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Jay Niederstadt's Spey Techniques
Spey rods, lines, and techniques have come a long way in the last several years. My standard spey rod set-up is a 7 weight rod, either 12’6” or 13 foot, and a large arbor reel loaded with either a Skagit-style line or a shooting head. For those of you unfamiliar with spey equipment, these rods feel light in the hand and are on the short side as far as double-handed rods go. The lines also have a much shorter head than they used to. We used to call a line with a 55 foot head short. The Skagit-style lines that are available now are around 27 foot long. This alone makes learning to spey cast much easier. However, all that pretty casting doesn’t mean much if there isn’t a fish at the end of the line once in a while. To get the flies down, I use a 6 to 12 foot piece of T-14 sinking line. This is another huge improvement in equipment in recent years. These sink tips cast much easier and sink much quicker than the 15 to 24 foot long sink tips that we used to use. Another benefit to these spey rods is that they overhead-cast shooting heads exceptionally well. For all you folks who like to streamer fish for trout, you would feel right at home with this. The technique is very similar, minus the sore shoulder at the end of the day.
Fly junkies can have a ball with the patterns that can be used with two-handed rods. The gamut runs from classic wet flies tied on size 12 hooks to huge leeches that stretch past 6 inches long. I can tell you that those little classic wet flies are sure cute but they stay in my fly box about 80% of the time. I like to swing patterns that will pull steelhead and salmon a considerable distance. With large flies it is not uncommon for a fish to move 20 feet to strike. This alone enables me to fish so much water that many other techniques don’t work in. Log jambs, boulders, slots, pockets, shallow flats, and deep runs are all fair game. The other key ingredient here is being able to cover a lot of water in a day. Stay on the move; swim the fly through any type of water that may hold a fish. This approach to covering water is more similar to fishing for trout with attractor patterns than it is fishing for steelhead and salmon with nymph rigs. Open your ideas of how these fish act and respond to flies. They will chase them much in the same manner as a trout will if given the chance.
The fringe season bonus: I love the beginning of fall. Chrome, bright kings filter in to the rivers in August and by early September they have accumulated into solid numbers and are showing up more by the day. These early fish are incredibly fun to pursue with huge leeches and bait fish patterns. This time of year the water is typically very clear and we get to watch almost all of the strikes. There’s nothing like watching a big chrome torpedo chase and eat your fly. The other bonus season is late fall into early winter. Usually around the third week of November the water temperature drops, the salmon have quit laying eggs, and the steelhead move out of the main current seams and slide into the deep slow pools. When the fish leave the seams, the people leave the river. This is the way steelheading should be-- fish in the river and few people chasing them. Deep slow pools fish well with large flies using a down-and-across swing. When the water temperatures have cooled, often a large offering is just the thing to get a steelhead to move and strike.
So these rods can cast large flies, mend lines and fight fish with ease. With a little time on the water and a few casting tips you can fish these rigs with amazingly little energy. You can also cast them a mile. However the best piece of advice that I can give people is to fish the water close to you first. Just because we can cast to reach the other side of the river doesn’t mean that the fish are there.
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