Every time I teach someone to fly cast, they struggle with distance. There are many reasons why that’s the case—from the rod being used, to the type of line being cast, or simply poor form. I’ve found that the main reason for these difficulties happening after learning the basics well is a struggle with the double haul.
The double haul is a method of fly casting that is designed for distance. Paired with a weight-forward line and a rod with a good bottom end, the double haul can add a great deal of distance to your cast.
The reason this method of fly casting produces extra distance is relatively simple. Any fly rod has a given tensile strength. That strength is rarely, if ever, reached while casting. It is usually brought into play when fighting a fish. So, if a method of fly casting is developed to better access the strength potential of the rod, it would ensure achieving greater distance as long as basic casting form is maintained. This is what double hauling does.
When you cast a fly line, you maintain the line in the air by applying power during the power stroke (usually between 10 and 2 o’clock in the fly casting arc). This application of power loads the rod (makes it bend). As the rod straightens out, the line follows at the speed applied to the rod.
If you could apply a greater load to the rod than the weight of the fly line and what your muscles provide (normally during your power stroke), you would “overload” the rod, make it bend more, and thus increase the line speed.
Faster line speed at the end of the power stroke means more kinetic energy and momentum moving forward or backward (as a backcast). That converts your cast to greater distance if the line is released (shot) at the correct moment.
How do you overload the rod without using a heavier line, thus defeating the purpose of the exercise? The answer is simple: you pull on the line while you’re applying power during the power stroke.
This sounds easy, but it’s a lot like trying to pat your belly and rub your head at the same time. It takes a good understanding of when to pull on the line during the power stroke and when to bring your hands back together during the forward cast so that you can pull again to cast the backcast. (Remember, the forward cast and backcast are mirror images of each other).
This is where it becomes important to remind about a critical rule of fly-casting: Never do anything to your line during the power stroke of your cast in either direction, other than adding load (pulling/hauling). Most critical of all: Never allow the line to slip through your fingers or let go of it completely during the power stroke.
Most fly-casters, even beginners, single haul. They naturally separate their hands at least a bit when they start the initial backcast. This is because it feels natural to keep your line hand still as you raise the rod and power it backward. If you do this, then the distance between the stripping guide of your rod and your line hand increases. That results in a “pulling” of the line. To advance to double-hauling from there, you have to bring your hands back together immediately after the power stroke of the backcast, so you can pull again at the beginning of your forward cast, and repeat the process if you plan on false-casting a few times before delivering (shooting) the line again.
I use Mel Krieger’s “The Essence of Fly Casting” as a training video for my classes. It’s dated now, but it is still the best fly casting instructional video I’ve ever seen.
In it, Mel uses a term he calls “down-up.” It’s not “down” and it’s not “up.” It is one motion, not two. He is correct. He is referring to pulling on your line at the start of your power stroke as “down.”
To get there, and as soon as the power stroke is finished and before the loop of the line off the rod tip has straightened out, you bring your line hand back up to the rod handle position—the “up” portion of down-up. The motion is so fluid that your hand will bounce at the bottom of the motion and return to the handle position in one motion as your rod hand moves the rod through the fly casting arc.
When you close the distance on the “up” portion of down-up, the weight and speed of the line off the rod tip pulls the potential slack line between your line hand and the stripping guide. This happens through the eyelets as you bring your hands together and are readying for the start of the cast in the opposite direction. If you do not have enough line out to load the rod, then you cannot double haul.
The key here is to keep in mind that both the down and the up are done during each of the backcast or the forward cast. Then, that’s repeated for the other direction.
In my experience, beginners always make the mistake of pulling down on the backcast and then pushing up on the forward cast. The pulling works; that is the single haul. The pushing on the forward cast feeds line into the rod during the power stroke—and completely destroys the forward cast.
You cannot feed line into your power stroke. You must feed the line into the drift after the power stroke as the loop is straightening out. As soon as the line straightens, you start your forward cast and pull on the line again as you enter into the power stroke of that forward cast. It’s “down-up” through the backcast, and “down-up” through the forward cast. The first time you get it right, it will surprise you as to how much line speed you generate.
Remember “down-up. Be patient and persistent. Practice the motion with just your hand, without a rod. Do it over and over. Bounce your hand as it reaches the bottom of the pull (as you extend your elbow) and immediately return it to the handle position. Do not stop at the bottom of the motion where your elbow straightens; it is one fluid motion.
It’s difficult to explain in written words what is also difficult to teach verbally one-on-one. Hopefully, this explanation helps you understand how to double haul and how to teach that method to yourself. If you don’t get it after a while, give me a call and I can teach it to you.
After all, practice makes perfect.
Read more fly fishing tips from Bill Luscombe: