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Size Counts!

For working the Northeast surf, two hands are better than one.

October 3, 2001

Of all the things that make saltwater fly fishing such a great sport, none ranks as more important than the fact that many excellent game fish feed so close to our shorelines. This fact gives anglers the opportunity to catch nice fish on fly, without the need for a boat.Working the beach is about covering water, finding feeding fish and getting the fly to them as effectively as possible. In general, the more water you can cover, the more successful you’ll be. The logical way to cover more water? Cast farther. Yet even the best caster eventually reaches the limitations of a 9-foot rod.One of the easiest ways a fly angler can increase his casting distance, cover more water and throw giant flies, even in heavy wind and surf, is to get a bigger rod. How big? How about 14, 15 or even 16 feet!A number of rod companies now make fast-action, two-handed rods for overhead casting in lengths from 12 to 16 feet. Not to be confused with Spey rods, these new tapers are cast overhead with 8- to 11-weight weight-forward lines or shooting heads. The major difference in casting these longer rods is that the caster traps the line with the hand above the reel, and places the hauling hand on the handle under the reel. You also replace the traditional haul with a sharp backward tug of the rod butt on the forecast. The transition from one- to two-handed casting is easy, and with an hour of practice, most reasonably competent fly casters will feel comfortable enough to get out on the water. WHEN TO USE A TWO-HANDERMany saltwater fly fishers traditionally cast 50 to 60 feet, while the better caster may average 80 feet. If an angler’s average cast reaches 60 feet, and fish are feeding 40 feet away, that leaves only a brief chance to get the fish’s attention on the retrieve. In situations like this, many anglers spend more time with their offerings in the air than in the strike zone.And what about all that water more than 80 feet from shore? Are there any of us who haven’t experienced the frustration of seeing feeding fish just out of casting range, or having to switch to smaller flies because the breeze always seems to blow toward shore?A long two-handed rod can drastically increase your casting distance and the amount of water you can cover from shore, usually by as much as 50 percent. Doubling an average cast ranks as a genuine possibility. With a fast-action 10- or 11-weight two-hander, an average angler can cast over 100 feet repeatedly with little effort, while better casters will find casting 150 feet of fly line plus a 10-foot leader an attainable goal.That kind of distance helps explain the recent interest in two-handed tapers among those fishing the beaches and jetties of southern New England for bonito and false albacore. These anglers discovered that when casting a 30-foot shooting head, they can hold 20 feet of the head outside the tip and cast to fish 100 feet away quickly and accurately. When they spot a fish, they throw out the shooting head, make one roll cast to straighten the line, a backcast to shoot the rest of the head, and deliver the fly to the target on the first forward cast. This technique will yield 100 feet of distance in only a few seconds, and will surely increase chances at hooking up with fast-moving species.Long rods and big casts also add a factor of safety by allowing anglers to avoid deep-wading in dangerous surf conditions, or creeping out to the edge of rock piles to cast. The longer rods also help when working heavy surf because the extended length helps get the tip and line out past the waves breaking at your feet during the retrieve.Heavy surf and open beaches are not the only places where the capabilities of these big rods shine. Cape Cod wading guide Randy Jones likes to use two-handers, even for working big, easily spooked stripers in skinny water. When he’s not guiding, Jones likes to stalk the flats of Monomoy Island with his 14-foot, 9-weight.I like the two-hander because it is so much easier to cast, Jones says. It allows me to get to a sighted fish faster, with fewer false casts, and the added length helps keep a weighted fly away from my head. When the wind picks up, the advantage increases because you can’t see the fish until they are closer, so you need to get the fly in front of them as quickly as possible to draw a strike without spooking them. If the wind is blowing from my right, I don’t need to turn around to cast. I face the target and cast with the rod across my chest, which keeps the fly off to my left as it passes overhead. When the water is gin-clear and the fish get really spooky, Jones switches to leaders of 15 or even 20 feet of fluorocarbon, and leads the fish by 30 or 40 feet.OUTFITTING A TWO-HANDERFast action two-handers made by Thomas & Thomas and G. Loomis, along with Sage’s European Series and Talon’s Cairnton Series, excel at overhead casting. Ten-weight rods are ideal for working the surf, but if maximum distance is the goal, you’ll want a 16-foot, 11-weight — a real cannon. If fishing will be divided between open beaches, flats and estuaries, a 9-weight rates as a good choice. Some of the shorter 8-weight rods are wonderful for working protected marshes and estuaries with floating lines or sink-tips, but they lack the power for delivering a big fly in the wind or for working with full sinking lines.Thomsa & Thomas has just announced the addition of a new rod designed specifically for fishing