Fly Casting Grip Styles: The Index on Top

Is it time for a Grip Switch?
By Joe Mahler via Sage Blog

“When the subject of grip comes up and I express that I prefer the Index on top, the response is usually something like, “I can see using that for little short casts” followed by a schoolmarm-like finger pointing motion. But you might be surprised to find that, when done properly, the index on top grip offers the same power with less effort expended by the caster, than the Thumb on top or the V-grip.”

for the longest of times i was one of those “I can see using that for little short casts”-only types as well until i started to experiment with different grip styles not only for myself, but also as alternative ways to help my casting students.
having understood maybe ten years ago that the ‘thumb on top’ grip wasn’t for me and that it left a very unnatural feeling and consequent poor back casts, overall inconsistency, wimpy distance and all the combined nasties where specially highlighted when doing accuracy, speys and slack/curved/piled and whatever-else presentation casts.
the ‘V’ grip went a long way to help me control the rod better but easy and more importantly, precisely applied leverage was reduced because it means reducing hand-length contact area on the rod grip, the shorter of the three main styles. (see image below) for some reason it also fatigued my wrists more, specially when doing non-linear casts.
as a reminder, the three main styles are Thumb on Top, Index on Top and V grip. i’ll exclude Jason Borger’s excellent Three-Point grip from our ‘main’ list being a combination of thumb and index grips.

when thinking about how to perform a specific cast i like to think of it as ‘drawing’ figures with the rod tip as if there was a marker on the tip of the rod and i was drawing on either a rigid or flexible board. with the index i also ‘tell’ the line where to go by pointing at the trajectory it should take and where it should go. the correlation pointing index/rod tip is at its highest and that’s made me a better, more consistant caster.
pointing or drawing with our index finger is intuitive whereas the only time i can think of where we point with the thumb is when hitch-hiking.
(this might also be one of the reasons people tend to not pick up hitch-hikers any more: they’re pointing unnaturally and this sets off an immediate sense of mistrust… )

anyhow, grip styles are just that, styles. there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any style as long as it suites the user and suits them well. the Index on Top happens to suite me best and as such i can’t help but think that it might help others. i don’t initially teach this style but its helped more students get over common problems than i can think of, so i guess that speaks for itself.

“As you know, the rod is a lever. Think of the hand as the lever that works the lever. Comparing the two grips, you will notice that the index finger extends considerably further up the cork than the thumb.”

Joe-Mahler-FOT- leverage

for more on how this grip style can be beneficial for you and maybe enhance your performance, click the image above for Joe’s most-excellent complete article. i hope you’ll give it a good try. enjoy !

11 thoughts on “Fly Casting Grip Styles: The Index on Top

  1. sorry to hear that Gary. is it the thumb part that’s making it hard ?
    if so, i might have a little variant that helps.
    anyhow, casting properly with the non-dominant hand isn’t half as hard as most think. go out regularly in the yard for short periods and you’ll soon be as good as with the dominant. even hauling !

  2. Casting softer rods with tiny dry flies, I find the index finger on top adds precision to my cast. It’s like throwing a dart at the bulls eye.

      • difficult to say, I agree for some points but I disagree for others. I’m more Lefty Kreh casting style orientated.
        From the human anatomy point of view – the index finger is used in movement for precision. The thumb is used for high force. and this is a fact.
        When I use a light rod for short and delicate presentations when I need highprecision I use a lot the index finger grip type. For medium and long casts I use only the thumb grip. I never saw guys who make long casts with index finger in front. Try it and you will be hurt. You cannot apply a high force on index finger.
        Another example: when you hammer a nail think what grip do you use? Why? How big is the force applied? What is the natural position of the forearm ? What is the natural position for this movement of the fingers? Is the same principle in casting.
        So if somebody is telling me that I will have a better force applied when you use the index finger because the lever of the F ( force) is longer I agree totally. But from the casting and anatomical point a view I disagree: is not only the level of the force, is about how you stop the rod (where are the rest of the fingers and they are able to contribute and make the “Stop” in the proper way for the best energy transfer? ), how you apply the force, how big is the force and if the parts involved in movement are able to do that in the best way.

        In my opinion this is a great article and great debate too 🙂


        • thanks for your reply, Lucian !
          – “I’m more Lefty Kreh casting style orientated.”
          – i’m not ! 😆

          – “the index finger is used in movement for precision. The thumb is used for high force. and this is a fact.”
          – no problems there but ! most of the force should come from the stronger elements of the arm, the shoulder, the elbow and the wrist. in that order. the smaller and weaker fingers are better off used to refine the movement.

          – “You cannot apply a high force on index finger.”
          – works very well for me !

          – when i use a hammer i use the V grip. it comes more naturally than thumb on top. the nails go in and i rarely hit the fingers holding the nail or the wall… 😉

          – the ‘stop’ is overrated ! once we (i at least) understand that we realise that it doesn’t matter where the fingers are !

          – all this force stuff makes me think of boring sexyloops threads where everything, any casting subject gets turned around to a distance casting reference. this is about fishing and fishing casts ! as such i would consider a 30m cast as more than enough (with a full line, not shooting head and mono shooting line)
          getting a line, leader and flies to turn over well at 30m needs very little force… 😉

          i think its a great debate too, thanks again 🙂

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