Two Hand Fly Casting

For me, as an International Federation Of Fly Fishers Certified Two Hand Casting Instructor, Spey Casting is a very relaxing and methodical art of delivering a fly.  It has the natural ability to take me back in time.  A time when the anglers of Scotland's River Spey first held a Grant spliced eighteen foot Salmon rod.  The magic and aesthetic beauty of motion offers great satisfaction.

Back in those days, there were only two casts that were considered true Spey casts.  They are the Single and Double Spey. Simon Gawesworth, a living legend in this world of two hand casting, created a cast called the Snake Roll.  This modern cast has also been categorized as a true Spey cast.  Learning these three casts with dominant hand up or dominant hand down will have you fishing almost every Traditional mid belly or long belly line situation possible.  Other styles were developed like Scandinavian Underhand and West Coast Skagit to be used for the exacting demands of the rivers and quarry in those places. Fishing in the salt has been the latest addition to the use of longer two hand rods.  I use them all depending on the location, conditions, gear choice and target fish.

Grantown on Spey Bridge
Sixteen years ago, I purchased my first two hand rod.  A Loomis fourteen foot GL for a 9 weight line.  At that time, I used the rod to fish from the large 26 foot Gaspe Canoes on the Restigouche, Matapedia and Grand Cascapedia rivers of Canada.  The target fish was Atlantic Salmon.  The rod was very light in hand with very fast action and perfect for over head casting with shooting heads.  Little did I know, at that time, I was teaching myself all the fundamentals for using a two hand rod in the salt.  I made strong overhead casts that the guides would make comment about.  The technique was similar to single hand using the forced turnover concept of a hard stop with top hand.  I have learned to now use my bottom hand as the engine and have the ability to choose where the power is created.  They said I made their job easier because fewer drops per day were needed to cover all the water.  It took a few years, and the encouragement my good friend Leo, to start learning how to use a two hand rod from the shore.  Today I am still learning and hope the curve never ends.

Let me give you a good start based on my learning and experience.

Momentum, Power On, Power Off, Tempo & Rhythm
Each and every two hand cast from lift to follow through has a tempo and rhythm that is preformed with the application and removal of power with tempo.  Momentum is maintained by having the rod tip move at the correct speed and direction to command the lines path.  The rod needs to be bent and remain bent until the final forward movement ceases.  Casts that are airborne, or what is called splash and go, are especially superior when used in this way.  Casts like the Double Spey, Snap Tip(T) and Circle Spey rely on water borne loading.  They have a distinctive placement of the anchor and then a re positioning pirouette sweep that becomes the continuous action through D Loop formation.  Anchor placement is critical on all casts and styles.  My rule of thumb is one to one and a third rod lengths on a forty five degree angle in front placed on the exact target line.  Don't worry, come back to this later and it will make perfect 180 degree rule sense.

This is the way of the Modern Two Hand style. Casts are fluid with continuous motion and therefore have a continuous loading of the rod.  Momentum is adjusted to control the direction and position of the line.

Actions are deliberate and treated in a very round world way.  Timing of power is the thing that keeps each cast moving.  Our lower hand is the power and the dominate hand offers guidance.  Some modern day casters use different quantities of power between top and bottom and that will be your style to figure out.  Today my focus is solidly on bottom hand pull at the finish of each cast without top hand push.

Feet First
In order to make the correct cast for a moment in time, I start with where and how my feet are positioned. Having a strong and comfortable footing is extremely important in order to make a quality cast.  The components that determine my footing are river direction, wind direction, background and length of cast. The same cast can have a different foot position determined by the condition of the moment.

Let's envision, for a moment, that we are on river left.  The wind is blowing up river and we are performing a Snap T cast.  The woods are close behind and it will be very easy to have our D loop in the bushes.  If I have my right, or up river, foot placement behind my body, I run a chance to be able to rotate my hips on the repositioning move too far and my D loop is sure to find a snag.  I have no chance to perform a strong and deep V loop at all.   By simply having my right foot out in front and my body square to target,  I can make the transition and a shallow D loop form at a slight angle to the shore and be safe.  The closer the trees the more I must concentrate on my rotation and foot position.

