I was on the Babine River for the 1st time in my life. Tyler, Randy, Shannon and I were dropping into the canyon for a 10 day float trip. The Babine River, is part of the Skeena system in Northern British Columbia and is known for some of the largest steelhead in the world. We were jumping into this expedition with 2 rafts, a hand drawn map of the rapids and enough food and fly fishing gear to give us a shot at a fish of a lifetime. I also had added a spey rod to my gear list for the first time in my life, not knowing that it would change my fly experience forever.
We would all catch our largest steelhead of our lives this trip.
Early on in the trip, I realized two key things – To be successful, I had to fish water that was tight and didn’t allow for backcasting, and second, a larger rod was going to cast the large flies and weighted line much easier than the single hand 8 weight.
Luckilly, I had purchased a heavy duty 13’ 3” spey rod and a skagit line to match. The only thing I knew about spey casting up to this point was the video I watched that showed me 2 great skagit style casts. The single spey and the snap C or T (still not sure which). I was good enough to lay the fly out and fish the runs. The change was dramatic. The first run I fished, produced a fish. This changed the entire trip for me as I realized the power of the Dark Side.
I now had converted to the Dark Side. I say this facitiously, because my entire life, I had a fly fishing father who said he would never use a spey rod. He trained me to never use a spey rod. My dad was traditional. He was one of the pioneers in fly fishing for summer steelhead on our home river.
Even after most of the old boys on the river had switched to spey rods, my dad stayed with the single hand rod. He still has a single hand cast that is just beautiful to see. A cast that most people couldn’t make.
He had seen the increased traffic, year after year, as new fisherman more easily picked up spey fishing and more steelhead. It took me 20 years to break away from the tradition of my father.
I’m still not a pro spey fisherman, but can cast well enough to hook my share of fish. Sometimes I pile my cast out 80’, but after one big mend, I’m fishing the bucket perfectly.
I plan on joining the spey clave this year and connecting with the experts in the field. This is the year I bring my cast up another level. I will be documenting my journey as I go through the process to better help you understand what it takes to hook steelhead with a spey rod.
I will connect you with a few resources that will help you get started, introduce you to a few key people and connect you to your first fish. If you are an experienced spey fisherman, it would be great if you can join the community and provide some feedback. Send me an email here and tell me your story. What’s the one single biggest tip you would give to someone just getting started?
Spey Fishing Simplified
This video shows you the basics basics. Spey fishing denotes a type of rod and technique for casting and fishing. It originates from the River Spey in Scotland, but was built upon through new rod types and techniques for NW steelhead.
This video takes you through a quick history of the different spey casting techniques. Compared to single handed rods, spey rods are much longer and cast a line that is balanced differently than your single handed rods.
The 3 main types of spey casts are traditional, scandi and skagit style. The biggest difference between the casts is the length of line and amount of time that the line is on the water.
Instead of a typical single handed backcast, Spey Casting sets a D loop and looks more closely related to a roll cast.
Spey Rod, Reel and Line
Rods – Let me state the obvious – spey rods are long. 4 feet longer than your typical single hand rod on average. Spey rods usually range from 11’ up to 16’ in length. In general, the longer the rod, the longer distance you will be able to cast. 13.6’ is a average length for many spey rods. There are also switch rods now that are setup for trout fishing. I will not cover these in any detail within this post. Check in with me at a later point to see if I’ve tackled this technique. Or better yet, send me a message here and let me know if it interests you.
Reels – When choosing a reel, the first key items are whether it can hold the line and backing, and how it balances with the rod. Here is a helpful link that shows one method to determine the correct weight for your rod. A balanced outfit will make long days on the river easier – and you will have some long days while steelhead fishing.
Lines -There are three basic types of spey lines to choose from. Traditional, Scandi, and Skagit lines. Skagit lines are short, heavy and good for sinking tips and big flies. These lines almost always require some type of a tip, either floating or sinking. Check out Rio’s video that describes these further. Thanks Simon!
The Scandi is also a shooting head like a skagit, but have a long fine taper at the front. These lines don’t require a tip at the front end and are good for fishing smaller flies. The traditional spey lines are very long lines that are different than shooting heads. The advantage of the traditional line is that there is less stripping and subsequently more time fishing.
Leaders and Flies – Leader choices will vary depending on the type of line and technique you are targeting. I always stay as short as possible to fit the need and to not spook fish with too shoort of a line. In general, you will be using a shorter leader for sink tips. I like to use a 6-8 foot leader on average.
There are a wide range of flies to use when spey fishing. Anything you use for typical steelhead fishing can be effective spey fishing. I love to use tiny #6 and #8 flies for summer steelhead. On the other hand, you might use 2/0 or 3/0 hooks at other times when using sinking tips. (link to big red)
Spey Casting Techniques
As noted above, there are three types of fly lines which coincide with the techniques you will be using. Traditional Spey fishing uses a long full bellied line and very little time stripping in line before making the cast. You essentially use the entire line to make your cast. The single spey and double spey casts are common casts. With scandi lines and skagit lines, the most common casts I use are the snap T and the single spey. There are a number of other casts that mix up some form of these casts. Here’s a video that covers the scandi technique. And another link to 6 popluar casting videos:
One of the best introductions to spey casting is Rio’s Modern Spey Casting with Simon Gawesworth and others. Simon and the crew cover all of the basics
If you are new to spey fishing, the first thing is to get some time on the water. If you have an outfit, make time each month to work on your technique. If you don’t have the gear yet, connect with your local fly shop and take a trial run. Most good fly shops will give you a quick free basic spey rod lesson to get you started. Then get back out and get more time on the water.
And if you’re interested in the right spey rod for steelhead, Click here to see the Echo Spey Rod that has helped me drastically improve my spey cast and find more steelhead at a super reasonable cost (You also get a free spey line if you pickup the Echo Spey). By the way, the link above is an affiliate link, which means I earn a commission if you do end up purchasing through that link. It’s at no extra cost to you, and please if you have any questions related to this product, please let me know and I’d be happy to answer them for you.
Joined the Dark Side yesterday! Have fly fished for years and refused to join until I “perfected” traditional fly casting. Since that’s not going to happen, it’s time for two handed spey. This is so timely. Looking forward to your posts.
Thanks for the comment Mark. I still bring the single hand rod on the big trips, but it sits most of the time now days. Keep me posted and check back in anytime to let me know how it’s going.