The Two-Handed Line Retrieve

As the lure of salt water flyfishing grows, so does the need for the flyfisher to learn what is known as the two-handed line retrieve. In traditional flyfishing the angler typically retrieves line with just her non-dominant hand while her dominant hand holds the rod. Even though you can retrieve quite fast with just one hand, it just isn't fast enough to imitate many of the species that become prey for one another in salt water.

Fish in salt water swim in an environment that has no boundaries and very few places to hide. They have to be fast, or they're lunch. Imitating them requires an equal amount of speed. When I was first introduced to salt water flyfishing, I'd entice a fish to follow only to see it turn away at the last minute. When I asked what I was doing wrong, the answer was always that I just wasn't retrieving the fly fast enough or that I was unconsciously slowing down in hopes that the fish would take.

The two handed retrieve greatly increases the speed at which the fly moves, but it takes a bit of practice to master. After the cast, the angler tucks the butt of the rod and the reel in the armpit of their dominant hand. Then, with their upper arm holding the rod close to their body, both hands commence a rapid hand-over-hand retrieve of the line. Excess line piles up in a stripping basket hung around the angler's waist or in a bucket sitting on the deck of the boat. The stripping basket is typically used when fishing the surf to keep the line from wrapping around your legs, although some people also use it on the boat.

The two-handed retrieve requires some finger dexterity and works best when the hands are kept close to the stripping guide of the rod. You just have to practice until you can keep your hands moving without letting loose of the line and not bumping into the stripping basket. Most people can get more speed with lots of quick, short retrieves rather than longer ones even though you're more apt to drop the line with short strips. Keeping the stripping basket loose enough that it sags a little on your waist also helps.

Setting the hook while performing the two-handed line retrieve is definitely more difficult. When they feel a fish, most everyone wants to take the rod butt back in their hand and loop the line over their fingers to "set up" as we're used to doing. But, by the time you get hold of the rod butt your fly has slowed down so dramatically that the fish lose interest. Besides, setting up often just pulls the fly out of the fish's mouth. Instead, saltwater fly fishers are advised to learn the strip strike.

The strip-strike technique enables you to "set" with the line and not with the rod. Because the fish is moving so fast, pulling the line straight back with a quick, sharp tug, while pointing the rod at the fish, embeds the fly in the fish's mouth more effectively than the up-ward thrust of the rod. Once again, this will take some practice, but it's not really very difficult. It's more a matter of re-training your brain to re-direct your arms and hands. The combination of the two-handed retrieve and the strip strike will vastly improve your success rate in the salt.