We’re not trying to taunt you, really. It’s just that, if you were at Andros South right now, you could be looking at this.
Archives for April 2014
We make sure to pick the brains of the many guests who frequent our lodges on what topics they would like to see most on the blog. Whether in Alaska or the Bahamas, a reoccurring request is a more comprehensive explanation of spey gear. Modern rods, lines, tips and so on are constantly evolving and it can be confusing when attempting to make the transition to spey. Certain styles of spey fishing (particularly those most practiced in the United States) are still relatively young when compared to the traditional fly fishing most of us were brought up with, resulting in some inconsistency within the fishing world.
However, making the jump to spey does not have to be as overwhelming as it may seem! If you’re looking to pick up a spey rod, but are a bit confused by today’s many choices of rods, shooting heads, running lines, sink tips, and the like, look no further! Here’s your one-stop shop for everything you need to know to make the jump to spey.
A Bit About Spey
When most people think of spey, they instantly think of two handed rods. However, an important distinction to make is that spey is a style of casting, not necessarily a type of rod. A spey cast is deemed a spey cast when the fly line is cast under the rod tip on the back cast (as opposed to over the rod tip in a traditional fly cast), AND is allowed to anchor onto the surface of the water (near or slightly in front of the angler) before making the forward cast. We call this a ‘d-loop’ and it’s the same principle used when executing a proper roll cast. Think ‘roll cast without the pause.’
We can perform spey casts with both two handed and single hand fly rods. However, due to their effectiveness in both casting and fishing ability, two handed rods have become the norm for most spey fishing applications. Because of this, the fishing industry has adopted the term ‘spey rod’ to be used interchangeably with a ‘two handed rod.’ Therefore, for the purpose of this article, we will assume a spey rod to be just that, a two handed fly rod.
Spey casting was developed on the River Spey in Scotland, a river that has a strong current and heavy bank-side vegetation. Due to difficult wading and limited back cast room, it was apparent that a cast was needed that required little to no back cast room, while still allowing a fishable casting distance. Thus, the spey cast was created. This is one of the largest advantages of spey casting. Due to the fact that your ‘d-loop’ and water tension are used to load the rod on the back cast, very little back cast room is needed to cast, but great distances are within reach. This allows the angler to fish effectively regardless of obstructions or difficult wading situations.
Most often, spey rods are used to fish flies in a traditional ‘wet fly swing’ manner. In a very simplified explanation, this usually consists of casting downstream and across, and letting the fly swim across the width of the river or stream. Spey rods excel at fishing in this manner as their longer length allow better manipulation of the fly line at greater distances.
Spey Casting Styles
As spey casting has evolved over the years, a few different styles have emerged in order to adapt to the fishing techniques best suited for the fishery at hand. Each style was created to solve a particular ‘problem,’ and each requires slightly different tackle to work effectively. Here we’ll briefly explain the costs and benefits of each.
- Traditional (long belly): Traditional spey casting is the style of casting originally developed and typically consists of longer rods (in the 14-16 foot range) and long belly lines. These lines are created similar to a modern floating weight forward line, except the ‘weight forward’ or ‘belly’ section of the line is much longer than in other styles of spey casting. Due to this long belly, spey casts are performed in a ‘touch and go’ manner in that the fly line is allowed to quickly touch the water on the d-loop before making the forward cast. For the most part, a fixed amount of line is cast using the traditional style allowing your fly to stay in the water as much as possible. This style excels at casting very light flies with minimal surface disturbance. However, this is usually the most difficult style for anglers to learn.
- Scandinavian (Scandi): The Scandinavian style of spey casting was created where shorter rods were needed and even less back cast room was available. The line used in the Scandinavian style of casting consists of a shorter (but heavier) belly than traditional style and is meant to achieve distance by shooting line. The same ‘touch and go’ casts are mostly used as in the traditional style and due to a long front taper of the fly line, still allows a reasonably light presentation. Due to its shorter and heavier belly, modern scandi setups are usually paired with light sink tips or polyleaders to achieve greater depths than the traditional system.
