Getting Started with Spey Casting
Perhaps you’re in the same fly casting bind I was in. You often don’t have enough room to make back casts, and at
your age casting a 7-weight fly rod for three or four hours leaves you exhausted and sore. Spey casting, you read, will
save you a lot of energy and ibuprofen.
So, you wonder, should you delve into your pockets and shell out the big bucks for a spey rod and line?
Eventually, I did, and then I immersed myself in spey casting articles and DVDs, until I felt ready to give spey casting a
I headed to my local park, and plunged in—right into an incoming disaster.
I couldn’t set up an anchor. My forward casts, therefore, died before they were born. I felt I just needed more practice—
a lot more—but instead of relief in sight, I saw blown anchors and stillborn casts.
I didn’t need the grief, but I couldn’t let go.
Finally, after about two fishing seasons of practicing and experimenting with spey casting techniques, my predicament
came to a resolution, and I saw myself as a competent spey caster. So, to spare you a tsunami of frustration, I’d like to
share what I learned. What follows, however, is not an in-depth analysis of spey casting, but rather a starting point.
SPEY RODS, LINES AND LEADERS: It’s vital that they match to each other, and to the fishing situation. First, choose
the right line. Here are the basic choices: 1. Long-belly lines are, for most anglers, the hardest lines to learn how to
cast. Their advantages are they allow us to make long casts, without having to then retrieve much, if any, line—great
for fishing a wide river and then for picking up and casting as soon as the fly finishes its drift. With long-belly lines,
however, more room is needed behind us so that a long D loop can be formed. Also, these lines, as well as mid-belly
lines, are not designed for casting heavy sinking flies, or for making short- or intermediate-length casts. Finally, for
most anglers, the longer the spey rod, the harder it is to land a fish. 2. Mid-belly lines are easier and less tiring to cast
than long-bellies, so they’re a better choice for fishing smaller rivers, especially when there’s less room behind us. 3:
Skagit lines are short-belly lines that make it easier to cast sinking tips and heavy flies. (A 6/7 Skagit line, for example,
can handle up to about a size 2 fly.) These lines are also great when there’s limited room for a D loop. Because these
lines are heavy, they’re good for casting into a strong wind. Some casters, however, feel that Skagit lines are a bit
noisy on the water. Also, they require a considerable amount of line to be retrieved after each cast—a plus for fishing
stillwater. (For short spey rods—11½ feet or so—there are now short Skagit lines.) Added to the front of a Skagit line
are floating or sinking tips and a monofilament or a fluorocarbon leader, and possibly a Skagit Cheater. (“Cheaters” are
line extenders. They come in different lengths. The length of the line head and cheater should be about 3 0r 3.5 times
the length of the spey rod.) 4: Scandinavian (Scandi for short) lines are light short-belly lines that are quiet on the
water, but somewhat limited to casting smaller flies. (With a 6/7 line we can cast up to size 6 flies.). For shorter spey
rods, Scandi lines also now come with shorter heads. Added to the front of a Scandi line are a monofilament or
fluorocarbon tippet and a polyleader. 10 foot polyleaders work well on spey rods shorter than 14 feet (most Scandi
rods). 15 foot polyleaders work well with longer rods.
Polyleaders can also be used with mid- or long-belly lines.
Experiment to find what length leaders work for you. Here’s some general rules for mid-, long belly and Skagit lines: On
floating lines, the leader—including the tip of a Skagit line—could be up to about 1.5 times the length of the spey rod.
On Scandi lines, the leader could be up to almost 2 times the length of the spey rod. When a sinking polyleader or a
heavy fly is used, so should a shorter leader. If the leader is too short the anchor—the part of the D loop that touches
the water—will probably be too short and land too far behind us. If the leader is too long, it will be hard to lift the fly off
the water during the back swing—more about that later—and the anchor will be too long. An anchor that is too short will
not have enough water tension to load the spey rod at the start of the forward cast. An anchor that is too long will have
too much tension and grip the spey line. In either case, the cast will be underpowered.
Next, it’s time to choose a spey rod. Some spey casters use the rule of 5, meaning that the length of the spey rod
shouldn’t be more than 5 times the length of the belly of the line. I, however, prefer a little over 4 times. For example: If
my spey rod is 12½ feet, the maximum length of the belly will be about 52 feet.
