Recent comments from a fan reader of the Unaccomplished Angler gave cause for me to sit back and do a bit of pondering. The first comment asserts that, “Spey fishing is like Tai Chi!” The second comment was equally amusing:  “I find the whole fad a little curious…”

We’ll address the matter of Spey fishing being a fad next week. As to the first statement about Spey fishing being like Tai Chi, I believe there was an unintentional revealing of profound enlightenment in those words.

Fishing with a Spey rod is in fact like Tai Chi. As activities both practiced by humans, they have common roots that go back millions of years to the first ancestors of modern Homo sapiens. Over time, as modern societies established themselves, various activities grew out of the different societies: martial arts evolved in Asia; fly fishing evolved in Europe. So, yes, the Spey Way of fishing and Tai Chi are alike in that they are both activities practiced by human beings, and all humans are alike in that we have common ancestors. That analogy, however, may not be quite what the originator of the statement meant.

In researching the origins of fishing, I was surprised to discover that the Chinese are often credited for having invented the fishing rod around the time of 1300. Less surprising is that the Chinese also developed Tai Chi. So yes, the Spey Way again has something in common with Tai Chi. Still, I believe that isn’t where the originator of the comment was going with the statement.

Actually I know exactly what was meant by the comment–it was intended as a backhanded comparison suggesting that fishing with a Spey rod is not a very effective means of catching fish, and Tai Chi has no inherent physical, tangible benefits.

Spey casting was developed as a means of delivering the fly effectively and efficiently in certain fishing circumstances. Nobody ever said it was THE most effective way of fishing, but if your goal is to cover a lot of water with reduced casting repetition and limited room for back casting, Spey casting may just prove worthy of your consideration.

Tai Chi, with its familiar slow, meditative-like physical movements may not look something you would expect from a martial art but to say that it has no physical value is to not understand. When translated literally it means “supreme ultimate fist” and when practiced at its most advanced level, it’s movements are a series of strikes, blows, sweeps and kicks, etc. There are even Tai Chi forms that involve swords and spears. It’s important to acknowledge that fighting and practicing martial arts, just as fishing and catching fish, are two different things. To draw a comparison: on one hand you have Yin (Spey fishing and Tai Chi); on the other you have Yang (gill netting and cage fighting).

Back in 497 A.D. when Bodhidarma walked into China from India, among other things he taught martial arts to the monks at the Shaolin Monastery. This was necessary as a means of defending their domain against invading bands of marauders. To study a martial art today is much more simply an alternate form of exercise done for mental and physical health and to adopt a philosophical outlook on life. Bottom line: we no longer need to be able to fight for survival. Still, the benefits of martial arts training are not insignificant and include improved balance, stamina, flexibility, emotional and physical self control and stress relief. Those seem like fairly tangible benefits to me. It’s certainly easier on the body than other high impact martial arts/physical activities, with which I do have some experience.

Back before the marketplace economy when people lived off the land, fishing was a means of harvesting food needed for survival. Since the overwhelming majority of us no longer fish to feed our families, fishing (whether done with or without a Spey rod) is simply a means of engaging in a recreational activity for the sake of enjoyment and for many it also becomes a way of life. A day on the water casting and swinging flies is a sure way to relieve stress (it sure beats a day at work) and there is much less repetition involved in Spey casting than there is with typical overhead casting with a single handed rod. Therefore it’s much easier on the arms and shoulders, and I have experience with regard to shoulder tendonitis.

So yes, the Spey Way is remarkably like Tai Chi. Let’s examine some of the other similarities:

  • Both Spey Way and Tai Chi have been around a long time. Spey casting was invented in the mid 1800’s. Tai Chi is said to have been founded in the mid 1600’s.
  • Both Spey casting and Tai Chi have many fluid, circular movements.
  • In Spey casting they practice the Snake Roll. In Tai Chi they practice Snake Creeps Down.
  • Long sticks are not uncommon to both Spey Way and Tai Chi.
  • While one may learn Spey Way and Tai Chi from a book or video, it is highly recommended that one seek instruction from a master.
  • There are very simple, helpful diagrams which can be used to supplement instruction in both Spey casting and Tai Chi.
  • One can find large groups of people engaged in both Spey Way and Tai Chi.
  • To the untrained eye, it may look like large groups of Spey casters and Tai Chi practitioners aren’t really doing anything.
  • Spey casting is usually done in the water and Tai Chi is often practiced on grass. Sometimes Spey casting is practiced on grass and Tai Chi is done in the water.
  • It’s not uncommon to Spey cast among large rocks in a river. Apparently the same goes for Tai Chi.
  • It may look as though the two Spey casters are fighting, but one is actually telling the other not to push his top hand. Similarly the two Tai Chi practitioners are not fighting, rather they are practicing Push Hands.
  • There are cool photos of  Spey casters at sunset. There are cool photos of a Tai Chi practitioners at sunset.

There’s more to practicing a martial art than learning to fight, and there’s more to fishing than catching fish. So yeah, fishing with a Spey rod is a lot like Tai Chi. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised but what someone combines the two graceful practices some day, and when that day comes I’d like credit for the idea of Spey Chi. Even if it does turn out to be just a passing fad.

Close your eyes and listen to this video. Spey casting or Tai Chi?