Spey-O-Rama

 

Such a spectacular group of people.

Spey-O-Rama crew! Such a spectacular group of people!

If you’d told me a little over a month ago I would be competing in the world championships of spey casting, I would have busted out in hysterical laughter. Not that my casting hasn’t come a long way since I began wielding the mighty spey rod a little less than two years ago, but I just never imagined that it would be something I would do. I’ve always had it in my mind that bringing competition to fishing wouldn’t enrich my fishing experience at all.

Well, a month ago, I competed in the world championships of spey casting. I was at the Spey-O-Rama event with Gino Bernero and Dax Messett, my fellow guides at Confluence Outfitters, and we were promoting SpeyCamp. (SpeyCamp is an epic four day camping/fishing/instructional experience on the Klamath river. My favorite river in CA and such a mind blowing experience. Click here to learn more.)

Another guide pal of mine, Travis Johnson (a world champion spey caster), started giving me a hard time for not competing. In fact, at the encouragement of Travis, the entire Gael Force team started egging me on to complete. After all, there were only two other women competing this year. The worst that could happen is I would get third place. Never mind that I’d never practiced casting with my left hand, had very limited experience with long bellied lines, and had never even touched a 15′ #10 spey rod. Well, never one to shy away from something new and challenging, I decided I was in. Bring me some gear to use, give me some instruction, and I’ll do it!

Travis helping

Travis giving me some coaching instruction

I now had two days to learn how to cast these set ups. Originally, we decided on a 50 foot line, since I could still do double spey and cack-handed casts so I would not have to cast with my left hand. According to the rules, any line over 55 feet required the traditional right and left handed casts (snake rolls and single spey). Martin Kiely from the Irish team, graciously allowed me to borrow a rod he had built himself. Before it had actually hit me that I was in fact doing this, I was wadered up and beginning a two day journey I won’t soon forget.

The first thing I noticed was how heavy the set up was. The muscles all over my body told me so the next day. Unlike rods I typically fish with, competition casting technique uses your whole body and quite a bit of strength. But by the second day, I was starting to get the hang of it. I decided that I would still do the left handed casting. Snake rolls have always been a favorite cast of mine while fishing, and these were the first of the two casts that I began to really jam out there.

But the timing, rotation and arm elevation on my single speys were still vexing me, both right handed and left handed. I just couldn’t quite get it. And then after lots of instruction and help, I finally started to connect the dots. I went home that evening with sore, limp arms, but I felt much more optimistic about competing than I had the previous day.

Left handed snake roll

Left handed snake roll

Practicing in the competition pond with the targets was an entirely foreign environment. Put me on a river, and I know where I want to cast, and how to mend my line. Put me in a pond with still water and targets and well… let the confusion ensue. Time in the actual competition pond was limited, so I did my best to pull it together and dial in a program has quickly as possible. Start with the left handed single spey, then the right hand single spey, followed by the left handed snake roll, and finish with my favorite cast a right handed snake roll; then repeat twice.

Before I knew it, it was competition time. Kara, Donna and myself lined up to measure our comp rods, leaders and collect our special yarn fly. Just minutes before I was to compete I was hit with a bit of a shock; the rod I had practiced with for the entirety of my competition casting practice was too long by about a half an inch. I couldn’t use it for the competition.

Tying on my yarn, Maxine is examining my knots closely :)

Tying on my yarn, Maxine is examining my knots closely 🙂

Kara and Donna both offered to lend me one of their spares. I quickly attached my reel to one of Kara’s Pieroway rods, and gave it a few roll casts. It was stiffer than my trusty practice rod (as Kara uses a 70 foot line thus it would need to be stiffer to load a longer line), but it would have to do, I was up. 

Right handed snake roll

Right handed snake roll

The last minute rod change had shaken me up a bit, but as I waded out to the casting platform, I calmed my nerves. Years of competitive swimming at a high level in combination with years of classical ballet performance seemed to have mentally prepared me. The next 12 casts were methodically made, even though they weren’t my best. My short line just wouldn’t load the rod enough. And two days just wasn’t enough preparation. However, the experience was exhilarating. Although I was disappointed with my performance, I left the pond with a smile on my face and determination to come back next year with more practice under my belt and a properly balanced set up.

Competitors from around the world came to compete, and the best part of this experience was the wonderful friends I made along the way. Thank you to everyone who helped get me into the competition and support me along the way!!!

All smiles afterwards

All smiles afterwards

Updates: Part Deux

 

 

With my first camping trip of the spring/summer season, it occurred to me that steelhead season is officially over. Aside from swinging streamers from time to time, I’ve pretty  much hung up the two-handed rod until steelhead season is here again. My first season wielding a spey rod was a huge success and I will be anxiously waiting to whip it out again. While the weather was fickle and didn’t always cooperate, I still got a huge amount of satisfaction being out on the water and learning how to cast a two-handed rig.

 

 

I had the immense pleasure of learning casting techniques from Bill Lowe, Travis Johnson, and Simon Gawesworth. While no where near perfect, my casting has improved by leaps and bounds since that first time I struggled to assemble that awkwardly long, 13 foot rod. I even caught that first, addictive fish on the swing.

 

 

As some of you may know, the legendary Bill Lowe recently passed away. Bill was my first spey casting instructor. That first lesson with Bill was what inspired me to keep practicing and improving. With a laid back attitude and epic sense of humor, Bill taught me more than just casting; he emphasized the joys of simply being out on the water, fishing. A lesson I will never cease to forget. Thank you Bill for being such an inspiration, you are honored in each Snap T and swing of the fly.

 

 

A trip up to Oregon to fish the Sandy with my Dad and take a class from world-record spey caster Travis Johnson was another highlight of this season. What a beautiful river! A deep emerald green and full of perfect swing runs. We didn’t catch any fish, but spending the time with my Dad and passing on my spey addiction was an experience of a lifetime. Travis was a great teacher and had may useful insights into steelhead fishing and life. I’m hoping that this will become an annual trip I can enjoy with my Dad.

 

 

 

Finally this spring, I closed out the spey season with Spey Day on the American river. This was an afternoon filled with testing out different Sage and Redington model spey and switch rods, demoing a wide range of RIO’s Scandi and Skagit lines, and epic tutorials by Simon Gawesworth, Bill Lowe and Mike McCune. With all this info, my brain was forming new neural paths at an alarming rate and laughter was always on the tip of my tongue. I was in some pretty legendary company, and I am grateful to be invited. I learned so much in a single day, met heroes and made new friends. The perfect way to close out the spey season. The only question I have left is, “Is it winter yet?”