The following written by Mike Maxwell is part 1 of a two part article titled 'The Advantages of Speycasting and Speyfishing'. Part 1 will cover two topics: The Advantages and the question: What is 'True Speycasting & Speyfishing?'Part two will cover two additional topics: Choosing the Right Speyrod and Effective Fishing Range
There has to be a Better Way - How many times have you been using all your present speycasting and speyfishing skills only to find that you can't interest or hook fish that you just know are there.
When confronted with this annoying situation, impatient anglers will often accept defeat and move on to an easier fishing station. Others will assume that their inadequate speyfishing is a fact of life and make no effort to improve and return to their previous methods of fishing. It has been said that as of this date, there are as many anglers giving up speyfishing as there are taking up the sport. There are, of course, many successful and elegant advanced methods of speyfishing, available to anyone willing to invest the time and effort to learn.
Advanced Speyfishing - Advanced speyfishing is the art of catching fish with a speyrod, by using your speycasting skills, together with the knowledge of fish behavior and ability to select and perform the correct line and fly presentation, then land and release your fish quickly and humanely, regardless of difficult water or weather conditions or difficult fish.
Speyfishing - Not Just Speycasting - It seems natural that less experienced speyfishers will be more concerned with their speycasting than they are with line control. The almost hypnotic effect of accomplished speycasting is difficult to overcome and can have you just speycasting, not speyfishing.
Fly Control - Not Just Line Control - It should be obvious that the secret of flyfishing, is in presenting a fly to a lethargic fish, so that it mistakes it for its natural food and eats it. The artificial fly should represent the natural food item, in size, shape, color and most importantly - its behavior. It follows that the emphasis of advanced speyfishing is in fly control not just line control.
Hooking Fish - Allowing a motivated fish to take your modern surgically sharp, hard wire hook on a slack line and hook itself on its return run to its hold will prevent the eye-crossing strike and lost fish scenario.
Controlling - Landing Fish - When fish are required to be released, it should be landed and released quickly and humanely. A powerful, limber shock-absorbing speyrod together with the effective lateral force method of controlling fish will allow landing and releasing fish in the shortest time with the least trauma.
Knowledge of the Fish - Not all fish react the same way to a correctly presented artificial fly. The species, its life cycle and the timing of its spawning cycle must be carefully studied and understood.
- Atlantic salmon are a completely different species to Pacific steelhead.
- Winter fish do not react like a summer fish.
Adjusting for Water Conditions - The wonderful thing about speyfishing is that you can fish from almost impossible situations and present the fly in just about every type and condition of water. However the water must be carefully analyzed before selecting the appropriate advanced presentation.
Water conditions can vary as follows:
- High to low.
- Fast to slow
- Shallow to deep.
- Clear or 'dirty'.
- Warm or cold.
Wind Conditions - Although accomplished speyfishers can fish in windy conditions, it often prevents some advanced presentations, as follows:
- Upstream presentations in downstream wind.
- Downstream presentations in upstream wind.
- High rod, line controls are often difficult or impossible.
Weather Conditions - There are many hardy speyfishers who take a masochistic pleasure in fishing in wet, freezing or dark overcast conditions. If you are one of this happy band of die- hards, remember the following:
- Watch out for barometer changes.
- Keep the ice out of your guides.
- Check for rod joint security.
- Use dark flies on dark days.
- Use bright flies on bright days.
- Wear the appropriate clothing.
Importance of Rod Design - It should be thoroughly understood that double-hand rods for advanced speycasting and advanced speyfishing must be specifically designed for many vitally important procedures other than just speycasting.
- Powerful limber and extremely sensitive.
- Make any speycast to any angle on each side of the river.
- Control the line and the fly in any water conditions.
- Hook - control and land fish quickly and humanely.
- Easy for beginners to learn.
- For experienced speyfishers to convert to advanced speyfishing.
- To make speyfishing more interesting and enjoyable.
Beware - It is sad to relate that there are many disappointed would-be speyfishers who have been sold or have selected the popular stiff action double-handers and are attempting to speycast and fish with them as if a speyrod is only a longer single-hander and will allow them to make 'out of sight' long casts, without reference to the rods (or their own) line control or fish control capability.
The Rod Design Dictates - It follows that the method or style of your double-hand rod fishing will be dictated by the basic design of your rod. Remember not all double-handed flyrods are intended for speycasting or speyfishing.
Importance of Line Design and Weight - Although the longer front tapers required are somewhat similar with each line maker, there is (to date) no industry standard for calibrating the weight of spey lines. This has produced the ridiculous situation of one company's line weight being a totally different weight to their competitors. The problem is, what line did the rod company use when designing their speyrods?
- Use long belly, long taper spey lines.
- Do not use short belly spey lines.
- Do not buy your line just for distance casting.
- Do not use standard double taper spey lines.
- Do not underline your spey rod.
- Overweight line - better than underweight.
- Do not let the wrong line dictate your speyfishing method.
- ake all unqualified advice with a 'pinch of salt'.
