Smart Spey Fishing Tips - Unfurl Short First, Long Second

October 10, 2015

Hey folks, LOTS of spey time this past week.  I got to fish with all sorts of anglers from first time neophytes all the way up to some fellow industry pros.  I even got to fish myself a couple of days!  Oh man, I fished very hard for a couple days straight and managed to put some very memorable steelhead in the net on my spey rods.  In the process I even popped the cherry on my new Sage MOD 6130-4 which pushed my 14 year old Sage 12'6" 6 weight spey rod (my VERY FIRST SPEY ROD!) into early retirement.  The ol' European style 6 weight will still get some reps though.  My wife bought me that rod for our first wedding anniversary and I caught several fish on it this past week as well.  It was the top of the line 14 years ago and I have used it off an on all these years.  Still a good rod but the new Sage MOD has an action that is just my style.  I'll write up a very detailed review of it soon. I got to put it side by side with my 12'6" Sage ACCEL 7 weight and I have some feedback for any potential buyers comparing these two instruments.

I have been absolutely immersed in spey fishing over the past 10 days and I have some great reflections. From a practicality standpoint one of the most important tips I have is getting your fly to unfurl during the swing at the right interval.  Some of this depends on the type of water, speed, width, location of the ledges, etc. but I use a fairly standard strategy each time I personally approach a run.

Over the past 2 seasons I have learned an immense amount about swinging the fly. If you would have asked me 5 years ago if I was a good swing angler I would have said, "oh you bet I am quite good".  Looking back, I have come a long ways and if the next 5 years go like I expect they will I'll be saying the same thing.   Anyway, over the past couple of years I have forced myself and my anglers to shorten up our casts A LOT on the first past through a run. In fact, on the Klickitat I like to fish nearly the entire run with just the head out on my Skagit setup.  Short casts that force the fly to rise in the water column (assuming a sink tip is being used) and unfurl on the near half of the river.  Over the years I have been cursed with HORRIBLE infliction.  It is a curse that comes to all intermediate level spey casters... it is... the ability to cast all the way to the other side of the river.... and catch no fish haha.  Its true.  Long casts have their place, but if you don't know how and when to use them you'll have a lot of fishless days on spey gear.  Unfortunately, many anglers tuck their tails between their legs and revert back to using nymph rods because they become frustrated by not catching fish. 

If you walk into a run and there is ONE aggressive fish in the run, and it happens to be on your half of the river which is a 50% or greater chance already - it is best targeted by fishing a short cast!  I implore you to be disciplined and fish short first.  Its hard when you are one of the guys that can cast 80' with just a flick of the tip!  You know who you are!

The key here is that you need to get that short swing done first.  A nice clean presentation is all that matters. Let me repeat that.  Presentation is ALL that matters.  A cast is just a means to the end.  Dudes were out there catching a ton of steelhead swinging with one handed rods before spey rods made their way into the PNW.  Swinging the fly is far more important than casting it.  

On your first time through, be disciplined and get a clean swing all the way into the "hang down" which is straight below you.  Also, fish light flies and tips the first time through. I personally take two spey rods with me most of the time (even 3 depending on the situation) so that I can grab whatever rod best suits the run.  I always fish light and short first to be absolutely sure that I don't blow a snappy fish off the inside by overcasting OR snagging bottom (which is one of the biggest mistakes I see new spey anglers make).  They snag up right below them for many reasons, usually because their cast is sloppy with a lot of slack allowing for too much dead drift and while the angler thinks its swinging... its sinking.  Snags up, then they whip their line around attempting to get it free and any fish within 30' is now alarmed and unlikely to bite.  Snagging is bad, it disrupts temp, efficiency, and alerts fish.  

Anyway, back to the point. Light and tight the first time through focusing your presentation on the near half the river.  Just because your fly is swinging, doesn't mean its swimming (guru talk for a fly that is working the water correctly).  Present that fly making it "lift and turn" right across the nose of the fish.  

Your Second Pass Through

Ok, so you made an initial pass and if you had a good grab but missed the fish... do it again with a different fly.  If no grab, time to retrain your focus on the far half of the river.  On the second pass I usually grab my "heavy" rod which is often setup with a Skagit Intermediate head (RIO Skagit iFlight) and 10' of T-11 (all depends on the water/day but this is common for me).  Not only do a I go heavier but my emphasis is put towards getting my fly to lift and turn closer to the center of the river or even the other bank.  

Now students there are A LOT of variables here but I employ this system on most runs that I fish.  I will also encourage you to practice, practice, and practice.  Out of all the situations we faced this week, there wasn't a single scenario that I was glad the angler sucked at casting haha.  It is free to get out and toss yarn around on your spey rod and there are lots and lots of ways to learn without getting a guide to show you. 

You will face many challenges out there.  Deep wading, brush overhead, brush on your left shoulder, brush on your right shoulder, big rocks on your right or left, logs, and you'll need to know how to solve all sorts of game time problems.  AND you need to get that fly line, sink tip, and leader to land taught!  Clean presentations catch fish.  The better caster you are the cleaner your fly will present.  You'll need a strong foundation to be consistently successful on spey water.  I strongly encourage you to get RIO's 3 DVD set on Modern Spey Casting.  It is the absolute best resource ever created and the best $50 you have ever spent on spey casting.  I am constantly blown away by guys that buy $1,000 rods but don't get any lessons.  Get a lesson at home that you can review again, again, and again.  You'll need it so why not have it at your disposal.  It is better than YouTube haha.  Way better. 

  1. RIO's 3 DVD set on Modern Spey Casting... I have it. Excellent. Very well done. You will learn a great deal. Oh, I'm a newcomer to Switch/Spey rod casting.