the beach. This new taper is a progessive-action 12-footer designed for 12-weight shooting heads, and will throw lots of line easily. Talon’s Cairnton Series in the three-piece, 12-foot, 10/11-weight is a very fast and powerful rod that throws tight loops easily all day long. Thomas & Thomas’ new five-piece, 15-foot, 10-weight travel rod will prove useful to traveling surf anglers.Whichever rod you select, make sure to wrap the ferrules when assembling the rod for use. These rods develop so much power that a loose ferrule will likely lead to a broken rod. Both 3M and Manco electrical tapes are inexpensive, available in most hardware stores, and will not leave a gummy residue on the rod. The best way to do it is to assemble the section, run a strip of tape around each rod section, and then run a single layer of tape around the joint. When disassembling, remove only the tape over the joints, and leave the others in place for next time.You’ll want one of the new, large-diameter reels to use with one of these long rods. The bigger diameter makes it easier to stretch out the 145-foot lines used for this type of fishing, and the faster retrieve speed is surely an advantage if you hook a big fish with a lot of line in the water or in the basket. Some manufacturers recommend using specialized super-large-arbor reels in conjunction with the two-handed rods, but in most applications a standard large-arbor reel will suffice.Lines for two-handed rods in the salt generally fall into two categories. The most versatile is a shooting-head system, as exemplified by AirFlo’s intermediate-density running line, which was originally designed for salmon fishing. This line stretches easily and shoots like a banshee when wet. Combined with a set of 30-foot floating, intermediate and Type 3 sinking heads, this system allows you to cover the water column effectively without having to purchase and carry spare spools. Longer heads will cast farther, but also require more line to be retrieved and additional false casting to deliver.Rio WindCutter Multi-tip Spey system rates as another excellent line choice for outfitting a new two-handed system because beginners will find it easy to work with and because it comes with four interchangeable tips for working different depths. Not a true Spey line, it is actually a very long weight-forward with the outer end tapered approximately two line sizes below the stated line class. This special taper makes it easier to turn a fly over into the wind, which makes casting easier. The system comes with floating, clear intermediate, Type 3 and Type 6 sinking tips, all packed in a nice wallet. The short, 15-foot sinking tips used in the WindCutter system do limit depth penetration, and the long running line makes it difficult to work in heavy surf conditions, but when a floating line is appropriate, this is a great system. When working with over 100 feet of fly line, your standard 5-inch-deep stripping basket will only create headaches. You’ll need a basket as deep as 8 to 10 inches to protect 120 feet of fly line from the wind as well as to minimize tangling.HANDLING A TWO-HANDERLefty Kreh has long been a proponent of two-handers for fishing the beach. I’ve said for years that a fly rod is nothing but a very expensive lever, Lefty states. The longer the lever, the longer the cast.Watching him with a 9-foot rod ranks as a lesson in humility, as he throws so much line so easily. Yet his favorite rod for stripers from shore is a 14-foot, 10-weight two-hander.Casting a two-hander is much easier than a regular rod, but the No. 1 mistake people make is that they don’t shorten up the speed-up-and-stop, Kreh says. The length of the speed-up-and-stop determines the size of your loop. With 14 or 15 feet of rod out there, even a short motion of the casting hand moves the rod tip a long way. For tight loops with these rods, you need to apply a short, fast speed-up-and-stop, and you’ll be amazed at the small loops you can throw and the line speed you can generate.Kreh notes that the hand below the reel actually performs most of the cast. On the forward cast, the upper hand moves toward the target in a stabbing motion, while the lower hand makes a short tug backward, similar to the haul made with a one-handed cast.Distance is not the only advantage to these rods. The length of these rods makes it easy to pick up a lot of line, and to hold a lot of line in the air, Kreh says. Suppose you have just made a cast, and you still have a lot of line out. A fish breaks 30 feet to the right of your fly. With a long rod, you simply drop the tip down to the water, retrieve the slack, pick the whole line out of the water, and redirect it to the target. With a one-hander, you have to retrieve a lot more line, then make two or three false casts to get to the fish.The two-hander allows the use of larger flies, as well — so large, in fact, that traditional fly boxes become too small to contain the bigger patterns. Lefty’s Deceivers dressed to 10 inches long and offshore-sized poppers can be cast 80 or 100 feet, so when the fish are on larger baits, two-handed rods give you an increased chance of hooking up. Two-handed fly rods for overhead casting represent a significant technological improvement for fishing in the surf or heavy wind. As open-minded fly fishers get the opportunity to try out these new two-handers, you should begin to see more long rods out on the beaches — whether the target species is striped bass, bluefish, bonito or false albacore.

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