By Todd Ceisner
An assortment of Kistler Z-Bone rods paired with Lew's reels were neatly aligned across the floor of the quaint one-bedroom cabin Jay Yelas called home for the Forrest Wood Cup last month at the Red River.
It was the off day between practice and the start of the biggest tournament of the year for him and a relaxed Yelas was just chilling out on the couch, prepping the dozen or so rods.
There's a spinnerbait rod, a cranking rod, a square-bill crankbait rod, another for Texas-rigged plastics. Of course, there were a few flipping rods among the bunch. A couple spinning rods were leaned up against an end table. Every technique was seemingly covered. One rod in particular, though, caught my attention – the one with the left-hand retrieve Lew's casting reel.
"What's the deal with that one, Jay," I said pointing at the lefty reel, noticing all the others were righties.
"It’s one of my flipping rods," he said matter of factly.
"Wait, you flip with both hands," I asked.
"Been doing it for years," he said.
Hmmmm, I thought. So this guy's ambifishterous?
Mastering the art of flipping and pitching with one arm can take someone of moderate fishing ability and patience several years of practice. Most novice anglers are satisfied once they reach that point.
Yelas isn't like most novice anglers.
The winner of the 2002 Bassmaster Classic and holder of three Angler of the Year titles (one B.A.S.S., two FLW) has been fishing professionally for more than a quarter century. He's been fortunate in that he's been able to avoid or at least fend off serious injuries that stem from repetitive use activities like casting, reeling and flipping or pitching. He's a firm believer that teaching himself to fish (flip and pitch, specifically) with his left arm years ago has helped prolong his career and help him stay competitive.
"I don't know of many other guys who do it," he says, picking up the lefty flipping and passing it across the room to me. "I've been doing it for my whole career. I've fished with lefties and righties. I learned to do that years ago to help with fatigue and reduce the potential for injury. If you have a bad wrist or a bad elbow or bad shoulder on one arm, you can go the other way and wear the other arm out."
"It's added longevity to my career. I've never had any serious injuries. I've had some injuries, but I've always been able to nurse them by switching to other arm."
While 250-pound linebackers aren't chasing them down from behind, pro anglers still put themselves in harm's way through the repetitious nature of their craft. Thousand-cast days are common during a 12-hour practice sessions. Stack three of those one after the other and then tack on two or more tournament days and the sum of the strain and constant use can lead to considerable pain and discomfort.
Yelas has had his share of bumps and bruises along the way, but he's avoided the operating room because he's learned to listen to his body and made adjustments to counter the effects of repetitive use activity.
"Flipping braid is probably the worst thing over the years," he said, noting that all of his reels, save for his spinning outfits, spooled up with fluorocarbon line for the Cup. "When you're doing that in heavy cover and you set the hook, all of the shock is right in the wrist because there's no stretch in the line.
"There are other techniques that involve winding a reel at a high rate for a long period of time like burning a spinnerbait," he said. "You just get exhausted."
Practice Makes Perfect
Yelas says there are no dry-land drills that can take the place of on-the-water practice when trying to perfect a new technique or skill. It all boils down to simple trial and error. He's done the backyard target thing for flipping with his left arm, but he didn't start to get the coordination down until he put in the work on the water.
He compares being able to comfortable flipping with both arms to being a switch hitter in baseball. Certain situations, whether it be the way a tree overhangs or the direction of a laydown, allow him to effectively fish the cover from the proper angle.
"There are certain techniques where it's easy to chunk and wind like a spinnerbait of a crankbait and reel either way," he said. "What's hard is getting real accurate pitches and flips with your uncoordinated arm. Over the years, I've been able to get equally comfortable with both.
"At the same time, where the rubber meets the road is during the competition when you have to lay that thing in there nice and quiet in the middle of a piece of cover. The other rub is if you're not quite as accurate with your weak arm, you can still fish the other way and give your dominant arm a rest in practice. The whole reason to do it is to reduce fatigue. It's just a matter of coordinating."