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The importance of the first time

A wonderful time for a first time steelhead angler on his first steelhead trip

Well the title says it all. The first time at anything can and is often times the most valued experience that can make or break a view or passion from an activity.

Looking back at a handful of my own firsts in life, I can say some have been amazing, Others very trying, Some regrettable, while a very few have been absolutely amazing.

My brother with a Redfish on his first saltwater trip!!

I think fly fishing in general and even more so Spey casting for steelhead. The act of steelhead fishing alone is never a 100% thing. Coupled with most first timers fear of a new rod with a casting motions that seem to have more moves than a hip hop dancer. Positive affirmations is this game are so hard to come by. Needless to say Spey casting can look and seem overwhelming.

A group of angler taking their first steps into Spey casting

This is why I give so much attention to the beginnings of a new Spey caster. They need the positives reinforcement that they are making steps in the right direction. Even if they are small and seem unimportant. Affirmation is the key to building good techniques and toughening the skin of steelhead for the work to come. The road in out beloved sport is met with as many hardships and loses as it is meant with victories. The casting is one of the only parts about this wonderful event known as angling.

Now as we all take our second and third attempts and new things we learn more about how these things can fit in our lives and how we can grow into them. But getting through that first go, is a crucial part of any new activity.

Even the first steelhead of the year is an amazing event and I have caught a fair amount of steelhead!!!

I have recently been told, “Learning is SOOO hard!”. Never have these words been more true than on the brow of a great teacher. Find the instructor that compliments you and than stay open minded, you never know what you can learn or even teach in the end.

This season has been the best down year I can remember. I won’t soon forget some of the small and large victories as well and the wonderful people I have guided along the way. It is not quite done but I can say I am already looking forward to the next step in my journey as a guide and outfitter. Hope everyone is getting out fishing and kicking lots of fish ass!!

Making friends with your Spey line steering system.

Notice the top hand position and height in the top of this key position.

As a group, the contemporary ideals of spey casting have their ups and downs. Some of them I can get behind and others i just don’t have time for.  The main thing is our group tends not to look at thing objectively, we go with the flow. I think this is for a couple reasons, number one we don’t get to casts enough to have a few of our own truths and keys, and number 2 is just seems easy to go with the instruction and points that are out there. What ever the real reason for the difficult of the changing of fundamentals and ideas in the Spey casting microcosm one point seems to stick out further then the others. The facts of disproof hanging all around but still most casters fall back to the old belief and never get to make sense of the fundamentals of the casts.

The ugly and over emphasized idea of a bottom hand centric wold in spey casting just does not fit as the upper hand typically more dominate has some of the most important jobs as well. I have witnessed  first hand over the past 15 years the clumsy and narrow in view of  what a bottom hand dominated casting world can become. I am not sure what most of us our thinking placing our top hand only on the rod as a convenience of looking like the guy next to us but not really understanding to true picture of the uses of the most coordinated hand we have. enough of the ranting. let us speak easier and fuller to broadcast an new/old idea that even if it only helps on or two caster was worth typing this out.

Now mid way through the forward stroke the top hand is headed in a straight path toward the target. It has dropped very little in height if at all.

From the moment the hand reaches out to pick a spey rod up the upper cork is grasped. I often watch what hand casters pick their rod up with as a clue to what their dominate hand is. Once again as an instructor I watch as to how a caster handle the rod even doing the smallest of things. when we look at a properly gripped spey rod or even better once we pick up the rod and properly place in our hands we can start to notice a few things. If you have one handy grab the handle section of a double handed rod and lets see what happens. Now with the rod placed in both hand move one hand and the the other. Note the reactions of the terminal end of the rod. Lets make the note that the terminal end of the rod mirrors the top hand, (this is very important). On the other hand the terminal end of the rod does exactly the opposite of what the bottom hand does. With a bit of time spent with rod in hand, not even casting an angler can gain a high level of proprioception about how he can handle the rod in a variety of manners. Again this type of feel and information can be very useful on the water taking the guess work out of your positions and let your mind worry more about the two steps down stream during the steelhead migration.

So we have covered the differences in  how the rod reacts in both and and in some respect how it moves in retro spect to each hand. As it is with a single handed rod the top hand or only hand is our engine, guide, plane, and delivery system. With a doubled handed rod the jobs can be split between the hands. Especially the job of steering or guiding the rod, this job is best performed by the top hand with a nice lose grip. The ability to maintain a straight line with the top hand is undeniable, even more so off dominate side casts. Where the top hand can be watched in eye line go toward the target. The reason that the bottom hand is so overstated is that at first new caster to spey casting tend to push but worse they tend to drop the top hand down as the top hand arm becomes extended. This action not only opens the loop up dramatically but does not allow for the rod path to stay going toward the target line nor does it give a sufficient stop to transfer the energy stored in the D-loop to be directed properly.

