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The Basics Of Spey Casting

Spey casting is a technique used in fly fishing that’s named after the River Spey in Scotland. It’s mainly used when fishing salmon, steelhead, or sea trout in large rivers. But this versatile technique is ideal whenever you’re casting long distances — it can also be used for saltwater fly fishing.

In this introduction to Spey casting, you’ll learn what Spey casting is, what you need, and how to try Spey casting yourself. 

What is Spey casting?

Spey casting allows you to make long, powerful casts using modified roll cast or switch cast techniques. You won’t need a huge back cast, so it’s ideal if you’re fishing wide rivers without much space behind you. You can use both double-handed and single-handed rods for Spey casting.

Do you need any special equipment for Spey casting?

Most anglers opt for a two-handed rod when Spey casting. These are typically heavier and longer than single-handed rods, but they allow you to achieve a more powerful cast. The Clearwater 8-weight fly rod (13’ 8 ) and 3-weight Micro Spey fly rod (11.3 feet) are excellent Spey rods. 

Match your chosen rod with:

  • Line weight — choose the appropriate weight for your rod
  • Spey reel — choose a reel that can hold a larger capacity than a single-handed reel, such as the Battenkill Spey reel
  • Backing — you’ll need at least 300 feet
  • Leader and tippet — larger leaders may be preferable for heavier lines (or use an all-in-one/integrated line tip)
  • Fly — larger flies are appropriate for Spey casting and more palatable to salmon and large trout varieties.

The above also applies for single-handed rod Spey casting. The key difference is that one-handed rods tend to be lighter and shorter, so you won’t get as long a cast.

How do you Spey cast?

There are two main types of Spey cast: waterborne anchor and airborne anchor. Let’s look at how each Spey cast type works.

Waterborne anchor

The waterborne anchor Spey cast uses a slightly modified roll cast technique. Start with the line on the water to set your anchor. As you bring the line around to form the D loop, the line remains on the water.

When you begin your forward cast, the line lifts off the water momentarily. This allows you to achieve a forceful cast without requiring much space behind you. Keeping your line on the water also prevents it getting caught in surrounding trees or bushes.

Airborne anchor

The airborne anchor technique is a modified switch cast, and it involves bringing the line off the water as you cast. You can achieve a longer, quieter cast with an airborne anchor than a waterborne anchor, but the technique is more difficult to master.

Bring the line behind you, but just as you begin to form the D loop, lift your rod slightly. This will bring the line off the water. As it lands, be ready to flick the rod into your forward cast.

Aim for the line to land just in front of or beside you on the water. If it lands too far back because of an overly aggressive cast, your line is more likely to get tangled in trees behind you.

An airborne anchor cast should be timed carefully. Mistiming the cast can cause disruption and excessive splashing on the water’s surface, which can spook the fish. Make sure your forward cast begins just as the fly line touches the water’s surface.

Learn more about the differences between waterborne and airborne casting in this video:

Learn to Spey cast in an Orvis masterclass

If you’re completely new to Spey casting and want some hands-on tuition, book a spot on our Spey Casting Clinic in March 2023. Fly fishing expert and enthusiast Brett O’Connor will guide you through these basic Spey casting methods, or help you refine or improve your technique.

Find out more about fly fishing for beginners, as well as tips and techniques for more advanced anglers in our Explore Orvis articles.
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