Is it time for a Grip Switch?


Is it time for a Grip Switch?

By Joe Mahler

Sage Ambassador

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. The thumb on top is, I believe, the most popular grip used today, so I will use it for comparison in this article.

The index finger on top is a cornerstone of my casting style. I use it when fishing, because it is efficient. I use it in teaching because it makes my job easier and accelerates the learning process. It makes sense to me. As I see it, there are four major reasons for choosing this grip and here they are in order of importance.

Index on top

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. Simply put, the longer the lever, less is the effort required to operate it. I have been told that the thumb is stronger than the index finger and I don’t doubt it. But with the added leverage of the index finger, strength is no longer the issue. The key to getting the most from this grip is to apply the power with the finger tip. People are often surprised to find that I use this grip when using 10 or 12 weight rods, but there is no reason to change grip with equipment and the added ease of casting is especially noticeable with heavier rods.

Joe Mahler inset illustration

The Stop
The back cast is the foundation of the fly cast. If the back cast doesn’t straighten behind the caster, problems occur. Usually, the cause isn’t lack of power, but rather a failure to stop the rod firmly without allowing the rod tip to travel too far back. If you were to form an imaginary pistol with your casting hand and raise it so your finger is pointing skyward, you’d notice that the thumb is pointing back in a horizontal position. The index on top provides a naturally correct stopping point for the back cast. In fact, it is difficult to go too far back using this grip.

Perhaps the most significant difference in the two grips is the attitude or position of the hand, wrist and forearm during the cast. With the thumb on top, the hand and arm are raised and lowered in the same manner that one would use to drive a hammer or chop with a hatchet.

When the index finger is placed on top, the hand, wrist and forearm flatten – as if to push a door open. This motion encourages the caster to continue the stroke forward, stopping the hand at eye-level, rather than driving it downward.

For the same reason that it is easier to be more accurate with a rifle than a pistol, I believe it is easier to hit a target with the index on top. I favor a more vertical cast than many, and find that when I point the end of my index finger (not the rod tip) at the target I get a more accurate cast than with the shorter thumb. An unwanted curve in the layout – especially at longer distances – can oftentimes be eliminated instantly, simply by switching to the index on top grip, as straight tracking seems easier to achieve.

In addition to the above reasons for choosing the index on top, there is one more subtle point I will offer. As you sit reading this article, reach over and feel the surface of the table, desk or chair. My guess is that you used your fingertips – not your thumb. As humans, we are conditioned to feel with our fingertips and I always encourage students to cast with a loose grip relying on feel. In fact, one exercise that I use frequently is to have the students close their eyes and cast. In most instances, there is no difference between the eyes open and the eyes closed cast. I believe that the feeling in the index finger is keener and sends a sharper signal.

GRIP main

Try it for yourself
Here is a quick tip for the index on top grip. Start by loosely gripping the rod slightly closer toward the butt than normal – I like to place the heel of my hand on the reel seat itself. Pretend that there is a button precisely at the point where the tip of the index finger contacts the cork. Make sure that the fingertip is the only part of the finger that touches the cork. Make your pick-up by placing the rod tip low and applying pressure with the inside of the middle finger to make the back cast, stopping the rod firmly with the index. Now, smoothly move the rod forward in a straight line and in the middle of the stroke, push that imaginary button with your fingertip and let off. I think that you will find that the power delivered by that simple push is sufficient to unroll the fly line and straighten the leader.

Sage Ambassador Joe Mahler lives and teaches fly casting in the Sanibel / Fort Myers, Florida area. Joe is also a frequent contributor to Fly Fisherman Magazine. You can contact him at

Exploring New Zealand’s Backcountry

Karamea River

Exploring New Zealand’s Backcountry

By Ted Chase

When one conjures up images about fly-fishing in New Zealand, it’s perfectly fitting to imagine a grand adventure set deep in the rugged wilderness of South Island. I had been dreaming about returning to New Zealand for the past 8 years; the last time I was there the wilderness almost took my life. Prior to leaving, I spent a couple of months planning and packing for this one month journey. When planning an adventure that involves being flown in by helicopter and left alone in such an extremely remote destination, the first thing you think about is bringing gear that you can trust. Since 1996 I’ve had an intimate relationship with Sage fly rods. I remember not eating for days just to save enough money to buy my first custom Sage, which provided me more than a decade of amazing fly-fishing. Unfortunately after years of abuse and a severe rafting accident, it was buried it in the depths of the Yellowstone River. For this trip though, I picked up a new ONE and packed it in between my older RPL and XP rods.

