Chad Agy Presents: Part 2 Spey Casting

Welcome to Chad Agy Presents: Part 2 Spey Casting!  In Part 1, we covered the advantages of Spey casting, and how to set up a Spey system.  In this article, we will discuss casting strategies and some tips for line management that will allow your casts to really take off.

How to Cast

A number of Spey casts exist in order to help an angler cover all types of water, with different set-ups, and in different situations.  There are quite a few different techniques, not all of which will be covered here.  A beginner/intermediate Spey angler can harness three different casts to fish most runs effectively: the single Spey, double Spey, and Snap T.  All of these casts can be performed off the dominant shoulder or the “off” shoulder.  For example, I may send a single Spey cast off my left or right shoulder depending on wind direction, while keeping my hands in the same positions for both casts (left on bottom, right on top).  Advanced casters may be able to switch hands in order to cast both left and right handed depending on the wind.

This article is not a tutorial on how to make each of these casts.  The written form is not the best medium for this type of teaching.  Plus, much better casters than me have produced free resources that I found extremely helpful when learning how to Spey cast.  Simon Gawesworth, the lead casting instructor and representative for Rio fly lines, has produced an invaluable collection of free videos that cover all the basic casts.  Just search for “Simon Gawesworth” on YouTube to find his channel.

In brief, all Spey casts essentially consist of two movements, the setting of the anchor, and the cast itself.  Setting the anchor means placing the line in a location that is advantageous for the current and wind directions before making the actual cast.  The anchor allows surface tension between the line and the water to load the rod during the second, casting stroke.  This will make more sense when watching a video, or when you’re actually casting on the water.

The wind direction and current direction will dictate which casts can be made safely and effectively.  At first, you’ll need to consciously think about which cast you’re making, but the casts quickly become instinctual.  The key point is that the anchor should always be placed on the downwind shoulder side so the actual cast does not hit the caster in the back of the head!  The following are casting suggestions based on particular conditions (for a right-handed caster).

  • Current left to right, wind left to right (downstream wind) – You’ll want your anchor and your cast to come off the right shoulder.  Double Spey is probably your best bet.  A single Spey will also work.
  • Current left to right, wind right to left (upstream wind) – The anchor will need to be on the left along with the cast.  Go with an off-shoulder Single Spey or an off-Shoulder Snap T.
  • Current right to left, wind right to left (downstream wind) – An off-shoulder double Spey or off-shoulder single Spey would work well in this circumstance.  This may be the trickiest situation for a newbie right-handed caster.
  • Current right to left, wind left to right (upstream wind) – This is the moment for a conventional Snap T cast.  A Single Spey cast would also work well.

How to Manage Your Line

No matter how good your cast may be, it won’t matter without good line management.  If 100 feet of shooting line is dangling downstream during the cast, you’ll be lucky to get your fly out half that distance.  There is simply too much tension in the line for it to shoot effectively if this situation is not managed.  This problem is conquered through a technique called line stacking.

Line stacking is accomplished by dividing the line between the fingers on the hand that is closer to the body.  For right handed casters, this is the left hand.  For example, when I’m stripping in the running line to make a cast, I’ll put the first five strips tucked between my index finger.  The next five strips will be tucked under my middle finger, and whatever is left will be left to the ring or pinkie finger to hold.  This is not an exact science; line stacking will work as long as the line is roughly divided between fingers.  If the line is divided between four fingers, the loops will hang downstream 25% of the distance they would otherwise hang without line stacking, and therefore suffer from much less surface tension during the cast.  If this doesn’t make sense, there are several great YouTube videos on this subect that will make it more understandable.

I want to end this two-part article with a couple of tips that I found very helpful, but were not immediately apparent when I was learning.

  • When I began my Spey journey, I didn’t know how far to strip in before starting the cast.  It turns out that the best spot to start the cast is within the last foot or two of the running line at the last eyelet of the rod.  Keeping the loop-to-loop connection between the running line and the shooting head out of the last eyelet is an important consideration in order to reduce the friction of the line against the rod as it shoots.
  • My casting instructor told me that he prefers to teach Spey casting when the student has no fly fishing experience rather than to those who are experienced casters with single-hand rods.  That’s because the Spey cast is powered by the pull of the left hand (for a right-handed caster), and experienced single-hand casters have the tendency to try to overpower the rod with the right hand instead.  The key to the cast is pulling the left hand toward the body rather than pushing the right hand away from the body when making a two-handed cast.  This performs a function akin to the double-haul of an effective single-hand cast.

So there you have it… the basics of Spey casting in two short articles!  Learning how to Spey cast will lead down an absolute wormhole.  The amount of available gear, number of techniques, and nuance once on the water, is completely overwhelming.  Learning to Spey cast is a journey that can last for decades, and I’m looking forward to continuing my own Spey sojourn during future trips.

As a reminder, Fishwest has a large offering of Steelhead/Salmon Spey Fly Fishing supplies. I highly recommend checking them out if you need to buy any new gear!