February 23rd, 1998

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories. . .

Old Technique Becomes New Technology:
2-Handed Rods in the Surf

By Jim Funston

Nobody is going to argue fly-fishing the salt is still in its adolescence. Fortunately, technology has improved much quicker than the number of its participants. I have been fly fishing the Chesapeake and Delaware bays, marshes, and surf for the last seventeen years. In all this time period, I have only seen a handful of other fly-fishers other than those I have brought to the water myself.

Places like Martha's Vineyard, the Keys, or other highly publicized areas have their fair share of fly fishermen, but as a whole, there are few of us. When we go to beaches or jetties, we are stared at as an item of curiosity. Our equipment is not as well suited for fishing these kinds of waters, and we need more room than surfcasters require.

With the advent of carbon fibers and other developments in tackle technology we can, with the use of long 2-handed rods, fish in harmony with others and compete head to head with the more conventional methods of fishing the surf.

The 2-handed rods were first developed on the Spey River in Scotland. They were long, heavy, soft rods by today's standards. They were designed to deliver a fly to salmon without a back cast and to maintain contact with the fly and with line control, at a distance across varying currents. Today's rods, usually called two-handed or Euro rods, are an example of technology at its finest. They are light and great at achieving distance (which is sometimes required to get to feeding fish) with little effort. The length of these rods improves line control and hook-setting abilities in the surf, and the fly stays in the water longer. 2-handed rods are much less physically tiring during a long day or night of fishing.

An in-depth look at these advantages will show you why the 2-handed rod is in the future of fly-fishing from the shore in the salt. Just about all major fly rod manufactures produce 2-handed rods now. The choices are endless! You can find traditional spey actions to fast tip actions, 7-12 weights, 12-16 foot lengths, three and four piece models, and most all of them weigh no more than 9 foot glass rods used to weigh back in the seventies most weigh less! Remember, you will be supporting this weight in two hands instead of one, making the felt weight half of what it is.

Length, line weight, and number of pieces will be all personal choice items. Last year, I fished 95% of my time with a 16-foot 11 wt. Thomas & Thomas rod that was a 3-piece model. Taken down the rod case was still over 5-feet long, but traveling was not an issue for me due to most all my fishing was going to be done within driving distance of my house. This rod handled every situation I threw at it with flying colors and I was never fatigued nor suffered any muscle strain from using it. I suggest that, as with any new rod purchase, you try before you buy. This can be difficult with 2-handed rods, since there aren't many tackle shops that stock them and few people have them available to be borrowed.

Jim Vincent of RIO PRODUCTS helped me with my initial 2-handed salt water selection. Jim is one of Americas major resources in 2-handed fishing, and his products reflect his dedication to this variation of fly fishing. I strongly suggest, if you do not have anyone locally to help answer your selection questions, contact RIO PRODUCTS at 1-208-554-7760. Take a good look at their line of fly lines, leaders, shooting heads, running lines, and accessories for the 2-handed caster. I use their windcutter interchangeable tip line with their spey leaders and really appreciate the way they perform.

Distance with a 2-handed rod is incredible and effortless. Distance is not a big issue in most fishing situations and you should try to fish as close to the fish as possible. But, when you are on a jetty and the fish are feeding 150 feet out, you just can't get any closer. If you want action, you have to be able to get your fly to the fish. This is where the 2-handed rod really shines. One back cast and you are there. Just being there is not where the advantage stops. Even at that distance, you have excellent line control and, due to the wide arc of a 16-foot rod, for example you can definitely set a hook at that distance.

In tight quarters, using single spey casting techniques, 100-foot-plus casts can be made easily without a back cast. The bottom line: I should have gone to these rods years ago. You will feel the same when you stand next to a surf caster and match his distance and fish his fish.

But there is more! There are what I call "fish-ability advantages." A long rod is simply superior in the salt environment. In addition to distance, there is hook-setting ability, keeping the fly in the fishes strike zones longer, the ability to cast without back casting, casting over top of marsh vegetation, line control and keeping in touch with the fly.

Hook setting is a combination of reaction time, sharpness of the hook, line and leader stretch and, of course the distance and force the fly is moved during the striking action. Reaction time varies from person to person, but using the common retrieve technique of the rod under the arm and two hand retrieval of line into a shooting basket, you have a direct connection of fish to fly to leader to line to hand, with no absorption of energy in the rod. Your hands feel the strike and react with a downward strike of the line and a sideways swing of the rod.

Consider this, the normal length fly rod for the salt is 9 feet and the greatest distance you can move a fly with a rod of this length is 18 feet. With a 16-foot rod, the maximum distance is 32', almost twice as far. This distance also relates to speed and force of the hook set. A hand will only move just so fast but, the farther away from this action you get the faster the speed will be.

Think of it this way. Just like the head speed of a driver in golf, the further you design a club face away from the hands the faster the head speed and the greater the force applied to the ball. It works exactly the same way with a fly rod. Do you begin to see the advantages of a longer rod for salt water fly fishing?

Another advantage of a long rod is its ability to keep a fly in a fish's feeding zone and in the water longer. The action of a typical single-handed fly rodder is to cast-retrieve-pickup -backcast-and-cast to the target area again. If the feeding zone is at a distance, it may require more than one backcast to get enough line out to reach the target. A 2-handed caster can use this method as well, but he has the option to just perform a single spey cast (an action similar to a roll cast) and put his fly out quite a distance without a backcast at all. This means his fly stays in the water longer than a conventional single-handed fly caster's does and increases his chances of hooking up with a fish. Never forget, fish live and feed in the water, not in the air!

Another thing to keep in mind, without the need to backcast you are not constantly distracted by looking over your shoulder for onlookers, dogs, or other obstacles that might tangle your line when you are preparing to cast. This is especially helpful if you are night fishing and can't see what may be waiting to snag your line.

The subjects of fatigue and physical problems always surface when I discuss the advantages of the long rods, especially from trout fishermen. No, of course 2-handed rods are not as light or as delicate as a one weight fly rod. Neither is a 10-weight single-handed rod! If we compare 'similar purpose rods,' the 2-handed rod is just physically easier! I have fished 8-12 weight single-handed rods for years and the 2-handed rods are much less physically demanding than any of my other saltwater rods. A friend I fish with has a fused wrist with pins in it, and all salt water weight outfits wore his wrist and arm out in a hurry! After he tried my 2-handed rod (one of the longest and heaviest line weight outfits available) he came home and ordered a one for himself.

If you have any physical limitation whether it is hand, wrist, arm, elbow or shoulder try one for yourself and see if you don't feel the same as he does.

Coastal saltwater fishing is a tough environment to fish in. Conditions are constantly changing and we seek ever moving species of fish. When you stand in front of an ocean of water, you need every advantage you can get as a fly fisherman. The 2-handed rod gives you the advantage you need to be successful in pursuing saltwater species.

But don't take my word for it. Get out and cast one of those 2-handed salt water rigs for yourself. While casting, think of a place or a situation you have been in where this method would have made the difference between a fishless day or a fishing memory that would have lasted a lifetime.

Good Fishing and Tight Lines. Jim Funston


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