A Spey Journey - Introduction

Sensei Taylor

Doug Taylor is a spey rod instructor. He is a tall Britisher with a wry wit and a casting style that is best described as smooth and easy. Too easy.   

That is, like everything in life, the guys who do it well make it look easy and yet we all know they've put in a lot of time to become that way. If you think someone was born to spey cast and then you added up the hours they spent on the water working on their form, you'd realize that few people are actually born that way. Even the Rajeff brothers went to casting school. 

To be honest, I've been poking fun at long rodders since the day my dad said, "See that guy making those roll casts, that's a spey rod, about as old and archaic a technique you'll ever see. Can’t cast a dry fly with it.” That was about 1959 and I've been carrying my dad's words around in my head ever since. 

So it probably came as a surprise to Doug when I said, "You know, I make fun of guys who cast Spey rods but maybe I should consider giving it a shot, just to make sure that I'm not like some food critic, a guy who can't cook but is critical of others who do.”  So at the Early Show, in November, I talked to him about taking a lesson just to see what I was making fun of. He looked down at me and grinned, "Call me when you're ready." 

So a couple of weeks ago, I called him up.  

"Hey Mate, what's up?"

"I think I should learn to cast a spey rod."

And the conversation went downhill from there but at the end I had an appointment with Doug for an introduction to Spey Casting. In other words, finding out if I’d like it. 

We met in Batavia just south of the City at a small park with a number of bridges crossing over the Fox River. It was also across from a sewage treatment plant. I made a mental note not to be making any jokes. 

Before we started, I said to Doug, “Define two handed Spey Casting” 

"A Spey cast is an accelerated roll cast with a change of direction." 

To which I added, "And like everything Scottish, especially golf, a pain."

And there I was wadered up, standing in knee deep water, getting a whiff from the sewage treatment plant, learning how to anchor the line, the 180 degree rule, how to make a D loop, which looked more like an L to me and searching for the anchor. I was learning to slow down and wait for the line to do what it was supposed to do in order to make a decent cast. Or at least get Doug to say, “Well that wasn't as much rubbish as the last cast."

We started at 10:00am and got out of the water at 2:00. We stopped because I got tired and frustrated. This was not what I had thought. It is nothing like single handed casting. It might look the same, but it isn’t even close. 

"What do you think mate?" 

"My dad was wrong." 

"Say again."

"My dad made fun of Spey rods fifty years ago, and I'd taken up the torch after that. But he was wrong. It's not a roll cast. It's a damn difficult cast." 

"That it is. Think you'll continue on now that you've had an introduction?"

“Hell, I'm not even sure if I made any decent casts today."

"You did a few." 

"Yep, a few."

"Enough to encourage you to keep going?"

I told Doug I'd think about it. 

I sent an email to Doug a few days later. "I'm encouraged, let’s see where it takes us." 
He, perhaps to his own chagrin, said, “I think it’ll be a good story.” 

Do I like two handed casting? It’s interesting and I agree with Doug who kept saying, “You know mate, two handed will only help your one handed.” 

I also believe in Leprechauns. 

Can I tell you the difference between a switch rod and a Spey rod? 

No. Nor Skandia lines, proper heads and all of that minutia that people go into when telling me about their two handed experience. They talk, I nod, then fall asleep. 

What I know is that day on the Fox was the first time I’d ever cast a two handed rod. It is a challenge and I like to be challenged, not so much that I’m overwhelmed but so that I will take the next step. Which believe it or not is to take another lesson and practice. And get gear. I think I like the get gear part best and this is where a teacher comes in handy. You just borrow their stuff till you figure out what works for you. And then go on a buying spree. 

After a while, I know it’ll be become fun and one day I’ll have forgotten that day on the Fox, where the line whacked me in the head, the anchor was nowhere to be found and the 180 degree rule was meant for filming interviews and not some cast.  Where a D loop, actually looks like a D loop and the names of the cast don’t sound like something from a book written by a drunk Welshman. 

The end game is not the perfect cast. It might be hearing Doug say, “Well done, nicely done lad, not bad,” which I suppose might happen, however it’s also about catching fish. Because in the long run, learning how to cast is about casting to a fish, not standing out in river whirling and tossing a line about. It’s about delivering a fly to a spot where the fish are. It’s about reading the water and making the best presentation possible. And the more skills you have with your casting, the more likely you are to connect and land that fish. 

So that’s why I’m going to work at this, that and Doug said I had some skills. Not many but enough. And he quoted a guy, “If I can’t get them to do a Double Spey in ten minutes then either they’re a ninny or I’m drunk.” 

Doug said I wasn’t a ninny. 

You can follow the journey here on Tippets and Tales as I photograph and video tape the lessons and progressions, including the two steps back. So stay tuned, the adventure is just beginning.