During the full procedure of a cast our feet will not be re positioned.  Our feet are set by the exact direction that the forward stroke will be made to form a straight alignment of Anchor, D Loop, Forward stroke plane to target.   Twisting hips and ankles down river on lift through the swing and rocking forward and back will occur, but lifting our feet will not.  At times when using the Single Spey, I will want to have my up river foot positioned behind.  This will allow full rotation for a cast that requires the additional open swing when changing direction to greater than 45 degrees.  This is only suitable with enough room behind to make a full "D" or "V" loop.  Today, I have my dominant foot in front on almost every cast.

Hand Position & Grip
This might seem easier than something to think about.  But this simple phrase tells the story.
Short Line Narrow Grip, Long Line Wide Grip
There is another factor to grip and hand position.  The style of casting plays a dramatic roll in this aspect.  If I am using a long belly Spey line my natural reflex is to widen my grip and have full hands on the rod.  I have now learned that doing so causes me to open the forward stroke into a convex or rainbow shape tip path and extend my upper hand too far forward and open the angle of my elbow too far.  What I do to compensate for this reaction is hold the rod with less fingers as lightly as I can.  I am now forced to make a somewhat open stroke to get the belly moving but I will cast higher because of the stop position being sooner.  The long belly line is used when casting long distances without stripping back line.  Hence!

Short Line Narrow Grip, Long Line Wide Grip

For a while I was confused between the mechanics of the Skagit and Traditional Spey styles.   There will be differences in the function of our dominant hand as to where it finishes the forward stroke that is determined by line belly length.  Casting a short head style Scandi line as it we are tournament casters is not desired.  Today I understand that there are many situations and choosing the best rod and line can only be based on knowledge of the situation of that moment.  Having one rod that has many line possibilities and the understanding of how to cast each makes me a better caster and angler.  Sure there are styles of fishing that we can put with almost certainty a rod and line.  One that comes to mind is on the River Matane in Canada.  The rules are that no sinking line, leader or weighted fly be used.  Twelve Foot 7 weight with a 44' short head Spey line fits the size of rod, fly to cast as well as distance.  This simple set up lets me cast all day with very little time lost to stripping back.  Each fish and situation will have it's own perfect combination.

Hand position and grip will need your attention as they are determined by more than one factor.

The key factor to having a strong casting grip is not in how tight we hold the rod.  It is based in how loose we hold the rod and having our reel balanced so that the top hand position becomes the fulcrum where front and back are the same when the amount of casting line is off the reel.  We must balance every rod depending on the reel and line to be used that day.  No two set up will give the same result of top hand position unless we take the time to balance the reel.

No different than with single hand casting, body movement has a substantial effect on style and power application.  The flow of body movement can propel a cast without making a stroke with arm use at all. Making sure we are using our bodies movement will have a dramatic effect on the ease of motion and power required to perform two hand casts.  This movement makes me feel good as if in a dance with the river.

The Lift
Every cast we make has the purpose to land our fly ready to swing.  Our position becomes the pivot point and the fly at the end of the line moves across the current as if swinging a gate closed on it's hinge.  The different swings and mends and manipulation of the line as it transverses the current are another topic, but for now let's just say the end result is always the same.  Our fly swings with the current of the river until it is hanging or what is called 'On The Dangle' directly below our position.  The greatest possibility for error on the lift comes when a pause is made between the lift and the sweep.   In every form of casting, slack is not our friend.  Slack requires the use of energy to remove the slack.  Slack has the effect of shortening the length of a casting stroke.  Lefty Kreh says that we are not making the cast until the fly is moving.  The style of lift used must never create slack.

By making.the lift we are creating inertia.  If a stop happens this inertia causes the line to continue and forms the start of a loop under the tip of the rod.  This loop, be it small, is slack and it will take part of the sweep to remove the slack.  There is also another way that slack can be created in the lift.  If the lift is made too quickly the inertia will also cause the line to loop under the rod tip.  Slow and deliberate will offer the best quality lift.  The Lift and the Sweep need to be made in one continuous movement so the line is under tension the entire time.  A lift that moves the tip of the rod up creating a dramatic angle to the surface will create the most slack.
  • The lift and sweep are really one movement.
  • The lift is started with the rod tip low to the water with the line hanging down river
  • The lift, called shotgun, moves the rod in an upward path having both tip and butt rise.
  • The lift is used to get the line rising in the current and remove some tension of the water surface
  • The lift is used to get the line ready to move into the sweep with ease
  • The lift is always performed s-l-o-w-l-y and moves without stop into the power move of the sweep.
  • There are a number of other lift styles that should be learned.

