Spey Journey-The First Lesson

Learning something new is usually a disaster. Learning something physical, unless you’re one of those fortunate and highly coordinated individuals, gives you the feeling that you’re lucky you can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. 

Learning to Spey cast feels that way to me. It is a new motion, new movements, new gear and a different way of looking to load the rod and make a cast. At one point I turned to Doug and said, “Roll cast my ass, I’m going into the air!” 

Teachers and students get frustrated. Although Doug is mostly bemused and reminds me that anything we do new is difficult. “Think first cast mate, first girlfriend, first anything, it’s all a bit buggered up isn’t it, now? But you’re doing fine, coming along nicely.” 

A good teacher is usually patient and helpful and a bit comforting as we learn. Although I sort of grew up with what I call the, learn or die method, which involves a lot of yelling and sometimes gun shots fired over your head. 

That would be the military style of learning. 

Doug doesn’t yell. Not yet anyway. Although he did call me Corporal Van Dorn a number of times and then when he thought I was casting well enough in the slack water, took me to faster water where I become unbuttoned. 

Call it lesson one with a rule: things always change. Good teachers help you adapt.  

It started out simple enough. I went to work, finished a project and then headed for Batavia to meet Doug for the beginning of my instruction. I had been introduced to Spey casting two weeks ago. Then last week I photographed a bunch of beginners and novices being instructed in a class hosted by DuPage Fly Fishers and Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters. Doug was the resident professional and rightly so, but that’s another story, yet it’s part of this journey of learning to cast. 

So how do we learn? Well first, most of us visualize. It’s a process used in learning and so we think about what it is that we want to do, the motion, the look and so on and then, in our imagination, we see ourselves making the cast. Usually perfect. This method is used by all of us. Some are better at it than others. So before leaving for Batavia I sat in my chair and worked on remembering what I had been taught two weeks before and what I had learned from watching other novices go through the learning process. (Don’t’ try this while driving!) 

I sent an email to Doug before leaving work and suggested we work on four things:
- Recognizing a good D loop
- Further explanation of what is a good anchor and how much of the line/leader is the anchor
- Lifting low and sweeping back
- A proper double Spey and if time, a snap-T 

On my ride home I think I asked for too much.

But Doug obliged. Good teachers usually do. 

First we practiced on grass. Doug makes it look easy but he’s supposed to, he’s the professional, the teacher, the big guy with the floppy hat and accent. I’m the short stubby guy whose thinking, “Maybe I should have said no and just continued to make fun of this.” 

On the grass we practiced the basics of getting the line to go to the proper place. “It’s a rod length away. The length of the rod and the length of the line never change. It’s all the basic same movement mate.” And my favorite, “What the bloody ‘ell was that mate?” 

“Start low.”
“Is that low?”
“Now sweep the rod back, good. Now remember the 180 degree rule.”
(I’m not good at math.)
“Easy mate, easy.”

Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
So for a half hour I cast on grass until I could put the anchor a rod length away and make a fair sweeping cast without dipping the rod tip. Not on a regular basis but about every fifth or maybe tenth or was it twentieth one?

“Let’s wader up and get in the water.” 

Where I promptly forgot everything I learned on the grass. I like to think I have a good muscle memory as well as mental memory. Thinking you do and doing might be two different things as I seem to have neither and suffered a severe brain fart when making that first cast. Single handed.
And there it was, “What the bloody “ell was that, mate?”
“I was channeling Lefty Kreh, he doesn’t cast two handed…”
Nor does Bob Clouser come to think of it. 

But none the less, Doug patiently and once again, walked me through the steps. Then he retreated to a spot on the bank and continued coaching from there.
“Watch your anchor, there you go, now cast again.”
“No D loop there, now was there?”
“Slow down mate, effortless power, be smooth.”
Then he’d come out and correct something mechanical I was doing and have me repeat it again, and again, and again. 

“Want to try out the new switch rod?”
Do I want a date with Blythe Banner? You betcha.

