Fly Casting

Get a grip - Fly casting grip styles

Most fly casters are pretty well focused on improving their fly cast, but few of us give much thought to how we actually grip a fly rod.

Over the next few posts we’ll take a look at the three most commonly used grips and their pro’s and con’s - no particular grip is right or wrong, but each does have some influence on how you move a fly rod and deliver a line.

The three grips that fly casters most commonly use are:

  • Thumb on top - Favoured by Joan Wulff
  • The key grip, or V grip - Favoured By Jason Borger
  • Finger on top - Favoured by a bunch of crazy europeans ;-)

The way you grip a fly rod most likely has a lot to do with what you were initially taught, and for most of us that was the classic “thumb on top grip”

Believe it or not the thumb on top style can be the most debilitating and difficult grip to get right. Let me explain:

The bones in the hand and wrist allow you to manipulate objects in many different ways. Each hand contains 27 distinct bones that give the hand an incredible range and precision of motion.

If you put your hand out in front of you with thumb up and then poke it back over your shoulder as if you were making a back cast you’ll notice two things (now that you’re looking)

  1. Your thumb is likely pointing in towards your ear - naturally causing you to hook the rod around behind your head and toward the opposite shoulder. This leads to poor tracking and hooked casts. Not good. (unless you want a curve cast)
  2.  That thumb is most likely about parallel with the floor. If you had a fly rod in your hand you’d be drilling your back loop down into the ground or water behind you. This delivers big open loops on the back cast causing the line to either tick the water, or bust off flies on the rocks and brush behind you. You will never punch a line into a tail wind with that loop, nor will you develop the line speed required to shoot line or execute a nice forward haul.

For these main reasons the thumb on top can cause no end of casting problems - particularly for beginners who tend to wave the rod around in a huge arc forming large open loops - or worse - no loops.

Fly casting Grips thumb on top grip Carl McNeil

Thumb on top - the one we all grew up with.

Fly casting Grips

It’s not all thumbs down for thumb on top.

Thumb on top is a strong grip and particularly powerful on the forward cast. It can also be a very accurate grip if you line up thumb, elbow, and sight line. I’m sure this is one reason why the Joan Wulff school tends to recommend it.

Thumb on top also tends to facilitate that final rod rotation at the very end of the stroke - the “Power Snap” as Joan calls it. 

Thumb On top - Pros and Cons.


  • Strong
  • Facilitates forward rod rotation
  • Accurate - if you watch that tracking


  • Very troublesome on the back cast
  • Open loops, drilling the ground behind
  • Difficult to track well resulting in hooked casts

 Carl McNeil - thumb on top

Ok, I've exaggerated a little here. But if you feel like you're setting up to club someone in a dark alley - you need to get a grip, or at least, a better grip.

Interested in your thoughts and what you find works for you.

 Next time - the Key grip

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