Part 1: Spey Kung Fu : Because regular fly fishing just isn’t mysterious enough

A Two Hander in the Pooty Water My New Year’s resolution was to learn how to Spey cast. Sure, I’m carrying too many pounds of flab, and drink far too much, but this resolution has a better’n average chance of me following through.

I thought it might be fun to return to those hideous days of clueless “Noob” – experiencing a mixture of fear and trepidation as you walk hesitantly to the counter hoping no one laughs outright at your halting, semi-understandable question.

Instinctively you look for the oldest guy there, figuring he’ll just sigh loudly and hand you what you need, versus the “young guns” who are enamored of technical detail and entirely oblivious of your struggle to follow their sermon.

I can pick up fragments of commentary; my tackle is “ghey” – ditto for the line I was thinking of buying and the antiquated click-pawl reel I was thinking of putting it on … I feel like someone’s wife hoping to score a Christmas present that hubby can actually use, and not knowing whether I’m being steered in the right direction, or how many hundreds of dollars is overkill.

Why is it that Spey casting has to set fly fishing back a hundred years?

All that pain and suffering to adopt a standard nomenclature, and based on someone’s whim – it’s thrown out the window.

My ambition was to start the long slow process of learning the physics and timing, just as we did years ago with a single hand rod. You get a  nice serviceable outfit and beat the water to a frothy lather, in doing so, you learn a little about what feels good and what doesn’t.

Being methodical I started with the Internet – watching countless YouTube videos and gleaning what I could from web pages and their commentary.

Things started to sour when I discovered rod vendors make two handed spey rods for #7/8 or #5/6 – and line merchants make spey fly lines in #6/7/8 or #7/8/9. As the rod merchants are in the same boat – they can’t recommend a line for the rod they’re selling – do you want a “light” #8 (6/7/8) or a “heavy” #8 (7/8/9) ?

Most rod makers list a grain range for the line best suited, and many line vendors don’t list grain weights on their packaging or website.

Traditional fly lines are weighed by the sum of the first 30 feet, and Spey lines can be sold by the first 50 of belly, or first 70 feet. Add Skagit, Scandinavian, and regular spey into long belly, short head, and multiple tips – and you can’t help winding up with a short fuse.

Searching for someone that seems to have sorted it all out leads you through a miasma of forums and bulletin boards on the subject. Within the first half dozen posts someone is calling someone else “ghey” – and you’re not sure whether the guy called “BashMomsHead” or the other fellow, “MyDickInTrout” is correct.

I think neither, which really adds to the quandary.

Multiple sinktip configurations abound; some require the purchase of running line, and some have it integrated, many of the online fly shop descriptions are unclear as to which you’re buying, and all have multiple 15′ or 20′ tips to add varying sink rates. At $150 per multi-tip line, you’re still wondering whether the light #8 or the heavy flavor is best – and throwing a lot of money at a hunch.

… and whose bright idea was it to call a sinktip a “polyleader?”

The AFTMA standards were developed so we wouldn’t have to play this silly “vendor specific” game, and we could buy any line labeled an “8” and feel confident we got something that works.

If you’re like me – with no casting club available or fishing buddy that is practiced – you’ve got a better than average chance of putting the wrong line on a rod and wondering why everyone else likes the style – when your rod feels slow and impotent when cast.

The whole “fit and feel” issue dominates the forums, with every third question being “what should I use with my ..” – so I’m in good company. I’m just disappointed that every other response involves someone’s mother – making the learning process painstaking slow as chaff is sorted from wheat, and opinions are isolated from ego.

I’m sure most of the issue lies in the original lines being hand crafted, assembled in garages out of chunks of other lines and leadcore, but it’s odd the mainstream rod and line vendors haven’t taken the initiative and evolved something resembling a standard.

I tried my first cast in anger last week, and it was a total disaster. I’d managed to find a brand new Echo Classic #6/7 on eBay for $130, and paired it with an Orvis Spey Wonderline that was on sale for $25. Orvis makes Spey lines in single sizes, the rod is listed for multiple sizes, and the answers on their customer service forum makes me feel somewhat vindicated.

Q: Please inform on the length end weight of the body (incl. tips) of your multitip speyline # 6/7, and #7/8?

A: Hi there. I’m Crystal from Orvis Customer Service. Since no one has answered your question yet, I did a little research for you, and here’s what I found out:
For the #6/7 weight the total length is going to be 110′ and for the #7/8 weight the total length is going to be 120′.

Naturally Crystal failed to answer the weight question, after searching their site and the Internet, it appears no one knows.

After my first outing I figured the Orvis line was woefully underweight, as even roll casting wouldn’t work. The beauty of having an abundance of old sinking lines means I can cut a chunk out of one and add it – clipping additional off until I have something that “feels” like it is the proper weight.

Spey lines with their multi-tip configuration run $150 each, and if you squawked at the Scientific Angler Sharkskin price, you can see why I’m being tentative, with the hideous price of the equipment and the lack of standards, I’d rather make a $30 mistake.

There’s little question that mastery of this style will allow any angler to add a couple tricks to his repertoire, especially if the space behind him is limited.

