Getting Started In Spey-Casting

Getting Started In Spey-Casting

Just about everyone and his brother is getting into Spey-casting. No longer is it an exclusive sport of wealthy European nobles who roam the globe in search

  • By: Simon Gawesworth
Just about everyone and his brother is getting into Spey-casting. No longer is it an exclusive sport of wealthy European nobles who roam the globe in search of Atlantic salmon. The start was slow here in North America. As late as the 1980's there were only a handful of practitioners, inspired by trips they had taken to the European salmon rivers, or ex pats who had moved across the pond, bringing their skills, knowledge and tackle with them. These anglers were viewed with suspicion and mistrust-even laughed at for wielding rods of 15 and 16 feet and making strange casts.Today there are a lot more Spey casters plying their skills on West Coast and Great Lakes steelhead rivers, Rocky Mountain trout streams and even on the Eastern seaboard for stripers and bluefish. Spey-casting has become a trend, the rage and, dare I say it, a success. So, what is Spey-casting? Simply, it is a method of fly-casting that is ideally suited to fishing close to bushes and obstructions. Spey-casts have little backcast. With the right technique and tackle a caster can make a 120-foot cast with less than two feet of backcasting space. Most people associate Spey-casting with two-handed rods. They can go on thinking that. Those in the know however, use Spey-casts with a single-handed rod to devastating effect-opening up miles of water that nobody else can fish, spending more time with the fly in the water and covering a fish faster than the "average" fly fisher. The bottom line is that any of the casts I describe here can be done with a single-handed fly rod. There are a number of casts in the Spey family. The rollcast is one that a lot of fly fishers know, and most Spey-casts derive from this simple cast. Originally there were two Spey-casts: the Single Spey and the Double Spey. Now there is also the Snake Roll, the Snap C, the Perry Poke and the Spiral Spey, not to mention a bunch of no-name casts that most Spey casters develop to cope with unique situations. Three Basic Principles of spey-casting: Before I begin to talk about the actual casts themselves I want to run over a few basics that anyone attempting these casts must know in order to succeed. 1. Unlike an overhead cast, there is very little line behind the caster to load the rod. The line that loads the rod hangs in a curve and is called the "d-loop" or the "belly." The bigger the belly is, the more weight there is and the easier the rod will load, which results in more effortless casts for the caster. 2. With any of the Spey-casts, the amount of line lying on the water at the start of the forward cast is the enemy. It is called line stick. Before a forward cast can unroll it needs to break the surface tension of the line already trapped there. The more line that is on the water, the more energy is lost and the worse the cast will be. So, the less line stick there is, the better the Spey-cast will be (See figure 1). 3. Perhaps the biggest strength of the Spey-casts is their ability to change direction. Yet this is the part that can tangle up most casters. In simple physics, the cast will be most efficient when everything is in a straight line. The back cast needs to be opposite the forward cast, the rod needs to be opposite the target before the forward cast begins and the anchor needs to be straight, taut and facing the target. This is called the 180-degree principle. The more "off" the back cast and the forward cast, the worse the result (See figure 2). o, there you have a brief description of the Three Basic Principles of Spey-casting. Every Spey-cast has to follow these principles to get the maximum result from the minimum effort. To keep things relatively simple, it is important not to try and learn all the Spey-casts at the same time. Instead let's take a look at two of the easier Spey-casts to learn: the Snap C and the Double Spey. I almost always teach these two casts together in my schools. Time has showed me that the similarities of the casts make it easier for beginners to learn these two, rather than try and learn the Single Spey and the Snake Roll. To keep it simple I am going to describe both of these casts for the caster standing on the left bank of the river. The Snap C: Imagine you are standing on the left bank, river flowing from right to left. The line is on the "dangle" (hanging taut downstream of you), and you want to cast your fly back across the river at an angle of 60 degrees or so. Stand with your left foot forward (weight mostly on this foot), angled across the river and your body facing your target. Draw an imaginary orange line on the water, directly between your front foot and your target. SINGLEHANDING IT Of course, the techniques of Spey-casting aren't limited to the two-handed rod. I actually learned all my Spey-casting techniques in the 1970's with a single-handed rod-fishing the Devon rivers and streams that were too small for a two-handed rod but still required a deft Spey-cast. To Spey-cast with a single-handed rod, just hold the rod as you would for your regular overhead cast, with your hand in its usual position. For the more advanced casts use your free hand to hold the line and be ready to generate a haul. You certainly won't get the distance that you would with the longer two-handed rods, but the versatility and fun and the fact that it opens up so much water to the caster makes it an essential skill for every fly angler. The most useful Spey-cast is the Side Spey, in which you take a regular Spey-cast and, instead of casting it in a vertical plane on the forward cast, you add a forward cast from a side cast and turn the Spey-cast low and flat to get underneath an overhanging tree. There are over 100 different casts you can create