- Skagit (Pacific Northwest): The Skagit style of spey casting was developed by steelhead anglers in the Pacific Northwest of the United States in order to cast heavy flies and sink tips with minimal back cast room. The belly of the lines used in the Skagit style of casting are even shorter (and heavier) than that used in the Scandinavian style of casting in order to throw the heaviest of tackle. When Skagit casting, distance is achieved by shooting line as well, however casts typically are executed in what’s called a ‘sustained anchor cast.’ In this style, the anchor is set and allowed to pause before the d-loop is made in a much slower pace than in other styles of casting. For this reason, Skagit casting is often the easiest for beginners to pick up and is by far the most commonly used method in the United States.
Still a little confused? Let spey casting champion and Alaska West guide Whitney Gould explain the difference between Scandi and Skagit styles, here!
All About Spey Rigging
Today, rigging a spey set-up is easier than ever, as almost every component is attached using loop to loop connections. Aside from the rod and reel, the typical components on most modern spey set-ups from backing to fly consist of the following; backing, running line, shooting head, sink tip (or in some cases floating tip), and leader. There are some exceptions however. For example on some lines (especially long belly lines) the running line and head are made as one connected line, denoted as ‘integrated’ by fly line manufacturers. Also, long belly and even some scandi lines are tapered down requiring no ‘tip,’ only leader. However, for the most part, most modern day scandi and Skagit systems incorporate each component to be attached separately. Nowadays, there are a wealth of options out there for each component, so we’ll break down each individually in the order of which they are rigged on the reel.
- Backing. Backing serves the same purpose as it does on a single hand rod, to fill the reel and provide the length of line needed to fight a fish when your fly line runs out. As with all realms of fly fishing, it is important to match the strength and amount of backing used for the fish you are pursuing.
- Running Line. Running lines (also known as shooting line) consist of nothing more than a level diameter line that is attached to a shooting head in order to shoot line great distances. To avoid confusion, the running line on a standard weight forward fly line serves the same purpose. The thin section towards the back of the fly line is considered the running line and the thicker (and heavier) part towards the front is called the ‘head.’ This is the same concept on a spey set-up, the only difference being we are able to change the head of line to adjust for different casting and/or fishing preferences. There are many types of running lines on the market – check out the link for a rundown of our favorites!
- Shooting Head: As explained above, the shooting head in a spey system serves the same purpose as the ‘thick part’ of your standard weight forward section on your single hand rod. It’s what makes the whole thing work. However, due to the nature of spey casting, the diameter of these lines are much larger than that of a typical fly line. Therefore, we do not use the same weight designations as a standard fly line, such as 5 weight, 6 weight, and so on. Some shooting heads might be comparable to a 20 weight fly line in diameter, so it was decided to change this numerical system by ranking them by their actual weight of the line using a unit called grains. Although this raises some confusion among beginners, grains are nothing more than a unit of weight, just like pounds, grams, and so on. Therefore, a 600 grain head is heavier than a 500 grain head, and is therefore matched with a larger rod. Most all spey rods nowadays are labeled with a weight such as ‘8 weight’ AND a grain window such as ‘510-600 grains.’ This way, the ‘8-weight’ offers some consistency in what fish species the rod may be up to tackle, while the grain window indicates which lines will best match the rod. Make sense? To take out some of the guess work, some rod and line manufacturers now offer line recommendations for various rods. Check out the spey compatibility charts from various rod and line manufacturers, here!
- Sink Tip: Most Scandi and Skagit casting systems require some sort of tip to complete the system. This tip could be a sink tip, a floating tip, or perhaps even a polyleader, but typically some sort of tip is required to aid in effectively anchoring the line during the cast. There are many options for tips out there, some which match better with different styles of spey casting. Check out the link for a great video on everything sink tips.
- Leader: Leaders on spey rigs are often times far less complex than your standard single hand fly setup. Particularly when using styles that incorporate a sink tip, such as Skagit or Scandinavian, our leaders can consist of little more than a straight shot of 3-4 feet of Maxima Ultragreen in the proper size for the target species.
Let Us Help!