The Sweep
With each cast a certain sweep will be required.  They are not exactly the same and require different anchor style and placements according to river speed as well as wind direction and speed.  The one rule of the sweep is that the rod tip will always travel in an incline path.   Any other path has the ability to cause slack. A dip during the sweep can cause line crash and improper shape to our anchor and D Loop.   The last part of the sweep is determined by the cast to be performed, but is finished so that a strong Rounding Up movement.  Robert Gillespie calls this part of the sweep the Climbing Curve.    The main result will be the ability to create a 'D' Loop that is large and moving in a continuous motion.

The application of power or movement of the rod with tempo in the sweep has dramatic difference as to how effective the forward stroke can be. If the sweep places the fly too far up or down river it will take a great deal of power to drive the forward stroke.  In some cases it can be very dangerous to be leaving the sweep in a position that can flip the fly into our position on the forward stroke.  The sweep is the key factor to setting up a quality forward stroke that places the D loop, forward stroke, anchor position and target in alignment and therefore a straight line.  This is called the 180 degree principal and is always our goal.  It means learning and understanding the concept of using singular casting planes.

The Circling Up movement assists in keeping constant tension on the line and enhances the formation of the 'D' Loop just prior to the forward stroke.  This movement has the similar effect of a Belgian Cast as performed with a single or two hand rod.  The difference is a Belgian cast is very open and causes a large loop as it relates to a roll cast.  It is called a constant tension cast and is the desired cast when using heavy weighted flies or deep sinking lines.

The Loop, 'D' or 'V'
Each cast starts with the movements of lift and sweep that are necessary to place the fly in a position that enables a safe and correct direction of the forward stroke.  This is the position that Al Buhr calls the "Key Position"  That perfect upward moment when all is right to start the forward Stroke.  There is always a change in direction that occurs between the sweep and the loop.   This is achieved in a number of ways that are determined by river flow, wind direction and the cast that will be used.  Keep in mind that any fly position set for the propose of loading or making the anchor must be safe.  If I set my anchor to the left of my body while performing a forward stroke on my right side, disaster or at least the possibility of a fly in the face is created.  What I am going to say right now is of the up most importance.

If, for any reason, something seems wrong "STOP" and start over

It is very easy to roll your line down river to start your lift over again.  Far better that a few moments be lost rather than the hours making a trip the the emergency room.  Two hand rods create a great deal of energy through torque and when this power is harnessed correctly the ease of propulsion is just awesome.  It is that very power that can cause great harm.

The Stroke  
In two hand casting there are differences in this forward stroke that are determined by what the style the belly length is for the line.  This only means the main principal of stroke length is confirmed.  "The longer the line is out of the tip of the rod the longer the stroke length must be". A mid length Traditional 'double taper' line has it's belly substantially farther from the tip of the line than a short head Skagit.  This difference in line and style requires us to also use an appropriate stroke and arc length for the line.  The Skagit requiring a short stroke that is stopped high in the tip path.  Underhand Scandinavian developed by Goran Andersson is a perfect example of  how compact we can be from lift to presentation.

One factor is a constant in all modern two hand casting.  From the Key Position both top and bottom hand will move forward together at the same speed bending the deep down the blank.  If only top hand moves forward the tip of the rod is all that is being used.

When we apply power to the forward stroke the rod butt will move forward leading the way.  This creates the most power that a fulcrum system can provide.  For a brief moment both dominant and off hands will travel forward together.  Then the play between push and pull takes over.  This is the moment of choice. The more we use the top hand for power the larger the forward loop will be.  The more we use the bottom hand for power the smaller the forward loop will be. Both top and bottom hand power can be applied according to the situation.  A big heavy fly will need the control necessary to keep gravity from crashing the line.  Large loops are not bad unless your goal is a tight loop.

