Trout Spey Defined

Trout Spey Defined

Matt Klara | Sunday, 29 July 2018

Warning – This is an opinion piece based merely on my own thoughts and experience on the water.

Trout Spey has become one of the quickest growing genres/topics in freshwater fly fishing in the past couple of years. The growth can be attributed in part to a large marketing push by industry representatives, but also to a genuine interest by long-time trout anglers to find new approaches and methods to fish water that they know and love as a way to not only catch fish, but also keep their sport fresh and fun.

But what is Trout Spey, really? The industry, I.E. rod and line manufacturers, has essentially defined it as the pursuit of trout with a swung fly using light, 2-handed rods in the two through 4wt range. Essentially a scaled down version of traditional Atlantic salmon and steelhead angling methods. The rods and lines are new and fun and definitely add something to the pursuit of trout by diversifying our approach. The definition serves a clear purpose, defining a specific subset or niche of gear and angling tactics, and makes talking about it a bit easier.

But I disagree with the definition.

To me, the industry’s definition of Trout Spey is far too narrow to truly capture the essence of Spey casting and fishing for trout.  I don’t want to offend anyone here, so please take this all with a grain of salt, but here is what I think Trout Spey is.

In short, Trout Spey is fishing for trout using presentations that incorporate the principles of Spey casting, exclusive of the type and size of gear, the fly, or the presentation being used.

Trout are far to diverse a quarry to define it in any other way, in my opinion.  Ignoring the anadromous life histories completely, trout grow to such a variety of sizes, and still inhabit a more diverse variety of habitats than nearly any other type of fish.  They live in moving water and still water, and in many instances move between the two.  In moving water, they inhabit large rivers and tiny creeks of all varieties of gradient, and surrounded by all varieties of (fly-snagging) vegetation.  In still water, they range from massive lakes with surface areas and depths that defy imagination, to tiny beaver ponds and spring fed puddles that can be circumnavigated on foot in mere minutes.

Spey is also not a way of fishing as much as it is a way of casting.  Even though Spey casting originated with and has become synonymous with presenting the swung fly with two-handed rods, Spey casting principles are applicable well outside of that presentation method.  We angle for trout with single handed and two-handed rods of widely varying lengths and weights. We use dry flies, wets, nymphs, and streamers depending on what the trout are feeding on.  We present those flies with active retrieves, passive dead drifts, and current driven swings.  Sometimes we even attach a bobber to the leader.  In every environment where trout swim, and for every type of presentation of every category of fly, Spey casting is applicable in some way.  Trout Spey is as broad and diverse a genre as trout fishing itself!

And, to fully appreciate the applicability and value of Trout Spey - I define value as improving not only our ability to catch fish but most importantly to have fun on the water – I think that anglers need only to open their minds a bit wider, learn a few Spey casting techniques, and start hacking away with them the next time out on the water.

Before I give you some of my favorite examples of Trout Spey, take a second to contemplate how Spey casting might apply to your normal everyday trout fishing.  And by Spey casting, I mean dynamic, water borne anchor casts that allow for easy changes of direction from 1 to 180 degrees. Maybe Trout Spey is something you need in your life?

Did you think of a few?

I sure did.  I’ll add a couple of my own favorite examples to the postscript for you to read, and go ahead and sign off for now.

Take Care and Fish On,


1)      Small stream in the Rockies.  Maybe 20 feet wide.  Willows everywhere. Upstream dry fly along the brushy cut banks. 7’10” fiberglass rod. No backcast room for a standard pickup. Slide the fly out from the bank and redirect it back up and across using a Perry Poke.

2)      Giant river in Argentina. 12,000 cfs.  Lake running browns are on the move in hunt of native baitfish.  Not a lot of fish around, but they can run from 4 pounds on up to 18 pounds!  Big winds, long casts, and covering water is the game.  Down and across swing works fine, but you’ll need a 13’ 7wt or 14’ 8wt to get the job done.

3)       Alpine lake. Fish are cruising a dropoff 50 or 60 feet from shore.  A scree field rises from the water’s edge up at a steep angle, killing any chance at a proper back cast.  You are shore bound as you left the waders at home to save weight.  10ft 5wt single hand rod and standard floating or sinking lake lines.  A switch cast/dynamic roll or single Spey cast is the answer and you can fan out casts that reach over the edge.  Launch the woolly bugger.

4)       Nymphing your favorite glide with indicator and a couple of weighted bugs – one of which is a soft hackle.  Up and across presentation, mend, dead drift, and to be thorough you swing it out at the end of the drift.  Rather than make multiple false casts to change direction from downstream to up and across (risking the dreaded tangle of a nymphing rig), make a simple Double Spey or Snake Roll to change the direction and get back in the game with 1 move.