Brian Niska owns Whistler Fly Fishing and he’s one of our guest spey instructors at Alaska West and BC West. There’s a reason we bring him back every year – he does an incredible job communicating concepts about spey fishing to anglers of all backgrounds.
Brian designed a line of spey rods called ‘Metal Detector’ for Pieroway Rods. For those of you interested in spey fishing and spey rods, we thought it would be cool to have Brian explain some of the concepts that went into the design of these rods.
We asked Brian for a write up and he knocked the cover off the ball. Spey folk, read on!
Metal Detector Spey Series
This will be my 5th year participating in the Spey Improvement program at Alaska West and I have to say the 2 weeks I spend on the Kanektok each summer are the highlight of my yearly schedule. The Kanektok is a special place and a big part of what makes the fishery unique is the wide variety of angling one can do in a given day. This is especially true during the first 2 weeks in July when the King Salmon run is in full swing, Chum Salmon numbers are peaking and the Leopard Rainbows are starting to fatten up nicely.
Alaska West is ground zero for spey casting progression. Each year the lodge’s guide staff roster runs deep with veteran casting guru guides and some all-star speycasting clients from all over the world. Most of these folks return year after year, drawn by the challenge and reward that this unique fishery offers. Of course each year there are newbies and they do improve fast, partly thanks to the spey improvement program that the lodge runs each week during King Season.
The thing about King fishing on the Kanektok is it really does breed exceptional casters. It’s windy most of the time and we fish our way through runs that curve over 90 degress. With each cast and step downstream, the relationship between the ever- present wind and the river current changes. Speycasters need to figure out how to work with the wind and not fight against it. Casting heavy King rigs all day in the wind can be tiring if you are beating yourself up by overpowering your cast.
After a few weeks of watching some casters try to lay the smack down in the wind an idea was starting to take shape: a speyrod design that would make initiating rod load easier while facilitating a more efficient transfer of energy, enabling long casts into the wind with less effort.
The design idea was fairly simple and to be honest it really started with my skis. When I first got on my Rossignol Super 7 skis I was impressed with how easy the early rise on the tip made initiating turns and loading the ski. A light bulb kind of went off in my head and I thought about how speyrod design could be slightly changed to be more efficient. Good casting is always going to be about efficiency: how to deliver the fly to the fish with least amount of effort and a nice aerodynamic loop.
One day at the Western Canada Flyfishing Expo in Calgary I got to talking with Brad McGrath of Pieroway Rods about speyrod design. He introduced me to Geoff Pieroway, master rod builder and founder of the Calgary based Pieroway Rod Company. Geoff liked the idea and the next thing you know we were working on the Metal Detector design.
Our goal was to make the lightest spey rods possible, while making sure these Metal Detectors would still be strong enough to live up to their name. Though stiff in the middle sections (similar in flex to a fast action Scandinavian design), the rod butt would be softer flexing, bending well into the cork. The idea was that the softness under the cork would slow down rod unloading, in essence keeping the load between your hands throughout the cast.
When speycasting we create rod load in the sweep but usually lose a large portion of this load while making the turn at the back to enter the forward cast. The fast progressive action of modern rods means they unload very quickly when we stop or slowdown. As casting instructors we are always telling our students to slow down yet what the student feels when they make the turn at the back is the load leaving the rod before they start the forward stroke. Everyones’ natural reaction is to speed up when they feel slack entering the line system or load leaving the rod.
To help fight slack and to enable easy loading we also made the tip of the rod soft, yet tweaked the design to make it quick recovering. This short soft tip provides a smooth transition into the overhanging running line and back of the head. This is the area were slack most easily enters the cast. When slack enters the cast we lose load and have the natural reaction of speeding up as mentioned above. In the interest of maintaining rod load we need to keep the line taut throughout the cast. Having this short soft section at the top of the rod smooths things out and helps keep tension as well as providing leverage to enable loading in the stiff middle section of the rod. This allows the caster a much slower casting pace, truly letting the rod do the work.
A smooth and patient forward stroke will develop an insane amount of line speed with a minimum of effort. A tight loop is a product of a forward stroke with smooth and progressive power application along a straight line rod tip path. The rod is most bent (loaded) in the middle portion of the forward stroke (through 12 o’clock). If we can maintain a good amount of load and hold off our main power application until after 12 o’clock (think “no power before midnight”) we will have the rod working to its full potential.
The game plan was simple: 3 rods to do everything. Here is what we came up with:
- 10’5” 400 grain switch rod,perfect for trout of all sizes
- 12’ 510 grain all arounder, the go to Steelhead stick
- 13’5” 720 grain powerhouse, Chinook (King) Salmon tamer
This year will be the second anniversary of the introduction of Pieroway Metal Detector rods as the first Metal Detectors sold were fished at Alaska West in July 2010. Fishing the Kanektok in July means all 3 of these rods are going to see some action.
For trout fishing around camp and upriver I use the 10’5”400 grain switch rod lined with a Rio AFS Outbound 400 grain line and rigged with a mouse pattern. Sometimes I will switch out to a Rio Skagit short 425 to swing sculpins, smolts and flesh on sink tips.
The 12’ 510 is set up with an Airflo Skagit Compact 510 and is the perfect size rig for swinging the lower river bars for Chum Salmon. Rigged with a flesh fly the 510 does equally well fishing for lower river rainbows which can be steelhead-sized. If I hook up with a King I still have enough rod to properly play the fish.
The 720 is a pure King rod. I have it rigged with an Airflo Skagit Intermediate 720 grain line. It chucks a 12.5 foot T17 tip and large bug very easily. It has lots of power for the largest fish but is light enough to feel like a steelhead rig.