April 20, 2023
By Joe Mahler
The most common requests I get as a fly-casting coach are to learn or improve the double haul. When I ask why, the responses almost always are “To add line speed” or “Get more distance.”
While those are both reasonable answers, they reveal that students may not fully understand how this peculiar and versatile technique can affect the cast.
The double haul is perhaps the most written about, argued about, and misunderstood aspect of fly casting. Yet, in reality, double hauling is simply pulling the fly line, at the appropriate time, to increase the load on the rod. When well executed, it appears as natural as breathing out and breathing in. The hand and line artfully and rhythmically glide back and forth like a violin bow.
Why would you want to learn and master the double haul? My answer is that it makes casting easier on the casting arm and it helps you to sculpt your loop.
The range of uses for this technique is impressive. You can use it to open the loop, tighten the loop, apply it to your roll cast, achieve greater distance, help throw bulky flies, and even to shorten your line in midair. You apply variations in these sculpting movements mostly on the forward, or delivery haul. The back haul and pickup haul remain, for the most part, constant, regardless of the desired effect.
Sculpting the Loop
The straighter the rod tip moves, the tighter the loop will be. For example, if you are making a 40-foot cast and casting with one hand, it will take about 9 feet of rod-tip movement to deliver the fly. Any less, and the line will not unroll. If you do half of that work with your line hand, you will be able to deliver the fly with 4 or 5 feet of rod-tip movement. Moving the rod half as much allows you to more accurately control the tip and achieve a straighter path, resulting in a tighter and more efficient loop.
Use Hauling to Shorten Line
As strange as it may seem, the best way to shorten the line while in the air is by hauling. This is a high-level technique that will improve your hauling skills and give you a few
extra shots at close-cruising quarry. Start with the line under your stripping finger. At the end of your backcast haul, pinch the line against the cork and drop the line with your line hand and repeat this “gathering haul” on each false cast. Essentially, you are stripping in two feet of line on each false cast. Notice that both your stroke and haul get shorter as the line length decreases. Want to double it? Try gathering line on both the back and forward stroke.
Although adding the double haul to your repertoire can take your cast to new heights, a poorly executed haul will be ineffective, even detrimental. First and foremost, the haul hand must start the stroke at, or near, the reel and return to the reel at the end of each stroke. It is a common mistake to haul on the backcast and return the haul hand to the reel on the forward cast. This does nothing more than feed slack at the worst possible time. The result is a collapsed forward presentation. After you make your backcast and haul, allow your haul hand to drift back to the reel while the rod is still angled behind you.
The next most common mistake is using the haul to rip the line off of the surface on the pickup. Remember to lift the line smoothly for the initial load and only “supercharge” it with the haul after liftoff. If your line resembles a zipper going across the surface, your pickup haul is probably too hard and too early.
Last, make your haul efficient. Hauling to the side of the rod (forming a right angle) creates unnecessary friction and tends to make you pull harder than necessary.
Be sure to keep your haul hand moving generally in line with the rod blank and make a haul that glides back and forth without resistance.
Match the Cast
In general, the haul should match the stroke in length, tempo, and intensity—but not always. The double haul is a tool that can be used in small or great measure. For example, tight quarters may require a short back and forward stroke with a long haul on the delivery stroke to “zing” the fly into a narrow pocket.
Or, maybe make a long, leisurely haul early in the stroke for a soft dry-fly presentation. There are myriad combinations. This is where you experiment. Make a series of false casts, applying the hauls early and late, soft and hard, long and short, fast and slow, and so forth. Observe the effect each variation has on your loop, and you’ll develop the skills that allow you to customize each cast to obtain your desired result.
Joe Mahler (joemahler.com) is an author, illustrator, and casting instructor based out of Fort Myers, Florida. He is the author and illustrator of Essential Knots & Rigs for Trout and Essential Knots & Rigs for Salt Water (Stackpole Books). Even though he lives in an area known for saltwater fishing, he loves freshwater fishing for bass, bluegills, peacocks, and other exotics.