The sun rose and I found myself standing on the bank of the river sipping my coffee and staring into the churning mud that was, just a few hours ago, my favorite steelhead river. My buddy Brad came walking up the bank and asked if I was ready to go, I reluctantly said why not? I grabbed my fly rod and we headed upstream toward a few of our favorite steelhead holes.
The fishing proved to be uneventful and exclusively swinging small flies through fast muddy water did not make it any easier. After a few hours, I sat down on a fallen tree and began searching for a fly that I had confidence in. Brad on the other hand changed rods back to his 4wt switch and began fishing shallow riffles for dollies. A few casts in, he hooked one, a few more casts, another! I sat and watched, commentating and netting his fish. After a dozen or so he pushed the rod toward me and said “Catch a few man, at least there are fish to be caught”. I had never fished such a light two-handed rod.
The first cast went as well as you may imagine, abysmal. After a few more attempts, a fishable cast was presented and a swing was made. Allowing the small black leech to hang and waver in the current at the end of the swing amounted to a welcomed tug on the line. The fish fought as hard as it could for being 12 inches long but the light set up made for a fun tug or war. It was addicting really, and we traded off on the 4wt for the remainder of the day. Shortly after the week ended and it was time to make my way home, I found out a light two-handed rod was referred to as a “Trout-Spey” and immediately ordered one.
What is “Trout Spey” or “Micro Spey”?
Lighter two-handed rods between a 1wt and a 5wt, all fall within the realm of the newly named rod class called the Micro-Spey or Trout-Spey. Although trout have been targeted on spey rods since the invention of two-handers, this newly named classification of rods has found its niche in the Fly Fishing Universe. The basic concept follows the same casting rules and styles or traditional Spey Casting but allows the angler another avenue to target their favorite trout species, and damn, is it a fun way to fish!
Trout Spey fishing still requires a waterborne or an arielized anchor and a “D” Loop to load the rod but is lighter and more forgiving than a traditional full-sized two hander. Below you will find tips on why, how, and where a trout spey may be applicable for you, enjoy!
Why choose a Trout Spey?
A trout spey can be used to minimize backcasting when fishing close quarters on tight streams but they are also often used on larger rivers when swinging flies for trout. They allow an angler to achieve maximum distance with little effort or stress while casting but also, allow the angler to fish smaller rivers where a backcast or a large “D” Loop may not be feasible.
The additional length of the rod allows you more leverage to land the “big one” all while using a lighter rod. In general, the line class on a trout spey is equivalent to two-three weights higher on a single hand rod. For example, an 11’ 2wt trout spey would be equal to a 9’ 5wt single hand rod.
Choosing a Trout Spey Rod:
There are many options when choosing a light spey rod for trout. It is all based upon the type of water and size of fish you will be targeting. In general trout-spey rods fall between a 1wt and a 5wt and are between 10’6” and 11’6”. For the beginner, a great starter rod would be an 11’ 3wt as lines for this rod are easy to find in both Scandi and Skagit Options.
Choosing a Trout Spey Reel:
You will want to select a reel approximately two line sizes heavier than your trout spey rod. For example, if you are fishing an 11’ 3wt rod, you will want to look for a reel in the 5-6wt range. This will help balance the longer rod better without having to add any additional weight to the bottom handle. This will make casting much more comfortable.
Understanding the Fly Line Setup for Trout Spey:
Unlike your single-handed fly line setup a line setup for a trout spey is a little more complex. From the reel, you will first have the backing, then from the backing you have what’s called the running line. This running line or shooting line has no taper. From your running line, you attached your shooting head. The shooting head for trout spey setups can be either a skagit style or a scandi style. See the full explanation below. After you have your shooting head-on, then comes your leader, more often than not a sinking leader, and then your tippet. The grain weight of the shooting head matches the weight of your rod. When purchasing a trout spey line, be sure to purchase the correct grain weight shooting head.
Skagit Lines for Trout Spey Setups:
Skagit style trout spey lines are the most popular as they can effectively cast trout spey streamers. These types of lines have shorter and fatter heads making it easy to cast these heavier flies, they can be even be used to fish indicator rigs. They are more aggressive than their Scandinavian counterparts and carry more mass allowing you to fish heavier sink tips and bigger flies.
The Skagit Scout from Airflo is a great skagit style shooting head for a trout spey. This 240-grain head matches well with an 11′ 3 weight rod.
Skagit Style Trout Spey Fly Patterns from Oliver Ancans
Scandi Lines for Trout Spey Setups:
Long Scandi lines are ideal for fishing small soft hackles and wetflies on light two handed rods. They allow you to make long casts and allow for delicate presentations to the finickiest of trout and grayling. Scandi lines also allow for anglers to cast full-floating dry fly set ups if you prefer to skate surface flies to entice a trout to bite.
The Rage Compact from Airflo is Scandi style shooting head that provides anglers with a little more power than your normal Scandi head. The line can effectively cast flies in wind with ease.
Scandi Style Soft Hackle Trout Spey Flies courtesy of Johnathan Farmer
Sink Tips / Sink Leaders / Poly Leaders for Trout Spey”
Carrying a wide range of tips is always a good idea. This will allow you to fish multiple types of water to be prepared for every situation you may encounter. Be sure to select a tip that will reach your desired depth and do not be afraid to change them out to match the depth where the fish are feeding. Tips are offered in a wide range of sink rates ranging from T-6 to T-14. Airflo makes a Polyleader Set with different tips varying based on sink rate.
Trout Spey Leader and Tippet Rigging Set up:
Your leader set up will depend on your shooting head and sink tip selection. If you choose to fish a Scandi Line, you will want a slightly longer tapered leader 6’-9’ and to fish a lighter tippet to protect those smaller hooks. Be sure to appropriately match your tippet size to the fish you intend on targeting to ensure that you do not have to overplay the fish to get them to the net.
For Skagit lines your leader should be much shorter and does not need to be tapered. Fishing a leader between 2’-4’ will allow your fly to sink and match the depth of your sink tip. With a Skagit line and a larger fly, you will want to bump up the tippet size as larger flies often get hit harder and there is nothing more annoying than snapping a fish off on a hookset.
Water to Target for Trout Spey
When swinging flies, a good rule of thumb is to find water that is flowing at a steady walking pace. After you have located such a stretch of water, you will want to present your cast 30-45 degrees downstream, this will allow for a proper swing. From that point, you can mend your line and choose to lead your fly to speed it up or follow your fly to slow down your swing, whichever is appropriate for the fishing situation. As soon as your fly has stopped swinging, be sure to allow it to hang for a few seconds as fish will often follow a fly and take after it has stopped moving. Following the pause, it is as simple as cast, swing, set, and repeat (not necessarily in that order).
Fishing a trout spey is a blast and very applicable on many rivers and in areas that may not have been easy to fish with a full size spey rod or a single hand rod. We suggest asking your local fly shop if they can order a trout spey set up and I bet you will not regret doing so. After all, who doesn’t love buying new fishing gear?