Learning to Spey Cast - The Single Spey Cast with Andrew Toft

Glasgow Angling Centre has teamed up with Andrew Toft, World Champion Spey Caster, AAPGAI Master Instructor and part of the Mackenzie product development team to offer spey casting tips and instruction to help you become a much more efficient caster.

Andrew has already talked about his casting background, competing and his association with Scott Mackenzie in part one.  In part two, the focus was on double handed Spey Rods and the importance of rod tip speed.  Part three was all about Mackenzie Spey Lines and in part four, touched upon the basic, but very important, roll cast!  In this latest article, Andrew talks about learning to spey cast and the single spey.
Learning to Spey Cast with Andrew Toft

Learning to Spey Cast - The Single Spey

The single spey cast is the cornerstone of all the Spey casts. It is a dynamic upstream wind cast and is very reliant on good timing and technique. There are many circumstances and variables in spey casting where adjustments have to be made regularly to suit both the changing environment and conditions. Adjustments in movements and timing will also have to be made, as the line length increases or decreases for example. The equipment we are using will also be a factor in how we make a particular cast or whether there is a suitable alternative. Teaching over a number of years and being involved in various certification examinations has given me an insight into common problems that occur. It is obviously not possible to cover all the various aspects and faults with the single Spey cast without some form of explanation/demonstration. Therefore I will be mentioning the most common problems which arise when making the change of direction, anchor and D loop alignment, as this is where most of the problems arise. Individuals who can make a very efficient change of direction and place their anchor effectively will very often find it easy to make an efficient forward cast.


One of the first and foremost things in any spey cast is alignment of our body and D loop. In order to do this correctly we have to start with an efficient stance. I appreciate when fishing we cannot be exactly prescriptive in the way we stand or position our feet or we would end up drowned, safety is paramount. Often we do not have the luxury of placing our left or right foot forward exactly in the desired position! However whenever possible I will place my leading foot forwards corresponding with the same side I am casting from, at around shoulder width apart and pointing to the intended target. Or I will position myself in such a way that avoids any over rotation of my upper body when re-aligning to position and form my D loop. Spey casting is very reliant on rotation and back and forth movements of the body during the change of direction phase of the cast. Everything in Spey casting is inter-related and fits together, each action has an effect and re-action on the next movement - it is easy to misplace our feet as we are working our way down a pool. The consequence of this is that our upper body cannot then properly and comfortably align or arrive in the correct position to form our D loop effectively or make the forward delivery. There is strong possibility that other symptoms and faults will then arise that can have a negative effect on our casting.

Making the Change of Direction

Learning to Spey Cast Step 1
Learning to Spey Cast Step 2
Learning to Spey Cast Step 3
I mentioned earlier that we have to make alterations in our movements depending on various factors, one of these being our equipment. There are too many variables to consider in relation to length and weight of line etc, speed or flow of water, so I have based the description on a standard 50 to 60 foot Spey line as this is what I often use when teaching. However there will be many similarities in technique when using shooting heads etc. As above, it is during the change of direction that most of the problems will arise for a number of reasons. Many faults will obviously begin at our hands & body movements. Before we make a change of direction in the single Spey cast it is worth considering that we have possibly 50 or 60 feet of line downstream which we want to transfer upstream and form a D loop, opposite where we want cast. In order to do this we have to encourage the line in an outwards movement before we can turn and steer it effectively into position.

I have seen the line pulled across in front of the angler using mainly a top handed movement many times. No amount of body rotation will correctly place the line. It simply cannot cut corners and will be sent further upstream than necessary. It is more likely that the D loop will be nearer in alignment to where it came from than where it is intended to go. This is another typical symptom of a dominant movement or pull with the top hand and neglecting the use of the bottom hand. However many individuals do not realise they are doing so until it is pointed out to them. It is essential that the initial movement in a single spey cast is to guide and steer the rod out stream and away from the body, especially with wider angle changes.

In order to do this it is helpful to start with our weight on our back foot then raise the rod. The initial movement should be a slight rotation of our upper body and shoulders as we transfer our weight onto our front foot and guide with the hands teasing the line outwards and away from the body. The rod will lose height naturally at this point as we encourage the line out stream. I find it helpful during the initial phase of the cast to watch the rod tip. I can then see the optimum point when the rod tip is out stream for me to guide my upper hand and to steer the rod tip around with my lower hand accelerating slightly backwards and upwards. Any excessive dip of the rod should be avoided at this point. It is important that we glide upwards into an effective casting position with the upper hand arm resembling a shape of 90 degrees and the lower around 45 degrees. This maximises our range of available movement for the forward cast and allows our D loop to fully form. If this is done at the correct pace this will complete the change of direction movement and align the anchor and D loop opposite the intended casting direction.

