The Handtwist Retrieve, by Phil Rowley

When it comes to stillwater presentation, you soon realize that lakes are different environments than rivers or streams. Other than wind induced current there is little or no flow to help propel and animate your fly. You must move or retrieve the fly to suggest life to stimulate the interest of a passing trout. Successful stillwater presentations depend in large part on your ability to manipulate the fly using your hands.

Humans are naturally impatient when it comes to fly fishing stillwaters. The pace differs from moving waters. Patterns must be allowed to sink to the proper depth, typically just above the bottom, and they must be moved in a slow erratic manner coupled with pauses to mimic stillwater foods sources. The handtwist, hand weave or figure eight retrieve is the primary retrieve of seasoned stillwater fly fishers. It is a busy retrieve that keeps the hands moving and the impatient at bay. Powered by a handtwist retrieve, flies move in a natural manner, travelling through the water at a variety of speeds, from brisk to near static.

Once mastered the handtwist soon becomes natural. After completing the cast lower the rod so the tip is just above the water in the case of a floating line or stabbed into the water for sinking lines. A low rod position is essential for success when fly fishing takes. There must be a direct, slack free, connection between yourself and your fly. Place the fly line under the forefinger of the rod hand pinching it against the rod cork. Another option that I prefer is pinching the line between the thumb and forefinger of the rod hand. I find this method provides added touch when retrieving small chironomid pupa or mayfly nymphs. Takes to small food sources such are typically subtle.

With rod properly positioned and the line in control pinch and pull the fly line from behind and below your rod hand. Begin by pulling a short 3-4 inch length using the thumb and forefinger. Reach up with an outstretched hand to grab and pull the line with the tip of the pinky finger. Roll or twist your hand back towards your stomach to complete the retrieve. Grasp the line with your thumb and forefinger to repeat the retrieve process. Once the retrieve motion is complete you can keep the gathered line the palm of your hand or drop it.

Getting the retrieve motion mastered may take a few attempts. But once you have things figured out you will soon be able to gather line and manipulate your flies at a variety of speeds depending upon the mood of the fish, food source you are trying suggest and the water temperature.

Of these three factors I pay closest attention to water temperature. Cold cool water reduces trout metabolism numbing their aggression. As a general rule the cooler the water the slower the retrieve pace.

Stillwater retrieves depend on four key elements; the length of the pull, speed of the pull, the time or pause between retrieve motions and the overall retrieve cadence or tempo. The pause is often overlooked. As sight feeders, trout are attracted to the fly by its motion and begin to follow. When the fly pauses trout, as with all predators, pounce, snatching the fly as it slowly drops or the second it begins to move again.

Knowing and understanding the retrieve elements you can manipulate all four variables using a handtwist retrieve. Use a short initial pull when water temperatures are cool or when imitating slow moving quarry such as chironomids and mayfly nymphs. Stop the retrieve entirely to pause and rest the pattern. To shorten the retrieve length even more involve only your ring or middle fingers. As enjoy fishing floating or Midge Tip lines using long leaders, small weighted patterns and pedantic retrieves I use a two finger handtwist often. I begin by making a short slow 1-2 inch pull and then reach up with my middle finger to complete the retrieve. The end result is a painstakingly slow retrieve that is deadly effective. You know you have the retrieve pace correct when the fly line shows no wake as it moves across the water’s surface. If the link wakes you are retrieving too fast and need to slow down. I was taught when I thought I had the retrieve speed right, cut the pace in half again.

The handtwist is the backbone of all stillwater retrieves. It can be used to suggest a variety of prey items. The line can be gathered using an array of pace, from near static to brisk. To some the handtwist can be tricky to master but once you have it figured out you will instantly become a better stillwater fly fisher.

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One Response to The Handtwist Retrieve, by Phil Rowley

  1. Walt says:

    Why not just small pulls without the pinky pull. Pinky pull seems to be the same or could be. Thanks

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