The forward stroke complete in this photo, we see that from frame to frame the top hand helped the line and rod path stay on plane throughout the forward stroke. It is also noted that the deviation in top hand height is nominal from frame to frame. clue to straighter flying spey casts.

We also need to remember that the art of Spey casting is 3 dimensional, It has height, depth and length. As single handed casting can be easily diagramed 2 dimensionally, Spey casting can not. The best analogy I can give for a nice top hand path is like tossing a piece of smashed up paper into a near by trash can. Not really a basket ball style shot, but not a baseball thrown either. To do this the hand almost never goes behind the head but stays in front of the tosser to ensure accuracy and look better in front of the co-workers. The paper is lightly tossed and with most of us the hand goes in a straight line toward the trash can with minimal effort. No crazy force is applied at any given point but a gentle follow through of the hand as the paper is made air born. The power used here is almost same same amount used at the highest levels of distance spey casting. Timing and tempo becoming more the secret of power and line speed not how hard and fast either of the hands can move. So next time your out fishing give the top hand a bit more credit and awareness, be surprised how straight those casts can get going, with how little effort.

Parameters of a Spey cast

anchor placement in spey casting

Noticed the anchor placement out in front of the caster and off to the same side of the body the caster is casting off, this is a huge KEY

The need to define the parameters of the casting area is crucial in understanding the fundamentals of spey casting. We all seem to understand the principles of right and left, front and back, except when we put ourselves in a river with an unfamiliar rod. The simplistic idea of these principles is key to understanding placement in the area given to casters during their fishing.

 

By establishing right and left, front and back, we can draw quadrants with the rod in hand. These parameters help us define where the anchor should be placed in relation with each cast and on different sides of the body. They also help us to understand and allow the depth of each cast, how far our D-loop can travel behind us given our casting area.

 

The first parameter is right and left. This is the easiest. We have already set our target line with our upriver foot or hips and shoulders. By placing the Spey rod directly in the center of our sternum and pointing at the target, we can look to the left of the rod and see the left quadrant. We can look to the right and see the right quadrant. The right and left quadrants help us to gather the information we need on placing our anchor, depending on which side of the body we are casting from. For casts made from the right side of the body, all parts of the cast must finish inside the front right quadrant. All casts that come off the left will finish in the front left quadrant.

 

Establishing front and back seems like just as easy a proposition, but in reality, this is where parameters become difficult. Before this, Spey casting has been taught in a two-dimensional manner. We stand with arms and legs shoulder width apart and cast 90 degrees to the flow of current. In reality, that couldn’t be more wrong. We seldom cast at a 90-degree angle to the current, and when we do, we would simply plant our upriver foot, and turn our sternum, at that angle to make sure we achieve it.

 

To teach front and back, I have students place a rod firmly against their shoulders, one end pointed upriver and the other downriver. As we set our target line, we will notice this angle of our shoulders and rod and our front and back change dramatically with the flow of the river. What was once behind us is in front of us when faced at 90 degrees. Some of what was in front of us is now behind us. This optical illusion created by the river and the turning of our torso throws many people off. What may seem different to the has no bearing on the real fundamentals and parameters of the Spey cast.  Maintaining the same anchor and D-loop positions throughout the cast.

Pulling off the perfect spey cast

We can see very plainly the anchor and line are again on the same side as the cast is coming off and well in front of the caster, perfect position. Also notice the shoulders and body angle produced by rotating not pulling the line around.

By keeping our anchor in front of our front line and not letting it drift back behind, us we can achieve more powerful casts by letting the line pull the anchor from the river. If we let the anchor land or drift behind us, the rod and our physical strength are what we use to cast a line. This is what I describe as the difference between casting and throwing. When you cast a line, it pulls itself from the water. When you “throw” a line, you physically remove it from the water.

 

Another thing you can learn easily by placing anchor in front of the line or behind the line is how our loops and lines react to what is happening. When we can keep our anchor in front of the front line and in the correct quadrant, we will notice we can form a far more dynamic loop. When the anchor drifts back behind us, it’s hard to keep a wedge-shaped loop. The loop opens up, becomes extremely wind resistant, and loses much speed. On the other hand, the farther back we place our anchor behind the line, the further back our “D” loop or  back cast goes, and the chances of catching some streamside vegetation become greater. So controlling the depth of the “D” loop is another bonus of correct anchor placement. This allows the angler to fish more places with more consistency.

This aerial view of the anchor and forward stroke shows even in tight quarters these principles apply, maybe more so.

The last thing I would like to reference in these ideas is the rules of the parameters are applicable regardless of line style and Dominate hand or cack-handed placement. I feel that these are of up most importance to the caster and the nature of the cast themselves. I have noticed many times that correct and well executed action promoted more correct positions and actions and together make can produce a wonderful result. At the same end the casts the start bad usually don’t get better as the casting sequence is followed through, every now and then I am surprised by a result here and there, but for the most part bad positions and actions lead to more bad and incorrect positions and actions. Learn and ingrain the correct actions and you will get results