Roll and Spey Fishing

A flyfisher is the mainspring at the centre of a well balanced, smooth-running mechanism. He should be no more wearied by a day’s casting than a watch is by its efforts to keep time.

Despite what some people say, and what is written about fly casting, it is a comparatively easy operation. Nevertheless, doing it properly makes all the difference between enjoying fishing and not becoming fatigued at the end of the day, or becoming frustrated or tired, possibly losing many flies and fish.

The first essential is to understand what happens when a rod loaded with the correct weight of line is turned through an arc from a horizontal position to the vertical, held for a slight pause and then returned to the horizontal. This is the basic casting action and can be adjusted to give various types of cast, but each must have the same pendulum action, the fulcrum of which is at the rod handle.

As the rod is turned through its arc, it acts as a spring being wound up and then, as the spring unwinds, it transmits power to the piece of line at its end. This section of line then starts travelling forward and as it does it gradually turns over until it has completely unfolded and straightened out the rest of the length of line. This is only possible because a tapered line decreases in weight per unit length and each reduced weight portion is able to be moved by a decreased amount of energy. The energy is, of course, decreasing all the time from the moment the rod has imparted its energy to the line.

Three simple steps

To go a step farther, and smooth out the line, consider the movement to be in three parts. To do this, visualize a clock between nine and twelve. For the back cast, start with the rod in the nine o’clock position. Raise the rod slowly to eleven o’clock—this movement will lift most of the line from the water. The wrist then comes into action, accelerating the sweep of the rod and propelling the line backwards. During the wrist action the forearm still continues its stroke. This power stage must never carry on past the twelve o’clock position. The rod, more effort than usual, and the rod point is carried on down almost on to the water—in other words, instead of the power being cut off at approximately ten o’clock, it is carried on right through past nine o’clock in one. This may sound difficult, but in fact is very easy indeed when these simple points are remembered. With practice you will find you can cast smoothly.

However, may be allowed to travel beyond the vertical position, provided that it is merely drifting and that all the power has been cut off completely. At this point the rod must be held stationary for a brief pause in order to allow the line time to ex-tend fully behind. The length of pause depends upon length of line and wind conditions.

The forward cast is a repeat of the lift or back cast, but in the opposite direction. From the vertical the rod is moved slowly at first, then, when it reaches the eleven o’clock position, the wrist again accelerates the movement until ten o’clock, when the power is cut off and the rod is followed through, that is, drifted to the nine o’clock position.

Roll cast

By the time you have progressed with the basic mechanics of casting and can cast a line into the air behind you, allow it to straighten out and then reverse the procedure, casting a quiet, straight line on to the water where you want it. You should then have sufficient expertise to be able to make the roll cast.

In some cases it is necessary to fish with some obstruction such as trees or perhaps a very high bank behind you, which rules out a normal overhead back cast. But this should not prevent you fishing in this particular stretch of water; indeed in such terrain one can very often catch more fish because inexpert casters will avoid any water where he cannot make a conventional back cast. To cast in more difficult conditions calls for the slightly different technique of the roll cast.

In this cast the line never goes behind the caster’s body and never leaves the water. In order to create the weight (the pull of line against the rod) required to bend the rod into its loaded form, the friction of the line on the water in front of the caster is used. To perform this cast, the rod point is raised very slowly right up to the one o’clock position and held there until the line bellies to such a position that the extreme point of its curve is roughly in line with the caster’s back.

The power stroke

When making a roll cast, the line must always be clear of itself. Never attempt to cast in such a way that the line, which rolls out, goes over the line already on the water at the beginning of the power stroke. The following simple rule explains this clearly: when you intend to roll your line to a point to the right of where it already lies on the water, it must be -ar-s brought up during the backwards slow lift to a position at the left side of the rod. When the line is to be cast to a position to the left of where it already lies then the line must be brought up slowly to a point to the right of the rod. If this rule is followed the line is always going away from itself and never tangles.