Because spey lines are thicker than traditional fly lines, larger reels are often used. For my 6/7 Scandinavian line, I use
a 7/8 large arbor reel. Before buying a reel, I suggest trying on the line.
Finally, it’s time to turn to the techniques of spey casting. Yes, there are many spey casts: Single Spey, Double Spey,
Perry Poke, Snap-T, etc. I believe all of them become, to some extent, dependent on our ability to correctly execute a
Single Spey (often referred to as a Switch Cast if there’s no change of casting direction).
To make my casting descriptions clearer, I’ll assume you’re casting right-handed, with your right hand on top. Let me
begin by saying that there are many different opinions about spey casting techniques. In the end, therefore, casters
must experiment and see what works best for them.
THE STANCE AND GRIP: There are two basic stances: closed and open. To use a closed stance a right-handed spey
caster slightly bends his knees and places his right foot forward. This closed stance helps prevent us from rotating our
hips too far during the back swing (often referred to as the back sweep). This stance is often preferred by
Scandinavian casters, as it helps prevent them from over rotating during the back swing and, therefore, landing the fly
in a bush or tree behind them. This most dreadful calamity is called “a blown anchor.” (More about them later.) The
farther, we put our right foot forward, the more we will be able to rotate our hips during the forward cast.
To use an open stance, a right-handed caster places his left foot forward. This stance allows a caster to fully rotate his
body during the swing, and to set up a long, energized D-loop. And open stance, therefore, is preferred by many long-
belly line casters.
Regardless of the stance we use, at the start of the cast our weight should be on our front foot.
We hold the rod lightly with our top hand near the top or the middle of the top handle. When casting shorter rods some
casters hold the knob of the bottom handle with just their thumb and their index and middle fingers. Our elbows are
close to our body. Point the rod parallel to the water or slightly downward, with the rod tip close to the water. Tightly
hold the line against the top handle with the index and middle fingers, or with all four fingers.
THE LIFT: It doesn’t start until all slack is retrieved from the line; then the key is to use our arms, not our wrists, and
execute the lift vertically, smoothly and slowly. If we lift too quickly or too high we'll lift too much line off the water and
then probably blow our anchor. To execute a long back swing and therefore form a long, narrow D loop, lift the spey
rod to about 9:30. To execute a shorter back swing and form a shorter D loop, lift the rod to 10:30.
All things being equal, the longer the spey rod and/or the shallower the water we're
standing in, the lower we should lift.
If there’s lot of line tension because of fast moving water, more power
must be applied early in the lift. As more line clears the water and line
tension decreases, less power is applied.
After the lift is completed, the back swing is immediately begun.
THE BACK SWING: Generally, the more line outside the rod tip the longer
(and faster) the back swing and forward cast must be executed. However,
if we swing too quickly we might again blow the anchor.
I think one of the keys is to executing a back swing is to think of my lower
wrist and my top elbow as swivels. This will prevent me from breaking my
top wrist and sliding my elbows sideways, and thereby ending the swing
and the anchor too far behind.
We begin the swing by gently rocking back, and rotating our hips and shoulders, and then shifting our weight to our
heel of our back foot. This rocking back will help us lift the fly off the water, energize the D loop, and help us finish the
back swing in position so that we can make a powerful forward cast. It's important that the rod is moved in-sync with our
weight shift and body rotation. If we instead begin the swing by moving the rod we will probably over rotate it and land
the anchor directly behind us. The fly might then hit us or the rod tip, or run into the line (the dire collision loop).
As we shift our weight, we move our bottom elbow up and away from our body, but keeping our top elbow in place, we
swing our top forearm in a circular motion, and pretend that we’re using the rod tip to draw a big half-circle in the sky.
We can draw in one of two ways. 1. Move the rod tip parallel to the water. (This technique is used after making a low
back swing.) 2.Slowly dip then raise the tip so that it moves in the path of a hanging clothesline. (The so-called dip
helps set the anchor.) Either way, we finish the swing by drawing the half-circle by slightly raising the spey rod, without
changing its angle. This raising, often called an up-kick, will aerialize the fly, leader, and line. (Unless we’re casting a
Skagit line or executing other spey casts like the Double Spey or the Snap-T, we ideally want to aerialize the fly and
leader and set up what is called an airborne anchor.)
