Why use a single-hand rod when a two-hand rod can fish more efficiently? Pure enjoyment, that’s why. I have to admit I use a two-hand rod more often than a single-hand for steelhead, but I am slowly coming back around to the pure fun of casting, fishing and catching on a single-hand. Here is what I wish. I wish I could have the casting and fish-playing fun of the shorter rod and the line handling qualities of the longer rod. The feel of the strike on a one-hand rod; you can actually FEEL the fish’s pulse, the one-to-one retrieve ratio combined with the sound of the drag (I am old-school; I still prefer click-drag reels for steelhead and all freshwater fishes) the direct contact between angler and fish is just more intense with the shorter, more playful 9 foot rod than with a 12 to 15 foot rod. Every shake of the fish’s head is felt in the cork, not absorbed through the length of the rod. A subtle peck or pick-up is felt better through the shorter rod length.
Don’t get me wrong. I still use a two-hand rod when distance, back-cast limitations or big-water line handling are staring me in the face. It is just so efficient. There is no better way to fish a run 60 – 80 feet (or more) from your wading position. A single hand rod, except in the hands of a tournament caster, is just too difficult to make cast after cast and firmly control the line in this situation.
On a recent trip to Haida Gwaii (Copper Bay Lodge) and while fishing the Copper River (and a few others), my fishing partner was fishing a single-hand rod while I was using a 12’ double-hand rod. I was not having any troubles, but I sort of envied my friend making casual casts with single hand precision. Either rod was up to the job, but I found myself wishing I brought a shorter rod with me. Some of it goes back to my beginnings with fly fishing. Double-hand fly rods were ancient history of which I read about heavy lemon-wood rods weighing a pound or more, obviously cast by Paul Bunyan.
When I started fly fishing in 1967, two-handed rods were just not used. It wasn’t until 1991, that I started exploring the use of the “long-rod”. I had just moved to Wenatchee, Wa, and I started hearing about more and more anglers using two-hand rods. I bought a video by this guy who rivaled my most boring science class teacher in presenting the techniques of casting with both hands on the rod. I stayed awake through most of it and tried to apply what I had seen on the Wenatchee River. I got a lot of attention since I was the only one using a rod longer than 9 or 10 feet long. It almost seemed like overkill because of the size of the Wenatchee, but the control of the line was phenomenal. I started catching a lot of fish. Soon, more anglers were coming into my fly shop curious about the extra-long rods. Now, it is rare to see a single-hand rod on the river.
Fishing the two-hand rod has improved my single-hand casting and I find I can use a some of spey casts on the short rod; such as the switch and single-spey casts. Believe me, I am no great-shakes of a caster with a spey rod, but I manage to get my line and fly mostly where I want it and fish it exactly as I want; mending or not mending, tightening or throwing slack into the line, nymphing or swinging a fly. It cannot be beat. Have you ever picked up a shorter rod to fish after spending a few hours with a spey rod. It is like holding a feather. It feels so light and SHORT. You check the model numbers on the butt of the rod to make sure you didn’t string up an extra short 7 ½ or 8 foot rod by mistake. After a few casts, though, it all comes back; the timing, the feel, the grip - all of it feels as natural as scratching an itch.
I learned by doing (which is not always the best way) with the long rod and I still carry my signature bad habits with me to the rivers. Some old “skills” (bad ones-not all skills are good) are next to impossible for me to shake. But I keep trying. And in doing so, perfect my bad habits, naturally, getting them so ingrained in my motor skills that they are natural, now. Instead of trying to get rid of some of them, I just try to find some good (inventive) way of using them for the overall good of my fishing. Now, there are so many qualified spey-casting instructors that can make learning and using correct casting methods a breeze, there is really no excuse to not learn or improve your spey casting skills. AND, there is no reason not to keep your single-hand rod lined up, ready to cast and fish when conditions are pulling that direction. Don’t forget that too-seldom felt power-surge of a wild steelhead taking a fly on the swing, throwing each head-shake straight up the line through your guides and trying to tear the cork away from your hand. I sincerely hope all reading this have experienced this. It just does not translate into spey language. I have made a promise to myself to fish more with my 9 footer. Not all of the time, but more times - when it makes sense.