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Single-Hand Spey Casting with an Emphasis
on Pacific Northwest and Skagit Styles
by Ryan S. Petzold, 2011

As the revolution towards shorter and lighter spey rods continues, suddenly spey casting with single-handed rods has become a topic of discussion. Each Spey Clave seems to bring more and more anglers to the booth inquiring about the capabilities of their single-handed rods with spey casts, whether it be for steelhead or trout. Some of this is driven by the ever budget conscious angler looking for a way to leap into the now dominating World of Spey or the trout angler wanting to make those cool casts while trout fishing. More and more however, this chatter is being driven by those wanting to dust off their favorite 10’ #8 that they fished for so many years prior and to experience the thrill of fighting a steelhead on a single-handed rod again.

Below you will find tackle and technique notes developed from our continued use of single-handed rods with an emphasis on PNW and Skagit-style spey casts instead of the usual double-haul and roll cast.

Lines:

Steelhead or trout; swinging a Loop Leech on an Oregon Coast stream in March, skating a Ska-opper on the North Umpqua in August or dredging a Sculpzilla on the Kenai in June, the following system as detailed in the table below will cover not only your 9’6” #8 but your 9’ #5 as well.

Rod Weight Rio Skagit Short M.O.W. Kit Selection
#5 275 grains T-8/Light
#6 275 or 325 grains T-8/Light
#7 325 or 375 grains T-8/Light, T-11/Medium
#8 375 or 425 grains Light, Medium, Heavy
#9 425 grains Light, Medium, Heavy

As you will notice some rods have 2 line choices. This of course is dependent upon the specific rod you are trying to produce a line match for (fast vs. medium fast) as well your own personal preference. These recommendations may seem heavy but a spey-specific line for your single-handed rod will require more grains than an optimal overhead line and significantly more grains when executing PNW/Skagit-style casts such as the Snap-T and Perry Poke.

A Skagit Short matched with Rio’s new M.O.W. system will allow for one to fish anywhere from a floating tip to a 12.5’ sink-tip and everything from a Loop Leech or Signature Intruder to a size 7 Low-Water Green Butt. On a side note, for floating line specific work, when room behind you allows and traditional hairwing flies are the norm, the Rio Steelhead & Atlantic Salmon floating line is a nice choice (no line size bump necessary) and the classic non-spey Windcutter (line size bump may be necessary) works very well in tighter quarters (think North Umpqua).

Lines:

I will say any rod will do, as that is the case. I will however make a pitch for longer rods; the ability for a 9’6” or 10’ rod to hold more line off the water through the cast does help one achieve extra distance, especially when wading deep. Longer rods also tend to exhibit a more moderate action then that very same rod in a 9’ configuration. A more moderate action rod will load up like a slingshot and throw a Skagit Short, a 10’ section of T-11 and a Loop Leech farther than you thought was possible with a single-handed rod. The rather robust tip coupled with a softer mid section of the Sage 99 makes for a fine single-handed spey casting rod as well. Favorite rods of ours include all 9’6” & 10’ Sage Z-Axis in 5 through 9 weights, the 7100-4 TCX as well as the 599-4, 699-4 and 799-4 in the Sage 99 series.

Techniques:

If you are familiar with the common PNW and Skagit-style casts such as the Snap-T, Double Spey and Perry Poke, you will be amazed at the capabilities of these casts with a properly linded single-handed rod; heavier sink-tips and large flies so brutal to the single-handed rod can be fished with ease and little effort. If you are unfamiliar with these casts, please see Rio’s Modern Spey Casting DVD.

A properly loaded rod is necessary but to truly bring out the capabilities of your single-handed rod with spey-casts, hauls are necessary. Very much like the double-haul with overhead casts, these hauls with dramatically increase line speed and rod load. When you sweep back into your d-loop, haul. When you accelerate forward, haul. Lastly, as some may know that are familiar with modern day PNW and Skagit-style casts, there is no abrupt stop of the backcast (the d-loop stroke). Once the line has been set on the water via the lift in the Snap-T or Double Spey, the rod will not stop. It may slow way down but it will not stop until the final acceleration to a stop on the forward cast. In spey casting circles this is known as the sustained anchor/continuous load. A hard stop of the rod will do one, two or all of three of the following: kick your anchor, unload the rod, kill line momentum which leads to too much line stick.

Final Notes:

I still fish a two-handed rod (spey or switch) predominately, however certain rivers (Methow, short-run coastal streams) and certain fish (Upper Columbia summer steelhead) entice me to bring out the single-handed rod often enough. Not to mention swingin’ Sculpzillas and flesh in Alaska…

Limitations of the single-handed rod (when compared to the two-handed rod) include distance (the Clearwater), fly size (the biggest of Intruders) and wind (the Deschutes, Snake, Clearwater etc. etc.). Of the three, wind can be the most troublesome because when the wind is blowing hard into your casting side, with the spey rod it is a matter of just casting cach/back-handed (which is often quite powerful). Casting cachhanded with the single-handed, particularly with a haul or two is difficult to downright impossible.

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