Techy Thursdays - The Importance of the Bottom and Top Hand

Andy Cawthorn Spey Casting

Switch or Spey casting may prove daunting to begin with, but once you get into the groove of things, it provides some major advantages that a single hander simply can’t do. It requires a lifelong commitment to casting; you better be in love with casting because you’re simply going to do more of it!

I have many friends who love casting a fly rod, but have never picked up a Spey rod to cast. There simply missing out on the most technical and sexiest form of fly casting. On another front, apart from being simply a more fun and additive format of casting, Spey casting with switch or a Spey rod is simply (hands down) a cooler way to fish! For an angler who has years and years of single hand experience behind him the change over to the Spey game can be an eye opener i.e. “ I can cast a dream, how hard can a Spey rod be, it’s just a roll cast right?”. A little bit harder...there’s also another hand to use too...

Recent trends in two-handed rods have been to reduce lengths, weights and much faster tapers largely driven by the PNW needs for chucking a lot of junk and to get down quickly into the strike zone, in the tightest of casting situations. Sure, there’s some aspects of laziness in the equation if you’re a ‘traditional’ (this is also a lot of fun too by the way) Spey caster, but there’s lots of functionality too. Consequently, Spey lines have followed suit; there becoming shorter and shorter, from your traditional 100 ft to even shorter than 20 ft now.

That being said, the same issues are still present; the shorter and faster the rod is, the more bottom hand you’ll need to use to drive tight loops and apply the gas when it’s needed, which is pretty much the gist of the following…

When learning to Spey cast, a lot of anglers have a hard time using their bottom hand properly, but mostly, forgetting it all together. Early on, the focus tends to be on using the top hand during the forward stroke, all that single hand memory rearing its ugly head. You'll know when you’re doing it; loops either flop out or they lack the energy to get to the moon, a common fault in Spey casting, often referred to as "hitting from the top". The result, a poorly formed and ugly loop, with little to no energy. It can be difficult to adjust to the "push from the top, and pull from the bottom" mentality in the two handed game, esp. having never used a Spey / switch rod before, it’s something alien. Simply remembering to use the bottom hand in every part of your Spey cast will help your casting tenfold.

Bottom dollar:

*Use the Bottom hand throughout the casting cycle

*Use it on the lift and when placing your anchor. A quick snap of the bottom hand will apply the gas needed to efficiently lift the line from a snap T position or even lifting the line to your anchor position. Oh, and the closer the anchor is to your body, the bigger the D-Loop will form behind you

*Use it to drive power into the sweep.

Applying power from the bottom hand during the sweep will help apply the compression needed to effectively load the rod from the sweep to the starting formation of the D-loop

*Use it during the formation of the D-loop. Applying the bottom hand during the formation of the D-loop will allow efficient energy transfer. Essentially, using the bottom hand helps compress the D-loop which in turn, helps load the rod for the forward stroke

*Use it during the forward stroke. Applying a quick powerful snap of the bottom hand into your stomach will literally apply all the power you need during the forward stroke.

Think of the bottom hand as the source of power and the top hand as nothing more than a tool to pivot the rod during every part of your cast. You should be learning that your top hand is the least important tool in your casting stroke.

Still having trouble?

Find a spot that has lots of back casting room, where you can drive a big, compressed D- loop behind you. The bigger the D-loop you form, the more gas you’re going to get out of the cast. It’s easy to make a nice, smooth bottom-hand stroke when the rod is fully loaded with an efficient D-loop.

Try using a pinching technique whereby you use a pinch grip with the top hand rather than gripping the top like a hammer

Keep it tight. Have your bottom hand as close to your body through the whole casting cycle. If you’re top arm is outstretched on the forward stroke, this means that you’re using too much top hand!

Andy Cawthorn Spey Casting

Figure 1: With lots of room behind you, you can start to learn / apply bottom hand power to your cast, really compressing your D-Loop and giving the cast the gas to drive sexy loops

However, there’s caveats to any rule; fishing super tight quarters. If you’re on your favourite run with no more than half a rod length of casting room behind you, you’re going to have to mix it up. Because, let’s face it, switch rods are made for fishing close quarters! Out comes the top hand.

As you get closer to the bank or whatever it is behind you, you’re going to have to take some gas out of your D-loop, otherwise, it’s going into the bank, not to the fish. This means slowing everything down early in the casting cycle. Keep in mind though; you still want a little bit of gas into the back cast.

Now, in this situation you’re going to have to make a decision on how much speed you’re going to need based on the amount (or lack thereof) back room you have. The slower you go and the smaller the D-loop is, the less efficient the back cast will be; makes sense, there’s nothing really there to load the rod. As you go into your forward stroke, you’re going to have to make up for the inefficiency of the shallow D-loop. Instead of trying to apply power to the bottom hand like you do to generate lots of line speed, use more top hand in your stroke, and really give a whack; There isn’t much else to help you, and as long as you’re out and fishing the zone, who cares about the ugly cast?

Andy Cawthorn Spey Casting

Figure 2: Tight situations require more top hand power application and a shallower D-Loop to help get the junk to where the fish are

In super tight spots you may have to use all of your top hand to smash out a cast. You’ll also want to put the anchor out as far in front of you as possible (this will help getting a shallower D-Loop). You’ll also have to lengthen your forward stroke to make up for the lack of line speed. Your loop won’t be as tight, but once again, if it’s in the zone, who cares right?

Andy Cawthorn Spey Casting

Figure 3: Super tight spots (say, half a rod length) may require using all of the top hand to drive out a cast

General Rule

Lots of room > Anchor Close to Body > Big D-Loop > More Bottom Hand

No room > Anchor further away from body > Small D-Loop > More Top Hand