Fly fishing: Spey rodding quickly gaining in popularity

In recent years, a handful of anglers have begun fishing the way it’s done in the Pacific Northwest

The tried-and-true method of catching salmon and steelhead trout in the Salmon River employs a conventional fly rod and reel (sometimes loaded with monofilament instead of fly line) and lots of weight on the leader.

But in recent years, a handful of anglers have begun fishing the way it’s done in the Pacific Northwest — swinging wet flies or streamers on two-handed Spey rods.

They don’t hook up quite as often as “chuck and duck” anglers, but they don’t inadvertently snag as many fish, either. Using rods 11-16 feet long, they roll special shooting-head lines across wide pools. It’s graceful, traditional fly-fishing. And when they do hook up, Spey fishermen are rewarded with the kind of electrifying strike that you seldom get when bouncing egg patterns or nymphs along the bottom.

They seem like a small fraternity, outnumbered by the hundreds of nymph anglers along the river in the fall and winter. But it turns out, there are quite a few, and their number is growing.

“A group of us decided we would take a day in June, when nothing was going on in the river and we wouldn’t have to contend with crowds, and have some beers and try out each other’s Spey rods,” said Geoff Schaacke of Ballston Spa, dedicated Spey fisher and co-author with Robin Finn of The Angler’s Net website (www.the­ “We assumed 15 people would show up and we’d just make a day of it and have some laughs.”

In fact, that first gathering in 2008 drew about 100 guests, along with eager representatives from fly rod manufacturers. Last year, Spey Nation, as it has come to be known, drew 15 manufacturers and 200 guests — with little more than a few blog posts for advertising.

This year, Spey Nation will be held at the Pineville Boat Launch on the Salmon River June 19. Admission is free. No tackle will be offered for sale, but there will plenty of gear to try out. There will also be raffles of tackle, guide services and trips, with proceeds going to good causes like the Atlantic Salmon Fish Creek Club, which is working to restore Atlantic salmon to a large tributary of Oneida Lake.

“It’s kind of a hippiefest-slash-‘Spey Clave,’ ” Schaacke said, referring to the name given such gatherings out west. “If people want to bring their rod and try a new line for it, we’ll have Airflo and Rio lines there. If somebody wants to try every rod in the parking lot, they can do that, but they’re going to be hard-pressed to do them all — we’ll probably have 500 rods available for people to try.”

There will also be at least seven presentations by experts on casting and fly presentation, along with burgers, dogs and beers.

“Spey fishing, in just the two years we’ve been doing this, has just exploded on the Salmon River,” Schaacke said. “Instead of seeing four or five people a season doing it, we’re seeing six or seven people a day.”

Fishing with a two-handed rod isn’t easy when a pool is ringed with anglers nymphing shoulder-to-shoulder.

Schaakce and his fellow Spey rodders walk long distances to find uncrowded water.

Once they get there, they don’t stay planted in one spot. They rotate down the pool — cast, take a few steps downstream and repeat. That’s the way it’s done on the great steelhead rivers of Oregon, in the Maritime provinces of Canada — and on the Lake Champlain tributaries, where sinkers and weighted flies are prohibited.

“Spey fishing isn’t for everybody,” he said. “It’s not for the numbers guy, it’s for the exper­ience guy.”

If you’re a Spey-curious guy or gal, you’ll be welcomed at Spey Nation. More information can be found at Schaacke’s website.

Categories: Sports

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