I am a novice Spey caster. Not only am I a novice caster, I am a novice in understanding and negotiating the entire 2 handed game.
A bit of background about me. I am not new to fly fishing. I have moved through the ranks as recreational angler, commercial fly tyer, certified single handed FFF Casting Instructor, full time fishing guide, outfitter, and for the past 7 years co-owner of Headhunters Fly Shop on Montana’s Missouri River. I have immersed myself in fly fishing for the last 25+ years
So why does it feel like I’m drowning in nomenclature, gear, and technique when engaged in the mysterious world of Spey?
I have struggled to keep my head above water while I have all the tools and knowledge at my fingertips. That is the honest truth. My business partner is a 25 year Spey guy. My father is a fanatic. I grew up on the Skagit River of all places. My best friend swings with a Spey rod 100+ days a year…
Are you in the same spot? Yes, I understand your pain. Daily.
Parallels of Confusion | 1 Hand vs. 2 Hands
Lets start with the parallels between single and double handed fishing. I assume that many of you became familiar with single-handed rods and fly fishing first. A somewhat natural progression to the 2 handed rod. Many of you have been fly fishing for your entire life, and then become Spey curious after seeing, fishing with, or discussing the virtues of this effective long skinny confusing tool!
I remember the confusion upon moving from the spin rod to the fly rod. Just having the rod with a reel and line on it did not insure fly rod success. At a local sports shop in central Washington the kind proprietor repeatedly explained the system. A floating line with some backing behind it and a butt section with this other mono leader tied off the floating line and then to a tippet piece or several pieces and then a fly. A butt section would help transfer energy to the fly line but if you tangle often as you would not have to replace the line, or leader, but maybe the tippet. You then can tie a second fly, or dropper off the bend with even narrower diameter tippet like 6X?
All that stuff to try and catch a silly trout? Lots of different spools of monofilament, machine tapered leaders but you could tie your own? Maxima, Amnesia, SA, Medalists, nail knots, droppers, desiccant, blood knots, or I tie the surgeon’s knot in the dark ‘cause it is easier.
A Worden’s Rooster Tail tied onto the line of an ultra-light rod was much simpler.
Like most of us, I grinned, nodded, consciously hiding my total confusion and willfully jumped in with both feet.
So, if you think beginning the process of Spey education is difficult and totally confusing you are right. Just like going back to the 1st grade. Lots of terms, equipment, leaders, tips, styles, types of casts. Terms that I have learned and am still learning include Poly leader, anchor point, running lines, Scandi, Skagit, long belly, D loops, Snap T’s, Double Spey, Single Spey, Cackhanded, T-18, MOW Tips…all new learning. All of it.
As I stated above I am a strong Novice now and eagerly striding towards Intermediacy!
How did I negotiate the tide of information and nomenclature? Patience, persistence and practice.
There is a ton of information and misinformation on the web, in magazines, in books, in fly clubs, in fly fishing bars about this growing segment of fly fishing. Sorting through it all while sinking in metaphorical Spey fishing quicksand is a trick.
I think I have it nailed down. At least temporarily.
Can I add a Scandi to my Skagit?
The first hurdle you may encounter is to understand the differences between Skagit and Scandi. Skagit is a system of both fly rod and fly line that is intended for sinking tips. If you want to fish big rivers with sinking flies, to get down to fish of which live on or near the bottom, you may find that the Skagit system is your preference
A Skagit system is a heavily weighted line with a sinking leader or tip attached to it. So, Spey lines have different parts. Like a weight forward fly line will have a head near the front, a belly, behind the head, and a running line portion towards the back of the fly line. Spey lines follow that same pattern. Skagit heads are large in diameter, bulky, relatively level meaning un-tapered, and turn over heavy objects like sink tips and heavy flies.
Winter steelheaders in the Northwest, i.e. the Skagit, use this system. It is designed to get out, and then get down. Steelhead are generally found near the bottom and will not rise upwards to the fly but will move laterally. Controlling the drift is imperative and the Skagit system can be manipulated throughout the drift making this an effective tool.
The bevy of Skagit casts relies on a sustained anchor to develop the cast. That is an important facet for any cast to be successful. As in single-handed casting, 2 handed casting success is based on loading the rod with the line. Period.
Those are the nuts and bolts of the Skagit system as I see it now. It is pure and it is simple. The longer I am engaged in the learning process, the more I will know. I hope?
So the Skagit system is designed for a purpose. Not every purpose, a specific purpose. If you want to fish bigger rivers, get your fly below the surface flirting with the bottom, then the Skagit system is your program.
Skagit casting styles include the Double Spey, Snap T, Perry Poke, and so forth. I’m becoming more comfortable every time I venture out to practice.