During the heli in, images of large brown trout swimming in the crystal waters, sipping insects off the gin clear surface filled me with excitement. When the helicopter flew away though, I began to remember the feelings of isolation and fear that I’ve come to know on adventures like this one.

new zealand heicopter

I quickly unpacked my gear and headed to the infamous Karamea River. This is a river that would have any professional fly-fisherman yelling obscenities to anyone willing to listen. I wandered along the water’s edge searching for the elusive monster. You know the one; the one that lurks deep among the boulders.

kahurangi rain forest

Finally, there he was, a large shadow rising in the current. After studying his behavior for a while, it was now or never. I started to slowly pull line and cast… feeling the rhythm of the rod, everything was in synch. As I got into position, I felt the smooth action of the rod and sent my fly through the air… landing it about a foot to the left of the rising trout… then suddenly and to my astonishment the gray wulff was engulfed! I pulled back and set the hook. He leaped high towards the clouds and the fight was on. I scrabbled down river – dodging logs and boulders and swiftly fell off an embankment. Fortunately, the fish had tired and I was able to bring him in for a closer look…


brown Trout sage one

Born and raised in Montana, Ted Chase is professional fly fisherman and wildlife photographer. He grew up fly-fishing on the famous Big Mo, but always enjoys escaping to new worlds in search of adventure. Ted and his wife Mara run the Summit Mountain Lodge, providing premier cabins on the border of East Glacier Park in Montana. The lodge offers a great launching point for anyone looking to fish the rich rivers of the big sky state.

Stillwater Tactics

Stillwater Cover2

Stillwater Tactics and Selecting the Right Rod

By Brian Chan

Like most other outdoor activities the equipment we use to go fly fishing is constantly being refined. This is well illustrated when you look at the diversity of fly rods that are made with more and more models being designed for quite specific fishing techniques or casting situations. The continual growth and interest in stillwater fly fishing has benefited immensely from not only changes in rod design but also fly lines that are almost perfectly matched to specific rod actions. One of the most successful approaches to fishing productive stillwaters is with floating lines used in combination with long leaders and sinking flies or with strike indicators to suspend flies. Both tactics are extremely effective in catching trout in lakes.

Trout feeding behavior dictates where in the lake we fish. They spend the majority of their time feeding within the shoal and drop-off zones of the lake which is where most of the aquatic insects and other important invertebrates live. Depth-wise this means feeding is concentrated in water from 25 to just a few feet deep. However, within the prime depth ranges trout will often only feed on larval, nymphal or pupal insect life stages and other foods sources in a very narrow depth zone. More specifically, midges, mayflies, damselflies, dragonflies, caddisflies, leeches and scuds are all effectively fished with floating lines. Often, much of the trout’s feeding occurs within a couple feet of the lake bottom where food densities are greatest and there is less exposure to predators. Floating lines allow flies to be presented at precise depths whether with a slow retrieve or wind drift with a sinking leader or suspending under a strike indicator. The end result is your flies spend more time in potential feeding zones. Casting and retrieving full sinking lines in shallower water will often result in your fly passing quickly through the prime feeding depth zone.

fishing the edge of the dropoff2

Casting floating lines and long leaders with or without strike indicators is made much easier when using longer rods. This means rods in the 9.5 to 10 foot range. There are numerous advantages to fishing longer rods with the primary one being the ability to manage longer leaders which can sometimes be more than 20 feet in length. The longer rod provides greater leverage which in the end helps keep the fly line higher off the water when false casting. Float tube or pontoon boat anglers which sit low to the water will benefit even more by using longer rods. Casting long leaders with strike indicators is often made easier by opening the casting loop. Double hauling with super narrow loops can spell trouble when using a 20 foot leader, a couple of flies and an indicator. It is a lot easier to slow the cast down and open your casting stroke so that the fly line, leader, indicator and fly or flies land in the proper order with no leader tangles or knots. The longer rod makes this type of casting and fishing much easier. A 50 foot cast is more than long enough when fishing strike indicators. Super long casts will only result in you being unable to see the slight dip or bobble of the indicator as the bite occurs.

