I got 'Speyed' at Leland Ranch
Wine Country fishing
Within the esoteric arena of fly-fishing there is an even more esoteric fringe group of anglers known as "Spey fishers"
Before I describe my Spey initiation recently at Leland Fly Fishing Ranch, I want to give you a brief history of the sport.
The Spey is a river in northeast Scotland, and like many of Scotland's Rivers it is home to a healthy run of Atlantic salmon, some that run in excess of 50 pounds. As far back as Scots fished with rods, lines and feathers (instead of their hands, clubs, and spears), they had a challenge getting their feathered hooks far enough out into the river to attract a fish. Good fly casters caught salmon, the rest ate haggis.
Scots are credited with discovering and perfecting what we call Spey casting today. It is a technique in which no back casting is necessary.
It was developed because most of the best fishing spots on the Spey were owned by English lords who punished poachers by hanging them. The Scots who wanted to fish the Spey had to sneak in through heavily forested lands where the trees ran right down to the water's edge. This meant no room to back cast without snagging a pine branch. They probably whittled their first fly fishing rods down from those tall cabers. They ranged from 14 to 20 feet long and weighed several stone.
They'd drag their long rods through the woods, making sure the Lord's wardens didn't see them. But casting was a very frustrating experience because of the trees. So they would also bring several flasks of single malt whisky to ease their frustration.
In they year 1412, plus or minus a century or two, in the middle of a long and frustrating day, the great-great grandfather of Scotty MacSpeyfisher of Glen Spey, who had polished off several flasks of his family's best product, was waving his rod in anger when he discovered that certain oval motions of his rod tip propelled his fly line way out into the stream where the salmon swam.
He hooked and landed a big one, stuck it under his kilt, and walked home, after which he tried to explain his new fly casting success to several of his fishing pals.
While skeptical of his story, they all agreed to meet on the Spey at the edge of the woods the next day (fortified with plenty of Glen Spey) and attempt to repeat MacSpeyfisher's feat.
And this they, their children, and their children's children did for the next several centuries until finally one of the clan figured it out. Over the years the Scots and others have perfected the MacSpeyfisher (shortened to Spey) technique and it found its way across the Atlantic, past the frozen tundra of Canada and down into the Pacific Northwest, where it has become a most popular way to fish for salmon, steelhead and even large trout on rivers in Washington, Oregon and California.
Fishing guide and instructor Bill Lowe teaches the Spey casting technique as part of the faculty at Sonoma Valley's Leland Fly Fishing Ranch, and last Sunday he attempted to impart the basics of that technique to me and a half dozen other guys. Bill's a good instructor, and before long, most of us could hit water with our fly line.
The rods are long (13 to 14 feet) and you need both hands. The idea is to use one hand as a fulcrum and then you load the rod with a oval sweep, part of your line forming a D-shaped loop behind your rod with the rest of the line in the water in front of you, and then you use a catapult motion that launches the line and fly off the water in front of you out into the middle of the lake or river.
Of course, there are other factors, like the weight and length of the rod, the weight and style of line (Skagit or Scandi), the size of the fly, the direction of the wind, the flow of the water, the intelligence of the angler, the angler's ability to remember and follow instruction, the depth of his patience, and how many flasks of Glen Spey he packed in his fishing vest.
Bill's demonstration casts were beautiful, effortless and long. He made it look so easy. The rest of us looked like we were swatting hornets. But every so often one of us would get it right, and "whoosh!" – the line and fly flew smoothly and directly toward the middle of the pond.
"How did I do that?" I asked myself, reaching for my flask of Glen Spey. Given time, practice and enough Glen Spey, I think I could actually catch fish using what Bill Lowe taught me.
If you are going to be fishing big rivers for big salmon or steelhead, a Spey casting lesson or two from Bill is a great idea. You can contact him directly at www.billloweflyguide.com. Or better yet, call Rachel Andros at Leland Fly Fishing Ranch in Sonoma 939-6913. Spey and other fly-fishing classes are offered at Leland. Check out the schedule at flyfishingoutfitters.com.