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chrome-magnon man
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Refining the Spey​
Learning to Speycast
Dana Sturn
copyright © 2005 all rights reserved​

Whenever I teach a casting course I am always confronted with one important question: “Do I teach casting or fishing?” On the surface this might sound funny, since casting of course is a necessary skill of fishing with a spey rod. But it is probably one of the most important questions an instructor faces, because the answer will determine which casts—and in which sequence—the skills of the spey are taught.

My general approach to this problem always involves the interests of the client and the amount of time I have. Usually a client has some very clear ideas about what they’d like to cover in a school. I often begin my schools asking clients to think about the one or two things that they’d really like to learn and then I work hard to make sure that I cover that information. I also ask if they are interested in casting or in fishing. Most clients are interested in fishing and would like to learn casts that will allow them to go out the next day and effectively fish their waters. Where I teach that usually means sinktip fishing for winter steelhead and dry line fishing for summer runs. My clients need a couple of casts that will allow them to make a variety of directional changes from 45° to 90° or more off both shoulders in varying wind conditions.

If I am teaching a one-day school, I usually focus on 2 casts that I think are the best fishing casts for a beginning and intermediate caster to master—the Circle Cast and the Double Spey. Both are tremendously useful fishing casts, both can be used with virtually any line length or style, and both can be learned in a day.

Why these casts? Well, in both the Circle Cast and Double Spey, the techniques needed to change direction are similar, and once the change of direction has been made, both rely on similar motions to form the D loop and make the forward cast. Let’s break this down:

1. Both casts involve an initial upstream movement of the line. In order to do this effectively the caster needs to understand how to break the line from the water and use constant tension in the line and motion of the rod to reposition the line back on the water again prior to the D loop formation. In fact, you can teach both casts with the same upstream motion, however the finish of course is quite different: in the Circle Cast the caster finishes by accelerating the rod tip underneath the line path so that the fly and leader land @ a rod’s length upstream of the caster and the rod tip ends up pointing at the target; in the Double Spey the caster uses just enough power to form a loop of line upstream of the casting station while the fly and leader remain @ a rod’s length below the caster.

2. After the change of direction is complete, both casts end up with a bunch of line lying on the water that the caster must then pull from the water and into a D loop, then cast. Pulling this line off the water is the same for both casts, the difference being that in the Circle Cast the line is being pulled off the water to form a D loop upstream of the caster, while in the Double Spey the line is forming a D loop downstream of the caster. Otherwise, for teaching and learning purposes, everything else about this step—the timing, the effort, the technique—is the same.

3. In the Circle Cast the line is repositioned upstream and in front of the caster; in the Double Spey the line is repositioned downstream and in front of the caster. Once the line is repositioned and is lying “dead” on the water, the caster pulls the line off the water and into a Dloop for the forward cast. In classic Double Spey teaching the caster is taught to watch for “the white mouse”—the riffle of spray that forms when the line is pulled off the water. When the spray stops, the caster is taught to make the forward cast. The same thing is true with the Circle Cast, so this part of the cast can be taught in the same way: pull the line off the water and into a D loop, watching for the riffle of spray. Once it stops, make the forward cast.

I’ve found that approaching the spey casts in this way during a one day school or with clients who only want to learn productive fishing casts makes it very easy for the client to pick up the concepts and develop the necessary skills to cast effectively. Depending on what side of the river were on or whether I have a right handed or left handed caster will determine which cast I start with, but my experience has been that it doesn’t seem to matter too much which you do first as long as you spend a lot of time with it so that the caster really understands the mechanics. Then, it is easy for them to transfer that knowledge to the new cast.

One important point: these are the fishing casts I teach in a one day school; however, I always begin with a discussion and practice of the roll cast, then into the live line roll cast (aka switch cast) so that the client gets a feel for how to load the two-handed rod and some practice with the timing changes involved in keeping a line live to form an effective D loop.

If I have a two day school, I will walk the clients through the roll cast, then the switch cast, then the change of direction switch cast (aka single spey), then on to the circle casts and snap-t, followed by the double spey and snake roll. More on my thinking behind this learning progression next month!
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