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chrome-magnon man
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Continuous Spey Casting

Continuous Motion and Continuous Load in Spey Casting
by
dana sturn
speypages.com
copyright 2005
all rights reserved​



When I started speycasting I learned that it was a series of steps put together that made a speycast. Today I teach these steps as The Four Ls of Speycasting:

1. Lift
2. Line repositioning
3. Loop
4. Launch

Taking this approach as a casting instructor is a good strategy because it allows each part of the speycast to be analyzed and learned in isolation, then connected to the next step.

While this approach works well as a teaching strategy, taken as an approach to speycasting it can limit one’s potential. Strangely enough, in many circles speycasting has been seen as an arcane right, a ritualized skill attainable only by the select few. As recently as a few years ago I have been told by highly qualified single hand casters that speycasting is very different from single hand casting, requiring a new skill set and understanding of the fundamentals of flycasting. I must admit that I was once under a similar impression, and it took me a long time to understand that everything I knew that worked in single handed casting also applied to the double hander, and one of the first things that I did when I realized this was to add the concept of Drift to my speycasting.

Drift and Continuous Motion

Drift is the movement of the fly rod after the rod stops on the backcast. The importance of Drift is to extend the length of the casting stroke and to keep the rod tip in contact with the fly line. This reduces slack in the line and increases rod load, making for the most efficient casting stroke.

When you apply this to the double handed fly rod it makes for an easier casting cycle, especially with long belly lines. What happens is that the rod loads on the backcast stroke, then unloads to throw the D Loop. Immediately after the rod stops, the caster drifts the rod back and up, then slowly starts into the forward cast while the D Loop is still airborne and traveling backwards. In the hands of a skilled speycaster it is virtually impossible to tell where the rod stops and drift begins because the juncture is seamless. This is Continuous Motion Speycasting, keeping the rod in constant motion in order to create a smoother and more efficient cast. I have several clips on the speypages that illustrate the continuous motion speycasting concept, including the following:

http://www.speypages.com/timing.mpg

http://www.speypages.com/timing2.mpg


Many good casters incorporate the continuous motion concept into their casting. Watch a good single hand overhead caster and you can really see this in action. During the cast the connection between the backcast and the drift is seamless (George Roberts has some good video of this in his tape Saltwater Flycasting: 10 steps to distance and power, which I highly recommend). We can incorporate this same sort of thing into overhead casting with a two-handed rod. And we can do the same thing with a spey cast.

For ease of motion with the two-handed rod it is important that both hands work together to move the rod around during the continuous motion. Just as both hands work together during the double haul on a single hand cast, so too in the two-handed cast:

http://www.speypages.com/danashoot2.mpg

When I teach my advanced spey classes I really stress efficient spey casting and one important key to spey casting efficiency is the use of continuous motion.

Continuous Load

Over the past few years a new approach to speycasting has been popularized. I’m speaking of Skagit Casting, which also discusses the concept of “continuous motion” as well as “continuous load.” While I have seen and heard these terms used interchangeably, I think there is some confusion surrounding the ideas of “continuous motion” and “continuous load.” I’m not certain that they are the same concept. In a traditional or modern speycast there is a definite stop point where the rod unloads even if the caster is practicing continuous motion speycasting, although it might not be easily seen just as it is often difficult to detect in efficient single hand overhead casting. In Skagit casting continuous load requires continuous motion, however continuous motion does not in and of itself create continuous load. In the Skagit cast the continuous motion is not Drift.

The continuous load of the Skagit cast comes from two things: (1) the line being laid on the water and brought to rest prior to the beginning of the forward casting cycle, allowing the fly and heavy tip to sink; (2) and the particular movements of the rod. The Skagit cast relies on maximum line stick rather than “splash and go” as it is the line laying on the water, and the sinking tip that is now heading for the bottom, that is responsible for a great deal of the resistance that loads the rod. The belly of the shooting head used for Skagit casting is also quite a bit heavier for its length than conventional shooting heads or spey lines, as the additional weight is also necessary to allow for the continuous load on the rod. In Skagit casting, once the change of direction is completed and the line has anchored on the water, the forward casting cycle begins and the rod never stops moving.

