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Try a New Way: Trout Spey

By Dr. Peter Brookes

Photos by Dr. Peter Brookes

I admit that I was fed up seeing videos of people making thundering, yet elegant, two-handed Spey casts with long fly rods across big rivers to chrome-colored salmon and steelhead moving up to their spawning grounds.

I wanted to do that.

Now, I realize that we don’t have any salmon and steelhead runs in Virginia, but there is a form of Spey fishing (a fly fishing style originally from Europe) that uses rods and lines downsized to target trout—which we do have in abundance in the Commonwealth.

In fact, DWR reports that: Virginia contains over 3,500 miles of trout streams, in addition to numerous ponds, small lakes and reservoirs. The total includes over 2,900 miles of wild trout streams and about 600 miles of water inhabited with stocked trout.

Indeed, some of Virginia’s larger trout waterways—those which are 30-plus feet or more across at a minimum—would be perfect for two-handed trout Spey outfits—aka “micro-Spey” to some.

Determined to get into the trout Spey game, I looked up a guide in Waynesboro who is a Spey fly fishing pro, chasing trout in Virginia and steelhead elsewhere with a two-handed rod whenever he can.

Conveniently, his fly shop is just a few blocks from the South River, which holds a good number of wild, holdover, and stocked brown and rainbow trout.

Indeed, caddis were hatching on the river the Sunday morning we met up and the rainbows were putting on quite a show, hitting those emerging bugs with abandon.

After wandering up in a spacious parking lot along the South River—which, by the way, is an awesome urban fishery—the guide talked to me a little about the gear, including the 11-foot, 4-weight spey rod, fly line, and flies we’d be using that day.

At 11 feet long, the two-handed, 4-weight rod is essentially equivalent to a 6-weight to 7-weight single-handed fly rod, which is perfect for the South River, where you could hook up with a big, 20-plus-inch brown trout.

Since we intended to swing heavier streamers down and across the current, he’d rigged up a skagit (pronounced “ska-jit”) head on the end of the running fly line. For lighter flies, like wet flies, a scandi (said: “skan-dee”) head would be a better choice.

Moving down the river’s bank and into the shallows, he demonstrated the basic casts, including the single Spey, the snap-T, and the double Spey casts. While overly simplistic, Spey casts are essentially fancy fly rod roll casts. By the way, they can be adapted for use with single-handed fly rods, too. That said, mastering these Spey casts will take a little practice. With that in mind, I was able to execute reasonably effective casts after a few minutes of instruction—which means that if I can do it, anyone can do it!

Unfortunately, that morning while we were hoping for a grab from a hungry fish, putting the casting and fly presentation all together, the trout were understandably more interested in the hatching caddis than my artificial streamer!

Oh well.

Nevertheless, Spey casting has some unique advantages, such as not needing room to make a back cast or to make repeated false casts to get the fly to a distant target. One well-executed trout Spey cast can easily launch a fly 40 to 50 feet—or more if needed.  As such, you can cover a lot of water with these longer, two-handed casts and their subsequent swings through the current, potentially putting your fly in front of the noses of a lot of trout that may be spread out across the river.

Of course, a trout Spey set-up isn’t limited to just trout; it can be used to target any species you might chase with a streamer or a wet fly, including a Virginia favorite: smallmouth bass. You can also run several flies on one rig as well, increasing your chances of a hook-up with fussy fish.

The guide said that besides the South River, he thinks that the Jackson (tailwater and Hidden Valley), Bullpasture, Cowpasture, and Roanoke Rivers are good bets for targeting trout with a Spey rod.

While I do love ocean-run salmon and and Great Lake-run steelhead fishing—which I’ve done with single-handed fly rods—I’m no longer jealous knowing I can fish for trout and other fish right here in the Commonwealth with a two-handed Spey rod.

Dr. Peter Brookes is a D.C. foreign policy nerd by day and an award-winning, Virginia outdoor writer by night. 

  • April 1, 2022