Spey Casting in the Mainstream

Reprint of an article published in the Boulder Daily Camera on May 5, 2005 plus some additional candid pictures which could not pass the censorship test.

It was cold and overcast with snow expected in the late afternoon as a small group of fly fishermen made their way to an appointed location on the South Platte River. Our objective was to attend a spey casting clinic that was being conducted by a qualified expert, Dan Wright of Blue Quill Anglers.

During the last two years Front Range Anglers had received a number of inquiries about this technique and was launching an initial set of classes. The surge in interest has been largely fueled by an expanding number of current articles in popular fly fishing magazines. In addition, this form of angling is showing up with increasing regularity on large rivers in the Rocky Mountain West.

Spey casting originated along Scotland's legendary Spey River for Atlantic salmon. Two handed rods and specialized casts were developed on the river because backcasting was hindered by rocky outcroppings and trees. The original spey rods were sometimes eighteen to twenty feet long, heavy, and made of Greenheart wood from British Guiana. Such rods are a far cry from the light graphite two handed rods of 12 to 17-feet used today.

Over time spey casting spread across the British Isles into Scandinavia and Canada. It began appearing in the Northwestern US on large steelhead and Pacific salmon rivers some 20 years ago. Now it is spreading across the US for trout fishing on large rivers where distance casting is a must and to saltwater fishing where getting the fly out over the surf in strong winds is required.
Once learned, spey casts can produce, without a backcast, consistent casting distances of 75 to 140-feet. In addition, the degree of line control is tremendous. You can place the fly and execute mends to keep it in the target area much longer than with a conventional fly rod.

Dan started the class by explaining what we were going to be taught over the next four hours - overhead casting switch casting, the single spey, snap T, and double spey. In addition, he discussed the finer points of the equipment that each participant was about to use.

The group was composed of experienced and serious fishermen who were anxious to add spey casting to their fishing skill set.. Each realized how this technique would open a whole new range of angling opportunities.

Its important to note that becoming proficient requires a lot of practice but getting started on the right foot with a knowledgeable instructor gives you a tremendous advantage. Videos and books are great but they can't take the place of hands-on instruction.

The Spey Clinic gets under way as Dan Wright talks about equipment and demonistrates proper form
We had an assortment of rods from various manufacturers but the lines were all 130-foot 8/9/10 WindCutters from Rio Products. These lines have a short head that helps to load the rod for long casts. Just as conventional single-handed graphite rods have different actions, two handed rods offer various actions. Spey rods are generally categorized in two groups, traditional (slow to medium action that causes the blank to bend into the butt section under load), and European (faster action with a stronger butt and lighter tip), There is a third style developed in the Pacific Northwest called the Skagit (named after a River in Washington) designed specifically for heavy sink-tip lines. While many spey rods are expensive, $600 or more, a number of very good quality lower-priced rods have recently come to the market at half the price.

Dan explained and then demonstrated to the class that gaining control over a 14-foot rod is really about technique not strength. If you try to overpower a long rod the end result is a mess of tailing loops and misdirected energy. He made it look easy and effortless as he flicked out 90 or 100 feet of line.

Jim Hanley (left) contemplates the steps involved in executing a Snap T cast as Dan Wright demonstrates each of the moves.
Experienced anglers fishing in a traditional manner don't think about the casting process or the various casts they regularly use. But spey casting is such a departure from one-handed approach and your lack of familiarity forces you to concentrate on the various steps. Getting out of synch is easy. Dan has two answers to this dilemma. First, go back to a basic cast that you have already mastered and work your way back to the cast you're attempting to execute. In other words, get comfortable. Second, practice constantly until you can make each cast without thinking about it.

There is no doubt in my mind that spey casting allows an angler to cover considerably more water with less effort and fatigue. On larger rivers you can reach areas that are virtually unfishable with a single handed rod.
Here are some pictures of the event which may shed additional light on what happened.

I've got it?

Not even close

The light goes on

You can improve your casting and fishing by keeping the line over the water

The face of determination or resignation.

It's is so simple, Just pretend the rod is attached to your body!