It’s the little things that can make big differences.
By Dec Hogan
I have seen a lot of change in the world of spey casting since I picked up my first two-hander nearly 30 years ago. New casts, ever-evolving rod design, a multitude of styles that marry with a multitude of line designs and casting philosophies. I have spent considerable time over the years learning and practicing with all of the various styles. As a student of the two-handed rod, as well an instructor, I have felt an obligation to be well versed, or at least have a sound understanding, of all the different styles of two-handed casting.
Irrespective of style I have found that there are many matters of physics, technique and basic fundamentals that apply to any and all forms of spey casting. Basic stuff that, if you exercise, will better your time spent with the two-hander. These 10 tips are gleaned from teaching hundreds of casters over thousands of days. It’s sometimes the little things that can make a big difference. If you are new to spey casting, or a crusty seasoned veteran, read on. It doesn’t matter whether you fish, long belly, short belly, Skagit, mid-belly, Scandinavian, or traditional double tapers, all these pointers apply. They are presented in no particular order.
1. Face your target for better set-up. The question often arises, “What’s the best foot-stance for optimum Spey casting?” “Right foot forward or left?” My usual answer is, “Whatever stance that keeps you from falling in the river!” Position your feet around bottom contours and boulders to achieve balance that’ll keep you comfortably standing. You’re not in a casting competition, you’re fishing. That said try to at least face your target. Facing the target area lines everything up for an efficient set-up and the most powerful, accurate path for the rod to travel when forming the D-loop and delivering the final forward cast.
2. Slow Down. No one, and I mean no one, is exempt from this one. The majority of the casting problems I see in my students and in folks on the river (including myself) are manifested by casting too fast and aggressive. Simply slow down. Think “slow and smooth” from the moment you begin each cast. When you are practicing try this. When you think you’ve slowed down, slow down some more. You should be able to feel the rod loading with every move you make. Slow down and you’ll be amazed at how much better it all works out.
3. Don’t try and cast beyond your capability. Casting beyond one’s comfortable limit is of little help when trying to squeak out some extra yardage. You wind up working way too hard for negative results. From a fishing perspective, it’s most beneficial when the line and fly turns completely over as it lays down on the water. If you’re trying to cast, say 85 feet of line that lands at 75 in a heap of disarray, you’d be much better off casting 75 feet that turns over and can then easily be controlled for a good presentation. Like trying to swing at a golf ball as hard as you can, trying to cast beyond your limit teaches you absolutely nothing.
4. Watch your D-loop. I constantly observe single-handed casters looking back over their shoulders and watching their back cast. It pays to watch as it helps with timing, allows for better loop control, and alerts the caster of any obstructions or obstacles that need to be avoided. All of this applies to two-handed casting as well. Maybe even more so. We should know by now that the D-loop is the backcast. How it’s shaped and the timing involved in all aspects are critical. A big, open, lazy D-loop doesn’t load the rod sufficiently for a long and powerful forward cast. If you wait too long to start the forward stroke, the D-loop collapses and renders the cast dead in the water. Not waiting for the D-loop to fully develop, a.k.a. rushing the forward stroke, causes all sorts of messy problems. Simply glancing over your shoulder and watching the D-loop develop will miraculously fix all sorts of problems you may be experiencing. Watching the D-loop is also a wonderful learning aid. It’s indispensable for learning correct timing and properly shaping the D-loop.
5. Be aware of conditions. The various Spey-style casts are all water dependant in order to execute properly. Thus, as conditions change, such as the depth you wade, water speed, obstructions behind you, wind speed and direction, etc., it’s paramount that the caster recognizes and adapts to whatever changes may be occurring. You need to be aware of what’s happening around you. It’s not uncommon to start fishing at the top of a run and find that your cast is operating smooth and efficient. You think you’ve finally got it down then suddenly, halfway down the run, it all falls apart and you find yourself eating a frustrating dose of humble pie. Let’s think about this. At the top of the run you were wading to your knees, the current was moving along at a fair clip, and there was no breeze. Halfway down finds you wading to your naval, the current has slowed considerably, and the wind has started to lightly blow up river. Conditions have dramatically changed. By recognizing the change and keeping a cool head it’s simple enough to make adjustments and blissfully finish the run. It all starts with being aware of conditions.
