Thursday, September 16, 2021

Trout Spey
By Dave McKenna

This modern and extremely effective casting and fishing method should not intimidate.

Skagit lines were originally designed to deliver heavy payloads very long distances often with little or no room for a backcast. So, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, dedicated angler Ed Ward and his metalhead cronies customized a unique system of compact shooting heads that worked with a complimentary tip system and allowed ideal drifts while swinging Washington state’s Skagit River with large Intruder flies. The benefits of their Skagit systems were soon realized by anglers facing similar casting scenarios in other places, on all variety of waters.

As line manufacturers developed Skagit systems for the masses, rod manufacturers made shorter and more efficient two-handed “switch” rods, allowing anglers to vary tactics between single-hand techniques, like indicator nymphing, and two-handed spey style casts. Many salmon and steelhead anglers realized that 13-foot-plus long spey rods were no longer needed to make lengthy, accurate casts when using heavier tips and/or weighted flies. The Skagit phenomenon soon spread into lighter weight line systems and are now made to work with rods as light as 3-weight trout “spey” rods. These can be an absolute blast to fish, even when throwing light flies, including soft-hackles off of floating lines, to feeding trout.

Modern Skagit lines are easily adapted to almost every rod style, including those that all trout anglers have—a 9-foot-long 4, 5 or 6-weight. When anglers try a Skagit head system to punch out small-to medium size streamers and double nymph rigs in a single stroke, they are often amazed by how much power they find in their old, reliable 5-weights. With head weights as low as 125 grains, you can even load up a 3-weight to effortlessly swing your favorite streamers and other rigs. These can turn a standard 10-foot or 11-foot nymphing rod into a totally different beast for trout fishing. With these configurations, anglers can adjust the sink rate and depth of the fly by changing the tip and leader that connects the shooting head to the fly. That’s a simple process made easier by modern loop-to-loop connections.

This casting style is pretty simple. A short, compact head and tip are water-loaded using current and a sustained anchor point. With practice, this casting stroke requires very little effort when compared to overhead casting. And once mastered, it allows anglers to access parts of a river that they may not have reached with a single-hander.

Where to start with Skagit casting? You can get as complex as you want with your system, or keep it simple. Skagit lines come in just about every configuration. You can find standard heads or compact heads with integrated running lines, integrated sinking heads, and all in a variety of densities. Each rod manufacturer has its own recommendation for tips, heads/grain weights, and running lines, depending on which rod and reel you might load up.

Fishing Skagit isn’t overwhelming, but getting your rig set up right, so that a line system effectively bends a rod and allows you to throw a lot of line, is crucial. And the best place to get some direction is at your local fly shop or through a certified casting instructor. Pay that extra fee upfront; reap major reward the first time you hit the water with a trout-spey outfit. I highly recommend that everyone gives a Skagit casting system a chance. It may create a fishing experience you never expected . . . with a lot of the equipment you already own.