- Try before you buy.
Where do we go from here? - If you take the time to reflect on how much effort you have made to get to your present level of speycasting and speyfishing, you should not be discouraged in tackling more advanced speyfishing methods and techniques.
Don't be discouraged by the seemingly unending lessons and details - the more you try to describe something - the more complicated it appears to be.
- No speycaster makes a perfect cast every time.
- No speyfisher makes the correct fly presentation every time.
- No speyfisher lands every fish hooked.
WHAT IS "TRUE SPEYCASTING & SPEYFISHING"?
Speycasting - Not Overhead Casting - It must be remembered that we are always discussing speycasting with rods, specifically designed for this purpose, and definitely not the overhead and rollcast method of casting with stiff double-hand fly rods designed and used for long distance casting (often wrongly called speyrods). During a recent telephone conversation, an affluent and fortunate angler revealed that he had just returned from a successful Atlantic salmon trip, having used his limber and powerful speyrod and was on his way to fish striped bass in a wide open saltwater estuary using his stiff overhead casting double-hander. This is a perfect example of using the right tool for each different job.
Speycasting - Not Modified Rollcasting - Until recently there were very few graphite double-handers capable of being cast and fished in the relaxed and elegant style possible with a well-designed flexible true speyrod. There were however many stiff double-handers designed with the same action as long stiff single hand fly rods and misleadingly called speyrods. This type of rod often dictated a wrist jarring shoulder jolting push - pull stroke intended to rotate the rod tip throughout a casting arc similar to a single hand rod. Unqualified casting instructors often advise students to snap the butt of the rod back into their chest and to try and break the rod. (Poorly assembled rods often do!)Unqualified salesmen frequently emphasized casting long distances with heavy flies with little reference to the extremely important subject of line and fly control or landing large fish with stiff rods.
To make matters worse a crude method of speycasting developed based on a contrived rollcast. The object was to get the line out there without regard for what the fly was doing, or the water disturbance created and little chance of making any kind of aerial mending. Before you consider fishing with the modified rollcasting technique, ask yourself if you would enjoy rollcasting all day when trout fishing on your favorite stream with a single hand rod.
Speycasting - With True Speyrods - Fishing with a well-designed speyrod must be the answer to a flyfishers prayers. To be able to cast in any direction - without excessive wading regardless of wind or water conditions without the fly coming near or going behind the caster opens up a whole new river. The ability to control the line and make the fly behave exactly as required is a major factor in hooking fish. Controlling, landing and releasing fish quickly and humanely is the icing on the cake, when fishing with a long limber, powerful well-designed speyrod.
Speycasting - Learning to Cast - Casters favoring the stiffer distance casting double-handers are fond of saying that flexible speyrods are difficult to cast with - this is complete nonsense. Once you realize that you are casting the line - not the rod - and learn to generate, aim and direct line energy, you are on the right track. The physical movements of classic speycasting are extremely easy to learn, require very little strength and allow effortless casting all day long. Always remember that we are considering true speyrods. Attempting to speycast with a stiff overhead style rod is as awkward as flycasting with a spinning rod.
Overhead versus Spey
The Speyfisher - What's Your Style? - The wonderful thing about speyfishing is that you can fish virtually anywhere as long as its legal. Styles of fishing vary from a simple and often successful no brainer, to a sophisticated and technically advanced procedure. In many cases, the angler is capable of making all advanced presentations, however chooses to fish with the simplest method.
My good friend and writing mentor, Peter (keep it simple) has an inexhaustible fund of steelhead fishing knowledge and angling techniques, often chooses to fish with a simple down and swing in presentation with minimum line control. According to Peter, he often goes to the river for its relaxing and recuperative powers and likes to fish, not think and can't be bothered with mind-bending advanced presentations.
There are legitimate reasons why speyfishers fish with a simple down and swing in presentation, however many are dissatisfied with their performance and want to know more. The following is a simplified list of the need to know more.
Speycasting - Skills Inadequate
- Most likely poor instruction.
- Often the wrong rod or line design.
- Can't perform all double and single speycasts on each side of the river.
- Can't make effective aerial or water line controls.
- Obsessed with excessive distance casting.
- Casting beyond their ability to control the fly.
- Or not satisfied with their speycasting performance.
- Wants to find a better way.
Speyfishing - Skills Inadequate
- Can't read the river as a speyfisher.
- Does not know how to set up a game plan.
- No idea of how to search for fish.
- Does not analyze the river characteristics.
- Unaware of some advanced speyfishing styles.
- Does not know which style is appropriate for each different water condition.
- Or good speycaster - not satisfied with their fishing success.
- Knows that there must be a better way.
- Wants to learn how.
Chuck It Out - Swing It In - When observing others fishing with double-hand rods or discussing speyfishing with beginners obviously suffering from the results of inadequate or unqualified instruction, it seems that the most prevalent method of making this cruder and often ineffective presentation is as follows:
- Using a stiff overhead style double-hand rod.
- Make a 45º downstream cast or rollcast.
