Article Spey Fly Fishing - Demystifying The Two Handed Rod

Discussion in 'Articles & Reference Info' started by speyman, Mar 16, 2012.

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  1. Spey Fly Fishing - Demystifying the Two Handed Rod
    by Jack Cook

    15 years ago I was stepping and casting my way through upper Ferry canyon on the Deschutes River in Southern Oregon. With trees lining the bank preventing anything longer than a 10 foot back cast I was limited to roll casting my double taper line 40 feet or so. While a 40 foot cast allowed me to cover a good deal of excellent water there was much more the river had to offer me, I was sure of it. At the time I thought it had to do with Steelhead but in hindsight I know better. At one point John Hazel walked over to me and proclaimed, “I think you will find this altogether more satisfying”. He proceeded to show me a couple of what I now know are Double Speys. That was it, off he went into the bushes. That moment, it turns out, was a pivotal event in my life. For the next few years I worked furiously trying to replicate the grace and efficiency of what I had seen. Sometimes the casts sailed through the air, sometimes the water was flailed. We have all been there. I finally purchased a two handed rod to continue the adventure. It was of course the reliable 9140-4, the two handed rod of the day and still a great dry line rod. I took my 9 weight double taper Salmon line and still I flailed. For some reason I never gave up and bit by bit 1 cast out of ten became 2 out of ten. These days I can usually hit 8-9 out of 10, amazing. I tell students all the time that this sort of evolution is inevitable. You cannot just have the light come on and start casting 10 out of 10. Having learned so much about the two handed rod I felt it was necessary to spread the information. I created the ‘speyman’ moniker and put lots of information on speyman.com. About a year later Dana launched Speypages and the world has never been the same. Today there is so much information available that many students suffer from thinking too much. I think keeping an eye on all the information is a good thing but casting is casting and does not involve thinking. Casting involves doing.

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    Having spent over 15 years plying the rivers of the world with the two handed rod it became necessary to learn to teach the art and teach it well. Every where I went folks wanted to know what that rod was and how to use one. More and more folks were buying equipment and flailing away but there was a real lack of solid information and instruction available. I was lucky to have the opportunity to teach so many folks how to cast because it gave me the ability to learn how to teach mastery of the two handed art. Funny how students think they are the ones getting the information, the instructor is the person who always learns the most. First and foremost folks think there is too much too this. Form your D loop this way. Put your anchor here….. Too much thinking, too many details. The art is a simple one and most students require the instructor to remove all the superfluous movements and what remain is a pretty excellent cast. I get folks in my boat all the time who have never cast a two hander and by the end of the first run they are casting a fishable distance and the rest of the day they fish the two hander and we polish their presentation. There is a detail not to overlook… Presentation catches fish, not long casting.

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    One thing learned over years of instruction is that there is a difference between making a PERFECT cast and a fishable cast. For example, the anchor point should typically be about 45 degrees off the target and about 1-2 rod lengths out at that angle. That is the perfect target. In the past we used to spend a lot of time trying to get folks to hit the perfect anchor. The truth is that every cast has factors of breeze, current, water grab and more which affect the cast so that even an experienced caster will rarely hit the PERFECT cast. What experienced casters do is ADAPT all the way through every cast so that every cast works. This is the key to success of my students. From the very beginning I teach students what a perfect cast looks like and more importantly, how to recognize and adapt during each cast so that every cast becomes fishable. Through experience and practice the experience will evolve more towards perfection and less adaptation may be required but the results will continue to be the same, consistent, effortless casts.

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    The cast can be broken down to three distinct movements. For the sake of this discussion we will term them (1) lift, (2) flick, (3) fire. The lift is very, very important. The cast begins with the line straight downstream under tension and the rod tip near the water. Remember that Alexander Grant pointed out that tension is the key to the two handed rod. Tension loads the rod which provides the energy we will use later for the delivery. If the line is not taught at the beginning of the casting stroke or if you start with the rod up off the water you are reducing the amount of tension you can put on the rod and therefore the amount of power you can achieve in the cast. Strip in a little line if necessary to get good tension. Lift the tip of the rod slowly to about 50 degree off the water. Lift slowly and deliberately, do not bounce the rod around especially when we get to the top. We are slowly building tension on the rod using the line weight and the drag of the water. If you do not lift straight up as mentioned here your sink tip fishing will be a nightmare. As folks begin to learn how to cast they often try to combine the lift with the flick. This results in your sinktip coming into the cast underwater instead of rising to the surface and freeing itself from the clutches of the water. The initial straight lift creates the correct geometry so the loop of line created during the cast will be a sphere instead of a circle. What differentiates the roll cast from the Spey cast are two things. One is in a Spey cast the line is under tension. The second is that a Spey cast has a circular element in the vertical plane AND also in the horizontal plane. In simple terms the Spey cast is a SPHERE cast instead of a roll cast. Since a sphere has a much larger surface (pi R cubed) than a circle (pi r squared) the Spey cast can carry and deliver considerably more line, basic physics. One more thing. When you get to the 50 degree point stop and look for a minute. Imagine a cone starting at the bottom of the rod, your bottom hand, and extending to the rod tip. Remember that the cone goes all the way around and also remember that the rod tip must never go beyond this imaginary cone. When we move the rod to the side the tip will NOT go past the cone. When we move the rod to the rear it will NOT go past the cone. When releasing the energy in the firing stroke the rod tip will NOT go past the cone. If you go outside the cone it causes the line and the rod to head down toward the bushes, ground, and or water and it makes a mess of things. Since we want the cast to take place with the loop in the air we will keep the rod tip in the cone.

