod with authority especially in the end game. But you’re going to sense those first few moves a bit better if you aren’t clamped on super tight.
Casting-wise, when you’re standing the river and a big ol’ trout is sipping mayflies off the surface 30 feet ahead of you, if you’re a mortal angler, you’ll naturally get sweaty palms and grip the handle harder. And after we goof up a cast or two, we’re just going to grip firmer and firmer. I do that with golf clubs all the time. The more frustrated I get with errant shots, the more I must remind myself to look at my hands, loosen my grip and let the blood flow back into my fingertips.
Often times, if you feel like your casting game is off, and you just don’t have it going your way, you can at least start to fix the problem by easing up on the grip. The answer is literally in the palm of your hand.