In some cases a strong side wind may be blowing against the caster, which could blow the line into a position in which it might foul. Under these conditions, the rod must be laid over more to the side during the backward slow-lifting stroke, but it must be remembered before the normal power stroke is carried out that the rod must be raised to the vertical position and cast forward from there in a vertical plane.

Spey cast

While the roll cast is useful in trout fishing with a single-handed rod, the Spey cast comes into its own in salmon fishing with a double-handed rod, especially for fishing down tree-lined banks. The basic difference between the roll and Spey casts is that in the simple roll cast the line never leaves the water, while in the Spey the line is completely lifted from the water and dropped back again in a new position from where a roll cast can be made. The cast is made in the same way as the simple roll cast. It is the pre-positioning of the line which creates a difference.

The timing of the Spey cast is ex-tremely critical (more so than in any other type of cast) and this makes it the most difficult cast of all to effect correctly and proficiently.

Consider making a Spey cast from the left bank of a river: it is desirable to have the right hand at the top of the rod handle and the left hand at the bottom. At the same time, the right foot should be pointing forward.

Having fished the fly around and into your own bank, in this instance the left bank, and having let it ‘hang’ in the current for a while immediately downstream in order to fully straighten the line out below you, the rod is first of all lowered to ensure a good clean lift.

Now raise the rod straight up to the eleven o’clock position. The body and feet are not moved during this movement of the rod, which gets the line on the surface of the water and in a position in readiness for the next part of the cast.

Placing line upstream

The next movement is fairly complex and involves swivelling the body and transferring the line to a position upstream and to the right of the angler. He is now facing in the new direction in which the cast is to be made.

Move the rod in a ‘half-moon’ curve from the eleven o’clock position to a one o’clock position upstream. During this movement, the rod moves through 180° and at the same time goes from eleven o’clock to a horizontal position at 90° (I.e. half way) and back up again to the one o’clock position.


Because the rod is moved in a semi-circle it follows that the line comes round from in front of the caster to a position upstream. The movement of the rod is accelerated during the second half of the curve and as the rod is raised (from a horizontal position back up to one o’clock) the line is completely lifted off the water.

The rod is now arrested briefly, allowing the line to drop on the water. As soon as the line touches the water, the power is applied from the one o’clock position all the way through to about eight o’clock without any follow through. This motion is exactly that which is used in a simple roll cast.

While the ‘half-moon’ movement is being made, the body must swivel from facing directly downstream to facing in a direction across the river in which the final delivery of the cast will be made.

After the lift of the rod from downstream and as the ‘half-moon’ curve is made, the body is swivelled by pivoting on the right heel and left toe to face the new direction. From this position the final execution of the cast can be made.

Critical timing of the Spey cast

The most critical part of the timing of the Spey cast is the pause while the line drops on to the water. If this is too long, and, as a consequence, too much line lands on the water, the drag becomes too great and the line cannot be rolled out fully. If, on the other hand, insufficient line is on the water (because the pause has not been long enough) then the point of the line will flick into the air with a ‘crack’ and again the line will not be rolled out as it should be.

The pause and the resulting length of line on the water can only be measured in parts of a second, so practice is essential in order to make a good Spey cast.

To make a Spey cast from the right bank, exactly the same move-ment is employed but with the position of the hands and feet reversed.

Double Spey cast

If there is a very strong downstream wind blowing, this may result in the line being blown under the rod. When this occurs, the double Spey cast can be made. This cast (from the left bank of the river) is made with the left hand up the handle and left foot forward.

In the first part of this cast the rod is taken upstream in an identical movement to the Spey cast. The line, however, is not dropped on to the water but is led back down-stream with a ‘half-moon’ curve of the rod (without returning the body to face downstream). The line is dropped on to the water and the final delivery is made. Because the line is downstream the wind blows it away from the rod, allowing a cast to be made where otherwise it would be impossible.