Our good friend and legendary sales rep for some of the most respected brands in the biz, George Cook, has been at the forefront of modern spey fishing since the beginning. Simply put, he’s been swinging flies for steelhead, sea-run browns, resident trout, and everything in-between long before it was cool. So, when he’s willing to spill some of his secrets, needless to say, we listen.
When it comes to swinging flies, George has a great analogy to describe what the heck your fly is actually doing throughout the swing in relation to length of the cast he describes as ‘engagement range.’ We’ve found it to be a great perspective to draw from when stepping down a run, so naturally we asked him to put together a writeup for us. Fortunately, he did, and today we share his words with you.
Take it away Geo!
The Importance of ‘Engagement Range’ When Swinging Flies
You step into a run, maybe somewhere mega-fabulous to be, huck one out there 75 feet or so, and your line starts to swing.. What is that getting done for you? It depends!
It depends on a number of factors (where you’re fishing, what species you’re targeting, what cast you’ve executed, etc.) but one factor that remains constant is the notion of what I like to call the “Net Swing” equation that is going to unfold before you after every cast. Let me explain.
We all love the spey game. Whether chasing kings, steelhead, sea run browns or dollies, or resident bow bows and brown trout via trout spey, swinging flies is getting under the skin of anglers chasing all kinds of different species. Targeting each of these species on a swung fly can be different from species to species as well as different in any given river or run.
Let’s take steelhead as a prime example of this. More often than not, an average spey cast can yield great results with fish present. Here, a 45 to 70 foot cast can (and often does) catch a fish in a given run. I’ve seen marginal casters ‘clean up’ in popular runs that lend themselves to such places like British Columbia’s Dean River or Oregon’s Sandy River to name a couple. I’ve also seen runs on the Dean where anything under 90 feet is simply casting practice. In other places, Idaho’s Clearwater being a fabulous example, you could hook one 5 feet off the bank or 105 feet out in the middle of the ditch making literally any cast a viable option as they can be (and often are) anywhere in Idaho’s crown jewel! However, regardless of casting distance, its the “Net Swing” that equates to the true swing within the context of that given cast that actually puts the fly in front of a fish. For example:
- A 60 foot cast ‘nets’ an effective swing at approximately 45 feet
- A 75 foot cast ‘nets’ an effective swing at approximately 60 feet
- A 90 foot cast ‘nets’ an effective swing at approximately 75 feet (and so on..)
This all begins to put the idea of “Engagement Range” into clear perspective. Simply put; we have to hit “X” distance to effectively fish “Y” water. So, having put this concept/reality before us, lets take a closer look at how some of our favorite spey pursuits worldwide stack up..
- Steelhead. Our prime example above shows that if you have the fly in the water you are indeed in the “game.” Steelhead spey guides throughout the Pacific Rim, from Nor-Cal to Kamchatka, do a great job of coaching anglers on just what lies before them in any/every run to be fished. Like any good coach or trusted advisor, they will lay it out for you more often than not. “Go short” (just sink tip out of the rod tip), “mid-range,” or “bomb it” are all frequent and knowledgeable words of council and encouragement. If you find yourself in short supply of such advice, odds are you’re either a veteran angler in the eyes of that guide or a client in need of a new guide!
- King Salmon. The word “depends” returns here big time in that some rivers will allow the novice an honest chance while others present many more challenges. Rivers like the beloved Kanektok and fabled Sandy let casters of all levels play effectively. In contrast, bigger rivers like the Nushagak and interior AK Favorite, the Gulkana, favor much longer “Engagement Range” where a maximum ‘Net Swing’ is advantageous.
- Sea Run Browns. The Rio Grande is an interesting one in that it appears really big and wide in photographs, but once you’re there, your first wade into your first run will likely show you two distinct things; A) You’ll probably wade a ways out before your first cast is indeed executed, thus demonstrating that things are much smaller than they first appeared. And B) You will need to, unequivocally “kiss” the opposite bank, or even “gator it,” in order to crawl your fly off the bank to engage in known troughs on the far side. Only afternoon darkness brings Brownie upward and inward when less precision can bring vicious grabs!
- Atlantic Salmon. Simple advice here.. Brush Up, as good casters almost always win the game virtually everywhere the King’s fish is found. Furthermore, mastery or at least reasonable competence is required with the widest variety of spey lines to ever grace your reel bag as scandi style along with mid-belly format lines get to make these trips.
- Sea Run Dollies. Depends greatly on the given river. British Columbia features some real gems reached best by helicopter that are best suited for single hand and trout spey/switch sized sticks. Washington state favorites like the Sauk and Skagit on the other hand favor the “long ball” in order to maximize the amount of water covered. Alaska’s Arctic dollies vary by stream, some of which are small and require short casts, and others that are reasonably larger featuring lies that are are more “slotted” or trough oriented which quire longer shots in order to engage.
- Western-style Trout Spey. Trouty is everywhere here, so just fish to your comfortable casting distance with confidence as odds are you’re well in the engagement range with every cast.
- Alaska-style Trout Spey. Once again, it varies by river. Some smaller streams and back channel opportunities afford ‘small ball” at its best, but the big rivers of the 907 (the Middle Kenai, the Naknek, and the Kvichak to name a few) have a distinctively different flavor often demanding the long ball in order to cover and thus “engage” distant lies.
All in all, nothing replaces time on the water. Today’s Spey caster, no matter the pursuit, has to be a thinker and the Engagement Range is key to getting the most out of “Net Swing,” the swing game we all LOVE!