The world championship of Spey casting has just wrapped up in California, and the numbers are staggering. Winning casts of 190 feet and four cast totals of over 700 were executed by competitors attending from across the world.
Wikipedia cites: "Spey casting originated in the heart of Scotland in the mid-1800s. The name comes from the River Spey in Scotland, which is where the cast originated, presumably at Gordon Castle Estate and Wester Elchies beat. Therefore, 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. These rods were made of greenheart, a heavy wood imported from British Guyana. Today, rods are only 12 to 15 feet in length, and can toss a line up to 80 feet."
After the results of last weeks Spey-O-Rama competition, however, it looks like the Wikipedia entry will need some updating. The Golden Gate Angling and Casting club reported that competition Runner-Up Gerard Downey of Ireland delivered the competition's longest cast of 190 feet, with Oregon's Travis Johnson winning the overall men's title with a four-cast total of 711 feet. Whitney Gould won her fourth Spey-O-Rama women's title with style, setting all-time Spey-O-Rama records for long cast (150 feet) and four-cast total (559 feet). BC's Kara Knight was runner up for the third consecutive year.
Spey casting with two-handed rods has come into it's own in the US in the last ten years, with anglers now realizing the superior reach and drift control that Spey rods provide for fishing in large rivers for powerful species like Salmon and Steelhead. The Atlantic salmon that the rods were developed for require similar tactics and flies, though Pacific species generally require larger and heavier patterns than their cousins on the other side of the pond.
An additional advantage that Spey casting provides is a reduction in fatigue compared to what is experienced by anglers casting heavier line weight rods over the many hours that are generally required in covering Steelhead water. Unlike much of trout fishing where the quarry is approached by sight fishing and direct presentations, Steelhead angling requires probing large amounts of likely looking real estate, typically with a swinging downstream cast that is "mended" to allow the line and fly to snake though the target water without any tension that would appear unnatural to the fish.
Other species of fish and types of water can be addressed more effectively with a Spey rod as well. Saltwater surf fishermen are now picking up on the advantages of the gear, throwing casts with heavy flies at distances and over waves that were serious obstacles in the past. I once spent a winter in Costa Rica chasing Roosterfish in the surf with a single-handed 8-weight, and many times could see fish smashing Sardinas on the surface just outside the first break. Most of the time, the waves were running almost exactly nine feet as well, so I would wade out chest deep to try and pitch a large stainless steel Clouser pattern or popper over the top of the waves. This strategy typically got me a faceful of salty comeuppance, if not knocking me off my feet altogether. What I wouldn't have given for a 13-foot two handed ten-weight rod that trip -- in the end, the only Roosters I hooked that winter were in more calm inlets where the beasts shredded my rigs in the coral and rocks.
Most better rod manufacturers in this country are now offering Spey and other two-handed models such as "Switch" rods, slightly shorter with a grip configuration that allows for either single or double handed handling.
Spey casting is here to stay, and for anglers living in parts of the country where distance and power are called for, these rods provide the solution that they have all been searching for.