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Selecting Spey Lines

Selecting Spey Lines
by Dr. Terrence Tatarchuk

Selecting Spey Fishing Fly Lines

Lines are classified by head (belly) length:  Skagit, short belly, mid length, and long belly.  Each of these has there own positive and negative factors.  Most of them come with interchangeable tips to allow fishing at various depths.

  • The Skagit, as associated with Ed Ward and other Pacific Northwest anglers, allows the fly fisher to lift and cast a heavy sink tip and a weighted fly with ease.  The Skagit casts are delayed anchor casts with a slower rhythm.  This gives the beginner a little longer to think about what is going on in the cast.  Because of the shorter head on the Skagit line, the caster needs the least amount of back cast room.  That is a smaller D-loop to load the rod for the cast.  The drawback of the Skagit line is the short head and the need to strip in a lot of running line between casts.  The second drawback often seen by the real hard-core Michigan steelheader is the amount of guide icing that will be developed due to stripping in all that wet running line for each cast.  The Skagit line needs to be individually tailored to each rod both by line weight and length.
  • The short belly line, such as the Rio Windcutter or the Scientific Anglers (SA) short belly, has head lengths about 45 to 67 feet.  They both come with interchangeable tips and the running line is built into the line.  These lines allow the beginning angler to feel the load on the rod without having to manage a lot of line in the air or have a large D-loop.  These lines will pick up a heavy sink tip and cast a floating tip as well.  Like the Skagit, they will have to be stripped in between each cast.  The 45 to 67 foot head will cover most of the water the beginning spey caster will want to fish.  The drawback will be in the mending ability of the shorter head.  These are the best lines for the beginning caster.
  • The mid belly lines are the Midspey by Rio and the Classic Spey (previously the Mid-Spey) by Scientific Anglers.  These lines have a belly length of 59 to 69 feet.   This length allows the angler to mend much easier than with the shorter lines and he or she does not have to strip in as much line as the previously mentioned lines. The fly control and presentation are more precise. These are good lines for the lighter and shorter rods. These lighter and shorter rods may have trouble handling a line belly longer than 70 feet.  Like all mid-sized things, they are a compromise.  They do not pick up a heavy sink tip like the short belly or Skagits, and they don't mend like the long bellies.   This class of line is often recommended for the caster who has the basics down and wants to start reaching out and touching some fish way out there.
  • The long belly lines are the Rio Grand Spey and the Scientfic Anglers XLT.  Both of these lines have head lengths of 80 to 100 feet.   They allow the caster to make a long cast and a very large mend.  Imagine a mend of over 60 feet with your single-hander.   As of this writing (2007), neither of these lines have interchangeable tips.  Since both are floaters, the technique used will be mostly with subsurface or floating flies. I find that there is an exceptional amount of gratification in taking a steelhead on the surface.  As mentioned earlier, these lines have the best line control and therefore best fly control.  However, because of their long head, the D-loop will be bigger and a higher skill level will be required to control that much line.  Here in the frozen Midwest, the ice buildup on the guides can be markedly reduced by using the long belly lines and leaving some of the belly inside the guides while bringing the fat part to the reel.  Using this technique and not stripping really prolongs your fishing time before you need to march to shore and break the ice off your guides.  Presently, if you want to fish deep with a long belly, you need to use the 10 or 15 foot sinking leaders by Scientific Anglers, 7 or 12 foot sinking leaders by Rio, or the 15 foot tips by Rio or SA.  To really take advantage of these lines in the winter, you may have to cut up a new line (ouch) and make it into an interchangeable tip line.  These lines are usually recommended for the more experienced caster.