Floating line nymphing using long leaders is also an excellent way to cover the shallow water zone. The theory behind this tactic is to use a leader at least 25% longer than the water being fished. The goal is to wait for the fly to reach the desired depth zone and then begin the retrieve to imitate the selected food source. The leader and fly will be moving through the water column on a gradual angle thus the longer leader will ensure the fly can reach and stay in that zone while a retrieve or wind drift is used. Longer rods make it much easier to accomplish this.

My personal favorites are the Sage VXP 5100-4 and the Sage ONE 4100-4. Both will make the long cast with long leaders for nymphing over the shoal and drop-off zones of the lake as well as lay out indicator setups using slower, more open loop casts. Remember the objective is to have our fly in the trout feeding zone for as long as possible before having to cast again. Having the right equipment for these specialized fishing situations allows us to not only be more successful but increase the enjoyment of the experience.

Brian Chan is Sage ambassador for British Columbia Canada. His lifelong passion for fly fishing has resulted in his spending literally thousands of angling days on these world class waters. He has shared his extensive knowledge of aquatic biology, trout ecology, entomology, and lake fly fishing tactics with others, through a number of magazine articles, books, and instructional DVDs on fly fishing. Brian has been featured on many TV fishing shows and is currently a regular guest on Sport Fishing on the Fly and co-host of The New Fly Fisher.

light coloured shoals and dark water dropoffs3




By Mark Raisler

Sage Ambassador & Owner of Headhunters Fly Shop

I am a novice Spey caster. Not only am I a novice caster, I am a novice in understanding and negotiating the entire 2 handed game.

A bit of background about me. I am not new to fly fishing. I have moved through the ranks as recreational angler, commercial fly tyer, certified single handed FFF Casting Instructor, full time fishing guide, outfitter, and for the past 7 years co-owner of Headhunters Fly Shop on Montana’s Missouri River. I have immersed myself in fly fishing for the last 25+ years.

So why does it feel like I’m drowning in nomenclature, gear, and technique when engaged in the mysterious world of Spey?

I have struggled to keep my head above water while I have all the tools and knowledge at my fingertips. That is the honest truth. My business partner is a 25 year Spey guy. My father is a fanatic. I grew up on the Skagit River of all places. My best friend swings with a Spey rod 100+ days a year…

Are you in the same spot? Yes, I understand your pain. Daily.

Parallels of Confusion | 1 Hand vs. 2 Hands

Lets start with the parallels between single and double handed fishing. I assume that many of you became familiar with single-handed rods and fly fishing first. A somewhat natural progression to the 2 handed rod. Many of you have been fly fishing for your entire life, and then become Spey curious after seeing, fishing with, or discussing the virtues of this effective long skinny confusing tool!

I remember the confusion upon moving from the spin rod to the fly rod. Just having the rod with a reel and line on it did not insure fly rod success. At a local sports shop in central Washington the kind proprietor repeatedly explained the system. A floating line with some backing behind it and a butt section with this other mono leader tied off the floating line and then to a tippet piece or several pieces and then a fly. A butt section would help transfer energy to the fly line but if you tangle often as you would not have to replace the line, or leader, but maybe the tippet. You then can tie a second fly, or dropper off the bend with even narrower diameter tippet like 6X?


All that stuff to try and catch a silly trout? Lots of different spools of monofilament, machine tapered leaders but you could tie your own? Maxima, Amnesia, SA, Medalists, nail knots, droppers, desiccant, blood knots, or I tie the surgeon’s knot in the dark ‘cause it is easier.

A Worden’s Rooster Tail tied onto the line of an ultra-light rod was much simpler.

