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 pa280439designated 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); pa280782a 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).

creditcardsThe 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:


Yes, you can actually get one by clicking here.

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.

28 thoughts on “If you don’t Spey, don’t start.”

  1. Elizabeth Walker says:

    Is there a chance for someone to acquire used equipment in this venture?

    1. admin says:

      Elizabeth, you clearly missed the point of the post. You should not be considering the acquisition of gear, even if used. Put the notion aside and save yourself. But if you persist, there is much used gear to be found for a fraction of the new cost.

  2. Cole says:

    Lets see, I just bought a Wulff Ambush line for my single hander as I am basically just a trout/bass fisherman along with my regular jaunts to the salt. I am addicted to the sport of fly fishing and always wanting to try and learn more techniques about the sport etc.. Well I saw some video about the Wulff line and decided what the hay get it and try it out. Well after watching numerous dvds on the art of spey casting/fishing, I gave it a try this past week. I was able to perform what I wanted with ease! It was so much fun and so much easier on the body. I can see why people get addicted to the style of spey as I am bitten by the bug myself. I can’t wait to to keep progressing my casting and just learning more about this great sport!

    1. admin says:

      Thanks for weighing in with your comment, Cole. Good point about Spey casting not being just for two-handed rods. I’ve successfully used a switch cast and snap T with my 4 wt trout rod when I had no room for a backcast. It did allow me get a cast out to where there weren’t any fish.

  3. Mike says:

    Very well done! I have to admit my first upon reading this post my first thought was “cool, maybe he’ll be selling his 7136”, shameful I know. However after reading your post again I’ve come to believe that you’ll continue to flog the water with a huge grin on your face.

    1. admin says:

      Mike, thanks for the comments. Yeah, sorry to disappoint, but I’ve instructed my wife to have the 7136 buried with me. I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but it feels sweet in my hands and I hope to do it justice in time.

  4. EW says:

    Very entertaining and sounds very familiar. Fortunately, I got a bargain on a new switch rod, reel, and line, so I didn’t get in as deep as you right off the bat. But I ended up spending the difference on another longer rod and 1500 miles of travel to catch my first steelhead on a green-butt skunk. That fish, unfortunately, was over 33″ and over 13#, and the 20-minute fight was just enough to root the addiction deep in my brain. There isn’t a day that I don’t relive the moment and yearn to go back there, despite my pitiful finances. Even the casting is addictive, so I too would encourage newbies not to get good at it, for if you get good enough to cast halfway across the Yellowstone you’ll wake up one morning to hear that you twist around and make the motions of the double-spey in your sleep like I have.

    1. admin says:

      EW- I hate to say it, but you are not well. There’s really only one prescription (aside from more Cow Bell), and that is to quit your job and uproot your family (or leave them behind with all your remaining money) and move to Northern British Columbia. Good luck, friend. God speed!

  5. Rebecca says:

    I’m going to pretend I never, ever, read this enjoyable entry that had me laughing (loved the message to the Mrs)
    I want to keep my head in the sand.
    I want to pretend I’m not missing out on anything cool.
    I want to affort to send my children to college.

    If you continue to be a bad influence I may just……buckle?

    1. admin says:

      Rebecca, be strong. There is absolutely NO reason to venture into the world of two-handed rods. I mean, they’re only for anadromous fish, right? No reason to acquire, say, a 6 wt Spey or switch rod for tossing big streamers to trouts. That would afford you no advantages or added casting pleasure whatsoever. Keep the head buried deep. Ignorance IS bliss. Thanks for the good word.

  6. Rebecca says:

    p.s. that should read “afford”
    p.p.s. Bad influence!!!
    p.p.p.s the snail arrived! Absolutely enjoyed them. Thank you~

    1. admin says:

      Glad you enjoyed the books ; )

  7. Mark says:

    I feel really bad about letting my best friend use my switch rod over the weekend.

    A few hours later the only words that came out of his mouth were, “single handed casting sucks,” and “how much did this cost?”

