If you don’t Spey, don’t start.
I saw a bumper sticker once that read, “If you don’t surf, don’t start.” Clearly the tone of the message was that of a territorial surf bum, verbally peeing in the sand to mark his territory because he didn’t want me to take up his sport and crowd his waves. Hang loose, dude–the thought never crossed my mind. The bumper sticker did, however, give me an idea to create a variation of my own, the intent of which is purely noble. If you are thinking of taking up the way of the Spey rod, I have several single words of advice: Stop; Don’t; Flee.
I assure you, I am not being territorial. Like every other fly angler I’ve met, I love to share my passion with others. Just ask my wife and kids–they’ll tell you I rarely talk about anything without relating it to fly fishing (they are continually impressed with just how deeply the thread of fly fishing can be woven into the fabric of daily life). So even as many good fly-fishing waters have a tendency to get a bit crowded from time to time, I think everyone should partake of this wonderful sport. At least then we’d all have something we can agree on. That is, until arguments broke out about nymphing versus swinging, 4-piece versus 2-piece rods, and felt versus rubber-soled wading boots. No matter their differing opinions, those who are bitten by the fly bug tend to also become stewards of the resource, pumping time and money into much-needed conservation organizations (please see those listed in the sidebar) and projects, so the more the merrier (just don’t low-hole me on my favorite run, please). That being said, why would I want to discourage folks from taking up the way of the two-handed rod? The answer is simple: To spare you the suffering I’ve endured, or rather, am enduring. It may be too late for me, but the lessons I’ve learned could save you a lot of financial and emotional pain.
It all started innocently enough: I was perfectly happy, or at least not horribly dissatisfied with the 8 weight single-hander I’d had for a few years. It had been used rather sparingly on a few steelhead outings, but to be honest I never really hankered to get out more than that. I was becoming convinced that I didn’t enjoy standing in a river in January during a cold, steady rain, fishing in vain for a fish that only existed in the history books. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the thing I didn’t enjoy was standing in a river in January during a cold, steady rain, repeatedly casting a heavy single-handed rod in vain for a fish that only existed in the history books. Question my manhood if you will, but the sporadic tendonitis in my shoulder can be aggravated by repetitive motion such as repeatedly casting a heavy single-handed rod. When the weather is cold and damp, as it is guaranteed to be in January where I live, it only worsens the situation. As they say, ‘ignorance is bliss’ and I was rather content during those innocent years of yore. I wasn’t catching any steelhead, nor was I much bothered by not catching steelhead. I’d heard others speak of the Spey rod, but I could not imagine why I would want to venture into a new relm until I had actually hooked into a fish on my single-hander. I buried my head in the riverbank sand and stubbornly denounced the Spey thing as a foolish frivolity. But as time and steelhead seasons passed, I heard increasingly more folks talking up the merits of casting with a two-handed rod, and I began to ponder what it would be like to take a walk on the dark side of fly-fishing.
My pondering resulted in the realization that first off, one would need another credit card designated solely for this new endeavor. While your shopping list might be more or less damaging, mine looked something like this: A Sage Z-Axis 7136-4 Spey rod (and apparently they charge by the foot, so the longer the rod, well- you get it); a Ross Momentum LT reel to hold a half mile of backing, 90 feet of Airflo Ridge .030’ running line, and an Airflo Compact Skagit head, to which is attached any number of various rate sink tips (so that one can search various depths before concluding that there are no fish anywhere in the water column); a spare spool for another half mile of backing, 90 feet of Airflo Ridge .020” running line attached to an Airflo Compact Scandi head (for fishing smaller flies during summer flows when the water is so clear that any fish in the river can see your fly approaching well in advance and make an early decision to avoid it). All said and done it wasn’t so bad, since I was able to sell my very lightly-used 8 weight single-handed setup for about 20% of what I paid for it. That just about covered the sales tax on my new spey outfit. (Note to Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler: I’m grossly over-exaggerating this for the sake of artistic drama).
The unmistakable smell of burning plastic would be your super-heated credit card in the process of a meltdown. With annual interest rates approaching 20%, well, let’s not even go there. There’s more to fly fishing with a Spey rod than catching fish – it’s also about spending a boatload of money, so the financial suffering is just the beginning. Next comes the psychological damage. Now I’ve never professed to be anything but unaccomplished when it comes to fly fishing, but my casting doesn’t totally suck. In fact, there are times when I actually think I can lay out some pretty respectable casts (until one too many double hauls is used trying to push that last few feet of line just a little too hard and it all comes horribly undone). But I digress. When I first wrapped my hands around the double cork of the two-handed rod, everything I thought I knew about fly casting became pretty much worthless information, and any perceived ability I might have had with a single-hander was quickly forgotten. While Spey casting may have it’s origins in Scotland, it was all Greek to me: The language contains daunting terms such as “Bloody L” and “Dangerous Cast”. There are odd techniques that have no place in the vocabulary of the gentleman fly angler such as the “Perry Poke” and the “Snake Roll” (not to mention the “Flying Butt”). There is the “Anchor Point”, which is apparently the point at which one’s heavy “shooting head”, laying in a heap of slack at one’s feet, becomes incapable of being cast because it weighs as much as a drift boat anchor. Then you have the “Kiss” which I believe is when a heavily weighted fly brushes your cheek at 90 miles per hour (this is closely related to the “Dangerous Cast”). My favorite is the “D-Loop” which describes the shape of the arc that the line forms behind the caster and is key in loading the rod for a successful forward stroke. In my case, “D” stands for “Deformed” or “Droopy”. Or “Dork.” The whole thing is quite foreign and intimidating.
I should also warn you that casting with a two-handed rod is a whole heck of a lot of fun. There are even get togethers where people venturing (and those who have long-since ventured) into the dark world of two-handed rods actually gather on a weekly basis to do just one thing: Practice (and I assume, commiserate). Check out All About the Fly and River Run Anglers if you’re in the greater Seattle area looking for a local support group. It’s truly a sickness. So far I have avoided these congregations out of respect for the safety of others in attendance. When I feel that I am no longer a threat to anyone other than myself, I will foray into the mix. Until then, I prefer isolation.
Certainly I have always enjoyed casting with a single-handed rod, but rarely do I do so just for practice (although it often feels that way when I’m fishing). What I’ve found with the Spey thing is that I actually enjoy casting for the sake of casting, and I’ll happily hit a stretch of water with nothing on the end of my line but a piece of yarn, running through my repertoire of fine casts. The yarn can be either a measure of safety or compliance: Safety, because without a hook it’s hard to hurt myself (see recent post titled “The hat is lucky…“); compliance, because if I’m practicing on the water out of season it would be illegal to have a hook on the end of my line. Not that I have to worry about catching fish anyway, but it would be just my luck to accidentally tie into a fish out of season while a game agent watches through his binoculars. But the bottom line is that I enjoy Spey casting. As they say, practice makes perfect, or in my case, practice will eventually reduce the level of shame.
So, heed my words of advice:
And now a question(s) intended at get some comments from you, the reader…
With regard to the way of the Spey:
Do you or don’t you?
Will you or won’t you?
Let’s hear from you.