We love chucking the two handed rod, and we do a lot of it. If you’re still a little foggy about spey but want to learn, while also experiencing some world class fishing, consider joining us at one of our lodges! Our guides are experienced and enthusiastic instructors of both single and two handed casting and would love to help! You might even consider some of our spey schools offered by some of the industry’s leading spey instructors.
More on Spey Fishing
Selecting the appropriate tippet size for the situation is an often overlooked aspect of fly fishing – even though it could mean the difference between fish and no fish!
First and foremost, a great rule to live by is to fish the strongest tippet you can get away with. There’s no glory in intentionally under-gunning your tippet size. It only leads to longer fights that put an unnecessary amount of stress on the fish. However, there are many factors that determine ‘what you can and can’t get away with.’ Here are a few factors to consider when selecting a tippet size.
- Fly Size. Matching the correct tippet size to the correct fly size is the most fundamental factor when choosing tippet. Choosing a tippet that is too heavy may hamper the presentation of your fly while tippet that is too light may have difficulty turning the fly over when casting. There are many generic tippet to hook size charts out there that are a good place to start. Here’s an example (thanks to the good folks at Orvis for the basis for this table in this post).
Tippet Size Tippet Diameter Hook Sizes
8X .003 22, 24, 26, 28
7X .004 18, 20, 22, 24
6X .005 16, 18, 20, 22
5X .006 14, 16, 18
4X .007 12, 14, 16
3X .008 6, 8, 10
2X .009 4, 6, 8
1X .010 2, 4, 6
0X .011 1/0, 2, 4
.012 .012 5/0, 4/0, 3/0, 2/0
.013 .013 5/0, 4/0, 3/0, 2/0
.015 .015 5/0, 4/0, 3/0, 2/0
However, although these charts are accurate in most situations, there are other factors that may give reason to stray from these recommendations. Some of these reasons are as follows.
- Fly Profile. An important distinction to make when selecting tippet is that hook size is not always consistent with FLY size. For example, a size 12 san juan worm casts and fishes much differently than a size 12 stimulator. Similarly, two flies tied on the same size hook may be extremely different in weight, take a tungsten bead head nymph versus a standard dry fly. Bushy wind-resistant dry flies or heavily weighted patterns might require a larger tippet size than is suggested.
- Pressure. Typically, the more fishing pressure a piece of water has, the smarter the fish become. If you’re fishing over fish that see a lot of flies per day, or perhaps fish that are overly ‘spooky,’ jumping down a tippet size just might be the key to success. Lighter tippet allows for a more discrete offering, softer presentations, and more life-like drifts. If the fish aren’t responding like they should, try decreasing your tippet size, you might be surprised!
- Water Color: Water color has a huge effect on the behavior of many fish species. Gin-clear water may warrant finer tippet in order to fool wary fish. On the other hand, darker or dirtier water may allow you to get away with heavier/stronger tippets which are far superior once the fish is hooked!
- Fish Species. This might be an obvious one, but it is important to match your tippet or leader material to the species you are pursuing. As mentioned above, you should aim to use the strongest tippet you can get away with for the situation at hand.
More on Leaders and Tippet
The Little Ku
On the Southern Shore of Kukaklek Lake, moments from Rapids Camp Lodge, in the Northeastern section of the Katmai National Park, lies a creek legendary to backcountry Alaskan trout fishermen. Loaded with big Kukaklek leopard rainbows, this piece of water can wreck a trout fisherman for life. Totaling about 10 miles of fish-able water and nestled in a tight valley, it’s one of the most enchanting pieces of freestone water you’ll find on the peninsula. Unless fishing from the outlet at the lake, access is limited to those who are willing to hike a minimum of 2 miles. For this reason it remains less traveled and the ideal setting for someone who really wants solitude.
Fishing well throughout most of the season, there is literally no end to the methods or techniques that can be deployed in search of these tight water giants. Having a guide that knows where, when, and how is the only key to a successful day on the Little Ku, other than blind luck. The trout move around a lot throughout the season in this creek and have plenty of hiding spots – so a stretch that fished well 2 days ago can be vacant of photo worthy fish today. Only years of experience, good note taking, and lady luck keep the hook ups coming.
