There is a very wise saying that all of you
have probably heard: "In the land of the blind,
the one eyed man is King." Very few watersheds
in the country, our land of the blind, have so
much as seen a spey rod. Many of you have
probably heard the term "spey" without being
quite sure what it means. Others of you know
exactly what the "spey" style of fishing is,
but would never dream of applying it to anything
less than steelhead or salmon. Well, I am a spey
fisherman, but I don't have the luxury of your
big anadromous species. I spey fish for trout.
"Spey fishing for trout?" you might ask. Sure.
And I will tell you something: this is a very
good way to catch fish. Now, I do not profess
to be an expert. There are very few experts at
trout spey fishing anywhere, and most of them are
primarily very good steelhead or salmon anglers
who dabble in the off season. This is a new
discipline for me, and I hope, as you read this
and other articles on spey fishing, that you will
come along for the ride. Because, new as I am, I
have learned that little thing: this is a very good
way to catch fish.
Technically, the term 'spey' is all wrong. Scots,
who live near the actual River Spey, will point
out that the two-handed style is in use on many
rivers, including the Dee, the Tweed, and all
over the world. "Spey," they maintain, is a style
of casting, not a type of rod. However, language
being what language is, the name stuck in the US at
least, and if you look today you will find "spey"
rods, reels, and lines.
I came to spey rods for the casting. Spey casting
is beautiful. I mean it. The line
swooshes and whirls on a playing field three times
as large as a single hander's cast. It sounds
good. Even the terminology is a little bit
more poetic: the snake roll, the white
mouse, the rising loop.
Spey casting is a completely new field for me.
After several years of serious casting practice
and a fair degree of skill with one handed rods,
I thought I would pick spey casting up like
nothing; just a couple more tools in the bag of
tricks. In a sense, I was right. It does help
to know how to control loop size. It is nice to
be able to shoot line on the roll cast. But on
a greater scale, I was dead wrong. Spey casting
starts with the film on the surface of the water
and never really breaks that bond. The surface
is the central axiom, and the cast is quite
literally anchored to it. The anchor point
is all important. However many ways you manipulate
it, at its core, the spey cast is a roll cast, and
you need water to roll cast. For a student of casting,
this style is a new, wide open country.
How does a trout fisherman get into spey? I don't
mean how did you hear of it, or want to do it; I
mean literally, where does one begin? Well, chances
are good you can start already. Spey casts can
readily be applied to single-handed rods. All of
the casts, the double spey, the single spey, the
snap T, all of them, can be done on single handers.
So if you happen to read this article and think, hmm,
sounds nice but I don't have the set up, don't worry.
Even without a double-handed rod, the spey casts
are very useful.
If you really mean to fall into this like I did,
though, a double handed rod is a must. Think
about it. All that cork. Thirteen feet long!
Midlife crisis? Forget the sports car: try spey!
But where does one begin?
A lot of manufacturers produce spey rods. Some of
them are sponsors here. The critical thing when
choosing a trout spey, at least as I see it, is
to stay close to the 'traditional' action. Spey
rods, like one handed rods, have undergone a
transformation into fast action thundersticks in
recent years. A fast spey rod is great for throwing
shooting heads, and one day you may want to try it.
For basic trout fishing, though, the softer the
action the better. After all, on many trout waters
6x tippet is not so much a plus as a necessity.
Some manufacturers are creating what are called "switch
rods." They are named for the switch cast, which
is a sort of ongoing roll cast with no pause.
Often they resemble one handed rods with extra
long front grips, sometimes with odd bulges to
the cork, allowing the angler to combine spey
and overhead casting. While these rods might
very well be appropriate for trout, the trend
in the industry is to provide the trout angler
with a true spey.
I confess I hope this trend continues; there
are many advantages to a true spey rod. What
is a true spey? First and foremost, it is long:
from eleven to eighteen feet! For trout purposes,
look for a rod in the five to seven weight class.