Like most of us, I grinned, nodded, consciously hiding my total confusion and willfully jumped in with both feet.

So, if you think beginning the process of Spey education is difficult and totally confusing you are right. Just like going back to the 1st grade. Lots of terms, equipment, leaders, tips, styles, types of casts. Terms that I have learned and am still learning include Poly leader, anchor point, running lines, Scandi, Skagit, long belly, D loops, Snap T’s, Double Spey, Single Spey, Cackhanded, T-18, MOW Tips…all new learning. All of it.

As I stated above I am a strong Novice now and eagerly striding towards Intermediacy!

How did I negotiate the tide of information and nomenclature? Patience, persistence and practice.

There is a ton of information and misinformation on the web, in magazines, in books, in fly clubs, in fly fishing bars about this growing segment of fly fishing. Sorting through it all while sinking in metaphorical Spey fishing quicksand is a trick.

I think I have it nailed down. At least temporarily.

Spey Rods

Can I add a Scandi to my Skagit?

The first hurdle you may encounter is to understand the differences between Skagit and Scandi. Skagit is a system of both fly rod and fly line that is intended for sinking tips. If you want to fish big rivers with sinking flies, to get down to fish of which live on or near the bottom, you may find that the Skagit system is your preference

Skagit System

A Skagit system is a heavily weighted line with a sinking leader or tip attached to it. So, Spey lines have different parts. Like a weight forward fly line will have a head near the front, a belly, behind the head, and a running line portion towards the back of the fly line. Spey lines follow that same pattern. Skagit heads are large in diameter, bulky, relatively level meaning un-tapered, and turn over heavy objects like sink tips and heavy flies.

Winter steelheaders in the Northwest, i.e. the Skagit, use this system. It is designed to get out, and then get down. Steelhead are generally found near the bottom and will not rise upwards to the fly but will move laterally. Controlling the drift is imperative and the Skagit system can be manipulated throughout the drift making this an effective tool.

The bevy of Skagit casts relies on a sustained anchor to develop the cast. That is an important facet for any cast to be successful. As in single-handed casting, 2 handed casting success is based on loading the rod with the line. Period.

Those are the nuts and bolts of the Skagit system as I see it now. It is pure and it is simple. The longer I am engaged in the learning process, the more I will know. I hope?

So the Skagit system is designed for a purpose. Not every purpose, a specific purpose. If you want to fish bigger rivers, get your fly below the surface flirting with the bottom, then the Skagit system is your program.

Skagit casting styles include the Double Spey, Snap T, Perry Poke, and so forth. I’m becoming more comfortable every time I venture out to practice.

I now know there are formulas to figure out how long the head needs to be along with tip length to match up with your Spey Rod length but am not allowing myself that confusion. Yet.

Scandi System

Scandi system is a more accurate casting system that can be fished on any size of stream of river. Perfect for the trout world and fish that reside nearer the surface. The Scandi line is designed more like a weight forward single-handed fly line. It looks and feels like a fly line you can wrap your brain around. It has the same components. A running line, followed by the head in this case a Scandi line, followed by a leader. Sometimes you may tie on a tip like you would with the Skagit system. But not always. A Poly Leader or a Intermediate Tip would be all you could do. The Scandi system does not achieve the depths that the Skagit system is designed for.

The Scandi cast, or underhanded cast, is based on the touch and go cast. A single Spey cast. Not a sustained anchor like the Skagit system. A short lived timing anchor point that certainly requires more practice, teaching, and understanding.

Those two styles, rod and line families are important to understand allowing you to choose the system that will be appropriate for your intended use.


How about the Switch conundrum? Today the term Switch, to me at my novice level, really means length of rod for most consumers. Switch rods are generally under 12’ in length and provide another misunderstanding point in the new world of 2 handed rods and lines. I don’t think I even want to touch this facet as my understanding of what Switch means to many audiences is certainly similar to the clarity of mud.

Brown Trout

Why can’t I just put a 6 weight line on my 6 weight Spey Rod?