As baby sockeye salmon or smolt begin their spring journey toward the lake from the spawning grounds, high in the drainage, trout, char, and grayling migrate back into the creek from wintering out in the lake to greet them. Ambushing from below, they lend themselves to the angler that sneaks in undetected and presents that appropriate fly. Mice, eels, and leeches are on the menu year round and on a sunny day hatches can occur in the lower 3 miles.
Spawn-ready sockeye begin staging at the outlet and entering the drainage in mid July. This marks the beginning of the time of plenty for these trout. Hundreds of them follow the masses of sockeye that pass through the Alagnak River, Big Ku, and lake headed to the spawning tributaries. Some of the best fishing this time of year can be right at the outlet in Kukaklek Lake.
August is prime time at ‘Lima Kilo’ and it’s always on fire if you know where to be. The sockeye are spawning, bears are everywhere, the fireweed is topped out, and there is no more spectacular place on the peninsula. As the fall back starts, spawned out or dying salmon float down stream depositing flesh and biomass throughout the drainage. This causes a large number of the trout to follow and head back into the lake or possibly another tributary. Then one day long about September it’s pretty much all over but the crying. An angler and his guide can walk 5 miles of stream hunting for takes, but maybe only land a couple of note worthy fish, instead of the 30 he landed that one fine day just weeks prior.
It’s a short hop over the ridge from Rapids Camp Lodge, a beautiful 20 minute flight in any of the lodge’s 4 DeHaviland Beavers or 14 minutes in the turbine Otter. RCL is one of the only lodges that access the Little Ku with both wheels and floats for an unbelievable back-country trouting experience. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
More on Trout in Alaska
There’s nothing more disheartening than attempting to make your shot at a tailing bonefish or permit only to find the tangled coils of a twisted fly line bunched up against your stripping guide. Regardless of your skill level, type of fly line, or whether you fish in fresh or salt water, fly line twist is part of the game. There are a number of factors that can cause the fly line to twist. However, with the exception of some extreme cases, it’s relatively easy to fix!
What Causes Fly Line Twist?
Fly line twist can occur from a variety of causes, many of which are unavoidable during a typical day of fishing. Often times anglers are quick to assume that a particular line ‘twists up too much’ or that there is something wrong with the core type. Some may even get down on themselves thinking there is a casting fault to blame! While factors such as the core of the line, a particular coating, or perfectly tight loops may prolong the line from twisting, all lines are likely to twist up at some point.
Certain casting styles that employ a change of plane between the forward and back casts (or d-loops), such as belgian casts, roll casting, or even spey casts, will cause your line to twist over time. Casting bushy wind resistant flies and/or indicators will also cause your line to twist up as well. Even certain retrieves such as figure eight retrieves or simply stripping big water pushing streamers all day can lead to that ugly twist in your fly line at the end of the day. Almost every fishing situation presents a way to leave your fly line a mess. Not to worry, it is easy to fix! Here’s how.
Untwisting Your Fly Line
There are many ways to effectively remove the twists in your line. The best method to use depends on where your fishing! Check out the list below to find the best method for you the next time you find a snarl.
- On the River. If you’re wading in moving water, straightening out your line couldn’t be easier. Simply clip your fly off and strip out your entire fly line allowing the current to take it downstream. Hold your line by pinching the backing against the cork and let the current do the work. Hold there for 20-30 seconds and voila! Your line should be good to go.
- In the Boat. If fishing from a boat, use the same method as above but use the boat’s power to straighten your fly line instead. Clip your fly off and strip out the entire line and ‘troll’ the fly line behind the moving boat until the twists are removed.
- On the lawn. When untwisting your line when not on the water, try laying the majority of your fly line out in a straight line. Grass fields or lawns work best for this method as your fly line is less likely to pick up dirt here than on a parking lot or beach. Using a light cloth to avoid burning your fingers, hold the line between your thumb and forefinger and stroke down the length of the line. Make sure to start at the backing end and work your way towards the tip of the fly line. Also, it is important not to let go of the line with your fingers until you are finished as this will cause the line to twist back up to the starting point. This is a great time to recondition your line as well!
