By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
Even if I’ve fished the same run on the same spring creek on the same day each year for over 20 years, I swear I still learn something new every time I wade into the clear water. Sight-casting to snooty spring creek fish or presenting a fly to a pesky permit in a 20 mph wind are the norm in my angling world, but they haven’t always been. There was a time when an upstream wind or a tailing fish outside of thirty feet made my knees shake.
Then, like a middle school boy finding his dad’s “Playboys” under the master bedroom mattress, I learned to double haul and my angling went from coulda-woulda-shoulda to been-there-and-done-that. But learning the double haul didn’t come easy. It took practice, patience, some failures, some more practice, but once I learned it my fishing success increased 10-fold.
What is a double haul?
A “haul” in its simplest form, is making a quick pull on the line with your line-hand during the casting stroke. A “double haul” is pulling on the line twice—once at the end of the backcast and again at end of the forward cast. When these two pulls are made during the casting stroke, the resulting increase in a faster flying fly line is called a “double haul.”
How is it accomplished?
Practice, practice, practice—I first learned to haul as a kid. I was sitting in an airport waiting for my charter flight to a small bonefishing destination. My traveling companions were veteran anglers and when asked “how was my double-haul?” I responded, my “double-what?” They treated me like I’d never heard of Brad Pitt standing on a rock shadow-casting. But since part of being a good fly fisher is cherishing the ideal of sharing knowledge, they took the time to show me.
One of the oldest in the group sat me down in a chair. The rods were all packed in the back of the small plane, so we didn’t have a rod to use. He then had me make fists and placed my two hands in front of my chest with my knuckles touching. He told me to make a back cast with my rod-hand, which I did. Then, move my line-hand down to about my belly button, stop it, and then quickly bring it back up to my rod-hand—which was being held near my face where it normally would at the pause on my backcast. Next, he told me to come forward with my rod hand in my forward cast. After stopping on the forward cast, bring my line-hand down again to about my belly button and then back up to meet my rod hand where it was stopped after my forward cast. “Back, down-and-up. Forward, down-and-up.”
Another older angler brought a cold beer and said “with your line hand, be sure to always go back up, so then you can go back down on your next casting stroke.”
“Easy-peasy,” said my initial friend. “Practice this without the rod the whole flight and when you next put a rod in your hand, you’ll have it.”
Why is the double haul so helpful?
Before learning the double haul, I had struggled and avoided some difficult situations. But, my friend who taught me was right—I practiced the “back, down-and-up. Forward, down-and-up” rhythm at length on the plane. Once on the flats, after a few minutes I was casting into the wind. This allowed me to fish through a variety of angling situations that I otherwise would have struggled with. A double haul generates more energy in the cast, producing greater line speed, which makes fishing easier.
Once back in Montana and still a young angler, I put my double haul to use. I immediately caught more fish on dry flies because by double hauling I could cut through the wind on the Madison and Yellowstone Rivers. In the fall, more big browns were brought to hand and less large woolly buggers were dinged off the back of my head because by double hauling, I had better control over where to cast a heavily weighted fly.
These days when I’m back on the spring creeks or chasing spruce moths on a remote freestone, a double haul is as important a skill as wading safely or reading the water. However, like many useful skills it takes a commitment to master. Learning the double haul may not be as appealing to the eye as shadow-casting on a large rock in the middle of the river, but, sure as heck is a lot more useful.
Patrick Straub has fished on five continents. He is the author of six books, including “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing” and has been writing the Eddy Line for eight years. He’s owned a fly shop and was one of the largest outfitters in Montana, but these days he now only guides anglers who value quality over quantity. If you want to fish with him, visit his website, https://www.dryflymontana.com/.