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Spey Casting with Eoin Fairgrieve - The Roll Cast

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Please join us in welcoming Eoin Fairgrieve to the team at Fish & Fly! Already a past contributor (see 'Get Your Skates On' - Aug 06), Eoin is now bringing his wealth of world class spey casting knowledge on-board to share with our community of passionate fly fishers around the world.

Spey Casting is one of the largest growth areas of our sport as evidenced by the huge demand for instruction, 'Speyclaves' and demonstrations at every major fly show in the salmon fishing world. With help from Eoin and his friends, Fish & Fly will continue to bring you the very best of instruction for beginners and the more experienced.

Here then is the first article from Eoin that will be split into two parts. Part one below deals with the fundamentals of the roll cast and how it is performed. Part two, which will be posted separately, will show a breakdown of the cast in words and pictures. Over to you Eoin..........!

Over the years speycasting has enjoyed a worldwide increase in popularity as counties like America, Canada, Japan and Scandinavia have whole-heartedly embraced this casting technique to catch salmon as well as variety of fish. This gracious, almost poetic, casting technique evolved from the River Spey in the Highlands of Scotland. Heavily wooded riverbanks and sheer rock faces so typical of the rivers in this part of Scotland restricted the ability to overhead cast. This necessitated the need to develop an alternative technique of casting to present the fly in confined areas and the result was the family of Spey Casts.

The two main Spey Casts are the Single and Double Spey casts. Regardless, however, of which spey cast you perform, there is one common denominator between each cast and that is the roll cast. The roll cast is the foundation of all speycasting and can often suffer being overlooked during the learning process of this discipline of casting. It's worth bearing in mind that any speycast is simply a roll cast, which is preceded by a change of line direction. As a result, mastering the correct roll casting technique can play a pivotal part in developing your ability as an overall spey caster.

'If the roll cast is the foundation of all spey casting, the formation of a suspended loop of line called a 'D' Loop is the very essence of the roll cast.'

In the roll cast, the 'D' Loop is basically an energy-filled, semi-circular loop of line that forms next to the angler prior to the forward delivery. Much like an overhead cast relies on the backcast being straight to supply the optimum weight to load the rod for the forward delivery, in roll casting, the line suspended in the 'D' supplies the energy for the forward cast. The more fly line the caster can hold in the 'D', the more potential energy and weight can be called upon to load the rod spring for the forward cast. The most efficient loop is one with the vast majority of fly line suspended in the air and the minimum amount of line 'anchored' on the water, with the tail of the loop pointing at the target almost like an arrow directing the forward delivery. As for the dynamics of the 'D'loop, an arrow-pointed or centrifugal profile offers the best transition of power from the 'D' loop through the forward delivery. As the caster loads the rod for the forward cast, less energy is wasted re-directing the line on a straight-line path towards the intended target and longer casts are achievable.

Before we look at the cast in greater detail, I have worked on the assumption that the majority of casters are right hand dominated and as such have described the cast with the right hand uppermost on the rod. Although I apologise to all the 'Southpaws', regardless of which is your favoured shoulder, I would strongly urge you to learn to be ambidextrous when Spey casting. For left hand casters, either mirror the rod movements with the left hand uppermost or learn the cast with the right hand uppermost or ideally, do both.

There are two main roll casts - the basic roll cast and the jump roll cast. The basic roll cast is fairly straightforward in nature. The easiest way to visualise the correct movements of the cast is to relate the movements of the rod to that of a clock face. The casting cycle starts with the rod tip touching the water at around the 8 o'clock position and the fly line straight. With the right hand on the fore grip and the left on the butt grip, point the right foot towards the direction of your intended target and place the left foot at a comfortable angle from the leading foot.

The rod tip is then lifted through the clockface with the fly line, leader and fly feather backwards to form the 'D' Loop. As the rod is raised upwards, avoid tracking the rod tip back in a true vertical plane. With the right hand uppermost, angle the rod tip 10 degrees to your right hand side to allow the 'D' loop to form beside your position and also to avoid the chance of the line kicking back at you during the forward delivery.

As the rod tip passes the vertical, it's then pointed to about the 2 o'clock position by lifting both hands diagonally upwards. Once the rod reaches the 2 o'clock or launch position, the uppermost hand should be about level with your eye-line. In this position the 'D' loop forms beside you with the line suspended in a tensioned curve between the rod tip and the surface of the water. You are now ready to execute the forward delivery.

To optimise the spring effect of the rod, it's very important to use both hands working against each other to flex and load the rod on the forward delivery. This push/pull action from the upper and lower hand must be simultaneous, with the rod tip accelerating to a positive stop at around the 10 o'clock position. When practicing this cast, try to imagine you're just casting the tip section of the rod on the forward delivery. This will help to compress the forward power stroke and produce a tighter, more aerodynamic loop unfolding from the rod tip. The rod tip is held in this 10 o'clock position to anchor the unfolding loop on a straight-line path until the line, leader and fly has reached full extension, and then lowered close to the water.

The limitation of this basic roll cast is that it struggles to form any real 'D'loop size. The loop that forms beside the caster is shallow and limited for energy and as a result, restricts the potential distance on the forward cast. To form a much more dynamic and energy-charged 'D', which in turn will allow for longer forward casts, we must learn the cast I have described in greater detail below, which is the jump roll. As the name suggests, in one continuous movement, the fly line is physically lifted from the water and 'jumped' into position. This 'jumping' of the line to form the 'D' Loop, has a very positive effect on the loop's dynamics. Instead of the loop resembling the shape of a capital D, it can often be triangular in profile (see photo 5 in Part 2) and almost a 'V'Loop. This pointed profile is very desirable in all forms of Spey casting as well as the jump roll because it allows maximum efficiency of energy transfer from the set-up of the 'D' Loop, through the execution of the forward delivery. Taking time to practise and improve the jump roll lays a lot of the ground-work for developing the next cast - the Single Spey!

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