Spey and Switch Rod Casting Primer – Getting Started

When you first start to get ready to start spey casting you need to have some “Practice Casts” at your disposal. These are straight line casts.

To get you prepared  I’m putting together a series of articles to create a “Spey and Switch Rod Casting Primer”. The Primer will cover the basic principals of spey casting and the execution of practice casts like the;

  • “Roll Cast” and the
  • “Switch Cast”.

It will also cover the basic spey casts like the;

  • “Single Spey”
  • “Double Spey”
  • “Perry Poke”
  • “Snap T”.
  • “Snake Roll”
  • “Circle Cast”

I’ll publish this primer on the Fly Fishing Traditions Blog as well as eventually on the Fly Fishing Traditions website.

This Part I will cover the Basics to get started with spey casting.

Starting Off

When you arrive at the river to practice there are some things you should do to prepare for your day.

  • It’s a good idea to tape the joints of your switch or spey rod with electrical tape. Spey casting creates a lot of torque and twisting and if section of the rod comes almost undone it can break your rod.Set your rod section moderately tight and then tape them.
  • You can use the same tape about 8 or 10 times. Simply unwrap from one piece and re-wrap in on the other until the next time you use it.
  • Most of you fly fishers out there already know that hen threading your fly line through the guides, thread the end of the fly line or the fly line doubled up on itself instead of threading the leader. It’s a lot easier than threading your tippet through the guides.
  • When rigged up and walking through brush and weeds wrap the line a few times around the rod, face the rod behind you and walk through instead of having the rod facing forward. The rod will follow your path through.
  • Remember for safety always wear a hat and glasses. Protect your head and your eyes.

Fundamentals – The Grip

Find the balance point of your rod with your top hand. Where the rod balances level is the approximate location of your top hand. Find the balance point and close your hand on the rod. This will be your top hand position. Grab the bottom of the rod with your other hand.

  • The grip is important for casting efficiency and for comfort.
  • Hold the rod loosely, not tightly.
  • The top hand is your fulcrum point which makes the spey rod an effective lever.
  • You can adjust the balance point by adding weight to your reel or using a larger or smaller one.

Fundamentals – The Stance

  • Stand comfortably and safely in an athletic posture
  • You want a stance that will help your cast.
  • Think about casting as an athletic endeavor, like throwing a baseball, football or hitting a golf shot, there is balance and shift of balance.
  • Casting is another athletic movement where you move from your ankles and your hips and lean into the forward cast.
  • You want a stance that will allow body rotation and changing of weight and balance.
  • For a right hand cast you want an open stance with the left foot forward. This will allow you to rotate through your hips to set up your backcast and the rotate forward for the delivery cast.
  • An open stance allows you to lean into your cast.
  • If you want to try standing with your right foot forward and your right hand high on the rod and your left hand low, you will find that the stance will block your ability to rotate and set up your back cast properly.
  • If you were to cast from the back side, with you left hand high on the rod, and your right hand low, you would open up your stance with your right foot forward. The total opposite.

Basic Principles of Spey Casting

There are three basic principles that apply to all of the spey casts that you will employ. These first two principals are “Set Up” principals

The “D Loop”
The first principal, which is a “Set Up” principal and probably the most important principal, is the loading of the rod. The “D Loop”. This is the curve behind the rod. This is the weight that loads the rod and makes the rod cast easily. The bigger the “D Loop” the more the rod loads and the easier the cast will go out.

“Line Stick”
The second principal, which is also a “Set Up” principal is equally important,. It is called “Line Stick”. “Line Stick” refers to the amount of line that is lying on the water as you start the forward cast. This is the critical point, the line is like tacky glue, the more line that is in contact with the water at the start of the cast, the more energy is lost when trying to rip the line off the surface film. If you have too much “Line Stick” your cast sort of dies and fails.

A good spey cast will have a little line on the water, just the tip of the fly line, with a small amount of “Line Stick” on the water. When you start your forward cast, it will come cleanly out of the water with little problem.