Let's talk about the difference in casts.  Some two hand casts use the drag created by the lines belly being completely on the water.  Skagit style is geared to this and even has motions like the Perry Poke to place the entire line down in front of us to then make the loop.  In a pure single Spey cast where a mid or long belly line is used the line is in the air through the anchor placement and loop creation to the forward stroke.  The forward stroke is started a millisecond before the fly gives it's anchor kiss that creates the tension to deeply bend the rod.  This is called an air borne anchor.  I hope you can envision what I just said because it is the essence of the single Spey.  Watching the connection between line and leader becomes essential to the timing between tempo to Key Position and the application of power of the forward stroke. The rod is still moving with tempo as this is happening and is not an abrupt stop with pause. Even if our hands are only moving slightly the tip of the rod might be moving at a different speed.   It is a visual event and is beautiful to watch when the timing of the lift, sweep, continuing tempo and forward stroke is made. 
A 'D' Loop is used when the area behind us is limited and the casts are short.  A 'V' loop can be chosen and made by extending the loop low and farther back and the curve of the line narrows to form a tighter and greater amount of tension for making the forward stroke.  The power on at the beginning of the low sweep is continued for a bit longer than when using a D loop.

The Casts
Spey and Two Hand Casts have function as their first ingredient   Each of these casts are performed
with application of power during the segments of the total cast.  There are times when power is added or reduced in order to create a cadence throughout the cast that will keep tension in the line for maximum rod bend and ease of motion.  As you read these definitions please understand that each component has it's own definition according to the conditions at that very moment in time.  This will become clearer as you practice each movement.
Overhead Cast
This cast is used today with two hand rods from boats as well as shore.  Both fresh and salt water situations are possible.  With the available back casting room the overhead cast is a powerful tool to be used.  Start the cast with a vertical high lift and an upward plane of the rod tip for the back cast.  A shorter stroke on that lift will help get the back cast loop to be a bit tighter.  The bottom hand is the engine and moves forward as the top hand directs the path.  Waiting for the line to unfurled behind is called pause.  When the tension of the line is causing the rod to bend the forward stroke with both top and bottom will move forward together.  This is where you can experiment with the differences in movement and power application between top and bottom.  Try making the forward stroke with all top hand.  Then 50/50.  Then all bottom hand pull to the hip.  Look at the line shape and you will understand the difference.  Forced turnover is the action taken where the top hand pushes to a hard stop. Moving both hands forward together as we allow that forward movement of both hands to cease and finishing the cast with bottom hand pull to the bottom hand hip is pulling the rod straight.  The finish of the overhead cast is the basis for the finish of all two hand casts.  Your ability to choose the style of finish is one of the most important aspects in two hand casting.  The shape of the forward loop is determined entirely by your chosen tip path style. 
Roll Cast
This cast can be used to help bring weighted flies and lines to the surface so a cast can then be performed.  It can also be a practice tool to learn how to make nice high, flip the tip, stop or bottom hand pull.  The cast is performed slowly with the rod moving at an angle from our body to the 1 o'clock position where the D loop will form.  The path of the draw back will determine the path of the forward stroke.  We must always follow the 180 degree rule as it creates the least coefficient of drag.  We then make a smooth forward stroke with both top and bottom hands moving together with a transition and flipping of the rod tip as late in the stroke as possible or movement together to a point where the upper elbow is bent to 90 degrees and the bottom hand pull is to the opposite hip. 
Switch Cast
An air borne anchor cast that has no change of direction.  This is a great cast to hone the lift, sweep, D or V loop, round up to key position and forward stroke.  In essence the cast has all the same elements as what will be required to finish every other two hand cast.  Get into a slow rhythm and feel the power on and power off through the grip.  Place your anchor exactly in the same place every time.
Single Spey
The Single Spey, in my opinion, is the first cast of choice.  It is the quickest cast to get a fly from when it was fishing to when it will fish again.  This airborne anchor cast is used with an up river wind with the forward stroke always on the up river side of the caster.  We face our target and twist at the hips and ankles to face the dangle. we make our lift, I like a small crescent  and move directly into a low and upward moving sweep with both body and arms.  At the top of that peak the body is now facing the target and the transition to the round up to key position and forward stroke will be made.  This cast is beautiful, efficient and fast.  
Double Spey
This cast is used with a down river wind.  D in Double is for Down River Wind and Down river anchor.  It is a great cast for sink tips and weighted flies.  It is a water borne anchor cast.  We start on the dangle and make a sweeping move with the rod tip to the opposite side of our body.  Power on to power off making the leader knot at the tip of our line fall a rod length away and in the wake of our position.  The sweep then moves in a flat line so that as the rod moves to the formation of the D loop the knot will spin and start to move back with the round up.  Getting the fly to also start to pull and turn will indicate that you have made the correct placement of the anchor.  Too far down river and the line will cause a poor cast.  Too far up river and you are in for a trip to the hospital.  The round up to key position and forward stroke can now be made.  
Snake Roll
The Snake Roll was created by Simon Gawesworth when he was a young man.  It was used then as a re positioning tool to make the next cast while practicing in water that had little movement.  The Snake Roll is a great substitute for the Double Spey.   It is a cast that works best with a down stream wind made from the down stream side of the caster.  The cast starts with a lift that will start slowly and increase in tempo.  Think of drawing of a lower case letter 'e' when made on the casters right side from river right.  The rotation of the rod tip is driven by the bottom hand and directed by the up hand.  A key factor is to watch for the finish of the 'e' and exactly when the knot hits the water.  This is a splash and go cast where the line is completely off the water and when the knot touches down to the casters side it is time to make the forward stroke.   The timing and relation to power increasing is very important.  Seeing the line and directing the line to be where we want is critical.   Finish this cast with your chosen stop.
Snap 'T' & 'C'
Both these casts are similar in the nature of their performance.  They are both used for up stream wind.  They are both water borne anchor casts that have a starting move to position the fly as the anchor.  I use the Circle when casting heavy sinking flies and the Snap with floating line.  Both start on the dangle.  I use the 'T' when I can be fast and the 'C' with weighted flies and tips.  The Snap T starts on the dangle where a forward diagonal lift is made to a downward snap that positions the rod tip toward the river bank below the caster.  The result will be that the line and fly will move to the up river side of our position.  Now a low sweep is made all the way until our body is facing the target and our arms are rounding up to the key position and making constant tension through the forward stroke.
The 'Circle' Cast starts with an elliptical and diagonal move of the rod tip that sets the anchor above the caster just like in the Snap T.  The rest of the cast is exactly the same.  In both these casts the movements are done deliberately.  Don't let the word Snap cause you to think fast.
Perry Poke
This is a great cast that is used to position an anchor.  It can be used when we mess up a cast or as a cast by itself.  It is well known in the Skagit world and will pull sunk flies and tips out of the water very well.  It is a cast that is used for both up and down stream wind.  The two casts are performed differently but the full line placement in the water prior to D Loop formation is the constant.  As a water borne anchor we are throwing the line down completely in front and to the stroke side of our position.  We then simply circle up to a high key position and fire the forward stroke.

