"The Godfather" of modern day spey casting, Harry Lemire (note the single hander)
Several years ago I fished with Harry Lemire for the first time. When we loaded gear into Harry's pick-up for our trip on the Sauk, I was surprised to find that not one of Harry's rods was a spey rod? They were ALL single handers? Harry explained that with a spey rod he can throw over a hundred feet of line. And since he can, he usually does... adding that he noticed fewer hook-ups on winter steelhead that typically LOVE laying close to shore in the soft water during heavier, colder winter flows when using his spey rods. Harry went on to explain that he enjoys fishing much more with the lighter single-handed rod and he enjoyed the added benefit of being forced to fish a shorter line that he had far better control over, thus presenting a much better fly to the fish. Its ALWAYS more about presentation than anything else! Harry's outfit was rigged with a floating line/sink tip combo that was ideally suited to spey casting with the single hand rod. His single hand spey casting was quick and efficient at keeping his fly in the water.
"Legend of the North Umpqua" Frank Moore
All the years I've fished with Frank, I've NEVER seen him with a spey rod in his hands...EVER. In the winter, Frank uses shooting head lines or Airflo's 40-plus lines and all his casting is "spey style" with Frank's signature "change of direction" roll casts. Frank has always used a single hander and has always been able to cast a straight line, further than almost anyone I know... except one;
International casting Champion, Steve Rajeff of G. Loomis rods
Steve will cast and fish everything. Single handers, Spey Rods, Switch Rods, Spinning Rods, and of course everything he casts is amazing to watch. Unreal skills! Mostly though when he and I get out on the water, he fish's a small, very light weight switch rod that he can spey cast with one, or both hands. Depending on the run we're fishing, the distance he needs to cover it effectively as well as streamside obstacles, Steve will switch between single-hand spey casting, overhead casting or two-hand spey casts.
So with all these incredibly talented anglers to fish with, why have I been so sloooooow pick-up my old single handers again? dim-witted?... perhaps.
I think it has more to do with the steelhead fly fishing world. I spend a large part of my days on the water guiding, helping people with their casting and 95% of the time, my clients show up for their day on the water with me with spey rods in hand. Spey rods are also the tool of choice for me when I have folks with limited casting skills. They really do help folks with limited or no casting experience in covering the water effectively. In order for me to help folks with their casting, I had to learn not only how to cast two-handers, but also be able to articulate and demonstrate proper and effective two-handed casting techniques to my clients. So for the past dozen or so years, I mostly spent all my time with the spey rod while doing my own fishing.
A few summers back, I had the good fortune of guiding three fellows from Denmark for a week on the North Umpqua. Morning one's initial conversation at Susan Creek Campground went something like this; me: "do you guy's spey fish?" Dudes from Denmark: "ja, we do da spey casting wit da single handers". oh, oh! this is gonna be a long week. I watch the fella's put their gear together with obvious confidence and experience. I learn that the fellas spent the previous week in Russia chasing Atlantic Salmon where their best fish was over "15 kilo's"...OK, maybe this won't be so bad afterall. I also learn that the next week they'll be over on the Deschutes and that these guys typically spend a month together every year, travelling the globe in search of monster Atlantic Salmon and Steelhead.
First run I put them in requires a fairly modest 60-70 foot cast to cover the best lie. Each one get's started and easily cover's the lie with their single handers with these really unique (at least to me) home made fly lines these guys built themselves. All of their casts are crisp, clean and laser-straight. As bank-side vegetation comes into play as they work down the run, they robotically switch from strong side to weak side (off shoulder) spey casts. In short, these guys could cast, they knew their equipment, and as the week went on, I took great delight in trying to fish these guys in run's requiring longer and longer casts to cover the water. It never did happen either. I never found a run that was so challenging that these three guys with their single handed rods that they spey cast - custom built lines, couldn't cover.
So since then I've given a lot of thought to all this. I LOVE my spey rods and all the various lines I use for chucking big rabbit strip flies, Intruder style flies and large pacific salmon flies in heavy winds. I also love my spey rods for helping clients properly cover the water when they just can't quite get it done with a single hander. For years I've avoided the longer, heavier rods and instead use spey rods under 13' and rarely heavier than a seven weight.
I recently began using cane rods and silk lines for most of my own personal summer steelheading. I just love the old traditional gear. Harry Lemire even gave me some very old silkworm - "gut" leader material that I have to soak (to make pliable) the night before I plan to go fishing. He and Frank just kind of roll their eyes when they see me using this "antique" gear. Frank pointed out that he was never so happy when monofilament came out after WWII so he would NEVER have to use that "GUT leader ever again!".
This past summer I blogged about some new lines that I was messing around with from Royal Wulff Products http://www.royalwulff.com/ I ordered two of their "Ambush" lines. One was a seven weight for use on a 7 wgt. single hander. The other was a nine weight for use on a 5-6 weight, 11' switch rod. Both lines and rod combo's worked great and were a blast to fish with. They're not the end-all fly line, but they do work really well for casting in tight quarters with little back casting room and areas where a small, compact "D-loop" is needed. For spey casting with a single hand rod, they are really enjoyable to cast. The Ambush lines are also the closest commercially available lines that I've found thus far, to the home-made lines my clients from Denmark introduced me to a few summers ago.
I was really interested in continuing my experiments with these lines in conjunction with various types, lengths, densities of sink-tips for steelhead and some pacific salmon fishing applications. I was also curious about fly design and how these lines would perform with larger, bulkier (i.e. hard to cast as a bedroom pillow) patterns. I was also interested in learning how these lines would perform with weighted flies and strike indicators.
In the coming weeks, I'll try to give y'all the "down and dirty" about what I've learned thus far. Good, Bad and indifferent. I do know that I've paired my newest Loomis twig, a 10' 9 wgt. NRX prototype single-hander (Thanks again Steve!) with the 9 wgt. Ambush floater.
I've used a wide variety of sink-tips on this rod/line combo and its proven itself as a great winter steelhead and fall chinook outfit. I've not been throwing the bulkier fly patterns on it as water conditions haven't required their use. Mostly I've been throwing various sized steelhead sculpin type patterns using "snap-t" and double speys casts. It's very light weight in the hand, casts 90' in almost every situation (i.e. deep wading, wind, little or no room to form "d-loops" etc.)
As usual, I'm late to most every party, but "better late than never" is the old saw that best fits.
For anyone interested in attending the upcoming Sportsman Show in Portland, Oregon that would like discount coupons, shoot me an e-mail with your address and I'll put some $2.00 off coupons in the mail for you. I have 100 coupons and when they're gone, they're gone. Check out their website for additional information about this years show www.sportshows.com
I'll be giving free seminar's daily at the show again this year. When I get the specific times I'll post them so if your interested in attending my seminars you'll know where and when they'll be presented. The topics this year will be fly fishing southern Oregon, fly fishing for steelhead as well as a seminar on fly fishing for fall salmon. Stop by my booth and say Hi and I'll forward to seeing you at the show.