“180 Degree Principal”
The third principal the “180 Degree Principal” which makes a spey cast fire to your target properly. This principal is very simple, the forward cast is opposite of the back cast.

When you pick a target on the opposite bank for your forward cast, your back cast must be set up 180 degrees behind you, or opposite of the target.

To visualize this effect, string up the top section of your rod with yarn and pull back on it like a bow and arrow. When you let go, the yarn flies straight forward, 180 degrees, from the starting point, or opposite of the starting point.

To make your cast fire properly to your target you must get this right. Practice makes perfect.

Putting These Basic Principles to Use on the Water

The first principal we identified is the “D Loop”, which is the action that loads the rod for the forward cast.

Putting the “D Loop” to Use

  • The smaller the “D Loop” the less the rod will flex against it and the more you’ll have to “whack it” or “muscle it”.
  • If you have more room you want to set up or “throw” a bigger “D Loop”. This will give you more weight of line on the water to load the rod. This will load the rod more naturally, cleanly, efficiently and allow you to launch a forward cast with much less energy
  • The “D Loop” is controlled by the amount of energy that you use to throw the cast behind you.
  • A good analogy from Simon Gawesworth is throwing a Frisbee. If you were going to throw a Frisbee a short distance behind you, say 5 feet, you would use a short soft floater for your throw. If you use a short soft throw back with your rod setting up a “D Loop” you will have a small “D Loop”.
  • If you were going to throw the Frisbee 20 feet behind you, you would use more of an effort to get it there. You must use more energy throwing your line behind you to form a larger “D Loop”
  • The slower you come back to form a “D Loop” the smaller the “D Loop”.
  • The faster you come back, the larger the “D Loop” will be. You need extra speed to create a larger more efficient “D Loop”.
  • Ideally you would like a larger, more efficient “D Loop” but sometimes you are restricted on your back cast by tree, bushes or other obstacles. This is where you want to make a small “D Loop” Use a slower motion to set it up, a small toss backwards.

Practice both types of “D Loops”. Practice casting making small and large “D Loops”. You’ll need this in your bag of tricks when you are out on the stream.

Putting the Principal of “Line Stick” to Use
The second principal, “Line Stick”, “Grip” or the “Anchor Point” all refer to amount of fly line on the water prior to starting your forward cast, after you have formed your “D Loop”

Ideally you want to strive for minimal line stick. Let’s talk about why.

  • A bad combination is a small “D Loop” and a lot of line stick. When you start your forward stroke you have to rip all the line “Sticking” on the water to make the forward cast.
  • Half the energy of the cast is used just to rip the line off the water.
  • The ideal cast is to form a large “D Loop” and only have the leader and maybe your nail knot in contact with the water.
  • Strive for “Minimal Line Stick” – This generates the most power with minimal effort.

Putting the “180 Degree” Principal to Use
The third principal, the 180 Degree Principal, is the most difficult. Spey casting is about changing direction, then casting up and down the river. You need to add “Rotation” to your casting stroke.

  • The 180 degree Principal is accomplished with “Body Rotation”.
  • Most spey casts are started with the line below you and roughly parallel to the bank and you want to recast across the river or stream on a roughly perpendicular line.
  • You cannot load the rod properly with an upstream “D Loop” when you are targeting across stream. This cast will fail. You have violated the 180 degree principal.
  • When establishing the position of the “D Loop” you must rotate your hips and bring the “D Loop to the position “180 Degrees” or “Opposite” of your target.
  • When practicing turn your head and see where your anchor point is set. Work on getting it “Opposite or “180 degrees” from your target.


When casting, and especially when practicing, remember these three principles, which are the basis of all spey casting.

(1) Form your “D Loop” correctly.

(2) Strive for minimal “Line Stick”

(3) Remember the “180 Degree Principal” and rotate your hips and body to set your “D Loop “Opposite” or “180 Degrees” from your target.