The Art of Drawing a Spey Cast

A great many fly fishers get confused over the difference between an overhead cast and a spey cast.

When overhead casting, there are no principal differences between back- and forward casts, even though the resulting loops will, of course, travel in the opposite directions and even though different muscle groups contribute to the two casting strokes. The loops should turn over along the same straight line and there should be about 180 degrees between the back- and forward casts. It’s important to note that the line will travel OVER the tip of the rod.



During spey casting, however, life is no longer that simple. It’s the damned back cast (or D-loop) that causes most of the insecurity, confusion and irritation, of course. Relax, take a few of the famous deep breaths and let’s analyze a D-loop cast, based on what happens to the rod tip during spey casting. Let’s literally DRAW figures with the rod tip. A spey cast is all about drawing simple non-ornamented versions of sleds or sleighs, viewed from the side and placed with the back end in the direction of the forward cast. The D-loop draws the underside of the sled and this “figure” is nothing but a long and straight line, parallel to the water, followed by a soft curve going upwards and backwards. The reason why this drawing is necessary is that we want the line to roll out UNDER the rod tip, so that the leader will be able to land on the water while the rest of the line is in the air. The forward cast of a spey cast is relatively similar to an overhead forward cast, but as the line is UNDER the rod tip before we start, we’ll have to focus on a higher stop (to avoid loops that are too open). Translated to “drawing”, this means that the forward cast should draw the straight line corresponding to the sitting surface of the sled.

You will, of course, have to follow the general principles for good fly casting:

  • Smooth accelerations: The speed should increase gradually more and more through a casting stroke
  • A smooth and controlled transition between the D-loop cast and the forward cast, helped by the careful false start that initiates optimal contact between rod and line.
  • The straight line of the D-loop should be as parallel to the water as possible, so that the whole leader will land on the water at the same time, creating a perfect anchor for the forward cast.
  • Even relatively long spey casts could be executed with dangerously little power.
  • Open the rod more than you think is necessary before the forward cast, so that you are able to activate the deeper and stronger parts of the rod.

Here are a few pictures showing literally real rod tip drawings. The technical explanation is that we taped a small LED-light to the “rod tip” and that we opened the shutter of the camera and took pictures in the middle of the night. The picture shows the initial position, before the D-loop, and this exposure is produced by a flash. Afterwards all that the camera can “see” is the blue LED-light on the rod tip moving.


The underside of the sled alone: A long and straight line followed by a soft curve, upwards and backwards.


Here I have included the little vertical lift that takes place just before the drawing of the underside of the sled. The reason for this lift is to lift parts of the line out of the water.


Reality demands that you angle your casts. This takes part during the D-loop cast.

To practice D-loops without even leaving your home, here’s a good exercise. You need a small and light laser pen. Tape it to “tip” of a “rod” consisting of the lower half of a double hand rod (or just a stick for that matter) and get ready. You will see the laser light move on the wall. Try to draw sleds on the same wall. On the picture under (once again taken with an open shutter and one initial flash) you can see the whole underside of the sled, but in real life you will have to follow the laser dot with your eyes. A good tip is to find a straight part of the wall and let the dot follow this during the straight line of the sled.

There are, of course, more to spey casting than this and I will come back to the full picture later, but this is a good start. Understand what spey casting is about and practice drawing sleds before taking rod and line out to the water.

Good luck!

Mathias Lilleheim


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