Two Hand Lesson Plan Beginner Level 2 Hours

  1. Give a clear and concise history of two hand casting.  Explain about different lines and the wide scope of uses of two hand casting.
  2. Tell my story quickly
  3. Ask each student to tell me why they are interested in two hand casting and what their goal will be.
  4. While showing the proper way to tape ferules talk about the grip.
  5.  Demonstrate overhead casting, have student overhead cast
  6. Switch Cast
  7. Double Spey
  8. Circle Cast 

Conclude session with a practice regiment according to the progress that was made during the lesson

Two Hand Lesson Plan Half Day 
1.  Tape and clean lines together and talk about each casters goals
2.  Overhead cast and explain how to make a straight tip path and how the forward stroke relates to the cast.
3.  Quickly go over wind direction and anchor placement required
4.  Switch Cast
5.  Double Spey
6.  Circle and Snap T and why
7.  Single Spey
8.  Have a clear and concise discussion about different lines and why they are used.
9.  Offer a practice plan that will cover the class

Two Hand Lesson Plan Full Day With Lunch

1.  Give a clear and concise history of two hand casting.  Explain about different lines and the wide scope of uses of two hand casting.
2.  Tell my story quickly
3.  Ask each student to tell me why they are interested in two hand casting and what their goal will be.
4.  While showing the proper way to tape feruels talk about the grip.
5.  Demonstrate overhead casting, have student overhead cast
6.  Switch Cast
7.  Double Spey
8.  Circle Cast

1.  Circle and Snap T and why
2.  Single Spey
3.  Have a clear and concise discussion about different lines and why they are used.
4.  Offer a practice plan that will cover the class
5.  Work one on one with each student for the last two hours.   Have each person show what they learned to assure they understand what was taught during the day.

Offer my help any time......

Please note that there is a far greater amount of learning to this game than in this short posting.  I am available for private and group lessons as well as clinics and meeting demonstrations.  If you want to talk, please call me at 603-501-9511.  I can help with rod and line choices as well as helping with your casting.

All the very best,