Building the Two Handed Rod
From the rod builders perspective, the double hander can become
a very interesting, and challenging tool to create. Although
all of your tried and true rod building techniques should be
applied during their construction, there are a few unique
characteristics of these long rods that should be addressed.
Because you are the rod builder, you have the opportunity to
absolutely maximize the functional potentials of the blank and
it's applied components. Here are a few builder points that
I hope will help you achieve this goal.
In order to properly build these rods, it may be best that we
consider the basics of their specific fishing applications. The
old adage that "Form Follows Function" is especially applicable
to rod building. Therefore; in going through the various components
used to build these rods, I will touch on the reasons, and also
a little history of why particular components are used on today's
two handed rods.
Whole volumes can be read on this subject! But the bottom line is
that we're building fly rods, so let's keep it in that perspective.
Like all fly rods, the blank should be chosen to match your
particular application and favorite presentation techniques.
Double handers are no different.
Spey Style Two Handers
Smaller coastal or interior rivers with runs of anadromous game
fish that range from 3 to 15 pounds can be effectively fished
with 6/7/8 to 8/9/10 weight lines. Waters of this size would
require Spey style rods that should not have to exceed 14 feet
in length, with many anglers preferring to fish rods in the
12 to 13 foot range. The lighter weight lines and rods working
best for dry fly, Skating, or very thinly fished Greased Line
presentations. The heavier lines and rods being more suited
to swinging sub surface wet flys or fishing through high water
Medium to larger river systems, pursuing riverborne game fish
from 15 to 50 pounds can require longer rods and often times;
heavier lines. These longer rods are often preferred not only
to match the size of the fish, but more importantly; rod lengths
and line weights that will match the presentation demands of
these bigger waters. The complex hydraulics, and diversity of
holding water within large rivers will often require extreme
distance, long drift presentations. The longer reach capabilities
of the rods' length itself will definitely come into play on
these bigger waters, assisting in proper line mending throughout
the flies targeted drift. The 14 foot. 9/10/11 weight has been
universally accepted as the overall ideal rod for medium size
rivers. It's what the 9 foot 5 weight fly rod is to medium Trout
waters. It's an excellent all purpose rod that has the ability to
present a wide variety of lines, and will effectively cover a
broad spectrum of waters.
Many double handers feel more comfortable casting 15, even 16 foot
rods over the larger rivers. These longer rods do allow an easy
presentation of a multitude of lines, including floating and
sinking multi-tip, interchangeable line systems. Rods capable
of Spey presentation using 13 to 15 weight line systems are
generally found in these rod lengths.
Rod action for all these waters are totally an issue of personal
preference. Both the Traditional and Euro action rods have their
place on these waters, and both are capable of presenting the fly
while performing all the classic swing techniques.
Two Handed Overhead Rods
Rods that are designed to present balanced lines utilizing both
the two handed overhead and underhand Spey style presentations
are very common to the Scandinavian angler. These rods were
designed primarily to present extended belly shooting head
systems. The rivers systems that led to the creation of these
techniques were markedly different then those fished by the
Britts. Many of the upper latitude Scandinavian Salmon river
systems were smaller, higher gradient and more confined by rock
walls, and steep bankside riparian. Their two handed rods were
adopted to meet this environment. The rods were shortened,
necessitating faster actions to launch the heavy head systems.
Although the two handed overhead rod, and it's applied techniques
are relatively new to the average North American angler, they
have made major headway in recent years. These are rods that
have personally attracted my attention, and over the past 5
years have discovered, and hopefully enhanced their incredible
The typical two handed overhead rod will have a fast to ultra
fast delivery. Blanks used for these rods will range from 10
to 13 feet in length, utilizing lay-ups that will maximize the
blanks weight to strength ratio. Helical-ply lay-ups work
especially well for this application. The best word I can use
to describe the desired action of these rods would be
"authoritative." Although the Scandinavians routinely use
these rods to perform a wide variety of specialized overhead
and underhand casts, North Americans have found their primary
applications within the two handed overhead presentation.
By utilizing the two handed overhead cast, distances of up
to 140 feet, throwing lines that can exceed 1000 grains, can
be easily achieved. Today's advanced multi-tip, interchangeable
shooting head systems are the lines for these rods. The various
Spey style casting presentations are optimally performed within
a moving water environment. The two handed over head cast on the
other hand, can be performed over nearly all waters including:
mid to large rivers, large stillwaters, surf, and shallow salt
Rods in the 10.5 to 11 foot range can be built into "switch" rods.
These are rods that can be cast on the overhead utilizing either
conventional single hand haul or two handed overhead presentations.
