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Roll Right Into Spey Casting

Catch Steelhead On The Fly

Tucker Patton of Triple Point Expeditions executes a perfect D-loop with his Spey rod as the line lifts off the water during a roll cast. Photo by Brannon Santos.By Brannon Santos

My passion for fly fishing was rejuvenated when I was introduced to two-handed rods and Spey casts.

My excitement grew and I found myself addicted to the aesthetics that tantalize several senses when Spey casting.

The slick sound of the fly line as it's ripped from the water and forms the perfect D-loop is only matched by the beauty of the tightly formed loop that carries your fly to a much-desired destination.

A well-performed Spey cast is similar to the feeling a golfer gets off a crushing, accurate shot from the tee. Instead of a green fairway, you've got water and a large steelhead as your target. The fun doesn't stop once the fly lands. It's just begun.

Not a lot matches that high level of anticipation one feels as their fly swings through the water, while at any point a trophy-sized steelhead may intercept it with forceful aggression. Hopefully, you're now checking the calendar for the first slot of time you get to go fishing!

The many benefits of a Spey rod
Keep in mind the certain benefits to casting a Spey (two-handed) rod over a single-handed rod, like greater casting distance with less effort. This lets the angler keep distance between the target, reducing the chance of spooking fish, and lets you fish for a longer period of time due to longer drifts with the fly in the bite zone.

Best of all, you achieve all this without suffering from the effects of casting fatigue. Any angler who’s fished for steelhead using a single-handed rod with a heavy sinking line knows what I am talking about.

The setup I like for my home rivers in California is a 12- to 13-foot, 6- or 7-weight, medium-action, two-handed graphite rod. The reel should feature a large arbor and a good drag system. An interchangeable fly line system is a must. Most line manufacturers have their own by now. I prefer a Skagit head system with a wallet full of different sink tips.

The importance of the roll cast
The roll cast is a key portion of a Spey cast because it’s used in every variation of the cast. When you Spey cast, the roll cast is preceded by some movements (setup cast) of the rod to position the line for a change of direction.

For example, when performing a "snake roll," the angler moves the rod tip in a counterclockwise (when the angler is on river right) semicircular motion on the downstream side. This lets the anchor point and D-loop stay in line for the cast. But it's the roll cast that sets it all into play.

Single versus double-handed casting
Remember, the fundamentals of two-handed casting are essentially the same as casting a single-handed fly rod. The difference is how you use both hands on the rod to achieve the end result. The power necessary to unload the rod will not come from the caster's top (dominant) hand, but from the pulling motion of the caster's bottom hand.

All the other same rules of a cast apply. In other words the path and duration that the rod takes throughout the casting stroke will determine the shape of the loop. A tight loop will be achieved through a compact casting stroke, as a wide loop will derive from a lengthy casting stroke. The "anchor point" is also a big part of developing the loop in a Spey cast.

Set the anchor
The anchor point is the fly, some or all of the leader, and a portion of the sink tip (if one is being used) that’s "anchored" in the water by the surface tension. The anchor point helps load the rod because every cast requires tension. In a standard overhead cast, the necessary tension comes from the back cast.

There's no back cast in a roll cast, thus the need for the anchor point. To practice the roll cast, face directly
downstream. This way the fly will automatically have the proper tension that is needed for a cast.

Fundamentals of a roll cast

  1. With the line downstream, slowly begin to lift the rod. The fly must stay in the water. When done properly it will skate along the surface. If the caster lifts too quickly the fly will lose tension and will be flung behind or at the angler. If this happens, get ready to duck.
  2. Continue to lift the rod until you have it slightly past your twelve o’clock. The line should fall to the outside of the rod and resemble a D adjacent to the rod. This is what is referred to as the D-loop. The D-loop is essential in every roll cast. It’s what loads the rod and allows the line to eventually turn over.
  3. Once the D-loop has been formed all that is left is to unload the rod and witness your creation. The unloading or casting of the rod is done by dropping your elbows down to your waist while drawing the bottom hand towards your belly at the same time. Comparable to chopping wood with an axe or, if you have never had to labor for your heat, buckling the shoulder restraint of your seat belt. This motion will pull the rod through the casting stroke.
  4. Accelerate the rod to an abrupt stop at the proper degree angle (10 degrees or so). This will allow the rod to unload and the energy transfer into the fly line. The loop should travel out towards the target, turning over the line at the anchor point.
  5. If all is performed well, the fly line will fully extend and land with the fly splashing beyond the leader.

Then, let the fun begin!