I now know there are formulas to figure out how long the head needs to be along with tip length to match up with your Spey Rod length but am not allowing myself that confusion. Yet.
Scandi system is a more accurate casting system that can be fished on any size of stream of river. Perfect for the trout world and fish that reside nearer the surface. The Scandi line is designed more like a weight forward single-handed fly line. It looks and feels like a fly line you can wrap your brain around. It has the same components. A running line, followed by the head in this case a Scandi line, followed by a leader. Sometimes you may tie on a tip like you would with the Skagit system. But not always. A Poly Leader or a Intermediate Tip would be all you could do. The Scandi system does not achieve the depths that the Skagit system is designed for.
The Scandi cast, or underhanded cast, is based on the touch and go cast. A single Spey cast. Not a sustained anchor like the Skagit system. A short lived timing anchor point that certainly requires more practice, teaching, and understanding.
Those two styles, rod and line families are important to understand allowing you to choose the system that will be appropriate for your intended use.
How about the Switch conundrum? Today the term Switch, to me at my novice level, really means length of rod for most consumers. Switch rods are generally under 12’ in length and provide another misunderstanding point in the new world of 2 handed rods and lines. I don’t think I even want to touch this facet as my understanding of what Switch means to many audiences is certainly similar to the clarity of mud.
Why can’t I just put a 6 weight line on my 6 weight Spey Rod?
As you may know that Spey Lines are measured in grain weight. So are single-handed lines, but the industry has decided to assign a general weight identifier to them. A 6 wt single-handed line weighs 160 grains, give or take 5% or 8 grains. A 6wt Spey line can range from 400-600 grains depending on length of rod
2 handed Spey lines are measured in grains as well. The manufacturer states the grain weight on the box. So you may not know what grain weight you need for your 12’6” 6 weight Sage METHOD. The answer is not 160 grains. But why?
Longer rods require more energy to bend them, consequently they require more weight. So how do I know what Skagit line to put on my sparkling red METHOD 6126? RIO line charts of course. You know, just like you need for your single-handed rod. What?
There are conversations about various lines for just as various a rod selection going on in bars and living rooms across America at this very moment. I have often heard it stated in Spey circles, “There are not bad rods, just bad line marriages.” Often true with single-handed rods too. Finding the right line for you and any given rod is imperative for Spey casting success.
If you must know, there are two different line weights to make that Method 6126 load. Yep. Different systems, different lines. Same rod. Huh?
The METHOD 6126 can support a Skagit 425 grain to a 475 grain Skagit line. A Scandi on the same rod begins at 390 grains upwards to a 450 grain weight.
You just gotta get out there and try some different lines. The confusion is rampant in this sport. Sift through the info until you get a grasp!
The Language of Spey
You will get better at understanding the language of Spey. Once you begin to learn the basic language, then you will learn there are differing dialects too. Nuances among the Skagit and Scandi families are vast. Then you’ll bump into the Long Belly Spey crowd. Euro’s too. More confusion, more learning, more fun!
A continual ever-winding path towards understanding is what you are searching for. It’s what we are all searching for. Omniscient of all things Spey.
So how do you get closer to understanding all that is Spey. Find a mentor. He may be at your local fly shop. He or she may be a casting instructor. You may find that person at a Spey Casting Clinic of which there are many. Attend them and if you want, just stand in the shadows for a while. It’s OK.
Then put one of these awkward long rod in your two hands and move it wildly around. You may even enjoy the technology, the art of the cast, and the solace you can achieve while fishing. It will slow your heart rate down.
Just Do It!
Negotiating the perpetual twists and turns is a lot of fun. New fly fishing Spey learning is fun and wildly entertaining. When you begin to discover the magnitude of depth within 2 handed world, your eyes will be forced wide open.
While I am closer to getting this thing arranged properly in my head it is one of those things that the more you know you realize how much more you don’t know. A slippery slope? No, it’s just not that bad. You will graduate from Spey 101.
I have just made it to Spey 201. I think. I spent over a year in 101. It may be a couple in 201. I for one am looking forward to it. Spey is something you can learn at your own pace. You and I certainly did not learn how to chuck a single-handed streamer cast into the wind at 80’ the first couple of years. So I do not expect to achieve those 100’+ casts that I see some of the fellows firing off in the Spey videos. No, no not yet.
Find that Spey mentor and begin the un-confusion process. A great first question might be “Hey I overheard in a bar that I could add my Scandi to a Skagit…?”
Look at the RIO PRODUCTS web site for Spey line recommendations for nearly every 2 handed rod on the planet. Roam around for a while and see what additional Spey info is contained. You may learn a few things about Spey!
Find a Mentor. They are out there. Cling to him or her and soak in the knowledge. The more you know, the better you cast. Right?