Spey Rods and Fishing

This was a typical April day of steelhead fishing on the Salmon River. You know this type of day, cold, a little rainy and river is up and flowing fast. There are a few Steelheads around, but the high water has them well hidden. The two fishermen that I was fishing with on this particular day are both good fishermen. We have fished together many times. On this particular day, we were having the normal challenges of fishing the Salmon River in high water. I made a suggestion that we give something new a try. They both agreed and we set up two spey rods. After joking about how long they are and a few minutes of instruction on how to cast the rods, they were both back to fishing. This time with the spey rods. After about an hour and two bright steelhead, they both made the remark, that these spey rods are real river tamers.

This experience is not unusual; many fly fishermen are realizing the advantage of using a spey rod are many. To begin with, the rods are long, most are between 12 and 15 feet in length. This length is a great aid with line control. It is very easy to get the fly exactly where you want it to go. One of my favorite tactics with a spey rod is to set the rod up with a floating line and a long leader of about 12 to 14 feet in length, and then string up a strike indicator for the appropriate depth that I want to fish, like you would to fish nymphs. Working with both the strike indicator and the length of the rod, I can make some very long drifts. Much longer and way easier than I normally would be able to do when I am fishing with a conventional Rod.

When it comes to casting, the long rods make for a powerful lever. 70 to 90 foot cast can be fired off was surprising ease. A good caster can cast 80 foot to 90 of line and easily air it out in front with less than 20 feet of back cast room. With classic spey casting high banks and trees are far less of a concern now. Unlike casting a standard single hand rod where you must have considerably more back cast room. As for making the next cast, most of the line must be retrieved, then work it back out. With spey rods you leave as much line out as you want to fish with and cast it back with a single cast. Learning to cast a spay rod is not hard, it is just different. With a few lessons and a little bit of practice anyone can look like an expert, especially now. There are some excellent books and videos out, and a few fly shops are now offering spey casting classes with outstanding instructors.

The last few years I personally, have been using a lot of sinking tip lines for my salmon and steelhead fishing. The spey rod has become the rod of choice when fishing sinking lines. Often, heavy fast sink tips are required to get the fly down to the fish. Once the line does get down it will require a powerful role cast to bring the line to the surface for the next cast. This is where a 14 foot nine weight spey rod is at its best. Easy work for a rod like this. As for big flies, they are not a big deal either.

Considering the status of our steelhead stocks and, that I enjoy fishing salmon early in the run, covering a lot of river miles has become important. This is especially true when steelhead fishing. There can be a few steelheads around but no heavy concentrations of them in one location. The example, at the beginning of this piece, a large pool with high water conditions. The pool may only hold a few fish, one or two may be biters. It can take most of a day to thoroughly fish out the pool, with a conventional one-handed rod. Fishing being what it is, there is no guarantee you could easily pound that water for nothing. What you want to do is cover the pool thoroughly but fast and then move on. In and out in a half an hour to an hour and then move on to the next pool or run. The very nature of a spey rod will help to cut down on the amount of time it takes to cover a pool. This is a very simple equation, the more river that you can covered, the more fish that will see your fly and more fish you can potentially catch.

The comment I often make is, that fish do not seem to make the big runs when hooked with a spey rod. But that fish will fight hard where they have been hooked. One of the side affects of a spey rod is its fish fighting ability. The rod length makes for a good spring. A fish can not get a solid pull against the rod and a lot of pressure can be put to the fish before the reels drag or even the tippet lets loose. Being able to hold a large fish this way can become paramount with larger salmon and big steelhead especially when following a fish downstream is not practical.

All the major rod companies, are now making spey rods. There are many rods to choose from. Most of these rods are good caster’s and you can spend as much money as you want for a rod. Someone who is new to spey fishing, and does not want to spend a lot of money, may want to look at ST.croix, Temple fork, and Cortland. These companies all make good rods at a reasonable price.

When it comes to rod size for the spey rods, they come as light as a five weight designed for trout fishing, or as heavy as a 12 weight. These brutes are designed for monster King salmon, on the west coast. As for us, spey rods ranging from seven weights, to 10 weight are the size that is best suited. Seven and eight weight rods are good for low water conditions and steelhead fishing. 9 and 10 weight rods are ideal for high water conditions where heavy sinking lines will be used and for salmon fishing. 8 or maybe a 9 weight rod is about the most versatile size. Rod length can be a little personal. I like 12 to 13 foot rods for the lighter weights, of seven and eight weight. For the heavier spey rods 9 and 10 weight in length of 14 to 15 feet work about right especially when using sinking lines. A little longer rod helps to lift the line out of the water for the next cast.

Fly lines for spey rod used to be straight forward. That is a spey line was nothing more than a double taper fly line that was longer than normal, about 110 feet in length. Now spey lines come in several types. Most of these lines are some sort of weight forward fly line. The most aggressive of the weight forward fly lines are called Skagit. A Skagit line is designed to load the rod with only 50 to 60 feet of line, which is ideal for most of the rivers we fish. A Skagit line can also be used as a shooting head and can be cast as far as needed. The Skagit lines are also very easy to cast, but a little tricky to mend while drifting. The rest of the weight forward lines are referred to as short, medium and long belly. This refers to the length of the weight forward section of the fly line. Most of the interchangeable tip spey lines are long belly weight forward. Other lines, like the grand spey and traditional double taper spey lines, will take more skill to cast, but they are a lot easier to mend. Especially when working with a lot of line that must be managed. The biggest trick is to find the right line for the rod. You need to keep in mind, not all lines are going to work the same. For an example, one companies eight weight line may not cast at all with your rod. And the next companies eight weight line, may just blast out of the rod. You need to keep on trying lines until you find the line that works for you. If one of my friends gets a new line, I will then borrow the line and see how it works for me.

The popularity of spey rods is growing as fly fishermen learned to take advantage of the qualities these rods offer. I have been fishing the tributaries with a spey rod for many seasons and have seen the improvements in both the rods and the lines. I have found that river conditions are lot easier for me to adapt when fishing with a spey rod.