Spey fishing is a fad

As I mentioned in the previous Weekly Drivel, I received comments from a reader suggesting that fishing with a Spey rod is “like Tai Chi”. Another interesting comment was also made:

“I find the whole fad a little curious…”

For the sake of argument let’s just agree that this statement is inaccurate. Fads are short-lived crazes that gain widespread popularity and then quickly and thankfully fade away (fad = fadee).  Yes, sometimes they tend to linger like the smell of dead fish but eventually they go away and become nothing more than laughing stock for future generations. Nearly always we will look back upon fads and feel ashamed of our participation.

The way of the Spey has been around for a very long time. It may have seen a more recent spike in popularity in some areas as folks have come realize the merits of the two-handed rod and Spey casting techniques, but this gradual discovery seems to me more like enlightenment than fad.  The Pet Rock didn’t last long and thankfully neither will Justin Bieber. Let’s look at a few other fads from recent history just for giggles:

  • TV trays
  • Bean bag chairs
  • Leisure suits
  • Streaking
  • Disco
  • Sea Monkeys
  • Yahtzee
  • Shag carpet
  • Tang
  • Space Food Sticks
  • AMC Pacer (and Gremlin)
  • Pop Rocks
  • Earth Shoes
  • Pukka shell necklaces (someone please tell Kenny Chesney to let it go)
  • Water beds
  • Swatch Watches
  • Izod shirts (collars flipped)
  • Leveraged buyouts
  • Parachute pants
  • Gigapets
  • The Clapper
  • Reality TV shows (like a kidney stone, we pray that soon they will pass…please, God)
  • Crocs

Well, you get the idea. I am neither a historian nor an accomplished Spey angling person, so I thought it best to consult some pedigreed anglers bring in a couple of the big guns from the world of Spey for their thoughts on the matter.

Simon "Speybro" Gawesworth

Simon Gawesworth needs no introduction. He is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading authorities on Spey casting and has taught and demonstrated Spey casting around the world. Simon’s thoughts on the “fad” are as follows:

“According to my dictionary, the definition of “fad” is: ‘1.  an intense but short-lived fashion; craze , or 2.  a personal idiosyncrasy or whim.’ Many of those that indulge in the art of Spey casting do so with extreme intensity, that much is true, but considering that the roots of Spey casting date back to the mid 1800’s, it is most definitely not ‘short lived’. The duration is irrelevant, even if Spey casting had evolved from the 1990’s the tremendous advantage that anglers have with Spey casting techniques – both in fishing and casting disciplines – ensure that this is an integral part of the sport of fly fishing, and long will remain so.”

Mike Kinney, the "The Skagit Godfather" (photo by Rich Schaaff)

Mike Kinney, a legend when it comes to fly fishing, has been at the cutting edge of fishing with a Spey rod in the Pacific Northwest for over 20 years.  During that time Mike has become highly respected for guiding, instruction and rod design. When asked his thoughts on the matter of Spey casting being a fad, Mike had this to say:

“I started over twenty years ago. It became popular over ten years ago here in the US and has been around over 150 years in the UK. A fad usually does not last 150 years. While certain trends in two handed rods, spey casting, and spey fishing will probably go away over time the actual use of long rods for change of direction dynamic roll casts and enhanced line control will definitely gain favor as time goes on.”

There seems to be a common thread here, and if I were an authority on the Way of Spey I could not have said it any better myself. Thanks, gents, for weighing in with your thoughts on the matter. In my less-than-experienced assessment, the Spey thing is less like a fad and more like evolution of fly fishing (something Charles Darwin would have embraced).

To cite an article by Rob Kolakowski in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, “Spey casting is not just a passing fad, it’s around for good.”

Case closed. No further arguments.


  1. Patrick

    No argument here, but now I understand the furtive glances and furrowed brows of fishermen who pass me by, dangling dry flies or carrying long rods; if “this Spey thing” is the evolution of fly fishing, my nypmhing must seem positively Neanderthal. Don’t really know how I feel about that. No matter, I’m still building a short rod

    • Kirk Werner

      Pat, in declaring that Spey casting is an evolution of fly fishing is not to suggest that it is a more highly evolved form of delivering the fly than nymphing, rather simply that Spey casting is not an overnight sensation (fad): a process of adaptation that has happened over a very long period of time. However, there is evidence to suggest that the degree of slope to one’s forehead is a surefire way to determine whether they nymph or swing 😉

      • Patrick

        Don’t know about the forehead, but my eyes are set a bit deep. (For protection from the sun, I was told.)

        • Kirk Werner

          Actually, the deep-set eyes are nature’s way of protecting your eyes from more than the sun. Errant flies pose less of the threat as well. It’s hard to know if you’re more, or less evolved given your physiological advantages. I suffer from the same design which can cut down on peripheral vision. Often times it allows me to see only what I want to see.

