The “Spey” or two-handed fly rod has become the tool of choice for salmon anglers looking to swing flies. Two-handed rods take the drudgery out of swinging flies by minimizing casting effort, maximizing swing time, and allowing for incredible mending and line control. Two additional benefits: 1) they can chuck BIG flies and different sink tips; 2) they can chuck LONG casts. Best of all, Spey rods are fun. But with all the rod and line options on the market today, it’s hard to know where to begin. So here are some pointers for getting started with two-handed fly-fishing:
1. Commit to it. If you are considering a Spey rod, you need one. If you think you might need one, you probably need three or four. If you are destined to become a Spey junkie, you will probably end up with as many two-handers as you have single-handers. It’s time to get on the wagon. If money is tight, there are some excellent options out there. If you can budget $500 for your first outfit, you’re home free. If that’s too high, you can still find a way.
2. Start with a full-sized rod, not a “switch” rod. Budding Spey fishers often fall for the dainty switch rod. The shorter, lighter rods seem like a good transitional step between the old single hander and those really long ones. And switch rods are exceptional nymphing sticks, but they are not the best way to learn Spey casting, nor are they the right tool for traditional salmon fishing. The long rod is the way to go.
3. Buy two lines for each rod. . Follow the rod manufacturers’ line recommendations to make sure you have the right grain weight to match your new rod. You might even get a couple of opinions on line size or weight before you buy. Experts often disagree as to the perfect grain weight for a rod. If two experts are quibbling over 10 or 20 grains, go with the lighter of the two, then ask the guy who made the lighter recommendation for a lesson. If you have two opinions and they’re off by 50 or 100 grains, get a third opinion.
4. Take a class and/or hire a guide. Spey fishing is not something to “dabble” in. Like golf, you will always suck at it until you get serious. You gotta hire a pro to teach you (some will work for beer and food), you gotta practice, and you gotta love it. Otherwise, walk away. Trust me.
5. Devote one morning or afternoon a week to casting. Hopefully it will grow to a couple days a week. But you need to fish at least once a week to make progress, both as a caster, and as an angler.
6. Debarb your flies and wear eye protection. Until you become intimate with Spey casting, barbed hooks are not safe.
Big Water, Big Fish, Big Rods. The bigger the water, the more helpful a Spey rod becomes. Big rivers call for a “long rod” in the 13- to 15-foot range. Long rods can be as light as a 6-weight and as heavy as a 10- or 11-weight. Smaller rivers or low-water conditions can call for shorter and/or lighter rods.
The bigger the fish, the heavier the rod. Summer salmon fishing call for 6- and 7-weights, a all-round stick call for 7- to 9-weights, and a heavy duty rod call for 8- to 10-weights. If you’re swinging streamers for trout, there’s a whole class of lighter two-handers just for you.
Every manufacturer offers rods in the 13-foot range for a 7-weight line. That’s the zone for your first rod. If you can spend $1,000 on the outfit, you’ll have a lot of fine choices (Sage, Winston, Guideline, G. Loomis etc).
It might be irritating to hear, especially if you are struggling to come up with the cash for your first Spey rod. But old Hugh Falkus was right. Always have a back-up rod. Rods are delicate, salmon are big and feisty, and the fish gods can be cruel. Your new Spey rod will need a partner.