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Spey Fishing on Canada’s Left Bank

Still on Atlantic Standard Time and beyond eager to get my fly in the water, I awoke before my alarm on the first morning at Frontier. Curled up and cozy under the thick fleece sheets, I contemplated what the day may hold. I made a coffee and peeked outside from my private cabin. Everything was quiet and still but in the distance you could hear the Bulkey River. The air was crisp, cool and alive with promise.
I was told we would be fishing one of the Skeena River tributaries on our first day. The scenery en route was magnificent at daybreak but even more so once we took off by speed boat. A panoramic view of snow cap mountains was the breathtaking backdrop for our morning.
We were spey casting on this trip and I was really looking forward to honing my skills, as I had only just started practicing with a double handed rod this year, at home, in Nova Scotia. I was honest with my guide, when I shared that I found it most challenging to determine what spey cast to use when and why. I also found much of the terminology or ‘spey-speak’ foreign. For instance, words like ‘sweep’, ‘white mouse’ and ‘cack-hand’ meant nothing to me early on. Luckily, I have had experienced angling friends, casting instructors and guides to rely upon for advice and instruction on this journey. It’s a whole new world with endless amounts of information to absorb but there was no better time or place to put it all into practice, than on the river, fishing over BC Steelhead.
I started fishing on my first day from a River Right position. I was on the right side of the gin clear river while looking downstream. Simply put, River Right means the river is flowing from left to ‘right’. As a right handed caster, the Double Spey is a primary go to and what I am currently the most comfortable with. I started my first day fishing in BC with this cast.
A Double Spey is referred to as a two directional cast where you anchor your fly on your downstream side. While performing the cast from River Right, you throw your delivery cast from your right shoulder or strong shoulder; as opposed to casting off your left shoulder or ‘cack-handed’. The Double Spey is a safe cast when you encounter a downstream wind and it can also be done at a slower pace. This slower pace makes it an ideal casting technique for sink tips. This proved to be useful in BC where we were using heavy skagit tips.
While practicing my Double Spey that day, I focused a lot on my timing, anchor placement and the sweep. When it started to really come together for me I could see, hear and feel it. The most successfully executed casts were the ones where I put into practice these key pieces of advice:
  1. Slow it down: Don’t rush through your cast. Be mindful as your practice the lift, set, sweep and forward stroke. Most mistakes can be rectified by pausing, taking a breath and slowing your movements down.
  2. Start short: Be patient as you practice your technique and use a shortened line. It’s easier and safer. Once you master the mechanics of your spey casting you will lengthen your line and start gaining distance.
  3. Find memorable analogies: The best casting instructors share a variety of effective analogies. My favourites, that you can readily find online, are ‘the telephone’ and ‘baseball’ for your forward stroke; and the ‘airplane’ or ‘climbing the hill’ for the sweep,
  4. Talk to yourself: It might sound silly but talk to your rod. Tell it what to do and teach it. Develop that muscle memory and be intentional with your movements. Tell your hands exactly what to do and make them listen.
  5. Watch and Listen: Look at your rod tip as it moves and look at your hands. Listen to the sound that your line is making in the water. As you sweep, you should see the “white mouse”, or that splash of white water created by moving your anchor to the set position. When you commence your forward stroke, if you hear a whoosh or a sharp crack, this can indicate you are blowing your anchor.

Learning to spey cast and familiarizing yourself with the jargon and the mechanics can be daunting but getting out onto the water and putting what you learn into practice, is where the magic happens. You will gain confidence quickly and you will have success. As I have learned firsthand, there is absolutely no substitute for time banked.

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