Our friend Jeff Hickman is back today with a great article on why and how you should try spey casting.
Jeff is a year-round swung fly steelhead guide and two-handed rod casting instructor in Oregon. You can find him at www.fishtheswing.com.
Today’s piece is an adaptation of an article that Jeff wrote for Fly Fisherman magazine. Thanks, Jeff!
Look Ma, Both Hands!
Steelhead and Chinook are both incredibly wild creatures that depend on wild rivers to seed the next generation of their ocean exploring offspring. I know of no river more wild than BC’s Dean River. No dams, no agriculture, no roads, no development. Just glaciers, snow pack and rain to fluctuate the river’s flow every day. When I arrived on the Dean in mid July the water was high but strangely clear from the lack of its normal glacial green color. This was the result of last winter’s abnormally large snow pack, an abnormally cool spring, and an abnormally rainy early summer.
This left us fishing in many spots with our back up against the bushes and not able to wade far from shore. One spot in particular stands out in my mind from that trip as a perfect example of the challenge. Archaeological was the name – a wonderful looking run full of big boulders and pockets, nice bouncy textured surface, perfect walking speed, my definition of perfect steelhead water. Only problem was this spot was a chest deep wade hanging on to the over hanging alder branches the whole way. I call spots like this the double black diamond runs, they are not for kids, or for those without a two handed rod. With modern short-head lines and spey casts you can step in to runs like this with full confidence. Jim and I stepped into Archaeological on the last day of our trip with full confidence and we were rewarded big.
Our reward that day wouldn’t have been remotely possible without our spey rods. When swinging a fly there is no doubt that the two-hander offers huge advantages in various fishing situations. Many people believe the spey rod is strictly for long distance casting. I am often asked by spey virgins, “how far can you cast a spey rod?” Truth is, I’m not sure. While long distance casts are possible with the two-hander, that is not the primary benefit of using one. Long distance casts can certainly be advantageous to reach those far away fish, but far more important than a long cast, is the fact that when spey fishing, the fly is in the water fishing so much more of the time. There is no wasted time in the air on back and false casts, or worse, snagged in the trees and bushes behind you. One cannot under estimate the importance of this, especially when you are making hundreds of casts in a day. This adds up to a lot more time your fly is actually fishing – some days it would be like getting two whole days worth of fishing in one!
With the spey rod, there is no need for casting room behind you. This is especially helpful when streamside trees and bushes are present or when challenging wading conditions exist. There are many fish holding close to shore and in spots where deep wading is not possible. With a spey rod you can comfortably cast wading close to shore and effectively present your fly to those fish. Too often when people are fishing with a single-hander, they are forced to wade deep and not even show their flies to those close to shore fish. In addition, it is much safer to wade closely to shore and not risk a dangerous swim.
With the longer rod comes better fly control and mending ability. Once the cast is made, the true benefits of the spey rod are utilized. With the long length of rod you can easily elevate the line off the water and make effortless mends to control the depth and speed of the fly. By holding the long rod angled across the current you can slow the fly on the outside of the swing, and by changing the angle towards the near bank you can speed the fly up and ensure that it fishes through the water straight below you on the hang down.
Spey casting is much easier to learn than you think. A good instructor is invaluable – even just a short one hour private lesson on the water will increase your learning curve exponentially. Even when teaching someone who is a very experienced single-handed caster, most of the time they will be fishing much more efficiently within an hour of learning to cast the two-hander. Outside of a good instructor to get you off on the right foot, the biggest factor to quickly learning to spey cast is having a good line matched to the rod for the type of fishing that you would like to do. A good instructor can also help you find a good rod/line match. Modern lines make casting so much easier! The evolution of spey lines in the last ten years has been radically fast and has made learning and fishing unbelievably more enjoyable.
If you haven’t already, I hope that you give the two-hander a try. I think you too will find that using both hands is more fun and it will change your world forever. Plus, spey fishermen have longer rods. What’s not to like?
Scott Owens says
My wonderful wife bought me a switch rod for Christmas. I often fish the Salmon river in NY for steelhead, kings, and cohos. I cannot wait to take the new rod up in April for a few steelhead. Locally in central Pa. We use the two handers on the Susquehanna river for bass.
You’re a lucky man, Scott – have fun with it!