Close your eyes for a moment and visualize the first time you tried to ride a bike. If you were like me, it was a process of wobbling uncontrollably while heading for the nearest patch of grass for a soft landing. Fast forward to today and think about the motor skills that were necessary to master this feat and how you can jump on a two-wheeled vehicle without so much as a second thought.
The same applies to fly casting – with your right hand, left hand or both hands. It’s as easy as riding a bike. Of course, neither fly casting nor bike riding is really easy. We create the necessary muscle memory for these motor skills through repetition and refine the skills through experience. Eventually, we are able to effortlessly ride a bike or cast a fly rod with either hand.
Whenever I pick up a fly rod with my non-dominant hand, I remember something Lefty Kreh asked me, “Do you know how to cast left- (or right-) handed?”
When he asked most students that question they would say, “No.”
Lefty would quickly reply, “You can cast left-handed, you just don’t know how.”
That was an Aha! moment that started me on a path to learn how to cast with both hands.
At about the same time, I put a new desk in my office that required I use my left hand with the mouse. I’ll never forget how that mouse felt as if it was being operated by another body. The really amazing part was that within a few days, I was using my left hand almost as proficiently as my right. This reinforced my desire to cast with both hands.
The next major hurdle in the evolution of my casting came on a float trip down a river in Colorado. As my guide bounced me from the left bank to the right to hit the best holes, I began switching hands, making a cast with my left hand and then with my right. It was one of those moments referred to as a quantum leap when I was getting the job done with both hands. It was also a great lesson in how being ambidextrous with a fly rod benefits the caster.
If you’ve ever been stung by a weighted fly from the wind blowing over your dominant shoulder, or blown that backhanded cast to a tarpon approaching from the wrong direction, you know all too well that being able to switch hands can enhance your enjoyment of fly fishing.
It really boils down to making a commitment to learn a new skill. In most cases, we don’t have enough motivation to really work on what is a natural ability. I think Lefty Kreh said it best when he told a skeptical student, “If you lost your right hand, you’d quickly learn to eat with your left.”
You can master this skill by using your dominant hand to help instruct your non-dominant hand or just learn by repetition with your non-dominant hand. Knowing how to cast with either hand will definitely increase your enjoyment of fly fishing. Catching more fish will be an added benefit. More importantly, if you should suffer an injury or lose the use of a hand, arm or shoulder, it won’t spell the end of your ability to fly fish.