    I too am a recent convert and it has opened up another realm of the fly fishing universe…a very expensive realm.

    1. admin says:

      Mark, letting your friend use your switch rod was irresponsible and was wreckless.

  8. Rob says:

    Hilarious post! Even though i’m a saltwater guy who doesn’t know the joys of stream fishing, i can safely say that the world of spey is safe from me. i can hardly cast one handed, let alone 2 handed, and by looking at my stack of busted gear due to my backcast getting hung up on rocks….or mangrove branches or even the always popular 18 wheeler speeding by, i don’t think i could afford a foray of new gear, lest my pile of busted gear grow in stature and expense….although, in some cases, a 2 handed stripping as fast as you can technique would come in handy on some wary barracuda or tarpon…..

    1. admin says:

      Rob, first off I dig the title of your blog (we my be kindred spirits). The thought of you hooking a semi invokes a variety of mental images.
      Not to encourage the expenditure of monies or emotional suffering, you might find a switch rod to your liking ; ) Thanks for chiming in.

  9. Rob says:

    Thanks! I’ll be writing about the semi story for my other writing gig and will let you know when it comes out. It involves the Florida Keys and a drag scorching run by a Peterbilt…those things are fast and can strip you in a matter of seconds….LOL!


  10. Man, you hit the nail on the head. What a great read. I often tell people who don’t yet have the two-handed sickness that “no seriously – that actual casting is fun – no really, if there were no fish in the river it would still be fun to actually make good casts and just fish the water”. How ridiculous is that?

    1. admin says:

      Thanks for the comments, Andrew. Obviously I couldn’t agree more. It’s a good thing casting a two-hander for the sake of casting is so enjoyable ’cause around these parts there’s a lot more casting than catching…for me anyway!

  11. Rebecca says:

    Damn….I even knew better back in November. Evidently I have a short memory.
    At this point in time, I can’t pretend Spey doesn’t exist anymore.
    In other words, I ignored the sticker, your words, my own words and buckled under after only one Spey Clave.
    I am of weak fishing character…

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Well, Rebecca, admitting you’re weak is the first step. Finding a support group is up next. Don’t try to go this alone- you’ll suffer monumental frustration. There are people who can help.

  12. Fred Telleen says:

    A year ago today I owned not one. My melted plastic has since turned to dust and sifted away as I have darkened the corks of three long rods. For years I avoided the abyss I knew awaited me and my quiver of single hand rods. Alas, I have succumed to the sickness (sniff) to the point of torturing small trout and even walleye just to get a tug far far away. I know your pain and plan to be burried beside my coffen full of spey rods.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Fred, clearly it’s too late for the likes of you, and me, and others who’ve fallen prey to the evil Temptress of Spey, but we can help save others who’ve yet to go to the dark side. Pass the word. Save the masses. You are our Poster Child.

  13. Ed says:

    Unfortunately, I was not familiar with the UA in 2009 and didn’t see this post until today. I have to admit that MY spey rod and reel showed up at the doorstep just 2 weeks ago….along with 3 others for the ‘steelhead crew,’ as we call ourselves.

    Here are a couple of my observations.
    1. Spey casting looks much easier when someone else is doing the casting
    2. Lawn casting isn’t the same as casting on the water (which I still am waiting to do). This observation is motivated mostly because my lawn casting experience was pretty miserable, and I’m blaming it on the lack of water to help load the rod.

    In your post you didn’t make a single mention of Spey Flies — If we spend all of this money on spey rods, spey lines and reels, why cast an ‘ordinary’ fly? I have found the tying of spey flies to be as much fun as spey casting looks to be.

    You wouldn’t happen to have any heron feathers lying around do you?

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      Ed, I would agree with your observations and offer my condolences at the same time. I’m sorry you didn’t find this entry in time to benefit from the discouraging words. Spey casting is fun. I have to imagine that being good at it brings even more enjoyment, but I wouldn’t know anything about that. Herons…shhhh. There are people watching.

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