- Don't attempt to make an aerial line mend.
- Let the line and fly swing to shore.
- Hardly ever use dry flies.
- Use gravel hooking sink tips.
- Make little or no attempt at fly or line control.
- Work your way downstream.
- Make the same length cast every time.
- Hope for a suicidal fish.
It is interesting to speculate how this crude and mostly ineffective method of using a double-hand fly rod developed. Could it be copying the up and downstream false cast and swing out presentation often necessary on brushy streams when fishing with a short single hand rod? The most probable reason is, no instruction or worse still , unqualified casting instructors who are more concerned with getting lots of line out there regardless of the method used.
One overriding reason for the crude downstream and swing in presentation is the problem that fishing guides and ghillie's face when attempting to instruct a client who insists on fishing with a recently acquired double-hander without any previous instruction. In many cases they could have been sold the wrong rod and line by an inexperienced or unscrupulous salesperson, and are absolutely certain that speycasting is going to be easy - because the salesman said it will be. The usual scenario has the guide demonstrating the required speycast and line control procedure and the client attempting to imitate the presentation. More often than not, the result is a fish disturbing, gut wrenching disaster with the guide taking cover from lethal flies. The final scene has the well intentioned guide admitting defeat and advising the client to make the easiest presentation possible which is of course a 45° downstream rollcast with crude line controls.
Uncooperative Fish - There are times on some rivers when fish seem to be lining up to jump on any chuck it and chance it presentation. This happy state of affairs could be due to an abundance of fish activated by a juvenile acquired competitive feeding response or a record run of overactive fresh fish.
There are other times when there are very few fish around and only the skilled angler can catch fish consistently or know the reason when unsuccessful. The ability to analyse the river, select the right fly and method of presentation, however complicated and motivate a lethargic, uncooperative fish is the essence of the sport of speyfishing.
Line and Fly Control - How Important? - Feeding the right fly to the fish so that it imitates the behavior of the natural food item it represents during its juvenile freshwater or adult saltwater life is the secret of successful flyfishing for anadromous fish. All previous speycasting and speyfishing procedures lead up to this fundamental occurrence. Your wonderful speycasting will be entirely wasted if you can't control your line and your fly.
Once again when observing other reasonably proficient speycasters or talking to students it is obvious that there is often a total lack of, or just crude attempts at line and fly control. One prevalent reason for inadequate line control is due to over-stiff rods and wrong line taper, making aerial line controls almost impossible and water line controls ineffective and tiring. On the other hand there cannot be a more effective line and fly controller than a long limber well-designed speyrod and the right line taper.
Advanced Presentations - Not Often Used - The next time you go out to a salmon or steelhead river, ask yourself why many speyfishers fish with the same presentation regardless of the characteristics of the water being fished. They may change flies or attach sink tip lines however their presentation and line control methods are unchanged.
- Could it be the lack of qualified instruction?
- Perhaps it is the higher standard of speycasting required.
- Do they have the right rod and line?
The curious thing about many neophyte speyfishers is that they are often accomplished single hand trout anglers, able to make any presentation and line control required however they seem to forget this when speyfishing.
The ability and skill to cover all water conditions from upstream nymphing, to downstream dry fly, is the trademark of an accomplished speyfisher.
Conclusion - In this article, we introduced the following important subjects:
- What advanced speyfishing is.
- The importance of advanced speyrod design.
- The advantages of advanced speyfishing.
- Uncooperative fish.
- Line and fly controls.
- Hooking and landing fish.
- Adjusting for difficult casting conditions.
- Remember that speyfishing is not just speycasting or just trading your short single hander for a long speyrod and fishing the way you did with your single hander.
- Advanced speyfishing will open up an entirely new river for an intelligent skilled speyfisher.
About the author: by Chris Francis
Speycasting in North America is synonymous with Mike Maxwell. Mike enjoys one of the more diverse lives I have ever encountered. He was born in India, received his early schooling in England. This was followed by five years as a tank commander during World War II. After the war Mike returned to England where he finished an engineering degree, and soon found himself en route to Canada to accept a position as a consulting engineer. The job agreed with Mike allowing him to fish all over the world, while always being able to return to the steelhead waters of British Columbia. After fishing for these steelhead with a single-handed rod for a season or two, he decided two-handed rods were the logical choice for the long casts, large steelhead, and necessary line controls these rivers demand. Mike decided this about 35 years ago and hasn't looked back since.
Editors note: Mike and Denise Maxwell own and operate Gold-N-West Flyfishers in British Columbia, Canada. They are North America's recognized authorities on speycasting and speyfishing. Designers & originators of a complete range of true speyrods. Canada's most qualified flyfishing instructors. Authors & publishers of the bestselling book on speycasting & speyfishing . Producers of a full range of flyfishing videos, from speycasting to flytying. Owners & operators of a steelhead guiding operation on the Bulkley River in British Columbia. Visit their web site at www.speycast.com where you can also order Mike Maxwell's Advanced Speyfishing.
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