By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer
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 and 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 these precariously balanced two-wheeled vehicles without so much as a second thought.
The same applies to fly casting, (and conventional tackle) with either hand! 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 ride that bike. In the same way, we can also develop the ability to cast with both hands.
Whenever I pick up a fly rod with my non-dominant hand, I remember Lefty Kreh asking, "Do you know how to cast left (or right) handed?" When he asks most students that question they say no. Lefty quickly replies, "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 that 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 at first. 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 the Roaring Fork River near Carbondale, Colo. 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 certainly learn to eat with your left"
This skill can take weeks, months or even years to perfect, depending on the individual's commitment to practicing, and his/her ability to retain the information synthesized during practice. It’s a gross oversimplification of the procedure, but, essentially, neurons in the brain produce impulses that carry tiny electrical charges that form a biochemical neuromuscular learning system unique to each individual. The electrical impulses cross the synapses between neurons with chemical transporters called neurotransmitters. It’s this process that allows us to learn how to walk, ride a bike and fly cast with either hand. Through repetition based on a regimented practice regime, we automate our habits, both good and bad.
Lefty Kreh teaches anglers to cast with their non-dominant hands by anchoring their arms and using their bodies to move the rod. He points out that being ambidextrous is beneficial to all anglers, but especially to casters with rotator cuff injuries and other disabilities. He found out first hand when a separated bicep forced him to become a proficient right-handed caster. Kreh prefers to have his students work strictly with their non-dominant hand, a process that helps them learn proper form and good habits. After they learn the basic cast, he has them use the double haul to further enhance their casting ability. Kreh has them lay down a forward cast, haul and then lay the back cast on the ground. This is repeated on the forward cast, and after they get the feel, he has them keep the cast in the air while applying a short, fast haul on the while applying a short, fast haul on the forward and back cast. If they become uncoordinated with the motion, the cast is laid back on the ground and the steps are repeated.
Dan Lagace, of Tampa, employs another method. Lagace begins by having his students use their non-dominant hand on the cork of the fly rod and then has them lay their dominant hand on top. He then has the anglers cast with their dominant hands with 10 percent of the pressure exerted with the left hand and 90 percent with the right hand. Once he sees they are forming good loops, he has them gradually apply more pressure with the left hand while bringing the rod close to their heads.
After they have mastered this, he has them switch the rod to the left side and progressively apply more and more pressure on the grip with the left hand. When he feels that they are forming good loops on the left side, he has them remove their right hand and use only the left hand. If the cast degrades, as it often does, he has them re-apply the right hand. Once they are forming good loops with their left hand, Lagace introduces the double haul into the equation.
Whether you start by using your dominant hand to help instruct your non-dominant hand or just learn by repetition with your non-dominate 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 effectively.
Check out Rusty on the Web at www.amisun.com or www.outdoor-travel.com.