12 Months to Spey Casting Mastery
Welcome to the first installment of my 12 part series designed to improve your Spey casting. For the next 12 months I’ll add a new chapter designed to take you from where you are now to where you’d like to be as a Spey caster. Let’s begin.
First, let’s look at where you are as a Spey caster. A few years ago I wrote a brief overview of the different levels of Spey casting—beginning, intermediate and advanced, an updated version of which follows:
· beginning casters haven't spent much time with a Spey rod and/or find it challenging to consistently cast a fishable length of line (40ft - 70ft). Beginning casters generally cast very large loops that rarely straighten out, especially when trying for distance. Most beginning casters will not be able to shoot more than a few feet of line. Beginning caster might know a few casts but will only be comfortable with one, and it will be the cast that they will use almost all of the time. They will likely pick their fishing spots based on the side of the river that allows them to best use this cast.
· intermediate casters have fished a two-hander for a while and/or are reasonably comfortable with a few casts for both sides of the river and can use these casts to consistently toss a fly to most common fishing distances (example: single and double Speys to 90ft). Loop control is often lacking and loops tend to be larger, but good turnover is achieved in the 50ft – 80ft range. Most casters who consider themselves “advanced” will fall into this category.
· advanced casters are comfortable with a number of casts that allow them to effectively deal with various situations and challenges (such as big water, high winds, tight quarters, etc) and can use these casts to consistently throw a fly over 100ft with good positive turnover even when shooting line. Once a caster reaches the “advanced” level they enter into an entirely new world of Spey mastery, with a new series of competency levels. The advanced caster might focus on one particular casting style and seek to perfect it, looking for maximum distance and control, or they might choose to learn everything they can about all methods and seek to attain a high level of proficiency in each.
My ideas about Spey skill levels have changed over the past few years. In the last 4 or 5 years Spey casting skills have increased tremendously. What was “intermediate” casting a few years ago might now be closer to the beginning range, and there are certainly more advanced casters out there than ever before. Spey casting has become in many ways a sport unto itself, just as the single hand casting at the Golden Gate Casting Club and other such organizations has elevated fly casting from a means to an end to an end in itself.
It is important to be honest and accurate about your current level of skill. I find that most casters are somewhere in the beginner-to-intermediate range. As is human nature, we either tend to overrate or underrate or skills, and which route we choose usually depends on our estimation of the skills of the person speaking with us. It doesn’t really matter what you tell others I suppose as long as you are honest with yourself.
In order to improve our casting we’ll need to look at three important aspects: our attitude, our tackle, and our technique. Each of these is an important part of Spey casting Mastery, and each must be given proper attention. To focus on one without the others will only lead to limited progress.
Even though I’ll only explore attitude for a very small portion of this series, I don’t want to give the impression that attitude is a small part of the equation. In fact, attitude is probably the most significant aspect of Spey casting Mastery, but I am presuming that everyone understands that one’s mindset largely determines success or failure in any endeavor. I know this is “Psyc 101” but I find it surprising that so many people know about it but very few understand it and fewer still actually apply it. Your raw ability to improve as a Spey caster is unlimited; your attitude about your ability is what will determine how far and how quickly you progress.
I’ve mentioned his book in the past but I once again would like to suggest that you purchase and read George Leonard’s book Mastery. It is concise and topical—well-worth the read. When you read the book it will become apparent to you which approach you generally take to things, and which changes you might need to make in order to realize your potential.
What are your goals? Do you want to become an exceptional distance caster? Do you want to master many Spey styles? Clarity at the outset will speed your progress, so it is vital that you develop an outline of your intended learning. Prepare to establish a game plan for yourself. Your game plan must identify the skills you wish to improve, a timeline for improving them, and a weekly practice schedule. If you are snowbound this time of year of course it will be next to impossible to get out and practice, but in the meantime you can begin to review casting videos that you have, or acquire some if you are new to the sport. A good book (Gawesworth’s Spey Casting is tough to beat) is also an excellent investment.
Once you can get on the water a minimum of weekly practice is a good idea if you want to make the most of your game plan. And it doesn’t need to be lengthy—in fact I would recommend a number of short sessions rather than a few very long ones. When it comes to casting, less is more if we are talking about focused, purposeful practice.
One really important reminder at the outset is to get access to a video camera and a tripod. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just enough to allow you to record your practice sessions. An hour a week video taped and then later critically reviewed will really help you along.