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    To move into the second step we are approaching the 50 degree point, the top of the lift. The rod is oriented straight downstream and about 50 degrees up. The purpose of the flick is to move the entire line to a place where the anchor, the last 3 feet of the line before the leader touches the water, at about 45 degrees from the target and about 1-2 rod lengths out. Using the rod tip flick the line up, back and especially to the side to achieve this new position. This is the hardest part of the cast and you will have to practice a bit to figure out how much power to put into it to land the anchor where you want it. Remember that we are looking for a sphere of line so practice throwing the line to the SIDE as well as up and back. The longer the line you are casting the more to the side you need to go. As the line starting moving back and to the side be sure and watch the end of the line where the leader attaches. This is the anchor point and in step 3 you will need to know exactly where it is during the cast. Always watch the anchor point.

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    To get ready to step three, the fire, we have executed a flick and are watching the loop of line form and are watching the fly line/leader junction moving toward the anchor point, 45 degrees toward the target. At this point a word of caution, If the fly does not make it to the correct side of you body or if it ends up in front of you stop the cast. Proceeding with the with fly coming across your body or in front of your body will result in painful body piercing. ALWAYS wear eye protection when using a two handed rod. With the fly line and fly moving nicely toward the anchor point watch the end of the fly line. After the initial flick the rod tip has been allowed to drift on around the cone and at this point it is about 1 o’clock to the side and 1 o’clock to the rear. This is a point I call firing position. All we need to do now is wait for the line to arrive in the firing position and we can fire. The line is in firing position as soon as the line/leader junction touches the water. When it touches down we move the rod tip from the firing position to the front of the cone and stop abruptly. This can be done using upper hand push, lower hand pull, or a combination of both. Different rods react differently to the use of upper and lower hands. You will have to experiment and find out what your rod wants from you. Remember to STOP the firing movement at the front of the cone, about 11 o’clock. As with other parts of the cast if the rod tip directs the line to go down, down it will go. It seems a shame after all the work you put into the cast to direct all your energy down into the water so stop at 11 and direct the line across the river, horizontal to the water surface.

    Does this sound complicated, probably. There are a lot of details here so you can analyze your faults and self correct. If you forget the details for a moment and focus on the three steps it is simple. Lift, flick, and fire. Lift, flick, and fire. Lift, flick, and fire. Lift, flick, and fire. Practice this. On the grass, in the water, practice.

    Some folks have taught over the years to use the waltz timing method, one two three….. This will not work unless every cast is exactly the same timing and trust me, they will not be. Use lift flick and fire! When do you fire? When the anchor touches the grass/water. What if the anchor goes too far behind me? It does not matter fire when it touches. What if the anchor lands short in front. It does not matter, fire when it touches. Work each time to get the anchor to the right place but always using lift, flick, and fire and every cast will be fishable!

    How do I go from a switch cast to a single or double Spey so I can fish. The difference between a Single and a Switch is the placing of the anchor. If you look across the river at your target point the anchor for a single will have to be upstream of you at about 45 degree and 1-2 rod lengths out. For a double the anchor point is 45 degrees from the target on the downstream side 1-2 rod length out. Snake Rolls, Snap T, all that stuff is just different ways to set the anchor in place. The key is you have to be able to consistently perform the switch using lift, flick, and fire. One you can do the switch you can learn the rest in a few hours. Using lift, flick, and fire I find it takes folks about 10-12 hours of diligent practice to get it to where they can move on to the delivery casts.

    Here is the good news. It does not cost a fortune to outfit yourself with two handed gear. Complete packages with rod, reel, and line are available for under $500. Be careful, always cast the rod/line you are going to buy or you will be sorry! There are a variety of inexpensive two handers on the market which have very poor performance.

    Go Fishing!


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