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 !

get a grip…

starting off on what will be an ongoing ‘fly casting instruction analysis’  series, this one will be part of my studies on widely available tutorial videos and why they’ll usually induce the viewer to believe something that has been proven otherwise.
why does this bother me ? it bothers me because so many fly fishers are taking these free and abundant videos as references and as fact and these ‘facts’ are continuously propagated while being a great disservice to the angler desiring to learn how fly casting really works. the video below is just an exercise of self promotion, “my style is the only good style” and it’s riddled with inaccuracies such as:

– there is no such thing as one ‘proper grip’. grip choice is not a matter of substance but one of style. it’s a personal choice and the avid angler will learn which works best depending on their physiological abilities and the situation at hand (what they are trying to achieve),  which means that the avid angler will use several.
– “altering the grip” involves a little more than keeping the same grip and sliding the rod a little forward or little backward. it does indeed make for a shorter or longer ‘effective rod length’ but for maybe 99% of fly casters it’s just changing the balance point and nothing more.
– moving the hand forward on the grip does not make for tighter loops. a straight line path (SLP) of the rod tip does that.
– having the rod bend at the tip of the thumb is certainly possible but it involves a heck of a lot of force. possible yes for a very experienced caster but very unlikely in the short-accurate cast scenario described, specially when we consider that this video is intended for casters who aren’t ‘very experienced’. it’s safe to say the ‘more experienced’ would have already figured all this out long ago…
– “Some of the World’s best distance casters” don’t hold hold the rod near the bottom of the grip at all but towards the front. it’s interesting to make such bold statements without taking a few minutes to watch, as an example, World Championship videos so readily available on the net.
‘logic’ does point to the ‘longer effective’ rod length or longer lever being an advantage but practicality in the vast majority of cases points the other way around. if anything, personally, i would slide my grip towards the front for longer casts and towards the back for shorter and more intricate casts. i know i’m not the only one so, so much for his theory of ‘proper grip’.

to finish, i’ll add that personal experience has shown that excessive wrist use, probably the biggest problem to resolve in fly casting, is accentuated by the thumb on top grip. this happens on the back-cast where most are unaware of it because they never look back…
outside of the fact that we basically never throw anything with our thumbs pointing forward (which of course makes me wonder how this style ever came about in the first place), it’s not a bad grip but it’s one that needs to be controlled and controlled super-well to have consistent results.

to really finish today’s post, i’m not out to break someone’s back, specially when it’s apparent they haven’t studied much or have a lot of varied experience but contemporary fly casting instruction is about proven facts and not long-ago notions. expect more soon.