Double Handed Rods -
Advantages and Disadvantages
premiere full time,
Angler: Mike Dickson
Rod: 14' 9 wt. Double
I wrote the original article some 5 years ago now. I hope you enjoy the new revised addition.
A buddy of mine walks into a flyshop and gets to chatting with the manager about this and that, and of course, whats going on the steelhead rivers. He comes out of the blue and says, " Is it true Dickson is still fishing trout rods for steelhead?" Mark tells him no, they are 8 and nine weight rods and the shop guy says, "yeah, but they are single handed rods, right?"
Now I know that to even bring up a subject as sensitive as a fellows equipment of choice is passionate at best but I consider my own clientele to be a pretty good cross section of the flyfishing community. The last few years, this style of rod has evolved from a novelty to the norm and fast approaching the "expected" on certain waters. I know a lot of guys have just bought or seriously considering purchasing such an outfit so I thought I would tell you what I have found as advantages and disadvantages of these rods as a fishing machine.
What makes me such an expert on double handed rods? Nothing really, other than the guy behind the counter has a job to do and that is; Sell Stuff. Lets face it, there is a lot more fish caught around the shop than there ever is on the river. My job is a lot more "the proof is in the pudding". I am the guy who has to take you and your equipment and actually catch a steelhead. Not a lot of room for smoke and mirrors here. I either get it done or not. Not to say that some of these shop guys cant fish. Some of them can really fish. But the question is, Will this equipment make You a better fisherman?
By now, some of you long rodders are ready to ring my neck and others are a little curious about what I am about to say. Just to get your blood down below the boiling point lets discuss some of the advantages.
Cast long distances. On big waters such as the Deschutes of Oregon, The Skagit in Washington, and the Clearwater in Idaho, Rivers where conditions may require long distance casting, cast after cast, Double handers can really shine.
Mending. One the bugaboos of fishing long lines with a single handed rod is that, even if you can cast consistently over eighty feet, you just dont have enough rod to lift that much flyline off the water to really set up your presentation. The double hander can do this with ease.
No backcast room. There is a real advantage here. As the spey cast is simply a variation of a roll cast, anglers can fish waters where you couldnt hardly fish before.
Over casting your sinktip. This is the one mistake I see many anglers make. There is an illusion that if one angler is covering 50 feet per cast and another is booming 100s, the long distance guy should double his chances, Right? No, not with a sinktip. This is why. The hydraulics of a river are such that you as an angler are generally standing in waters with little to no current. You are casting into river currents that are getting deeper and faster the farther from shore. These currents retard your sinking section from getting down to the level of your fish, and this is where the steelhead are the most susceptible to take a fly. Many angler get caught into "casting contests" casting into what I call "Teeny 1000 water" because it would take a 1000 grain line to reach the bottom out here, far in the currents. The better approach is to simply fish where the fish are, and that is; steelhead are basically lazy ( like me) and when undisturbed, prefer to lay in soft current seams when they are not be waded and lined into heavy waters, where you couldnt get to them with a sinking line the density of a bicycle chain. (Mixer Bar) How can I, as a guide, take new anglers out on the river, that can barely cast 30 feet by the days end, and consistently hook fish? I fish them where the fish want to be, in close. Now, it seems like logic would say, Well, even if I cast way out there isnt my line going still swing in and cover that fish? No. You make a thirty foot cast with a Type IV line and it will sink well down because it is dropping and swinging through soft currents. That same line tossed out in the t 1000 waters never gets but a few feet below the surface and stays there because the heavy currents swing the fly to fast for it to ever get down. Double handed rods do not make you over cast, but the temptation is there.