Stick to traditional action, which will mean a
soft tip and a mid or even full flex. I prefer
a rod with at least five or six inches of lower
grip and at least a ten-inch upper grip. Points
of balance are very important with spey rods, and
the more lower grip you have, the easier it will
be to afford an appropriate reel, because the
extra grip adds weight below the balance point.
Spey rods look a little different from standard
trout rods. Many have ceramic-insert tip tops,
like a bait rod. They (should) all have a
fighting butt that can be set on the dirt.
None of them come in two pieces. For most
purposes, a trout spey of twelve feet long,
on up to thirteen feet, six inches long, would
be a good place to start. Rods shorter than
twelve feet allow easier overhead casting but
make sacrifices in line mending and long-line
nymphing ability, the key advantages of fishing
the spey in the first place.
The rod I chose as my personal stick is exactly
within the parameters above. It is 13' long, in
3 pieces, and it is traditional action. Although
it has enough power to overhead cast 100' and more
of line, I can feel the rod flex into the cork.
A word about reels. A spey reel is a big piece
of work, but it doesn't have to be complicated.
Many of you already have saltwater or bass kits
with reels that can do double duty. I simply
chose a large-arbor, heavy saltwater reel I
already had and bought a spool for the spey
ine. The reel balances the rod right underneath
my top hand when I hold the rod comfortably, with
a fishing amount of line out. Don't worry if you
don't have access to a top end disc drag reel.
This is a trout reel, after all, and Pflueger
Medalists (a fine choice) have probably landed
more trout than any other reel in this country.
Keep in mind, however, that a spey line is huge.
You will need a reel capable of holding at least a
WF8F to contain the spey line even on the trout spey.
Most anglers feel spey reels begin at the four-inch
diameter, with a standard (not large) arbor, just
to have the capacity. Trout spey anglers can fudge
a little, and I have found a Ross Canyon Big Game
Number Four will hold a 5/6 weight Rio Windcutter
Spey lines are a different animal. Originally
spey anglers simply used very large and long
double taper lines, usually floating. As spey
fishing evolved, many anglers began to experiment.
Today you can find shooting head systems, sink
tip systems, lines capable of unrolling for one
hundred and twenty feet and then some without
shooting line, plus others, among the well-heeled
spey angler's arsenal. However, keep in mind that
a trout stick by definition lacks the power to do
some of the things a steelhead angler might need
Fortunately, most trout angling can be accomplished
with a standard floating spey line. Although a DT
is an appropriate point to start, especially on a
budget, most anglers find a shorter headed spey
line like the Rio Windcutter or the Hardy Mach I
to be appropriate. Weight forward spey lines
have extremely short rear tapers, almost like a
shooting head, which allows the D loop crucial
to all roll casting, spey or otherwise, to carry
most of the weight of the line into the air, where
it can be shot forward.
The spey fishing manufacturers have only just
recently agreed on a new set of line standards.
Until those lines reach the market (still two
to three years off), most of us will have to
make do with the guess-and-check system. My 13'
6/7 weight spey rod is perfectly lined with a
5/6 Rio Windcutter. At least the "six" weight
designations match with this particular line.
The rod will also handle an 8/9 Hardy Mach I!
This is because European manufacturers tend
to stick closer to the AFTMA line standards,
which are measured from the first thirty feet
of line. Spey lines, however, are extremely
heavy animals to load these big rods, often
two to four line weights heavier than their
one-handed equivalents, and their heads are
substantially longer than 30 feet. Thus, the
Hardy line, rated for a number eight or nine,
is well suited to my trout spey! Be sure to
consult your rod's manufacturer or try a line
yourself before purchasing. For most trout
fishing, the Windcutter is a good place to start.
I use my spey rod for a variety of techniques,
including streamer fishing and dry fly fishing,
but most often for nymphing. I have found spey
rods to be excellent tools for controlling
extremely long drifts, and they offer remarkable
control for fishing from boats, in high water,
and in bad conditions in general. I encourage
you to attempt some spey casts the next time
you go to the river, and if you do decide to
get a double handed rod, try long-line
Just remember, the next time you see a
two-handed rod on a trout stream: this
is a very good way to catch fish. I hope
you will join me. ~ Zach