I’ve been using the golf analogy for years on my wife when it comes to buying new rods; however what’s the most important for us as fly fishers that like a golfer, we learn to make our way away from the river from time to time in order to improve our casting skills. This practice is never more important than when taking up fishing double handed rods. For those of us who’ve learnt to cast single handed rods the transition to a double hander is not always that easy. Nonetheless learning how to handle a double hander is well worth the adventure and if you take the time to understand the basic principles and then make the effort to learn the basic casts it will open up a new realm to your fishing.
Have you checked out Intro To Spey - Part One yet?
Rene with a nice sea run brown taken from a Canterbury river on a Scott T2H 13'6" #7 with a Airflo Skagit Head
Before you get out and practice is best that you understand the principles of casting and handling a double handed rod. In my last article we discussed the three different rod and line options that are available for double handed fishing. To summarise there is the traditional style which utilizes a mid to long belly fly line, option two is a European style set up with a Short shooting head balanced by a long leader, option three is a Skagit set up where a ultra heavy short floating shooting head is used to buck over heavy sinking tips. To get you started the easiest system to learn on is a traditional floating Spey fly line with a short belly (either Airflo Delta Spey or Rio Windcutter). You also need to remember that you wont get by using a standard fly line built for a single handed rod as it wont have the same weight or taper as a true Spey line. In regard to weight as a comparison a single handed fly rod rated for a #8 line, loads effectively with between 200 and 300 grains, conversely a #8 two-handed rod will require between 450 and 600 grains to load it effectively for Spey casting. In regards to taper a standard belly (plus front and rear tapers) on a normal trout line is around 35 feet versus on a Spey line to balance out the longer rod and facilitate the longer casts the belly will range from 55 to 70 feet.The basis of all Spey casting is the roll cast. With a roll cast, instead of being thrown back into a back cast the line is swept under the rod tip and the rod is raised to the one o’clock position. At this position the line sits off the rod tip in what is known as a ‘D’ loop (where the line creates the belly of the D and the rod creates the upright). From this position the rod is cast forward just like a normal overhead cast. Unlike an overhead cast the line is not released behind the rod tip to load (bend) the rod, instead it is the D loop and the friction of the tip of the line on the water that load the rod.
Once mastered, a roll cast will come to a limit. To push the distances further what you will need to do is increase the size of the D-loop. A larger D loop increases the amount of lad on the rod and consequently results in greater distances. This is done by adding an extra step into your roll cast of picking the line up of the water before sweeping it under the rod tip and dropping the tip of the line beside you onto the water. This process enables the caster to throw more line into the D-loop. When this cast is performed on a single handed rod this cast is known as a jump roll, with a double handed rod the cast is known as a switch cast (not to be confused with a Switch rod) or a forward Spey. By definition a Spey cast is made when the back cast is made under the rod tip and the end of the fly line and leader are allowed to momentarily touch down on the waters surface before the caster launches into the forward cast.
As equally important as creating and controlling a larger D-loop to increase the load on the rod, it is important to manage the amount of fly line and leader that sits on the water before the forward cast is made. This is called the anchor point, as in essence this section of line anchors the D loop for the forward stroke. Without the anchor the line would simply crack once you launch into the forward stroke and the line would crash.
Canterbury's Simon McMillan fishes a two hander with a European head along a fishy drop off on the Rakaia River
The four keys to a good spey casting anchor are:
- The anchor should be straight and not crumpled or you will loose energy on the delivery stroke. This is very similar to letting the fly line roll out on the back cast of an overhead cast
- The anchor should point in the direction of your target or you will tangle your cast. If you make a cast across where your anchor is pointing your line will cross over itself when unraveling and consequently tangle
- The anchor should sit opposite your shoulder and not in front of you or you will not have enough power to make the cast. An anchor that is sitting in front of the angler will cause too much line stick (friction on the water). The idea is not that the roll of line picks up 20 yards of fly line in front of you and takes it even further, the idea is that the line sits predominantly behind you in a D loop and you launch it across the water
- The anchor should not be too big or it will be too hard to pick it up off the water on the delivery cast. The term to remember for your timing here is “kiss and go”, the tip of the fly line is allowed to touch the water and then the angler launches into the cast
As you can imagine if the anchor needs to point in the direction of your target, then you are going to need to learn some ways to put the anchor into the position you want it. This can be done by the four basic Spey casts. The two traditional Spey casts are the single Spey and Double Spey. To simplify these the single Spey is used when fishing the true left bank (left bank looking downstream) to position the cast across the river. The double Spey works in the opposite direction to position a cast across river from the true right bank. The two fundamental modern Spey casts are the Snap-T which is a simple alternative to the single Spey and the snake roll which is an alternative to the Double Spey. The snake roll has the added advantage that it is excellent for lifting heavy sink tip lines out of the water.
Spey rods open up fishing opportunities on New Zealand's larger rivers
So once you’ve set up your D loop and have learnt how to control your anchor point here are the last few tips to keep in mind to create those great Spey casts.
- Use both hands. I know this seems obvious but the biggest learning curve for a new Spey caster is to get both hands working in opposite directions to power the rod correctly. If you cast with too much top hand and you’ll drive the rod tip in a big semi arc above your head and throw large open loops, just like a single hand caster who keeps dropping his rod tip too far behind him when casting
- Alter your casting stroke depending on the length of cast. The casting stroke is the distance between where the rod tip starts moving on the forward cast and where it ends (and vice versa). The more line you have outside the rod tip the longer your casting stroke will need to be. Consequently when casting a long belly traditional line you will need a long casting stroke, but when punching a short Skagit line then you’ll only need a short punchy stroke
- Make sure you apply power smoothly. Often when anglers pick up a double hander for the first time they feel as if they are going to need a lot of power to get it to work. In fact the opposite is true, due to the length of the rod, it only takes a small movement of the handle to drive the tip forward at speed. Therefore one of the primary keys to mastering the longer rod is to ensure that your casting stroke is smooth. A casting stroke with an uneven application of power will cause the rod tip to bounce, which in turn creates tailing loops. This rule applies equally to single handed rods, however with a Spey rod the tip bounce is accentuated by the added length of the rod and consequently are less forgiving to a jerky casting stroke
- Create a positive stop. Just like with a single handed rod it is critical to make a sudden stop at the end of each casting stroke, this ensures that the loaded (bent) rod will straighten quickly and cast the line for you. If you don’t make the stop then the rod will unload slowly and be less effective
- Get your grip right. You don’t need to strangle these big rods. Simply grip your top hand (right hand for a right hander) at the top of the long foregrip and your bottom hand at the bottom of rear grip. This will give you maximum leverage to start you off and also ensure you get both hands working effectively
- Turn your D loop into a wedge. Once you’ve started to master these principles try putting more emphasis into throwing back those D loops, this will throw a point or wedge into the loop and help increase the momentum in the line and load on the rod
- Lastly to save wearing a fly in an uncomfortable place remember to always keep the fly positioned downwind of your body and change your casting style and body position to ensure the fly is always been blown away from you rather than into you
Learning to Spey cast is a great adventure and taking the time to practice the basics will vastly improve your time and enjoyment on the water. Once mastered many of the skills in Spey casting can be drawn back into your single hand casting and what’s most important will allow you to master anything the river throws at you.
Ok, so you're getting the two handed spey stuff under control, maybe now is a good time to start learning all about single hand spey?