Line sensitivity: Many anglers like to believe that steelhead always bite the fly hard and give a big definite "pull" when they take the fly. I maintain that steelhead generally take the fly lightly and are hooked by anglers when the fish panics when he feels the hook point as he tries to expel the fly. It has been my experience that most sinktip caught steelhead tend to take the fly softly, and that the big pull is more the exception. My thinking is this. If the steelhead takes the fly hard, great, we were going to get him anyway, but what we are really after is the one that simply picks up the fly as it swings by. An example, I had an angler who just landed his first steelhead, and after he released the fish, he just shook his head. I asked if there was something the matter and he said, "Dennis, I have had fifty rocks today that bit harder then that steelhead did." What I often see on the river is anglers with there rods up like a flag pole. They are waiting for this crushing take. I maintain they are also missing 1/2 their fish. I have my anglers set the drags on their reels strong enough to barb a fish, keep their fingers off the line and point their rod tips at the flyline. Now, when a fish takes the fly, the steelhead is pulling directly from reel. Not only can you detect the soft takes (think about lake fishing) but the angler is often hooked up before he knows what happened. Can't you do the same thing with a double handed rod? Yep, but the tendency is to hold it at an angle higher off the water. The higher the angle, the less the sensitivity. ( ask the lake fisher)
So I am working on the Grande Ronde, where we run consecutive camp-outs for nearly a month each October.
I am sitting outside enjoying the sunshine after many long days on the river. Next to me is Doug's pickup. He has got one of those over the hood rod carriers. In it are 5 doublehanded rods that practically run the length of the extended cab pickup.
One of the local hunters rolls in dressed in camo and worn hiking boots. In the back of his rig is a couple spinning outfits. He stops at Doug's truck, looks at all those big rods, looks back at his truck, turns to me and says"
"You guys fish with those big poles?" Before I could explain the rods were not mine, he continues, " I fish the Grande Ronde steelhead with an ultra-light spinning outfit, you want to tell me who gets more sport out of these little steelhead?"
He didn't wait for an answer, he just walked into Bogan's cafe
A Don Roberts article about Bob York quoted Bob as saying something like " I fish a single handed rod whenever possible because it feels more like flyfishing" I apologize to Mr. Roberts and Mr. York if I didn't get the wording correctly but I think you get the gist. I have fished these rods and I have landed fish on these rods and I have helped a bunch of my anglers land more than a few steelhead on these rods, and the best I can come up with is," it's OK." Now for many of you, this is you, it's your fishing, it's what you do. And I say "Great!" I am not going to tell you catching steelhead on a single handed rod is more fun or less fun. What I will tell you is that it is Different. Some like it, some don't. You have to decide this yourself.
I would have to say, in the past 5 years, nearly 1/2 of my clientele have added the double handed rods. Some fish them a lot, some only a little. Being a biologist, I am always interested in cause & effect, stimulus and response.
I have followed rod success in these past years, of my anglers (Catch/unit/effort, CPUE). I was curious who was catching more steelhead, the double or single handed anglers. After five years of observation is answer is........the same. Double handed rods covered more water, single handed rods made shorter but more precise casts. CPUE? About the same. Interesting, huh?
On the money: Where the double handed rods are well suited for the large, broad, gentle flow waters, the single handed rods are better suited for shorter, more precise casting required on smaller, and higher gradient streams. Large rods just do not fish "in close" very well.
It is not the intent
of this article to tell you what or how you have to fish to have fun.
I do want you to know that it is not a requirement to have one of these
rods or you are just not fishing. Please do not get the impression,"
Dickson doesn't like to take out anglers with the big rods". Lots
of my clients love these rods. What I am saying is," If you do fish
the double hander be careful not to over cast, and to fish where the fish
are." Also, If you are having trouble hooking up, try the low rod
position, I do, and my job depends on the success of my anglers.
Lastly: Is that a word? Controlling a steelhead at landing is always an interesting experience.......I remember watching a client with his first fish.......Ralph wanted to consummate the experience himself. After several wild-armed attempts of trying to corral the steelhead and leader, while still holding the 14' rod was more than he could handle.......he finally laid the rod down in the rocks and literally ran to the end where his fly and fish were waiting. It was an anxious moment.
Do I fish double handed rods? No, but that is just me. After watching some 40-50% of my winter steelhead clients go to the long rods, I have come to the conclusion.......the long rods are not better at catching steelhead, they are not worse.......just different.
So there you have it. A five year review. We have since developed our own Yancy lines, and our own custom rods to boot. The long rod Clubbies are still convinced I don't like them, because I don't promote their equipment. Whatever. Just remember the important issues. Respect the resource, and treat everyone the way you would like to be treated.