As you may know that Spey Lines are measured in grain weight. So are single-handed lines, but the industry has decided to assign a general weight identifier to them. A 6 wt single-handed line weighs 160 grains, give or take 5% or 8 grains. A 6wt Spey line can range from 400-600 grains depending on length of rod.

2 handed Spey lines are measured in grains as well. The manufacturer states the grain weight on the box. So you may not know what grain weight you need for your 12’6” 6 weight Sage METHOD. The answer is not 160 grains. But why?

Longer rods require more energy to bend them, consequently they require more weight. So how do I know what Skagit line to put on my sparkling red METHOD 6126? RIO line charts of course. You know, just like you need for your single-handed rod. What?

There are conversations about various lines for just as various a rod selection going on in bars and living rooms across America at this very moment. I have often heard it stated in Spey circles, “There are not bad rods, just bad line marriages.” Often true with single-handed rods too. Finding the right line for you and any given rod is imperative for Spey casting success.

If you must know, there are two different line weights to make that Method 6126 load. Yep. Different systems, different lines. Same rod. Huh?

The METHOD 6126 can support a Skagit 425 grain to a 475 grain Skagit line. A Scandi on the same rod begins at 390 grains upwards to a 450 grain weight.

You just gotta get out there and try some different lines. The confusion is rampant in this sport. Sift through the info until you get a grasp!

The Language of Spey

You will get better at understanding the language of Spey. Once you begin to learn the basic language, then you will learn there are differing dialects too. Nuances among the Skagit and Scandi families are vast. Then you’ll bump into the Long Belly Spey crowd. Euro’s too. More confusion, more learning, more fun!

A continual ever-winding path towards understanding is what you are searching for. It’s what we are all searching for. Omniscient of all things Spey.

So how do you get closer to understanding all that is Spey. Find a mentor. He may be at your local fly shop. He or she may be a casting instructor. You may find that person at a Spey Casting Clinic of which there are many. Attend them and if you want, just stand in the shadows for a while. It’s OK.

Then put one of these awkward long rod in your two hands and move it wildly around. You may even enjoy the technology, the art of the cast, and the solace you can achieve while fishing. It will slow your heart rate down.

Just Do It

Just Do It!

Negotiating the perpetual twists and turns is a lot of fun. New fly fishing Spey learning is fun and wildly entertaining. When you begin to discover the magnitude of depth within 2 handed world, your eyes will be forced wide open.

While I am closer to getting this thing arranged properly in my head it is one of those things that the more you know you realize how much more you don’t know. A slippery slope? No, it’s just not that bad. You will graduate from Spey 101.

I have just made it to Spey 201. I think. I spent over a year in 101. It may be a couple in 201. I for one am looking forward to it. Spey is something you can learn at your own pace. You and I certainly did not learn how to chuck a single-handed streamer cast into the wind at 80’ the first couple of years. So I do not expect to achieve those 100’+ casts that I see some of the fellows firing off in the Spey videos. No, no not yet.

Find that Spey mentor and begin the un-confusion process. A great first question might be “Hey I overheard in a bar that I could add my Scandi to a Skagit…?”

Look at the RIO PRODUCTS web site for Spey line recommendations for nearly every 2 handed rod on the planet. Roam around for a while and see what additional Spey info is contained. You may learn a few things about Spey!

Find a Mentor. They are out there. Cling to him or her and soak in the knowledge. The more you know, the better you cast. Right?


Shad Cover


By Jon B. Cave

Each year, one of the most prolific yet little known runs of anadramous fish occurs during the winter months in east-central Florida as American shad migrate from the sea to spawn near the headwaters of the St. Johns River. After a 4 to 5 year absence, the fish are instinctively returning to their natal waters to produce a new generation. Florida has the southernmost migration, but there are other runs of American Shad in many rivers along the Atlantic Seaboard. Tags indicate the fish travel from as far away as Canada’s Bay of Fundy.

The American, or white, shad is the largest of the herrings. In Florida, they average 2-3 pounds, and 5-pounders are caught with regularity. In rivers to the north, the average size is somewhat larger, mostly because some of the northern fish are repeat spawners. Those in the St. Johns die after reproducing – probably the result of making such an exhaustively long trip, but also because the warm southern river drains the fish of the energy necessary for a return to the Atlantic.