  2. Marck

    If the first record use of an artificial fly happened in the 2nd century and we can use that as our starting point on a fly fishing time line. Spey casting would only be a dot on the time line. The Conspiracy theoriest would have you believe its to sell more fly rod’s and gear. We all know real fly fishermen wouldn’t fall for that again 🙂 Bye the way Winston has a new revolutionary composite rod coming soon to store near you. or is it the mother of all fad’s like THE CLAPPER something that never die’s and lives for ever.

    • Kirk Werner

      Marck, good to see you crawl out of your cave for a change and chime in. If you’d ever like to join me for some Spey casting, just say the word (I have an extra Spey rod you can use). It would be good for you to wrap both hands around the cork because it will keep your knuckles from dragging on the ground.

  3. Chuck Atkins

    Well, fad may have not been the best choice of words! Maybe it would be better to call it an elitist endeavor pursued by those who like a greater challenge in catching the few fish that are left! It appears to be a fad in the mid-west but the word fad implies a pejorative and God Knows that is not my intent! Ha!

    There are hardly any Steelhead returning to streams in Wisconsin. Each year it seems to get worse. The numbers posted on the Weir in the Root river tell the story very clearly. The best river to swing is the Milwaukee! I see a few “die hards” out there each year. A one or two fish day is a big success. Most days – an honest guy – will tell ya he got spanked!

    The guys I know go to Michigan and achieve only slightly better success with the Spey rod. The lucky guy that has the schedule that allows for it goes to Ohio and does well! I have seen guys swing exclusively and get 5 fish in a day in Ohio! So, it makes sense to swing where there are plenty of fish but doing where the numbers just aren’t there anymore is an act of profound stubbornness!

    • Kirk Werner

      Chuck, I just wanted to say thanks for bringing some life to the back room of the Unaccomplished Angler, and for providing me with a couple weeks’ worth of fodder for the Weekly Drivel.
      Cheers, my man!

  4. Jon De Jong

    “So, it makes sense to swing where there are plenty of fish but doing where the numbers just aren’t there anymore is an act of profound stubbornness!”

    So true…if the only goal is to catch fish. If one gets a great deal of satisfaction from casting a two-handed rod and catching fish on the swing, it makes a good deal of sense. I nymph for steelhead on occasion, but only when I’m desperate for a fish. I have no problems w/ nymphing, I just derive more satisfaction from swingin’ one up on my spey pole. Tight lines.

    • Kirk Werner

      Can I just say right now that I appreciate the mature civility of this who discussion. Sure, there are some differing points of view, but everyone playing so nicely and being courteous when explaining their preferences. Nobody is getting their waders in a knot, nobody is being an internet tough guy…we’re all just getting along, like a circle of friends, or a wolf pack. Gives me a warm feeling inside. PS- Chuck is wrong 😉

  5. mike nutto

    Wow this is great , lets see now so I put a rod in my hand and then I become something. Why is it I always read these posts about spey this and nymph that. The two handed rod is capable of swinging and nymphing (even though elitist say nymphing is wrong with a spey rod ). The ” rod ” is a tool like she says “it isnt the size it is how you use it “. This fad is gaining in popularity because for the first time someone can cast 60 feet with little effort and not get tangled in the bushes. Will we see this style of fishing peak ,I think so it will become a craze and then slowly die off .New line technology is what has driven this ,shooting heads that can propel huge flys to places where even die hard single hand casters could never reach. Here is what I have to say about the whole thing just get out there and go fishing, do it how you want and ignore the guy who says it is a fad ,or your doing it wrong ,or your this that or the other thing .Go out there try it ,if you dont like it dont do it ! Stop your bitching cause it is negative ! Spoken to you from a die hard spey guy who also fishes for trout with dry flies and nymphs. Now dont get your nickers in a twist boys . Im sure I’ll hear something about the size of the “rod ” comment but Im trying to make a point , the whole thing is like being a coon dog barking up a tree where there is no raccoon.

    • Kirk Werner

      Mike, what you said! The bantering over this style of presenting certain flies being better than that style of presenting flies is certainly amusing, and having a little fun with it is the whole point here on the Unaccomplished Angler. And all you’re going to hear from me regarding the size of your rod is this: as long as there’s a bend in it, it’s all good. Unless, of course, that bend is because you’re hung up on a rock.

  6. Rick again

    I just built two spey rods and am working on a third, these guys are the best thing you can use for salmon and steelhead at a distance, I like casting my spey better than a standard fly rod, also I have been practicing Tai Chi for about 10 years now I became interested in it 40 years ago when I was in the orient and watched the Chinese in Taiwan practicing it.

    • Kirk Werner

      No argument here on the merits of a Spey rod, Rick. In addition to the ability to reach further, they’re so much less fatiguing to toss all day compared to a single-hander. As for Tai Chi, I’m a fan of all the martial arts and strongly believe that they can be effective in many different ways that don’t have to involve self defense.

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