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The Ambidextrous Vortex

Ambidextrous amphibiousness.

What follows is a completely different Vortex. This is how to become an ambidextrous flycaster.

The first thing you must do is become a competent caster. Maybe even a good caster. If you can't chuck a decent cast off your dominant hand then you'll have to master that first. Sorry, that's just a fact. Of course this site should enable you to do just that, and this is why you may be here in the first place.

You should have learned by now that in order to become a good caster you have to practice. The best casters practice more. Practicing casting is fun, so this in itself is an interesting and enjoyable thing to do. Good instructors, such as Carlos, make learning fun. If you can cast better you'll catch more fish, be a better all-round angler, enjoy life more and become completely irresistible to the opposite sex. If your casting sucks, then you are missing out. Simple facts, but they have to be said.

Learning to cast well, using both hands, will undoubtedly improve your fishing. Interestingly teaching your non-dominant hand will actually improve your dominant hand's casting ability too, probably because you have to understand what makes it tick.

From now on I'm going to assume you are right-handed. If you are left-handed you are in a lucky position, because almost every left-handed caster picks up right-handed casting very quickly. In fact most left-handed people don't seem to know whether they are left or right-handed to begin with, and so it gets a little complicated sometimes.

Learning to throw

The first thing you should do is learn to throw accurately with your left hand. In fact you can just start incorporating this into your normal everyday life. If like me, you find yourself throwing stones at rocks from time to time – yes I know, I'm not that normal – you can try switching to your left. Throw one off the right, then one off the left. Casting flyrods is very similar to throwing stones.

Here is a couple of throwing stone tips. When you throw a stone off the right, notice how you throw with the palm forward. With trout rods this, I believe, is how you should arrange your grip – it's a natural wrist movement that gives that crisp finish to the stroke. When you throw off the left make sure you throw with the palm.

Right-handed people are normally right eye dominant, left handers left eyed. Here's how you work out your dominant eye: point your index finger straight up and starting with it at full arm's length, slowly bring it close to your nose finishing with it approximately 10 inches away. Cover the left eye with your other hand. Then repeat the entire process, from out-stretched to your nose, and cover the other eye. Assuming that you are not cross-eyed, or looking the wrong way or something, when you shut one eye the finger will move. Your dominant eye is the one where the finger does not move. This is not an essential part to flycasting, but it's interesting to know anyway.

The reason I mention it, is our tendency is to try throwing off the left so that the hand finishes in front of the dominant eye, in this case the right. That's a tracking fault and you'll miss your target; you must aim to throw straight.

Once, I was a rugby player and took it pretty seriously for a while – I was a dirty flanker. I spent an enormous amount of time practicing my passing with a good scum-half friend of mine. Boob (that was his name, don't ask) learned to become a very talented ambidextrous passer by doing all sorts of normal tasks in reverse. Such as brushing his teeth for instance.

You know what I'm saying here; if you want to learn to cast well using the left then you have to start using it. No bad thing of course. And no, I know what you're thinking.

This first little exercise will have taught you two things: the first that you must use your wrist in the way it was intended (or evolved) and the second that you must track straight. Both are critical to becoming an ambidextrous flycaster.

Learning to cast

Now that you've got your left hand used to the idea of throwing, it's time to try casting. This is where you'll need a good solid foundation with your right-handed cast, because you are going to use your right hand to teach the left.

Mel Krieger, brilliant instructor, makes extensive use of pantomime in flycasting, and this is exactly what you're going to do. Start off without a rod and make your right-handed cast. Now at the same time work both hands together. You can do it right now, here while reading this. And you can be as slow and deliberate, as you like. Work both hands together, paying particular attention to the position of the wrist and being careful that your left hand is not tucked in, inside the elbow – imagine you are throwing a tennis ball if that helps.

There are many different styles in flycasting and they all work. We don't want Loop, Arden or Kreh clones running around. There are perfectly good reasons for casting like Lefty Kreh, TLT, Austrian style, pulling, pushing, Sayonara Sling, flip-flopping, Bruce Richards, Underhand, Rick Hartman etc etc. So I don't want to get involved in style. I don't care how you do it, so long as the mechanics and feel are right. You can cast any damn way you want. Good instruction allows you to develop your own style. Bill Gammel, one of the finest instructors on the planet, has gone a long way to getting down to the fundamentals, which he calls the “five essentials”. It's just a pity that he can't get his email to work.