I’ll know how much help it’ll be once I can get a cast further than 20′ – which is my current personal best.

11 thoughts on “Part 1: Spey Kung Fu : Because regular fly fishing just isn’t mysterious enough”

  1. You’ve stumbled upon the reason spey claves are so popular- you get to try different lines on different rods so you can find out what combo feels right without going bankrupt in the process. Even with help of an experienced spey caster, the first line I bought for my two hander was a little light for the rod. It still worked, but not the way it was supposed to.

    Basic spey casts such as the single, double and circle aren’t all that hard to do once you’ve got the jest of it. One thing I discovered was that once you know the casting mechanics, the casts easily translate over to my 9′ rods. You just don’t get the same distance. Which for most guys isn’t a big deal since most rivers, or stretches of water, that don’t give you room for a backcast aren’t the mississippi. I’m no casting yoda, and I can get about 50′-60′ with the three casts mentioned above, with a 9′ rod and a WF-F line fairly consistently.

  2. That’s exactly my goal, skilled enough to perform a “weak” spey with a traditional 9 foot singlehand rod and a DT or WF.

    I see that as the “bang for the buck” – spey casting by itself may be less useful, unless you frequent the hallowed Steelhead and Salmon rivers.

  3. “MyDickInTrout”, doesn’t he post over at The Drake?

    The last time I felt the terrifying noob-tactular sensation was over thanksgiving when my cousin talked me into playing golf and we got paired up with 2 club pros. Two shanks and a worm-burner later I was ready to stuff my head in the ball washer.

    What about switch rods? Aaron and I have been thinking about these cause they seem a little more universal, thoughts?

  4. Switch rods would work peachy, it’s merely a matter of what kind of budget you’re blessed with … I’ve got multiple seasons; Steelhead, Shad, normal brownwater stuff – figured I’d start with the Shad rod – as they show in May. then I’ll be more danger to them than to myself.

  5. I’ll be working with a Beulah switch 7/8 in 2009. I’ll be posting the progress of how it goes on my blog.

    My guess is it won’t be much different than what I’m already doing on my 10′ 8wt, except the bottom handle will be a couple of inches longer than the fighting butt. Where the difference will lie will be in the line. I picked up an Elixir 380; we’ll see how that casts.

  6. Not sure I’m comfortable with the ‘spey’ or ‘switch’ tags. Might be less confusing to do as the Europeans do and just call a two-handed rod a ‘two-handed rod’.

    Been using these for U.C. trout fishing for about the last ten years and also went through a confusing period with lines. I don’t like the cost of multi-tip systems, and I particularly don’t like loop connections. As I’m fishing my homewater 90% of the time, and half of that is spent delivering #14-#16 nymphs and emergers on long casts to visible trout, I want the gear to fish clean as possible. I’m using an 11’6″ Cabela’s Traditional 6wt (sweet-slow action)(around 100-bucks and no longer available)and a 12’6″ Deer Creek 5/6wt (medium-fast). The Echo and the Cabela’s Fish Eagle (moderate actions) are also popular with locals, and I’ve casted these as well. We’ve found that the Rio Windcutter and the Wolff Triangle Taper, in the heaviest line designation given for the rod, work well with these.

  7. Thanks for the tip Curly, I’m thinking the Windcutter or an Airflo might just be what’s needed. Rajeff (Echo) apparently swears by the Airflo, and the Windcutter is much talked about – appears to be extremely popular.

  8. Your right about the confusion on lines versus rods and then the style of casting.I’m trying to outfit a reddington 14’rs3 weight 8 rod. I also bought a reddington 11/12 reel. I’m leaning toward the airflow 9 weight or the skagit 9 weight rio. Any advice the salesman are throwing out too many variables. I’m just trying to get started with something decent that I won’t be totally frustrated with.

  9. As you won’t have a feel for a good pairing, I can’t stress enough finding someone who knows and ensuring the line and rod are well matched.

    Imagine trying to learn how to cast with a 8 weight rod paired with a 3 weight line. It’s possible, just neither instinctive or pleasant.

  10. very interesting post ,yes the spey world is a bear to figure out .The biggest problem is this that each rod you try might have a different action ,so now you are left to find an action you like ,then you have to find a line that works with the rod . You also have to learn how to cast which is a learning curve if you are going to learn yourself .I did and it took me three years to get good at it .Im still learning mind you which is the fun part .Wading thru the lines is another ordeal and one that cant simply be solved .The fact of the matter is you need to go with what the manufacturer suggests as a grain window .Which usually comes in three weights .So you are confused from the start and the money is coming out of your pocket .I will say this about sink tips try to keep them the same length as your rod it helps with casting. You have to look at the size of the rivers you will be fishing to determine what you will need as far as a rod goes .If you have been able to fish comfortably with a single hand on the river you fish you probably dont need a 13 foot spey rod .You might want to look into a switch rod .If you are fishing alot of big rivers then you will want to look into a spey rod .It is alot to get into when you get started but remeber these are tools to help you and it takes time to get good with any tool good luck .

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