- Anywhere else. This method, although the most time-consuming, is probably the most effective way to remove the twists in your fly line. It can be done anywhere and with very little room. First, strip off your entire fly line (or as far as it is twisted). Then, starting at the backing end of your reel, strip in roughly 3-4 feet of line leaving a loop of line. If twisted, this loop will spin around itself. If this is the case, remove your reel from the rod and rotate it in the opposite direction of the twist until the loop of line is free of any tangles. Reattach the reel and repeat until your fly line is free of twists.
More Fly Line Related Tips
We were recently graced by the presence of Bill and Alicia, a super fun couple on their first trip to Andros South. Bill and Alicia made the trip down in their own plane, and on their way home made sure to snap a few shots of our lodge on the way by. It’s not every day we are provided with a current aerial photo of our lodge, and we thought you might enjoy the view as much as we did. Thanks a lot Bill and Alicia, it was a blast having you in camp!
More Great Posts From Guests
When swinging for anadramous species like king salmon or steelhead, more often than not, the slower the swing the better. As long as it is moving just enough to suggest life in your fly, odds are you are in the game. However, from time to time, increasing the speed of your swing can be just the ticket when trying to coax up a hot salmon or steelhead. We are fortunate at Alaska West to fish a river tailored for swinging flies where the runs are long, slow, and uniform. Here, it is possible to get by with little more than a downstream and across presentation, a big mend, and letting it swing on through.
However, this is often not the case in most salmon and steelhead rivers. Careful manipulation of your line is critical in executing an effective swing. Swing speed is affected by a number of factors that differ from one run to the next, and it is our job as anglers to figure out the most effective presentation and swing speed possible to get ol’ lockjaw to eat! Whether looking to speed your swing up, or slow it way down, here are 5 ways to control the speed of your swing.
- Mend. A good mend is by far the most common way of adjusting swing speed. A mend is nothing more than a re-positioning of line after the cast is made, and while we’ll save the multitude of mend types for another article, an effective mend works wonders for adjusting the speed of your swing. In extremely simple terms, an upstream mend of the line will slow your swing down, and a downstream mend will speed your swing up. We could go into aerial mends, stack mends, and so on, but we want you to make it work on time this morning!
- Change Your Casting Angle. The closer you cast perpendicular to the direction of the current (in other words, straight across the river) the faster your fly will swing. On the other hand, the closer you cast parallel to the direction of the current (in other words, more downstream) the slower your fly will swing. Casting straight across the river allows for more area of the current to act upon your fly line as opposed to a cast presented ‘downstream and across.’ Don’t get hung up on trying to cover the entire run by attempting to hit the opposite bank. Fish only what you can cover and fish effectively, not what you can cast to.
- Move Your Feet. An often overlooked method of adjusting the speed of your swing is changing your physical position in the water. Wading further out into the river even a few steps can slow your swing speed down just enough to spark the fish’s interest. Simply changing the distance between you and the fly will change the speed at which the fly will swing. As always however, safe wading takes precedence over swing speed.
- Re-position Your Rod Tip. As we mentioned above, altering the distance between you and the fly will adjust the speed of your swing. However, as far as the swing is concerned, your line is anchored off of your rod tip. Therefore, re-positioning your rod tip can greatly affect the speed of your swing. If using a long spey or switch rod, reaching out with the rod towards the center of the water essentially puts you 12-15 feet (depending on the length of your rod) further into the river, lessening the distance between you and the fly, thus slowing it down. On the other hand, pointing the rod directly downstream, or even towards the inside bank, will cause a downstream belly to form in the line, causing the swing to speed up. Lifting the rod in a vertical direction can also aid in lifting line over variable currents that may otherwise change the speed of your swing as well.
- Lead or Follow Your Fly. As your fly swings, a subtle change that can make all the difference is leading or following your fly with the rod tip. Rather than point your rod tip towards your fly, slightly follow the position of your fly with the rod tip as it swings through. This will cause your swing to slow down ever so slightly while also offering a ‘butt first’ presentation. On the other hand, leading the position of your fly with the rod tip allows a downstream belly to form in your line, causing your swing to speed up while offering a more ‘broadside’ presentation of the fly. Both presentations have their place and it is up to you to figure out the most effective presentation for the run at hand.