Introduction to Spey Fishing

Heather Hodson Spey Fishing - Photo Credit @ragingriversales

United Women on the Fly has collaborated with several women who are experts in Spey Fishing to write these tips.  These women are always on the water, fishing, guide, give casting lessons and are certified casting instructors.  Please do not hesitate to reach out to them for a guided trip or continued education.

Throughout this series we’ll cover equipment, spey cast types, spey line definitions, casting terminology and basics, spey fishing techniques, reading water, common casting mistakes and more.  Thank you to Amy HazelHeather HodsonKaty WatsonMary Ann Dozer, Mia Sheppard and Molly Semenik for your time.

what is Spey?

Spey casting originated in the heart of Scotland in the mid-1800s. The name comes from the River Spey in Scotland.  The Spey cast was developed so one could successfully cast on a large river such as the Spey. When Spey casting was introduced, 22-foot rods were used.  Today, rods are only 12 to 16 feet in length, and can be casted over 100′.

Spey casting is a casting technique used in fly fishing. Spey casting can be accomplished with either a normal length fly rod, or a rod referred to as a double-handed fly rod, often called a Spey rod.  Spey rods can also be used for standard overhead casting.

UWOTF Spey Rod Weight

Spey Rods

There are a lot of options in the current two-handed rod market.  One manufacturer may have 10 different two-handed rods with varying lengths and weights.  How do you decide what will best meet your needs?  Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help solve this equation.

  1. What size flies will you be fishing?
  2. What size rivers will you be fishing?
  3. Will you primarily be fishing floating lines, sink tips, or both?
  4. What species fish will you be fishing for?
  5. What is your price range?

Spey Rod Weight

The weight of the two-handed rod is usually based on the fly size that you will most commonly be fishing with.  Are you only planning on fishing traditional, sparsely dressed, flies or will you be fishing with large heavy flies?  Perhaps you’re looking for a rod that can do both?  You’ll need a larger weight rod to properly turn over a larger fly.  For example, if you are only fishing for summer run steelhead with traditional flies, then a 6wt two-handed rod will be sufficient.  If you’re planning on fishing with tips and larger flies then a 7wt would be a better option.

The next consideration to choosing a two-handed rod is what size fish will you be fishing for?  You do not want to use a 6wt rod if you are fishing for 30lb King Salmon. A 9 or 10wt two-handed rod is a more appropriate size for King Salmon.  This is similar to single hand rods.  You’re not going to fish for a Mako Shark with your 5wt 9′ rod.

It is our responsibility as anglers to use appropriately matched tackle with our targeted fish species to decrease the duration time, therefore decreasing the stress level of the fish.

UWOTF Spey Rod Length1

Rod Length

Two-handed rods now range from 12 to 16′.  There are a few considerations when choosing what rod length to purchase.  First is what size of river are you fishing.  Is it a  large river or small river? Determining the size of the river you are fishing will help to determine the overall length of the rod you’ll need. For example, if I plan on fishing a large river such as the Clearwater River I would probably fish with a 13′ to 15′ length rod.  If I only plan on fishing the a smaller river like the Grand Ronde then I’d would probably choose a 12′ to 13′ rod.  If I plan on fishing both I would use a  12 1/2’ to 13 1/2’ rod.

Are there obstacles and tight spaces on the river you’ll primarily be fishing?  If so, then a shorter rod might be a good choice.  Finally, what lines are you planning on fishing with.  Will you primarily be fishing floating lines, sink tips, or both?  We’ll dive into the lines and heads next week but as a general rule the longer the head, the longer the rod you’ll need.

Rod Action

Two-handed rod action is an anglers preference.  Action of the rod does not dictate the power of the two-handed rod.  An 8wt rod, regardless of action, has the same power.

The final consideration when choosing a rod is what’s your set-up budget?  You’ll find a wide range of prices from $250 to $1250.  The quality of materials used in the rods reflect the higher cost.  A higher modulus graphite lends to higher performance which increases the price.  Those made in the USA tend to be more expensive, but the ingenuity and pride in craftsmanship is worth it to me. What is the rod warranty?  What is the quality of the cork, reel seats, guides and finish of the rod?  At the end of the day you get what you pay for.  I’d highly suggest that you attend a Spey Clave or event where you can cast multiple rods from different manufacturers in different price ranges.  This will allow you to find which rod and line fit your casting style.

Spey Reels

Both floating lines and skagit style heads are bulky.  You’ll need a reel that is large enough to hold backing, running line and your head preference.  This is where you start to think about the Reel Arbor.  The arbor is the center part of a fly reel where first backing and then line is wound.  The larger the arbor the less line capacity.  When choosing a spey reel you’ll want a smaller arbor to allow room for sufficient amount of backing, running line and your bulkier heads.


UWOTF Reel Arbor

Reel Arbor

Arbor: The center part of a fly reel where first backing and then line is wound


Drag system or Click and Pawl?  Drag is a personal angler preference. With a click and pawl reel, the angler uses their reeling hand to put pressure on areas of the spool to create friction (drag) to slow the fish down.  For larger steelhead and pacific and Atlantic salmon a disk drag is a good idea.

I am all about buying equipment and clothing that is versatile.  The same goes with my spey reels.  I want to have a spey reel that I can use for both my two-handed and single handed rod.  If you decide to use a single hand reel, look at going up at least 2 sizes in that reel to accommodate the backing, running line and fly line head. For example, my 7wt spey reel is also my 9/10 single hand saltwater reel.

What's Next?

Once you’ve answered all of these questions it’s time to reach out to your local fly shop experts.  Rather than buying a rod online, support small and shop local.  It’s best to hold the rod, make sure it’s not too heavy, that the cork fits your hand size, that the reel can hold sufficient amount of backing, running line and head.  You want to cast different rods with different weighted lines to fit your casting style.  This is different for everyone.  Having the perfect fit for you will make your day of fishing enjoyable and less painful!!  Next week we’ll dive into Spey Lines and Heads.

Connect with Heather Hodson

Leave a comment