Watching Ed Ward cast it is clear that he is keeping the rod in motion and under constant load. The rod doesn’t seem to unload at any point prior to throwing the forward cast, basically the Speycasting equivalent of the Belgian Cast. When traditional Speycasting we can incorporate rod drift into the casting cycle in order to keep the rod in constant motion and in touch with the line, but the rod does unload to throw a D loop. In Skagit casting it is not enough to keep the rod in constant motion; the rod must also remain under constant load and a shallow D loop is formed.

(As an aside, though the cast forms this shallow D loop, I’m not even certain we can classify this as a D loop. True, the line/rod configuration looks D loop-ish, but in the same way that the “backcast” of the Belgian Cast isn’t really a conventional overhead backcast, the Skagit Cast’s D loop is not a conventional D loop. Perhaps I’m just splitting hairs here, and certainly for the sake of our classification of Ward’s Skagit Casting as a form of Spey cast we look upon it as a D loop, but I think further thought about how to view this casting style is warranted. I think that just as Goran Andersson’s Underhand Casting is a unique variation of the Speycast, so too is Ward’s Skagit casting. Since the RIO Skagit lines have become available I have been experimenting with the Skagit casting concept and I am convinced that it is in fact quite different from what we might call continuous motion speycasting. A year ago I was not, but a little learning is a dangerous thing, and I have revised my views of Skagit Casting, particularly as Ed Ward conceptualizes and practices it.)

Anyways, let’s look at one of the Skagit casts, the Skagit Double Spey to see how this all works. The line swings round until the fly is below the angler and on a tight line. The running line is then stripped in until the head is at the load point (this will vary slightly depending on the line design and the nuances of casting technique and style). To reposition the line the caster then lifts the line from the water and crosses his top arm in front of him so that the top hand ends up in contact with the opposite shoulder and the line slides upstream to the anchor point. The head hangs off the rod tip and remains in contact with the water. During this repositioning of the line, some of the line and all of the sink tip make contact with the water and remain on the water. When this happens the line stops moving, and the heavy tip and fly begin to sink. The line is then brought low and out towards the target, then round, back and up into the “D loop.” The top hand continues round and up and then without any hesitation the forward stroke begins. The deeply sunk tip is the “pivot point” around which the cast is executed.

As you can see there are many differences between the Traditional Double Spey and the Skagit Double Spey casts. The D loop in the Skagit is shallower and only appears very briefly compared with the D loop in the double spey. In the Skagit the tip remains deeply sunk—in fact, that is one of the purposes of the hesitation after the upstream repositioning of the line, to give the tip time to sink; in the traditional double spey the casting cycle is accelerated in order to limit the amount of time the tip has to sink, and also there is extra gas put into the backcast in order to energize the D loop and keep tension on the tip, again limiting the amount of sink.

Speycasters trained in the traditional techniques (including yours truly) often have trouble adjusting to the continuous load concept because we are so used to throwing a D loop that we do, putting a pause in the backcast, even just for a second. Ward’s style however eliminates this pause altogether and this is one of the key components to doing things “Ed’s Way”.

Lots of folks talk about Skagit Casting these days, but few are actually practicing it as Ed Ward does. This is largely due to a lack of information on the method, as well as the development of a few different approaches to speycasting for steelhead, and as writers such as myself tried to clarify the differences for our audiences. Because Skagit Casting as a distinct casting method has only been clarified over the past few years, it is important to remember that there are a few different ways to look at the Pacific Northwest steelhead styles. In an effort to differentiate among theses approaches, I offer that we should refer to the Ward method as Skagit Casting, according to his name for it, and perhaps develop another name for the styles that also grew out of the Pacific Northwest steelhead scene.

Tyler Kushnir has been studying Ward’s methods for the past year. I asked him to read this article and add his comments. Here’s what he has to say:

“Now for the hand motions - Ed describes this as the most important part of the cast. As the sweep around nears the point at which the cork is pointing in the direction that the cast is going to go, the bottom hand pushes out away from its position against the body, at the same time the top hand swings up to the firing position. This is still in the circular motion but involves a “J” lift to the shoulder.
This scissor-like action of the 2 hands accomplishes a number of things. Not only does it get the rod into the firing position but also it brings into play the 180-degree principle. The scissor action begins when the cork it pointing at the target. The bottom hand is pushed directly at the target and the top hand will circle into alignment with the bottom hand – 180 degrees from the target.
However, possibly even more important – and this was the key that Ed was trying to show me – this scissor action is responsible for line speed of the Skagit Cast. Pushing the bottom hand out sees a major departure from traditional speycasting--Simon calls this “trunking”. In a touch and go cast this trunking movement will lower the rod tip way below 2 o’clock and create unmanageable line stick. Ed’s way uses this to take advantage of the now deeply sunk anchor. The resistance or load that creates the characteristic line speed of the Skagit cast is created here.
Line stick does not occur due to the circular sweeping motion, the short length of line involved in the D-loop and the circular rise into the continuous firing motion. The completion of the cast is accomplished with the scissor motion of the bottom hand pulling back in and the top hand pushing toward the target.
It was when this movement became clear to me that I finally “got” Skagit Casting.”

