TFO Spey Casting Basics
by Nick Curcione
There are times when using two hands can be better than one and even more fun. Welcome to the world of double-handed fly-casting or what is more commonly referred to as Spey casting. Spey casting, named after the river Spey in Scotland where it first began, can also be accomplished with single-handed rods, but for our purposes we are going to direct our discussion to casting techniques performed with double-handed rods specifically designed for this type of casting.
So what is a Spey cast? Basically it is a dynamic roll cast that enables the angler to change the direction of the cast. The movement of the fly line across the water with its aerodynamic loops and rolls is not only visually compelling, but exhilarating giving the caster a feeling similar to the sensation you experience when you hit a good tee shot in golf or smack a baseball squarely with the bat. In fact, more and more anglers are taking up this style of casting just for the fun factor alone.
Advantages and disadvantages of Spey casting
There is no denying the fun aspect of these casts, but aside from the sheer pleasure of it all, there are a number of practical angling benefits to consider.
- One of the most obvious differences is that with Spey type casts you don’t have to make long back casts. This means that you can now fly fish in places where obstructions like trees, rocks, brush, or whatever might have otherwise prevented you from doing so.
- Comparatively speaking, relatively long casts are easier to execute and using two hands can be less fatiguing than casting a rod single-handed.
- When fishing currents, the longer double-handed rod is more effective for mending the line and controlling the fly on the swing.
- From a safety standpoint the fly can easily be positioned in front of the angler and on the downwind side when it’s blowing.
The downside to consider is that the longer length of these rods makes them less efficient as fish fighting tools, landing a fish by hand can be more difficult, and transporting them can be a bit of a challenge.
Fly line choices
Long belly lines
Over the last several years manufacturers have made significant improvements in fly lines designed for Spey type casting. Unfortunately, this has also led to considerable confusion. To simplify matters, think in terms of two broad categories of fly line, the traditional or long belly lines and the newer shorter belly shooting head and Skagit lines. The longer belly lines were originally developed primarily for Atlantic salmon fishing. The head sections of these lines are generally at least 60-feet long and make it possible to easily cast over 100-feet even against the wind. Little or no stripping and shooting of line is involved and in freezing weather conditions this can be a welcome advantage because it helps keep your hands dry. Due to their length however, they are also the most difficult lines to learn to cast.
Shooting heads and Skagit lines
Skagit casting is a sub style of Spey casting using short, heavy Spey lines with heavy tips (typically the sinking variety) and/or large flies. Skagit casters use casts with waterborne anchors: the snap T, double Spey, and Perry Poke. As a rule of thumb shooting heads and Skagit lines tend to be between 3 and 3 ½ times the length of the rod one is using. These are the most popular lines for US based anglers in freshwater and are seeing increasing use in saltwater applications. The heads are available in a variety of sinking densities and are especially useful for overhead casting with double-handed rods. In the Skagit configuration, the belly of the line floats. With the addition of various tip sections they allow the angler to fish virtually all levels of the water column. Due to their shorter length, compared to the long belly lines they are considerably easier to learn to cast. In conjunction with a floating or an intermediate tip section, this type of line is ideally suited for the novice caster.
Important Spey casting terms
- Anchor-The section of fly line including the leader that lies on water surface at the conclusion of the back cast in preparation for the forward cast. This is also commonly referred to as “stick” or “grip.” Ideally, the less line lying on the water when starting the forward cast (small stick), the better because less effort will be needed to free the line from the surface.
- Belly or D- loop- Here the term belly does not refer to the fly line’s taper. Instead it is the loop of line formed during the back cast. It normally forms a shape that resembles the letter “D” but accomplished casters making a nearly horizontal back cast stroke followed by an immediate abrupt stop can form a more “V” shaped profile resulting in an even deeper bend in the rod. Up to a point at least, a large belly puts more weight behind the rod, which creates more bend (load). As a result, less effort will be required on the forward cast.
- Splash and go anchor- This is the type of anchor where a section of the fly line and leader make only brief contact with the water surface during the formation of the D- loop. This is used with the switch cast, single Spey, and snake roll casts.
- Waterborne anchor – With this anchor a section of fly line and leader is placed on the water surface prior to the back cast. It is used for the double Spey, snap T, and Perry poke.
- Perry Poke – This incorporates a waterborne anchor and is used primarily as a recovery move, a means to reposition a misplaced anchor to align it with the target. That are some Skagit casters that “poke” most casts.
- Bloody L –This is an anchor that takes the shape of an “L” and is a result you want to avoid. Instead, the anchor should be in a straight line aligned with the target. This is related to the 180-degree principle below.
- 180-degree principle – The D- loop, anchor and rod should all be aligned 180-degrees from the target.
Long belly traditional Spey casting vs. Skagit casting
Traditional Spey casting uses touch-and-go anchors or waterborne anchors. Skagit casting uses only waterborne sustained anchors, meaning the sink tip and fly is allowed to sink beneath the surface of the water for a couple of seconds prior to the formation of the back cast D-loop and forward stroke.
TFO double-handed fly rods
TFO’s lineup of double-handed rods is designed to meet the needs of the most discriminating anglers using traditional Spey, Skagit and overhead style casting techniques. We don’t build tournament rods, we build fishing rods and at the 2009 and 2010 Spey-O-Rama casting championships some of the world’s greatest casters touted our rods as first class casting and fishing instruments.