Not so long ago, most fly-fishers probably thought the only kind of rods that required two hands to cast were spinning or bait-casting rigs — and big ones, at that.
A fly rod was cast with one hand, the other managed slack line. But for the past decade, two-handed fly rods have been growing steadily in popularity.
It’s becoming common to see them in action on the Salmon River in Oswego County. The sight of anglers sweeping long rods in snap-T and double Spey casts on the river’s pools and runs represents another step in the evolution of Great Lakes salmon and steelhead fishing.
Often, the anglers with two-handed rods are rotating — that is, taking turns — and swinging big, bright streamers just under the surface. They may catch fewer fish than anglers bouncing nymphs on the bottom or hanging egg patterns under bobbers, but they’re convinced they enjoy it more.
“Ten years ago there were four of us,” said Malinda Barna, owner of Malinda’s Fly and Tackle Shop on the Salmon River in Altmar, a Spey-fishing headquarters on the river. “Now, there’s probably 400.”
Two-handed or Spey fishing — the terms are used interchangeably today — is said to have been developed on the River Spey in Scotland, one of the great salmon rivers of the British Isles. The various Spey casts are much like roll casts, in that they require no backcast. That’s a big advantage when the river’s too deep to wade and the bank behind you is thick with trees.
There are other advantages. A Spey caster can throw a line with a sinking head and a large streamer 70 feet or more with barely any effort, and therefore can show his line to more fish. When a heavy, hard-charging steelhead does come up and grab the fly, the big rod has the backbone to fight and land it.
Finally, Spey fishing provides something fly-fishers are always looking for: a fresh challenge.
“It’s something new, and people are always looking for something new to do,” Barna said. “Spey fishing is more for people that have less interest in just hooking fish and more interest in the actual art and enjoyment of fly-fishing itself. It’s really a community, a real camaraderie in Spey fishing that was lost up here in the chuck-and-duck fishing.”
Spey fishers are still a minority on the Salmon River. Most fly-fishers use nymphs or egg patterns, fished deeply in slow pools, in the belief that 33-degree water makes steelhead too sluggish to chase streamers. But Loren Williams, a guide from Westvale, near Syracuse, makes a living mainly by showing clients how to catch steelheads by swinging streamers, even in the dead of winter.
“Some fish won’t come to the fly. I don’t want to catch those fish,” Williams said. “I want the ones that are aggressive enough to come after the fly.”
The two-handed rod allows him to cover enough water to find them.
FLY-TYING & FRY
Alex Cerveniak of Clifton Park knows a little about swinging steelhead flies. OK, he actually knows a lot. He also knows a lot about tying flies, and will show how it’s done at the next meeting of the Clearwater Chapter of Trout Unlimited Jan. 17 at the Best Western Sovereign Hotel, Western Avenue, Albany.
The guest speaker at the meeting will be Dave Somoza, a fifth grade teacher at Francis L.
Stevens Elementary School in Ballston Lake, whose students raise salmon fry in the classroom and release them in the spring to a tributary of Great Sacandaga Lake. The meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. and the fly-tying demo at 6:30. Both are free and the public is invited. Clearwater’s website is www.clearwatertu.org.