And here’s Tyler with the cast:

http://www.speypages.com/tylerskagit.mpg
http://www.speypages.com/tydblskagit.mpg

So there it is, continuous motion vs continuous load. It’s time now to get your gear and wade in, and practice this with your casting style. Continuous motion will make you a better caster, and continuous load will open up a whole new world of spey possibilities.
 

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Ed Ward's Skagit

Ho Dana---I had the wonderful fortune of spending 6 great 'catching' days on the Kanektok River in AK with Alaska West two weeks ago. The best part for me, however, was that four of those six days were spent with Ed Ward as our guide. Since I was the only one of 20 in the camp using the two-hander, that may have been part of the reason.
Those four days were a revelation to the Skagit style I was evolving toward, and please don't think me presumptuous, but I would like to pass along to you a couple observations from my experience with Ed. I have just read your piece on "Continuous Spey Casting" and you are spot on.
1. I too remarked to Ed as he demonstrated the cast that it looked like a modified Belgian cast I first saw in the first Mel Kreiger video, "The Essence of Flycasting". He did not disagree.
2. The concept of how to keep a marble on the end of a string in the air is critical to the Skagit cast. As Ed described and I could visualize, you keep it in the air by keeping the marble moving in a given plane and of course at a speed which is beating gravity. One can slow the revolutions way down and still keep it from falling, but just change the PLANE abruptly or only a tad, and the marble tumbles. The concept of beginning the sweep to the "outside" did not register with me initially. But, when he said "start the sweep with the tip sweeping the line(with the fly/marble at the end of the line) toward the CENTER OF THE RIVER---I understood what needed to be done. We were creating the widest arc possible and in so doing maintaining the needed momentum to keep the 'marble' moving properly. The first part of the sweep develops the power, then a seamless move toward the vertical as the rod should "sweep by your ear" to a full upper arm extension into the launch.
3. The lower hand movement is critical. I don't believe the lower hand(with butt end held) moves "directly" away from your torso toward the target, for in doing so one would break the plane and sap the cast of power. To demonstrate this you must have a rod butt in your hands. As the sweep begins the rod butt is against the mid-lower-abdomen. In order to maintain the plane, there is a NATURAL, not a contrived, lower hand move from the lower abdominal area. The butt moves more lateral-to-target than target-direct initially. As the rod tip is elevating in the sweep cycle, the butt still moving away from the body now swings toward the target and about the time the butt is directly in line with you, and the target, the butt starts its pull back toward your tummy as the upper arm begins to launce the fly with a full upper-arm extension. Rather than the butt moving directly toward the target,I find it moves in circular motion, a mini-sweep as it were, and opposite the rod tip. The lower hand/butt must move away from the body in order to allow for plane maintenence in the transition of the tip sweep going from backward to forward. Indeed, I've tried keeping the rod butt against my abdomen during an entire cast cycle and found that one cannot maintain the plane necessary unless the bottom hand with butt drifts away so as to allow the critical most posterior portion of the 'Belgium cast' to complete as the backward sweep transitions into a seamless, power-momentum- maintained forward stroke. Even a brief hesitation in the cast cycle from backward to forward would dampen or kill the momentum needed to deliver the 'marble'.
Please accept these comments in a hope they have some validity and may help you in your teaching of people like me.
In my readings on the Speypages, there is no concept that is more debated and I think misunderstood than Skagit casting. Ed tells me that he and some others along with Rio will have a very good video sometime around the first of the year. Thanks for indulgence. Clyde Olson
P.S. Had the pleasure of a chance meeting with Kush on the Church Run of the Skagit River a couple years ago----he'd probably remember the "guy from Georgia" flogging the water behind him that morning.
 
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