The Forward Delivery

Spey Cast Forward Delivery - Step 1
Spey Cast Forward Delivery - Step 2
Spey Cast Forward Delivery - Step 3
When we have finally mastered an efficient change of direction, observation and timing will be very important to effectively use the rearward line momentum and tension efficiently. As the anchor momentarily touches down and final alignment takes place there should be minimal hesitation before applying the forward stroke. The upper body is very important for providing the smooth transition as our weight shifts onto our leading foot as we apply the forward cast. It is very easy to jerk our hands or arms but not so easy to jerk the upper body. If we require a tight loop then speed should be saved for the very last portion of the cast combined with an effective high and efficient stop. Many individuals use a dominant top hand push or power application which over rotates the rod and excessively opens the casting loop. Tip speed is essential for all casting and if we do not use the lower hand, especially to stop the rod effectively then a lot of the energy in the rod is allowed to escape as the butt is not controlled. I appreciate how hard it is to properly learn this technique. It is a simple concept to grasp but difficult to master. If done correctly you should feel the butt of the rod re-bounding after the stop. This immediately tells us that the rod tip has turned over and recovered quickly and what we are feeling is the energy traveling back down the rod blank.

"If we make an effective stop the rod tip is turned over at the greatest speed."

There are some that say they can cast effective loops using dominant top hand power application. What they really mean is that they can cast using mostly their top hand, so can I within reason. But I would not choose or encourage anyone to use such a technique as it is inefficient and not a quality movement.

"There is a big difference in using a different style and bad casting mechanics. It clearly takes two hands to stop the rod correctly. So why would we ever attempt to try and flex the rod using an upper dominant hand."

Making 90 Degree Change of Direction Spey Cast-Adjustments

If we are going to make a greater change of direction, possibly up to 90 degrees then there are a few alterations that we can make to our technique to accommodate this greater angle change. One such alteration would be to raise the rod slightly more into the bank before the outward sweep. The reason for this is as explained above, it helps to encourage the line farther out stream making easier to turn and change direction. Also as a general rule the greater the angle change we are trying to achieve in the Single Spey the higher the rod will be positioned on the initial lift, within reason. It will also need to track slightly higher throughout the change of direction. The reason for this is that if we turn the line and change direction over a greater angle, then we will require a more acute turning movement to make it effective and position it correctly. It is logical that the movement and rod tip path has to change; it cannot stay the same as a 45 degree cast.

"Spey casting is a product of technique and is inter reliant on various movements and efficient use of the rod."

Like any skill, learning to Spey Cast takes time a practice.  Even after a degree of competence has been achieved, that standard has to be maintained, therefore time spent refining the key movements and honing the right technique will pay dividends and allow you to adapt to the changing conditions.  However to fully integrate these skills so they become automatic takes guidance and observation and working with a fully qualified instructor will certainly accelerate this process and keep you on the right track.  Learning to Spey Cast with Andrew Toft Fly-Sport will take your casting to new levels of proficiency.

In Summary
  • Start with your weight on the back foot
  • Raise the rod and transfer our weight forwards onto the leading foot simultaneously rotate the upper body and shoulders. 
  • Tease and steer the line outward and away from the body. 
  • Watch for the rod tip for the optimum point to change direction while guiding with the upper hand and steering and turning with the lower. 
  •  As the body comes onto alignment with the intended target, smoothly accelerate backwards and upwards transferring our weight onto our back foot once again and into the prime casting position. 
  • As the anchor momentarily touches down we can transfer our body weight onto the front foot as we make our acceleration and forward delivery. 
  • If we require a tight loop then maximum speed should be saved for the very last margin of the cast, followed by an efficient high stop of the rod. 
  • As the casting loop extends we can lower the rod sympathetically to allow it to fully straighten. 
  • Adjustments in length of movement and power application will have to be made if we are using sinking lines to cast a slightly more open and practical loop. Heavy sinking lines and flies do not respond well to heavier fast compact movements. 

Andrew Toft is an AAPGAI & Master certified casting instructor based in Glasgow and is also part of the design team for the very successful Mackenzie fly-fishing products. For more information on learning to Spey cast and to arrange one to one tuition please visit Andrew Toft Fly Sport or Andrew Toft Fly Fishing.  Andrew Toft will also be representing MacKenzie Fly Fishing Products at Glasgow Angling Centre's March 2015 Open Weekend  so if you have any questions about single or double hand casting, or the excellent range of MacKenzie Fly Lines and Fly Rods , Andrew will be on hand to offer help and advice.