If the rod is raised too much at the end of the swing, the D loop will be wide and weak, and then the anchor might not
land flat on the water. (Once I begin my swing, I watch my fly, that way, once it comes off the water I stop raising the
To energize the D loop, slowly accelerate during the swing. (The shorter the head
or belly of the line, the slower the acceleration.)
Six casting defects will cause us to lower, instead of raise, the rod
tip during or at the end of the swing, and then prevent us from lifting the fly,
leader, and line off the water. Also, these defects might cause us to land the
anchor too far behind us. 1. Rocking the back shoulder down at the end of the
swing. 2. Moving the left elbow and forearm away from the body during the swing.
(Keep in mind: The lower we execute the lift and swing, the farther away from our
body our elbow and forearm will be at the start of the swing.) 3. Breaking the top
wrist. 4. Executing the up-kick by moving the bottom arm before moving the top
one, or by moving the bottom elbow farther away from the body. (These defects
will force our top wrist to break.) 5. Breaking our wrists during the lift. (This will force
us to execute the swing with the rod pointed too low. 6. Lowering our elbows. (This
often happens at the end of the swing.
Finally, the swing is ended when the rod has been swept 180 degrees, and the spey
rod points outward. If the rod points vertically we have swung too far and have added slack to our D-loop. If the swing
is not finished the anchor might not point at the target, and, because the rod won't be back far enough, our forward
casting stroke will be too short to generate a lot of power.
At the end of the swing our top forearm points to between 12 o’clock and 12:30. Our knees should still be bent. If
they’re not, we won’t be able to fully use our legs to rotate and to generate maximum power on our forward cast.
Next, we must watch the anchor land without turning our shoulders any farther. The front of the fly line should be in-line
with us or a little ahead. The anchor should be at least 1/2 a rod length away. If the anchor is too long, the back swing
was probably executed too slowly. If the anchor is too short, or blown, the swing was probably executed too quickly.
As a general rule: The longer our line belly, the faster we must execute our back swing,
THE FORWARD CAST: After we complete our back swing we usually pause a split second—unless we’re casting a
Skagit line—to allow our D loop to form. (Some casters will argue that there is no pause.) Ideally, we want our floating
line, leader, and fly to land almost flat and kiss the water. Pausing too long will cause our D loop to start to collapse and
weaken, and our anchor to get stuck on the water. To avoid this we can begin our forward cast just before our anchor
We begin the forward cast by not breaking our wrists and rotating our hips, shifting our weight forward, and moving the
fly rod in the same plane it was in when we completed the swing. (This is called the loading move. The longer the head
of the line the longer the loading move.) Then, we aim the cast parallel to the anchor—if the cast crosses where the
anchor points to, the fly will yet again collide with the line—and parallel to the water or slightly upward. (The more line
we are shooting the higher we should aim.) Increasing acceleration, we slowly tighten our grip. Next, we execute the
power snap by applying equal power with both hands, and pulling our bottom hand near or into our chest or stomach,
punching our top hand forward and breaking our wrists halfway. We squeeze the top handle and abruptly stop the rod.
At the end of the cast the rod should be in about the same plane that we executed the back sweep. If the rod points
slightly to the right - we’re still casting with our right hand on top - we might yet again get a collision loop.
If we are casting a mid- long-belly line we must execute a longer casting stroke by full extending our top arm.. We let go
of the line and loosen our grip. Finally, it is important that we don’t lower the rod tip until the cast unrolls.
If we stopped the rod too late, it will not unload all at once, and the cast will not have enough power.
What plane should the forward cast be executed in? Some casters execute it with the spey rod pointed close to but not
vertical. Other casters, however, execute the cast in the same plane they executed the back swing. Many tournament
spey casters, after completing a low swing, begin the loading move by pointing the rod up, then executing the forward
cast in a plane of about 65 degrees to the water. The bottom line: Experiment and see what works best for you, (Many
tournament spey casters, after executing the back swing in a low, almost horizontal plane, then execute the forward
cast in a 65 degree plane.)
Keep in mind: The closer to vertically we are executing the forward cast, the farther away from us we must land the
One of the most common faults is “creeping” our hands and arms forward before we begin to rotate our body..
Another common fault is not aiming the cast parallel to the water or slightly upward. If we aim too low, we’ll lower our
elbows and the rod tip, and weaken our D loop.