6. Remember it’s casting. Good casting, whether it be with a single- or a double-handed rod, requires some basic rules and fundamentals that adhere to both: smooth acceleration to crisp stop, the line and fly follow the path of the rod-tip, the backcast must be 180 degrees opposite from the forward cast, the list goes on. When we’re Spey casting it’s easy to forget these principals for some reason. Every time—and I mean every time—you move line with that rod you are casting. Placing your anchor is a cast. Executing a D-loop is a cast. Setting the line in a Snap-T or Snake Roll is a cast. Never force the rod in any of these moves. Remember it’s casting, therefore all moves should be executed smoothly allowing the rod to do the work.
7. Use your bottom hand. Don’t forget, it’s two-handed casting. The bottom hand plays a big role in all facets of the cast. The two hands work in concert for a fulcrum effect. The top hand can’t do it all, and if you try, you’ll soon be worn out and with a serious case orneries. When you are practicing make a conscious effort to utilize as much bottom hand as you can. It’s easy to use too much top hand and get by. Try using too much bottom hand and see what happens. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. I promise.
8. Learn to self-diagnose. When you find yourself in some sort of casting funk it helps to know where to start to find a remedy. We usually look to the wrong place. Having spent all those years guiding (watching people cast) I’ve learned that what the caster thinks his problem is, usually isn’t. The problem almost always is manifested in the move prior to the one where the suspected problem is. For example. Suspect problem: the forward cast is weak or not turning completely over. True problem: D-loop is being formed out of shape and weak. Suspect problem: D-loop is not lining up 180 degrees opposite target even though the rod is being stopped in the correct position. True problem: Anchor placement is way off mark. I could go on and on. Bottom line is that it’s often difficult to self-diagnose without being able to see the big picture. When you think you know what your problem is, turn your attention to the move that precedes it and start from there.
9. Don’t be a creeper. Creeping is a condition that afflicts many a would-be fine caster. Here’s what happens. The D-loop is formed, the rod is slanted back behind vertical and set for a good forward trajectory. But before the forward stroke is made, the caster relaxes his arm and shoulder and the rod “creeps” to the vertical position. When acceleration is finally applied beginning at the vertical, the cast has nowhere to go but down. Creepers often are plagued by tailing loops while trying to achieve distance. They are trying to squeeze as much distance out of the path of the rod as they can, and in doing so apply too much power and acceleration into too small an area. Unless one is casting a short line, the rod must begin its early acceleration (start of cast) prior to reaching the vertical position. Remember the old saying, “10 o’clock 2 o’clock?” While I’m a believer in that the clock tells time, not how to cast, there is a lot of truth in the statement. You won’t achieve any distance casting from 12 o’clock to 2 o’clock. Getting rid of the creeps is something you have to really work on. First, you should know you have the problem. If your cast is constantly driven downward even when that’s not your intention, you are throwing tailing loops right over the water at the end of the cast, or you just can’t shoot line for a liitle added distance, chances are you’re a creeper. Get the rod canted back and pick a high target like the tops of the trees across the river and practice getting rid of it.
10. Practice. Yeah yeah, practice makes perfect. I believe it. As long as you are practicing with good form. Good casting stems from muscle memory, so if you are doing the same thing over and over incorrectly, your muscles and mind are sure to ingrain it. Be careful, but pratcice, practice, practice. Spey casting is so much fun that practice truly is a labor of love. The ideal place to practice is on moving water, but stillwater is better than nothing and, although slightly different, it won’t retard what you’re learning. You can also safely practice on grass using a grass leader. The problem found when trying to Spey cast on grass is the line won’t grip the grass for an efficient anchor. Enter the grass leader. Take some heavy, stiff monofilimant (I like 30-pound Maxima Chameleon) and tie an 8- to 10-foot of leader in 4-inch sections. That’s right, a blood knot every 4 inches! The blood knot need only have 2 or 3 wraps which eases the pain for sure. Don’t trim the knots until the leader is assembled. Once assembled, trim all of the tag ends to about 3/8 of an inch. All of the little tag ends grip the grass sufficiently enough to perform any Spey cast your heart desires. Grass casting is not without it’s necessary adjustments. It takes a little getting use to. Mainly slowing down. Which is a very good thing.