by adding side casts, aerial mends, reach casts, tuck mends, slack-line casts, single hauls, double hauls and other components to the regular Spey-casts. You just need to begin thinking outside the box. Start with your rod pointing down, the fly line on the dangle and low, about a foot off the surface. Draw a very large letter "D" with your rod tip (See figure 3), starting with your rod tip at the bottom left corner of the "D." Slowly lift the rod up the vertical part of the "D" and around the first half of the curve, and then accelerate through the lower part of the curve with a snap. The rod tip should finish pointing back downstream and quite low to the water (See photo 1). The object of the snap is to throw the tip of the fly line just upstream of you and slightly out in front of your body (See photo 2). Once this has happened sweep the rod tip upstream and behind your upstream shoulder and up to 1 o'clock (See photos 3&4), rocking back lightly on to your back foot. Keep the rod tip low during the chase and then raise it to 1 o'clock once the rod has come past your upstream shoulder. When the rod is at 1 o'clock, it should be directly opposite your target. If done correctly, you will move all the fly line on the water from a position facing downstream-pirouetting the very tip of the fly line-and align it with your target on the forward stroke. Once you have finished the backstroke, wait until the d-loop has formed behind the rod and finish off by driving out a forward cast that is parallel to, but not crossing, the line lying on the water surface. As with any good Spey-cast, the forward loop should unroll cleanly in the air (See photo 5), not along the water surface where it would be prone to drag. On the opposite side of the river, when using the left hand up, the 'D' should be reversed, moving in a counter clockwise direction. The double spey: Again, assume you are going to be on the left bank. This means casting off your left shoulder -- either by using your left hand, or by casting "cack handed" (right hand over left shoulder, see below). The line is on the "Dangle" and you want to cast your fly back across the river at an angle of 60 degrees or so. Stand with your right foot forward (weight mostly on this foot), angled towards the target. In your mind, draw an imaginary orange line on the water, directly between your front foot and your target. Stage 1 Start with the rod pointing downstream and the line washed tight, directly downstream of you. Raise the rod slowly and steadily to 10 o'clock (See photo 1), still pointing directly downstream and stop, waiting for the fly line you have lifted to sag to a motionless stop. Swing the rod tip over (See photo 2) and across your body and finish it pointing directly upstream-but low to the water (See photo 3). The idea is to bring the tip of the fly line out of the water on your downstream side and settle it about a rod length downstream of where you are standing. Too fast a movement and the fly line will pass you and land on the upstream side of your orange line. This is dangerous and can easily result in a hook ending up in your arm, under your chin or wrapped around the rod. Stage 2 Once your line has landed at the end of Stage 1 and your rod tip is low, pointing directly upstream, start to smoothly sweep the rod across your body downstream (See photo 4) and behind you until it is opposite your target and lifted up to the 1 o'clock position (See photo 5). The sweep has a gradual lift and travels at a constant speed. The idea behind this movement is to change the fly line's position from lying on the water facing upstream/downstream to a mostly aerialized belly with a small anchor, pointing towards the target. If judged correctly the tip of the line will "pirouette" on the water surface and line up with your target. Too much speed or too much lift in Stage 2 will result in the fly leaping out of the water behind you and into the bushes. Too slow on the sweep and only part of the fly line will change position resulting in a "Bloody L." With a short line the cast will succeed, but for distance the "Bloody L" slows down the forward cast significantly. While your rod and arms are traveling through Stage 2 and up to 1 o'clock, you should transfer your body weight from your front foot (the right) to your back foot. Stage 3 Once you have finished Stage 2 and formed the belly behind the rod, it is a simple matter of finishing off with the forward stroke (See photos 6 and 7, opposite page). On this note, however, remember that timing is important and the timing between the end of Stage 2 and the start of the forward stroke depends on the size and speed of the belly. The bigger the belly is, the more time you have to wait for the belly to achieve its maximum size. A small belly (necessary when you are tight to an obstruction) forms rapidly and so the forward stroke can almost be instantaneous. Some people find it easier to get the timing right by watching the belly form behind them, then as the belly stops moving backwards, start the forward stroke. So there you have it. It is important to learn both the snap C and the Double Spey. Wind is the most influencing factor in Spey-casting. You never want to Spey-cast with the wind on your casting shoulder-too dangerous! If you can get an understanding of both these casts, and can make either cast from your left shoulder and your right shoulder, you can cope in any wind situation and fish effectively from either bank. To put it simply: do the Double Spey with a downstream wind and the Snap C with an upstream wind. Once you have got the hang of these two casts, or at least enough muscle memory to stop thinking when casting, it is time to have a go at the more difficult casts and get an understanding of these. A true student of Spey-casting has a working knowledge of all the casts available-even if you don't actually need to learn them in order to catch a fish.