TO CHANGE CASTING DIRECTIONS: Some casters feel that using a Snake Roll or even a modified Perry Poke - the
cast is begun by sweeping the rod to the side - is the easiest way to do this. Other casters use a Single Spey, but with
a higher lift and then with a longer back swing (more backwards body rotation). In either case, we might want to begin
the cast by retrieving a little more line than we usually do. Next, we turn our body and point our front foot at the new
target. We land the anchor pointing at it.
CASTING SINKING FLIES (AND/OR SINKING LINES): Spey lines, except Skagit lines, are not ideally suited for casting
them, though we still can as long as the fly and tippet, especially after they absorb water, are not too far under the
surface, and then cause a lot of water tension at the start of the forward cast. (The fly will then lag and cause the loop
to badly tail.) So, to execute an airborne anchor cast, begin the cast with by bringing the fly close to the surface. To do
this we can use a higher lift, or use a Roll Cast or a Snake Roll. To execute a sustained anchor cast, increase the
acceleration of the swing and the height of the up-kick, and therefore form a high D loop with a short anchor. In either
case, it’s important not to pause during the cast and allow the fly to lose momentum, and not to lower the elbows and
the rod tip at the start of the forward cast and allow the fly to sink.
SCANDINAVIAN LINES: These light lines require a shorter, faster forward cast, and about 80 percent of the power
applied with the lower hand. To help do this, we place our top hand in the middle of the top handle and begin the
forward power snap (or really power flick) with our bottom hand, and then stop the cast with our top hand. (This is often
called underhand spey casting.) Some casters describe the Scandi short power snap as a flicking motion. At the end of
the cast our lower hand should be close to or against our stomach or chest. Our top forearm should point to about 11
Because these lines are light and short, they’re prone to blown anchors, so during the back swing we make sure to
keep our hip and shoulder rotation to a minimum. (When executing a Scandinavian Cast, most of the circle we draw in
the sky will be ahead of us. Also, if we are blowing our anchors or landing them too far behind us, we can: 1. Execute a
lower lift and therefore leave more line on the water at the start of the back swing. 2. Draw a smaller circle in the sky.
Finally, many Scandinavian casters keep the fly and part of the leader on the water during their back swing. While this
will help prevent them from blowing their anchor, it will also prevent them from executing the longest possible cast.
MID- AND LONG-BELLY LINES: Based on our skill level and/or the length and action of our spey rod, we might want to
begin the lift with some of the belly inside the rod tip. The longer the belly of the line the more the hips and shoulders
must be rotated to generate more power on the back swing. To do this, some right-handed casters start with their left
foot slightly forward. (This is called an open stance.)
SKAGIT LINES: These heavy lines require a continuous, waterborne cast, which means that up to half the sinking or
floating-tip maintains contact with the water during the swing. (This is called a sustained anchor.) If we are executing a
Double Spey, Snap-T or Perry Poke cast, we must let about half of our sinking tip to sink before beginning our back
During the swing, we maintain a sustained anchor by moving the rod tip straight back, without an up-kick. Once the D-
loop is formed, we immediately—no pause—begin a presentation cast. Though we still use a compact, underhand
casting stroke, we execute it a little slower than we would with a Scandi line. Because there’s less chance of blowing an
anchor with a Skagit line, some casters use an open stance.
IN CLOSING: Even the best casters make bad casts, especially in the wind; so please wear sunglasses to insure that
the fly doesn’t land in your eye. If the wind or a strong breeze is blowing from your right, always cast with your left hand
on top. And of course read up on wading and spey casting safety before you hit the water.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND FOR FURTHER READING AND VIEWING:
Fly Fishing for Striped Bass, by Rich Murphy: Wild River Press, 2007.
Fly Casting Scandinavian Style by Henrik Mortensen: Stackpole Books, 2010.
Spey Casting by Simon Gawesworth: Stackpole Books, 2007.
Two-Handed Fly Casting: Spey Casting Techniques by Al Buhr: Frank Amato Publications, 2006.
Rio’s Modern Spey Casting DVD.
Skagit Master Featuring Ed Ward DVD.
Scott MacKenzie’s Spey Casting Masterclass DVD
Andrew Moy Spey Nation 2010 (Youtube)
The Closed Stance Start Position
The Lift to 10:30
The Position At the End of
the Back Swing and Up-kick
The Long-Belly Line Presentation Cast Finish Position