The Art of Spey Casting - Pt.II


I guess you are familiar with the term “pecking order”. In fly casting there is a peculiar kind of pecking order, referring to the three musketeers: Man, fly rod and fly line. Man rules, the rod translates man’s orders according to the way it’s designed and the fly line just does what the rod tip tells it to do. That’s why “drawing” is such an adequate term when it comes to spey casting. You draw the right kind of sleds with the rod tip and the line behaves accordingly.

The D-loop equals the underside of a simple, non-ornamented sled (with it-s rear end pointing in the direction of the forward cast). The long and straight line of the sled should be parallel to the water and the soft curve, upwards and backwards, will make the line roll out under the rod tip. The forward cast equals the sitting surface of the same sled (a long and straight line).


The above paragraph is a condensed version of the content of the first article, named “The art of drawing a spey cast”. Here is more about my philosophy of good spey casting:

I will limit this explanation to my version of double handed spey casting with medium length Scandinavian shooting heads and focus on energy efficiency and elegance.

1.Switch casting (non-angled spey casting)

Non-angled in this context, means that the D-loop cast and the forward cast take place along the approximately same straight line.

You lift the rod slightly and the tip of the rod draws a vertical line in the air. This lift should be vertical, careful, and not accelerated beyond a bare minimum. The transition between the lift and the D-loop sled (the underside of the sled) should be treated with patience. There is no need for erratic and explosive transitions as you have plenty of time to execute smoothly and elegantly.

The lift takes place while you’re leaning over your front leg (open or closed stance will be your decision) and during the start of the D-loop sled you move your center of gravity from the front leg towards the rear leg while the arms and the rod are just inactive passengers. During this initial phase you draw most of the straight line of the sled and when the arms take over, it’s time for the soft curve upwards and backwards. This curve is drawn by simultaneously lifting both arms and carefully pushing the butt forwards. Even though the line will only travel about half the distance compared to an overhead back cast, a good D-loop stroke still demands a smooth acceleration. The speed of the rod tip should therefore increase gradually more and more throughout the stroke.


I prefer to “open” the rod sufficiently during the D-loop stroke and just wait in this position after the stop, without any kind of drift, for the forward cast to take place. There are, of course, no recommended rod angles, as there are so many factors to take into consideration:

  • Your preferred style of spey casting
  • The action of your rod
  • The length and weight of the line your using
  • The distance you wish to cast

What I will suggest, however, is that you open the rod enough to be able to engage at least parts of the depth of the rod during the upcoming forward cast. If the strong (deep) parts of the rod are allowed to participate, less power is needed from you and you can focus on elegance and presentation instead.

Then comes the most vital transitional phase of a spey cast: The transition between the D-loop and the forward cast. During the D-loop you transferred your center of gravity from the front to the rear leg and it’s from this position the forward cast will start. Just BEFORE the leader lands on the water film, you start moving your center of gravity ever so carefully in the opposite direction (from the rear towards the front leg). This smooth false start will help you regain contact between the rod tip and the line more efficiently so that most of the rod tips pathway will take place with necessary tension.

Once again, it’s the movement of the center of gravity that is the muscular engine for drawing the first part of the straight line of the forward cast. During this phase, the arms and the rod are inactive passengers, but as you feel the “good heaviness” build up as the rod bends towards the weight of the line anchored in the water, it’s time for the arms to finish this forward casting stroke. If the arms start “breaking” the rod over too early, only the weaker parts of the rod will be allowed to participate and you will need more muscular power to accelerate the rod tip to sufficient speed before the stop.  The combination of engaging too thin parts of the rod and you contributing with too much power, opens up for a low rate of successful casts and rather inefficient fishing. Focus on leaving the rod tip behind you while tension builds in the first phase of the forward stroke and then let the arms break the rod over as late as possible (within natural boundaries, of course).


As already mentioned, it’s important to stop higher when spey casting than when overhead casting. The reason for this is that the line, from anchor to rod tip, is situated under the tip of the rod. If you push the rod tip down at the end of the forward stroke you will open up the loop too much and if you (God forbid) simultaneously push the rod tip inwards, you will produce a loop that is too open both vertically and horizontally at the same time – a loop that will not be very efficient!

Some prefer to let the lower hand be the engine and the upper hand just a supporting fulcrum point. This ensures that deeper parts of the rod will be engaged compared to an opposite situation where only the upper hand would move and the lower hand was fixed. Depending on how long the shooting head is and how long you need to cast, you could also choose a compromise where both hands move in opposite directions. I will discuss these three alternatives further:

  • Upper hand moves – Lower hand acts as a fulcrum point: The old and traditional way of spey casting with long lines and deep action / long stroke length rods. Because the lines are that long and the rods that slow and deep, this was the way they did it back in the days. With shorter shooting heads and modern rods, this is not the most effective way of spey casting (but lots of upper hand spey casters have adapted to shorter shooting heads with graceful control).
  • Lower hand moves – Upper hand acts as a fulcrum point: Short heads and short strokes. This way of casting ensures that deeper parts of the rod are activated (how deep depends on the initial angle of the rod, how patient you are before using the arms, the action of the rod and the weight and length of the shooting head) and is a very energy efficient way of spey casting with double handed fly rods.
  • A careful combination where the lower hand is the most important one, but where the upper hand is allowed to participate at the end of the stroke: This is the way of spey casting with most distance potential. In spey casting competitions, we use very long heads (from over 20 to almost 30 meters) and then you definitely need both hands active, but the shorter the head the less important the upper hand is. If you are using both hands, a good tip will be to raise both hands slightly at the very end of the forward stroke to secure a tighter loop.


Back to the D-loop and to the quality of your movements:

When describing close to perfect D-loop strokes, I start looking for adjectives like “laid back”, elegant, smooth, energy efficient, low powered etc., but I will have to combine these qualities with the practical consequences of the laws of nature:

  • The necessary continuous acceleration where the speed of the rod tip increases gradually more and more through the stroke and the equally necessary stop at the end of the stroke
  • The need for straight lines during both D-loop cast and forward cast
  • The need for optimally smooth transitions between the lift and the D-loop sled and, even more importantly, between the D-loop and the forward strokes.

Skrmbillede_2016-01-25_kl._12.35.05.pngI have already talked about the need for a D-loop where the straight line of the sled is drawn parallel to the water. This is the absolute best way of ensuring that the whole leader (sometimes including the tip of the line) lands straight and simultaneously on the water, while the rest of the line stays in the air. I know that other spey casting instructors recommend that, after the initial lift, the rod tip goes down and comes up again during the D-loop sweep, and I know most of them make it look good and that they are very good spey casters, but for me this strays from the practical application of the laws of physics. If your D-loop drawing is bowl shaped instead of straight + curved upwards/backwards, the chances of an inefficient anchor increases. Because the line always do what the rod tip says, bowl shaped drawings will make the line travel toward you with a downward angle to the water and the butt of the leader will therefore land first while the rest lands on top of it, in an inelegant heap. I agree, as already mentioned, that a slight downward rod tip trajectory could be compensated by the correctly timed end of a D-loop stroke, but it’s so much easier to relate to a straight line parallel to the water, than a bowl of a certain depth. So, keep it simple, draw sleds!

Next time will talk about spey cast reality: When fishing, you need to angle your forwards cast and for we’ll start with the single spey cast.

NB! Have you checked the new rods, lines and reels that Scierra are presenting for 2016?

Tight lines!

Mathias Lilleheim


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