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Andrew Bennett Demystifies Spey Fishing on the Skeena
Posted on September 21, 2015

The result. Andrew Bennett shows off a hefty prize before releasing this native Steelhead back into his element on the Kalum River, Skeena Drainage, BC.

Eddie Bauer Sport Shop guide Andrew Bennett is no stranger to big fish. After more than a decade operating lodges on the Dean River in British Columbia, the Kanektok River in Alaska, and on South Andros Island in the Bahamas—and now with his newfound leisure time fishing in Puget Sound and the Pacific Northwest—Bennett has hooked into some heavyweight salmon and steelhead. For the biggest rivers and biggest fish—such as BC’s legendary Skeena River that he fished last spring—he is a convert to spey fishing with two-handed rods, a method that originated in Scotland but has become increasingly popular in the big-river salmon and steelhead venues of the Pacific Northwest coast. In his latest instructional overview, Bennett breaks down why spey is now the professional method of choice for big-river fishing in the Pacific Northwest. —LYA Editor

Andrew Bennett, showing us all how this Spey fishing thing is done.

Words by Andrew Bennett, Images by Tom Rafalovich

On our trip to the Skeena drainage this April, Lucas and I chased steelhead and chinooks using the method that’s most popular among salmon and steelhead anglers in the Northwest these days—spey fishing.

Spey fishing is a specialized form of fly-fishing that involves long rods (usually 11 to 14 feet) cast with both hands, purpose-built spey lines, and a set of specific casts that are all based on the roll cast. Using various steps to set up the cast, the angler ultimately forms a D-loop—a loop of line between the tip of the rod and the water—to load the rod, and then uses a simple roll-cast-like stroke to deliver the line forward.

The promised land for wild, native Steelheading.


Spey fishing is a great technique for salmon and steelhead for a few reasons: It’s an efficient way to cast heavy sink tips and big flies. To get the attention of big ocean-going fish like salmon and steelhead, we often need to use gear that delivers a big lure at depth. Big flies and sink tips are heavy, and casting them with a traditional overhead cast is just a lot of work. Spey rods are bigger and more powerful, and they make launching this junk across the river a lot less work.

Speaking of launching this junk across the river, distance comes much easier with spey rods. While a lot of salmon and steelhead get hooked fairly close to the bank, in a lot of cases we want to fish our fly pretty far out. A decent angler with a spey rod can consistently make casts past 70 or 80 feet, and often covering more water leads to more fish.

Lucas St. Clair demonstrating proper two-handed technique at Skeena Spey in coastal BC.


With spey rods, we can fish without much backcast room. Spey fishing was originally developed on the River Spey in Scotland, where overhanging trees and bushes make a traditional overhead backcast really difficult. The same conditions exist all over the Northwest. We’re often wading just a few feet from the bank with trees behind and above us, and we need to get the fly headed out towards the middle of the river. Using a spey cast, we can use 5 to 10 feet of backcast room to form our D-loop and make a cast 50 feet or more in front of us. We could never do that with a typical overhead cast, where a 50-foot forward cast would need at least a 30-foot backcast.

Long spey rods give better line control. When we’re swinging for salmon and steelhead, we need to be able to mend line to change the position, speed, and depth of our line and fly. Lifting a 12-foot spey rod moves a lot of line, and that lets us slow and sink our flies, steer them around rocks and snags, and drop them right into the spot where we think a fish may be swimming. In any fishing situation, better line control equals more fish.

The right venue for Spey—Skeena Spey lodge home turf. Andrew Bennett giving it another go.


Spey casting is a little more complicated than normal overhead fly casting, so I always recommend that anglers new to the spey rod start out with a lesson. It’s not that difficult—less- experienced anglers can get productive more much quickly with a spey rod than with a single-hand fly rod—but a little bit of help on your first couple of days makes a huge difference.

If you like to fly fish and you’re targeting anything that likes to eat a swung fly, such as a salmon or steelhead, but also rainbow or brown trout, grayling . . . anything in moving water, I highly recommend you give spey fishing a try. It’s a different fishing experience and a heck of a lot of fun.

The Sport Shop guides and the Skeena Spey guides taking in the location on the Kalum River in the greater Skeena drainage.

To check out the river where Bennett swung heavy flies for native steelhead while testing our latest Sport Shop gear, check out Skeena Spey Lodge.


Author: - Monday, September 21st, 2015

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