It was a lovely change from the long and heavy rod that I’d been casting. Doug had put on a semi-automatic reel the likes of which I’d never seen (Thinkfish Bold) and now I think I want a new reel or two. It is not difficult to become a gadget guy in fly fishing. 

“Nothing changes, it’s still the same but now, less power, be smoother.”
So I promptly started single hand casting it. Lots of power and I liked it.
“Easy mate, it’s only a four weight.”
I throw it like it’s a seven weight, single handed and double hauling like a madman.
“It’s a two handed rod mate, two handed.”
In the military this is where the yelling would start.

So I went back to my usual brain fart mode and promptly forgot everything.
Learning isn’t something that comes easy to me. Making mistakes and lots of them, that’s my real strength. In the end I know everything you can do wrong, but if you realize that, then you start learning what not to do. And yes, I do touch hot objects and am addicted to touching wet paint, in spite of the signs, and a lot of concrete has my initials.

So Doug let me use the rod as long as I practiced proper Spey casting and promised not to use the rod in a perverse single handed manner. It was lovely to cast, light in the hand, responsive, threw a lot of line. This is not a commercial for Sage rods but if you have $950 dollars you want to part with, I think it’s a fine purchase. I think robbing a convenience store to pay for something is a bad idea but it occurred to me while driving home. But it was a good introduction to switch rods. Which are just shorter and lighter Spey rods so that you can go smallmouth bass fishing. And trout too. Stick to the one handed rods for bluegills, unless you like casting bluegills. 

I won’t be getting one soon. I have a wife. 

After several hours of beating grass and water into submission. Doug moved me from the spot I’d been standing in. We moved to river right, in case you’re wondering what that means, if you’re looking downstream, the bank nearest to you on your right hand side would be river right.  I like this term better than the saying, the bank where the fish are at, or the opposite bank, or far bank, lee bank, or pointing with the rod and saying, “hey, over there, cast over there.” 

River right had a lot more current and I had another brain fart when he said, “Now make any cast you want.” I promptly did a one handed cast. “Any Spey Cast mate, Spey cast.” (I think he might have been yelling. It was loud on river right.) And so I made him show me what would work. And he showed off. Doing snake rolls, Snap-T’s, Circle Spey and I think an Irish jig, which for an Englishman is quite something. And then he gave me the rod. “I’m going for Gatorade, you want a water or something?” I wanted to make a damn good cast was what I wanted but asked for water. “Good, I’ll be back, you work on making a proper Spey cast. Do a good one and we’ll give you your water.” I think I liked yelling better and seeing as how we were casting across from a sewage treatment plant, I wasn’t touching my lips to the river.

A bit later: 
“Nicely done.” Here’s your water. 

We had been at it for four hours. I was tired, sunburned and my shoulders were bugging me a bit. 

Doug asked me what I thought. I repeated what he’d said earlier. “Isn’t easy.”
“Want to continue on?”
“Sure, I’ve come this far, might as well keep going.”
“That’s the spirit mate.”

I received an email from Doug later that day: Hello Stuart, Nicely done today, sorry I had to give you a hard time. But you reached a stage where it was more beneficial to keep going than to stop.

Good instructors know these things.
I wanted to quit when he took the switch rod from me. That would have been after two hours.
You reach a point where you can only remember so much. Where your muscles can only do so much and you want to stop, but that’s when it’s best to push forward. And so Doug pushed me on. 

Today, I can see me unsticking the line from the water, bring the anchor around and waiting till it’s time to cast, moving the rod up some imaginary spiral staircase, and finally powering it forward to make the cast. 

In my imagination I can see this. The rest will be up to practice. Doug was kind enough to set me up properly.  The rest is practice, with a rod, not imagining it. I do really well with the imagination. I’m the best you’ve ever seen in my imagination. Snap-T, Perry Poke, Circle Spey, oh yeah baby! Then I get the rod in my hand and there it is, brain fart and loss of memory.
This will be a long journey. We’ll find out how patient Doug is. I haven’t mentioned to him that I do much better when shots are fired over my head. Being a good teacher he’d probably give it a try. I know that he’s a good shot and after I soiled my britches, I bet I’d make a damn fine cast.