Two-Fisted Fishing

Two-Fisted Fishing

I grew up as a deprived youngster-although I was scarcely aware of it at the time, and it left no permanent scars. By deprived I mean that my fishing life

  • By: Paul Guernsey
I grew up as a deprived youngster-although I was scarcely aware of it at the time, and it left no permanent scars. By deprived I mean that my fishing life consisted entirely of catching brook trout on worms, dunking crayfish for smallmouth bass and twirling minnows in the tidal current for snapper blues.

I knew no one who had ever held a fly rod, much less used one. Whenever I encountered a fly fisherman-and that was not often-the experience was something like a visitation from an extraterrestrial: Strange garments, otherworldly apparatuses and bizarre gestures enshrouded in a veil of pipe smoke.

Back then everything about the sport seemed supernatural to me. That fish would eat stuff that wasn't even slimy I could almost understand. But fly-casting-forget it. By what occult forces did that length of plastic clothesline defy gravity to sail so far and so gracefully without a weight at the end to pull it along? And that nondescript disk of a reel that didn't even spin or make noise during the cast-what the heck was that all about?

Although fly-fishing is just as magical to me now, it's a whole lot less mysterious. There are still some mysteries in the world however, and one of them-at least for me-is Spey-fishing. Sure, I've tried it a couple of times-in fact, I attempted using a two-hander just a couple of weeks ago on Oregon's North Umpqua River. But basically, two-handed rods take me back to my earlier state of innocence, incompetence and wonder.

I'd really like to change that situation. Although Spey-fishing is still a peripheral part of fly-fishing, at least here in the US, not only is it growing in popularity, but it holds some undeniable angling advantages.

I'm sure you've heard about those 120-foot casts made with ease-at least by anglers who know what they're doing. But distance is only half of it. On rivers like the North Umpqua that have steep, wooded banks, a Spey rod allows you to make lengthy rollcasts that keep your line in the water and your fly out of the branches. In addition, the extra length of a two-handed rod lets you mend line more easily and efficiently for super-long, drag-free drifts.

While most of the growth in Spey-fishing seems to be on the steelhead and salmon rivers of the Pacific Northwest, two-fisted tackle has also spawned a smaller East Coast saltwater cult. Friends tell me there's nothing like a Spey rod for pitching your Clouser or Deceiver to stripers, blues or false albacore working just beyond where the waves begin to break.

Quite a few consecutive issues of FR&R can appear without even a mention of Spey-fishing. But this issue is different: Not only is John Gierach's Sporting Life column all about his experiences with Spey rods, but two of our 2004 FR&R Tackle Awards go to a couple of pieces of Spey gear this year. You'll find those write-ups in our special Awards section.

I'd like to say that I planned this unusual "spotlight on Spey," but I didn't. John just happened to turn in his January/February column on the topic of two-handers, while the Awards resulted from the efforts of our knowledgeable and dedicated FR&R Awards panelists.

It's just a coincidence, in other words-unless you happen to believe in the supernatural. For my part, these days I'm more inclined to believe in practice, hard work and a little bit of God-given grace. Although I lack all but the smallest speck of the latter, I am sometimes able to make a little progress when I apply the other two to one thing or another. And one of these days I mean to apply them to learning how to become a competent Spey caster.

There's magic in those giant sticks.