Spey Casting: On encountering the two-hand fly rod

Filed in The Sporting Angler by on October 27, 2016 0 Comments

Spey casting is an art both ancient and new.  I learned a lot about it this last weekend and for those of you who find the term unfamiliar I’ll tell you about it sort of the way I learned.

When I still lived in Southern California I took fly-casting lessons from the Long Beach Casting Club.  I could cast a fly accurately out to about thirty feet but getting farther frustrated me.  Single haul, double haul, I could do neither. However, some of the other members had taken up the double handed fly rod and were throwing lines out over a hundred feet.  I wanted that and when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, salmon and steelhead country, land of big rivers I decided to learn how.

Spey casting originated on the River Spey in Scotland, according to Wikipedia, back in the mid 1800’s.  The quarry of choice was the Atlantic salmon but the river is large and special tackle was needed to reach out to the fish.  In the beginning rods as long as twenty-two feet made from heavy greenheart wood were used and casting them must have required considerable strength.

Single handed rods of the time were made of Tonkin cane bamboo but after the Communists came to power the source dried up and manufacturers went first to fiber glass and then to graphite.  It is graphite that is the secret to the modern Spey rod and what makes the technique of Spey casting magical.

Spey Casting:  Why?

Big fish eat big bait.  That means that if you’re going to go after salmon, steelhead or sea trout you need to throw big flies and throw them a long ways.  However, for the aging angler there is another reason spey casting appeals.  Once your technique is set, it takes less effort.  That’s right.  This long, 12.5-14 ft rod is actually easier on those of us afflicted with arthritic and tendonitis prone joints.  Watch here as Ed Ward demonstrates the cast.  Notice the position of his hands and arms.  Everything happens in front, not out to the side.  Notice also how low the position of his arms is.  This is an effortless style of casting.  I fished for two whole days and never once felt any twinges in my shoulders.  I am a convert!

Throwing the double spey cast

River Right

Spey Casting: Where?

In there early days of American fly fishing, brook trout in the Alleghenies was the main target with smallmouth bass a close second.  There were, though, those sports who ventured to Maine and Canada in search of Atlantic salmon but as those rivers were polluted or overfished, long rods faded from popularity.  I suspect that what brought it back was the glorious steelhead of the Pacific Northwest.

Spey casting for steelhead

Rainbow trout grown to the size of salmon with appetites and attitudes to match.  When I was young ‘mooching’ with casting rods was what showed up in the outdoor magazines but along about the 1980’s and 90’s improved double handed rods and the spey casting techniques to use them have come to the fore.  Steelhead never were easy to catch and catching them on a fly is harder yet but I look forward to the day when one of this beauties tries to dislocate my elbow on a spey rod.

From Northern California up the coast, across the Bering Strait and down the Kamchatka to Japan, sea run fish feed in the sea and spawn in rivers, rivers just waiting for spey casting anglers to come visit, catch and release–most of the time.  (I must admit a inordinate fondness for hatchery steelhead.  They’re legal take and as to flavor?  Like arctic char, these are the fish God invented for His own dinner!)  As the waters of New England and the Eastern Provinces of Canada are cleaned, Atlantic Salmon have returned.  Crossing the ocean, Iceland has them as does Norway, Ireland and Scotland.  Even in the Southern Hemisphere, the Rio Grande of Tierra del Fuego holds sea run brown trout that grow to immense size.  Though the thirty pounders of yore are few and far between these days, twenty’s are far from uncommon.  Chasing the sea run salmonids compares with safari for adventure.

In today’s world two handed fly rods come in small sizes, too.  Spey casting for smallmouth on the John Day and Umpqua  rivers will be a project for next spring.  Stay tuned.

Spey Casting Lessons

I learned from Darrell Hanks, chief guide at the Morrison Rogue River Lodge.  He is a fine instructor, gentleman companion and eminent string instrument bow maker.  For those of you within reasonable distance of Merlin, OR I recommend the lodge.  The food is wonderful, the company grand, the lodging comfortable and historic and the scenery heartwarming.  For those not so happily located, look for instructors nearby.  Spey casting is not what one wants on spring creeks where two weight rods and #22 flies are the ticket.  But much of the country’s water, both fresh and salt, is suitable.  Consider this.  It will have you fishing until you can’t stand any longer.  And by then maybe techniques will advance so you can spey cast from a wheelchair.  I certainly intend to.

learn spey casting here

The Morrison Rogue River Lodge


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