Staying tight to a jumping shad

Shad begin to enter the river mouth at Jacksonville sometime in December when seasonal temperatures begin to cool the water. Male shad, or “bucks”, are the first to arrive, followed shortly thereafter by the larger female “roe” shad. Once the fish enter the river, they wind their way a distance of more than 200 miles to the uppermost reaches south, or upstream, of Lake Monroe where 80 percent of the river’s fall occurs and currents are the strongest. There, females release their eggs freely in the moving water while males swim alongside and disperse milt. The strong flow of water facilitates the fertilization process by mixing eggs and milt together and it prevents the eggs from settling in the bottom silt where they are likely to perish. The height of spawning activity occurs in January, February, and March when water temperatures hover in the mid-60’s, but a very small number of shad may still be alive well into April.

The shad’s preference for a location with a strong current should be the foremost consideration in selecting a productive fishing spot. Places with the swiftest flow include the main channel, the edges of steep banks, deep holes, the outside bank of sharp turns, and drop-offs. On occasion, the fish will even move into tributaries if the current is substantial enough. Among the locations with the best opportunities to flyfish for shad are those in the vicinity of Mullet Lake, Lemon Bluff, Highway 50, Lake Harney, Hatbill Park, and Puzzle Lake.

Shad are filter-feeders who nourish themselves by opening their mouth with gills flared to strain food, mostly plankton, from the water as they swim. However, studies by biologists indicate that shad, like many other anadramous fish, stop feeding once they enter the freshwater environs of their home river. Some skeptical anglers doubt that scientific research because they have witnessed shad pursuing minnows (a rather common occurrence) in spawning locations and mistake that behavior for feeding when, instead, the shad probably regard the smaller fish as egg-eating predators and are chasing them from the breeding area.

American shad

Despite the fact that they don’t feed in freshwater, shad can be enticed to strike small flies if they are presented effectively. Flashy patterns tied on size 6 hooks and weighted with a set of bead-chain or extra-small dumbbell eyes are standard for the St. Johns River. The presentation needs to be made at either a 90 degree angle to the current or, preferably, just slightly downstream. To allow the fly sufficient time to sink, dead-drift it with an occasional mend until it is quartering down-current. Then simply strip the fly slow enough to feel it occasionally bump the bottom. That being said, there are occasions when shad inexplicably prefer a faster retrieve with the fly closer to the surface – so it pays to experiment a little to find the most successful technique at any particular time.

I normally opt to use 6-weight tackle for American shad, but going a weight lower or higher is just as effective. The river’s water level largely determines which fly line density is appropriate. When the water level is high and currents are strong, a full-sinking line may be the best choice. On the other hand, a floating line is ideal when the water is low and in situations where the fish are near the surface. A sink-tip line is a good all-around choice as it will handle the widest variety of conditions. A tapered leader approximately 8’ long is a good match with any line density and a tippet size of 0X or larger will assure a good turnover with the weighted flies.

American shad jump as frequently as baby tarpon - but fight harder

Like other anadramous fish that must withstand the rigors of a lengthy migration to reproduce, American shad are extremely strong and determined fighters that don’t come easily to the net. When hooked, they become flashing, silvery missiles that repeatedly launch themselves from the water. These characteristics, as well as the fish’s willingness to strike flies, have made them an increasingly favorite target among flyfishers in Florida where redfish, snook, tarpon, bonefish, spotted seatrout, and largemouth bass also vie for status as the most popular gamefish.

For more from Sage Ambassador Jon Cave, please visit

Claremont Isles

Claremont Isles

Spectacular multi-species fly fishing in the Claremont Isles in northeast Australia.

Renowned fly fisher and Sage Ambassador Peter Morse is featured this must see fly fishing documentary about a never before filmed area of isolated islands, sand cays, reef flats, offshore reefs and river systems. The variety of species here is amazing and between the spectacular camera work and great fishing you’ll be educated and entertained. Check out the trailer here.

Buy the DVD here