Although Iíve spent zillions of hours with a single-handed fly-rod of one sort or another, Iíve never felt much drawn to salmon fishing with a double-handed rod. Thereís always been the seasonal opportunity, and I once turned down an invitation to a posh press trip to some Scottish hotelís water. It never really appealed as much as it should, for some reason. Being unusually honest with myself, Iíve a sneaking suspicion that I was a bit over-faced with the prospect of learning to fish with a double-handed rod.
Last year I faced up to the challenge when I went to investigate the fishing in Sweden. It would have been a utterly ridiculous to eschew the opportunity to double-handed fly-fish the huge and brawling salmon rivers of Swedish Lapland, just for want of the necessary skills.
Far from being difficult, I found the whole thing to be remarkably easy. Anyone who has acquired the timing necessary for single handed work will find the transition to two-handed very simple. Two hands steady up and stabilize the action. I would have thought a double-hander would be tremendously tiring to use, but experience has proved quite the opposite to be the case.
More recently I used some big cane salmon fly rods to throw impressive fully dressed flies on the Tweed. Although the rods were heavy old beasties, I was able to fish hard, and at distance, over several hours, without too much distress. Two hands clearly make light work. Even more interestingly, when I came to a spot where I couldnít throw a full back-cast, I was able to use a simple single spey cast to roll out good long line. That sort of range would have required a serious bit of double hauling with a single handed rod.
I then fell to thinking, as one does, about my encounters with big fish on single handed rods. I havenít had thousands, but Iíve had enough to know that itís not an easy or even certain business. Taking the most extreme case, I was recently attached to some absolutely devastating giant trevally off the Seychelles coral reefs. Although I landed my share, I could hardly say that I had much control over them. Thatís perhaps not a typical example, because hooking a giant trevally is akin to sticking a fly into the mouth of a Hereford bull. There were times when the process may have tipped over the edge of exhilarating, towards something more like sweated labour. At other times it was not entirely clear whether I was playing the fish, or the fish playing me, as I stumbled my way over the razor-tipped coral tops.
There are two problems once a big fish is engaged with a single hander: firstly, the mechanical disadvantage of holding the short end what is effectively a very long lever, while the fish pulls at the other end of the lever with a 10:1 advantage. And secondly, having got to the stage where the fish might be played off the reel, we place the reel where we can least well control its action with additional rim friction, and access to the winding finger grip. Butt extensions help, but you still find that youíre trying to wind the reel placed somewhere around your groin. Double handed rods have long handles which allow them to be supported against your body, or under-arm: much more efficient.
So what is it that Iím trying to say here? Well, Iím suggesting that we should look beyond the hide-bound norms of current fly-fishing, and consider the possible advantages of some changes.
Double handed rods offer:
Greater casting comfort over extended periods.
They are less tiring to use.
Thereís no necessity for double hauling.
Much more control over powerful fish.
When necessary, greater control over big flies and poppers.
The opportunity to use longer rods.
OK. Having provided one iconoclastic idea for fly-rodders to chew on, let me throw in another thought. Iíve said that the traditional low reel position makes reel control difficult. The question is, why do we place the reel so low? I can understand that there was once a case for balancing the enormous weight of long greenheart and split cane rods of yore, but modern carbon wands weigh nothing, and donít need to be counter-balanced. If the reel is placed forward, just under the top hand, the thumb of the top hand can easily be applied to the rim of the reel to provide additional breaking control. When a big fish is being played on a short line, the reel drag should be eased off to prevent line breakage. With the high-set reel allowing efficient rim control, drag can be applied as necessary and released quickly if a fish makes a last minute run. Having the left hand free to wind the reel properly effectively removes the temptation to strip back loose line. Playing the fish through the reel is much easier. The heel of the rod is held under-arm, or in the groin, so the lower (usually left) hand is free to wind the reel, net the fish, or hold a Miller Lite.
With a low set reel out of sight, down around the anglerís waist, itís also very difficult to prevent thick fly-line from bunching to one side of the spool, and with heavily loaded spools this can cause a disastrous jam between spool and frame. With the right (upper hand) controlling the reel the index finger is in a perfectly natural position to guide line evenly across the width of the spool as the fish is played. The high position also allows the angler to see exactly what is happening on the reel.
British readers will already be familiar with the delicious business of playing big coarse fish such as carp and barbel off a high-set centre-pin reel (which is pretty well the same as a fly reel). It feels absolutely right, and the direct contact with the fish really gives an amazing sense of occasion. Thereís no reason why this could not migrate to double-handed fly-rodding.
This not all theory. Iíve tried it, and it works. The high reel position feels slightly different when casting, but the double-hander is so much more efficient at casting, this affect can be largely ignored.
There are tremendous advantages in playing fish off a high placed reel, but if the lower position was considered to be essential for casting (and I donít think it is) it shouldnít be beyond the wit of man to devise a reel seat that slides up and down the handle, or a parallel blank section, locking into position as necessary: years ago we had such fittings on big shore fishing rods.
Who might gain from all this? Well, for a start, I think thousands of salt-water fly men. Itís much easier to reach out with a double-hander. Iím well aware that there are anglers who can push out a full #9 into a stiff breeze with a single handed rod, but by God itís hard work to do it all day. Even bigger rods #10 and above, become arm-breaking when distance casting for hours. The average salt water man canít do it, and oft-times he will fail to reach out to distant feeding fish. It isnít always necessary to cast forty, or even thirty yards, but when you need to, you need to. The flats bonefish angler who sweats his way through the tropical noon-day sun would bless the effortless long range abilities of (say) an 11í #9 double-hander.
In fact, I canít think of many occasions when a double-hander wouldnít be better when using big lines, or pursuing big fish. Reservoir trout men would love a long #7 or #8. Pike enthusiasts could throw their huge, wind-resistant lures with much less trouble. Anglers fishing from boats could spey cast easily, avoiding back casts, to the relief of everyone else in the boat. First class casters could reach way out to shy fish, and distant mangroves.
Despite my addiction to split cane, I suspect that this would essentially be a case for carbon. Iím sure that there are a few existing blanks that could do the job quite well, but given the necessary computer, and carbon components, Iím sure the top rod manufacturers could come up with something devastatingly efficient: and wouldnít they love to discover a new product with which to sweep the market. With this in mind Iíve been talking to a major manufacturer of top-end fly-rods in the States, and it will be interesting to see what they come up with. Iíll certainly report back when their deliberations are complete. Such radical thinking comes hard to companies with commercial considerations, but theyíll be persuaded when they trial the outfit. I already know it works brilliantly.
Think about it, then try it. Youíll be amazed.