Basically the applications of these versatile rods are only
limited to the creativity of the angler! They will throw big
Bass, Musky, or Pike bugs into the next county. Blast heavy
lines into Striper surf, or grease line with the best Traditional
Spey rods. In fact, with the proper lines, they will easily
perform excellent underhand Spey style casts, with the ability
to easily deliver back-cast free presentations in excess of 90
Nearly all of the major reel seat manufacturers inventory a
series of seats either suitable for or specifically made for
two handed fly rods. The builder should keep the following
criteria in mind when purchasing a reel seat for two handed
1. Make sure the reel seat is sized properly. Double handers
demand reels with extremely large capacity spools. The required
lines can have huge diameter belly sections, 30 foot
interchangeable tip sections, 60 to 70 feet of running line,
plus 250 yards of backing. At minimum, this will require reels
capable of handling a 10 weight, weight forward line and 100
yards of backing. Reels may have to reach 15 weight capacity.
Legs on a few of the European reels favored by many double
anders are by our standards oversized. They will not seat
properly. Often our hoods are to small, or the barrels to
short. Make sure to check the out the reel before you build
the rod. Many of the manufacturers standard salt water seats
work very well on the smaller to mid size butt O.D.s These
seats will often go from .600 to .640 I.D. Most will have
double lock nuts with integrated "O" rings, and some will
have slot milled barrels to better accept the legs. Many
of the traditional Spey style rods will have butt O.D.s that
will far exceed .640, often reaching .750. These may require
Spey specific seats.
2. Seats can have wood or cork inserts, but the insert will
often have a rather small I.D. Try to avoid excessive reaming
of these inserts as this will tend to weaken them. For the
larger O.D. butts, it will often be best to use aluminum or
titanium barreled seats.
3. As with all components, it is always wise to purchase the
best you can afford. Reel seats for two handed rods can be put
under extreme loads, and the fish can be large. Double lock nuts,
slotted barrels, and heavy duty hoods may save the day.
4. You can use either up locking or down locking reel seats.
The decision of this will often depend on how you want the reel
to balance out the finished rod. Rod balance is of great importance
for these long rods, and this issue will be addressed a little
further on in this series.
The proper construction of Handles for the two handed rod is a
real priority. The various rod styles each have specific handle
configurations that are directly related to their casting styles.
Again, form follows function.
When performing the classic Spey cast with rods of 14 to 16 feet
in length, a comfortable hand spread would be 18 to 22 inches.
Casters working shorter rods of 13 feet and under can lesson
the spread a few inches. A common length of the lower grip would
be in the 6 to 10 inch range, with the upper grip being 14 to 18
inches. The total length of the handle assembly, from the bottom
of the lower grip to the top of the upper would normally be in
the 22 to 26 inch range.
The Scandinavian style handle assembly will often have upper and
lower grips approximately the same length, with both being in the
neighborhood of 10 inches. This grip configuration accommodates
the two handed overhead, and extremely fast underhand casting
styles performed by these rods. These are the type of handle
assemblies I prefer to use on the 10.5 to 12 foot overhead
Finished cork diameters for these handles will often be in the 1
inch to 7/8 inch range, with the actual casting grip areas being
very similar in diameters to a conventional mid-weight fly rod.
While swinging the fly through the drift, the lower grip is
usually tucked under the arm at the elbow, and left resting on
the hip. This is the most comfortable rod position for this
common technique, and is how the rod will be held for the
majority of time while presenting to river fish. A common
practice would be to end the rod handle with a mushroom
shaped rubber/metal or rubber/decorative wooden butt cap.
Guides and Guide Placement
The same principels of guide placement are applied to these
rods as are applied to all mandrel formed composite rods. In
this respect, their extreme length should not be of concern
to the builder. Your favorite guide placement, and spine
location techniques will do. The issue of real interest
concerning guide placement on the two handed rod is where
to place the guides on the rod in relation to it's functional
spine. To help answer this, one should consider the dynamics
involved in performing the Traditional Spey cast.
Within the fly rod family, Spey blanks are unique in that they
are asked to perform as much work on the lift as they are asked
to perform while presenting the forward cast. The maximum load
placed on a conventional single hand fly rod, is at that moment
when the haul assists the fully extended backcast, just prior
to the shot. Many fly rod builders will finalize their location
of the spine/guide relationship in order to maximize the rods
potential to assist in this particular task. Spey rods on the
other hand not only demand adequate power to generate the line
speed required to perform the forward cast, but will also require
as much (perhaps at times more) potential energy to move a
sufficient amount of "hinged" line to form the "D" prior to
the shot. In other words; the rod requires as much, or more
potential energy to lift and move the line as it does to throw it.
I have found that the old tried and true approach of determining
spine location is your best first step. Once this has been
determined, try this process: Temporally locate the guides
along the blanks determined spine, and give the rod a full
work out, performing all aspects of the Spy cast. Then, rotate
the rods upper sections (two handers will usually come in 3
to 5 sections) as a unit in increments of around 60 degrees.
Do this until you reach 180 degrees, test casting at each
increment. Chances are you will notice an appreciative
difference in the overall abilities of the rod as you test
cast your way through this process. When you feel you have
reached the location that maximizes the rods overall
performance, permanently locate all the guides on this plane.
~ Bob Meiser
Next Time: Guides and Building in Rod Balance
Bob is a custom rod builder who builds special purpose fly rods
and spey rods. He is the owner of R.B. Meiser Fly Rods, Ashland, Oregon.
You can reach Bob through his website at: