Something as simple as how we hold the rod and line is critical. This is the connection between us and our equipment and can make the difference between efficient and inefficient transfer of energy. It can also be the difference between struggling on the water and not.
by Jeff Wagner
A few year ago while watching a friend launch several impressive distance casts in a competition I saw something new. This caster was strong and capable, but had limited range of motion. When making his longest false cast he used a thumb-on-top grip to drive a forward stroke. Then after stopping the rod he loosened the grip and rotated his hand into a key grip. He made a long back-cast stroke with the key grip and then after the stop returned to the thumb-on-top grip for the final forward cast. So while carrying almost 90 feet of 5-weight line he used a thumb-on-top grip for the forward cast and a key grip for the back cast. This increased his range of motion and allowed him a longer stroke on his back cast. Not only does this take a huge amount of skill it takes a huge amount of knowledge to understand how to move and modify the cast to improve it.
Of note in this example is the transitional period after the stop and before the beginning of the next cast. During this time the loop is unrolling and no connection is needed with the rod. The best casters take this brief period to loosen the grip and momentarily prepare for the next cast. This allows for maximum power output of the muscle, from fully relaxed to fully flexed. This is something many novice casters miss; they retain some level of flex in the muscle and limit the output. This often results in a less efficient cast and the caster looking to get more energy from other sources, such as a longer-than-necessary stroke that eventually causes a wide or dying loop.
Something as simple as how we hold the rod and line is critical. This is the connection between us and our equipment and can make the difference between efficient and inefficient transfer of energy. It can also be the difference between struggling on the water and not. Making casting easier is my goal for my students. Most of the time this is straightforward and a person can simply go by what “feels” best. But this is not always the case. Here I’ll describe some of the common grips, their purpose, and most effective use.
This is the foundational grip and likely the one you used when you first picked up a rod. It is also called the sports grip or power grip, common in many sports because it provides a powerful connection with the equipment. Wrapping the four fingers around the cork with the thumb on top is the strongest and most natural grip and allows the most contact area between the hand and rod. It also allows the best transfer of energy from the larger muscles of the back and arm to the rod through the thumb.
Biomechanically this grip allows allows free movement laterally and doesn’t hinder the rotation of the wrist. It is best used for general application. The biggest benefit is the power that can be created. It is also the best grip for heavyweight rods, powering into the wind, or casting for distance. But because of the amount of power that can be applied it is difficult to make more delicate presentations. This grip also limits the range of motion of the hand behind the shoulder. It’s not common to use the thumb-on-top grip past the shoulder on the back cast. But, for those looking for extra stroke-length, rotating the wrist achieves this but often produces wide open loops on the back cast, which we don’t want.
The key grip is essentially the same as the thumb-on-top grip, except the grip is rotated 90 degrees inward so the palm is facing down. Biomechanically this grip is dramatically different from the thumb-on-top grip. Rotating the hand 90 degrees also rotates the forearm. This rotation limits the movement of the wrist. But, it allows for a much greater range of movement of the arm behind the shoulder.
I find this grip a great alternative to the standard thumb-on-top grip. The main advantage comes to those who are prone to over-rotation of the wrist resulting in large open loops on the back cast. The key grip alters alignment with the forearm and limits those nasty wide loops.
It is also very effective for anglers looking for more range of motion behind the shoulder. I commonly advise saltwater anglers and casters looking for more power and distance to use this grip. It is an easy alternative that gives immediate results.
Three Point Grip
The three point grip is just as it sounds. The thumb and first two fingers are the only necessary points of contact with the cork. The forefinger runs along the top of the cork with the thumb and second finger on either side. The last two fingers might aid in gripping but can be loosened to the point of no contact. This grip is a great hybrid between the forefinger grip and the thumb-on-top or key grip. Biomechanically it limits wrist rotation but stills maintains some additional power because of the three points of contact.
The benefit of this grip is reduced power. I commonly recommend this grip for those wanting to limit wrist movement or overpowering the cast. It is also more accurate for some anglers. And, it can help an angler who is prone to opening the wrist to avoid open back loops. Casters (men especially) who use too much power can benefit at least temporarily from switching to the three-point grip. Additionally, fishing situations that require a more delicate presentation can benefit. Of course limited power can be a disadvantage in certain situations.
The forefinger grip is the opposite of the thumb on top grip. The forefinger is placed along the top of the cork and the other four fingers wrap around and often connect on the underside of the cork. It is the most delicate of the grips as the forefinger is the transition point for the energy. Being longer and skinnier it is less capable of effectively applying power. It also limits wrist movement very effectively.
I recommend this grip for extremely delicate situations or very light-line rods, 3-weight or less. I have also used this grip as an alternate nymphing grip that allows the forefinger to direct contact with the rod-blank in front of the cork. This shortens the effective length of the rod and creates a more direct connection between the rod and hand, which can help detect gentle takes.
A final note is how we connect with the line in the hauling hand. The most common technique is to pinch the line between the pad of the thumb and the second knuckle of the forefinger. This is also the key grip. It is also possible hold the line between the tips of the fingers or off of the index finger but these are less tactile positions that limit reaction time. My recommendation is to push away with the pad of the thumb with the line coming over the thumb nail. This is a more tactile position that readies the angler for a rapid movement in the event of a strike or a need to release the line.
What is most important is knowing how and when you should use these grips. Try them in different situations. Keep in mind that the path of the line in the air loop is the indicator of how well you are doing. If you see wide loops in your back cast try altering the grip to limit rotation. If you get some unwanted splash of the line on delivery, try a more delicate grip. You might mean even alter the grip between false casts and the delivery cast. In any case use the rod and your body to be as efficient and effective as possible.