So whatever style you may have with your right hand, be sure to use that same style with the left. Otherwise you're going to make this exercise much harder. “Yeah man, I cast like Bruce Richards off the right, and Roman Moser off the left. Am I a fucked-up flycasting dude or what?”

Now that you've got pantomime happening it's time to work with the rod. Understand this: working on pantomime, and brushing your teeth off the left, should now become an intrinsic part of your everyday existence – it's not something you do once and promptly forget about.

So take out a rod – preferably something not too heavy – and get the right hand working on a simple pick up and lay down cast. Then switch hands. And keep rotating. There is a trick here: it is to cast with two rods. Simultaneously. In fact you don't even need two rods; one is enough, just pretend there's another in your right, or left. Your left hand is a mirror of the right. If your right hand sucks then now would be a good time to work on that one instead.

Just like when you learned to flycast in the first place, not stopping the rod is the number one fault. That and too much power. Remember you want a short upward flick in the backcast – watch your wrist. Tracking, as we have seen, is something you have to pay particular attention to (tracking is the bird's eye view of the rod tip; it must be straight).

If you do this, and work on it for long enough, you will get there. Of course it's no good going out to practice and working on your right hand for an hour and a half and then a token ten minutes on the left. You have to be completely dedicated.

The best way to do this by the way, if you have one, is to study your cast on video camera. It's not essential, but it's certainly of enormous help.

The hardest thing of all to get is feel. I teach feel, on either hand, by false casting a short line with minimum power and a subtle flick. Another technique is to bounce a blank beneath your hand, with a short flick, and emulate this feeling with the line. Your hand must be relaxed otherwise you won't feel anything.

Taking it further

This is not going to happen overnight. I guess you worked that out when I started by asking you to throw stones. Develop your cast by casting father and casting quicker. Cadence is a very useful tool in teaching. Start slowly, then work quicker (you'll have to increase your casting arc to accommodate this, which is why it's so useful), then slower again. Try changing the plane of the cast; tilt the rod over to the side and sidecast. Work on accuracy: straight into a saucer. Always pay attention to the backcast; don't apply too much power (you always think you need more; you're nearly always wrong), and make sure you remember to lift before applying power – the temptation is to try to welly it back there – go back to pantomime.

The double haul

Many people find learning the double haul the most difficult part of left-handed casting, but it's not actually that hard. Start off by pantomiming the double haul with no rod. Go right hand, go left hand. Use one to teach the other. Then, with the rod, do everything in slow motion. Finally put it together. If you are struggling try making backcasts only, or forward casts only. You can reverse hands for this of course, forward cast with the right, lay the line down, forward cast with the left, etc. By the time you've reached this stage you will automatically perform a cast, or part of a cast, with the right and use it to teach the left. And you will find yourself analysing every element of your cast, which is an excellent thing in itself.


One thing that will make your exploration into ambidextrous casting quicker is for it to feel natural holding the rod in your left. For this to happen make sure that you don't switch hands to retrieve line between casts: strip with your right hand. Believe it or not, this is one of the most unnatural feelings in the world. Your aim is to be completely comfortable with fishing the rod in your left.

It's about then that you can start to play games, learn to control slack line and the fun begins all over again.


Essential Bush Skills

The start of any flytying good flytying sequence involves squirting The Light of Apgai on your polyprops
Both alarm and curiousity set in when the polyprops start melting
Putting the lid back on the jar to stop *that* happening again
The flytying proper is underway
Notice the composure, that's true class that is
A difficult bit, you can tell that from the vacant expression
Essential bush skills: the third hand
Notice my hat here, it's quite daring
Snip, snip
I'm not quite sure what I'm doing here, but it's cool
Trimming an oversize hackle that appears to have become trapped in the whip finnish manoevre
Delicate precision work, the hallmark of any good flytyer
A sexy catch...

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