Single or double?
As with many people, my fly fishing began with an old 9 foot glass fibre single handed trout rod aged 8, however, the line, I remember, was very different to most. Orange nylon cord used by my Uncle, a trawler-man, for fixing nets.
Learning cast with such a curly light line I quickly realised line speed was important and that technique was everything. My first actual fly-line was a “Meteor”, a dense line that sat low on the water, but compared to the orange cord, was a god send. I used this for four years, after which a 12’6” double handed rod and Spey techniques were to change the course of my fishing life.
Roll the clock on 40 years and I find myself invited to fish a lake in Iceland famed for its large trout, so after 40 years of wielding a double handed, or Spey rod as it's known in the US and Canada, I contact the people at Hardy and ask them to send me the “recommended” kit for fishing the lake, a #5 for dry fly and nymph fishing and a #7 for fishing deeper and with bigger flies. Both are single handed rods and what 99.9% of people visiting the lake will use. However, having spent 40 years perfecting a good double handed technique and knowing that some of those fish might be double figure, my feeling is, double figured fish + Tricky conditions = Double handed rod so in my bag I also pack a Greys switch rod. To say this was a good decision is a total understatement.
Although I'm not a “top level” caster with a single handed rod, I'm never the less, very capable and in normal, or decent conditions can drop the fly, as and where I want inside 20 – 25 meters, but importantly, not off both shoulders. If I need a longer line, left hand up, I have windy conditions, or need to cast heavy flies, possibly on a sinking line, then, "for me", it's a total no brainier, bring on the double hander with Spey and roll casts. Having the technique for this down to a fine art, means quartering the effort required with the single handed rod. Yes, "Quarter" or even less than that, effort of that of the single handed rod!!
The fish in this lake were coming to dries, nymphs and streamers with lots fairly close, so around 30-50 feet from the shore, so in good conditions this would be a piece of cake with a #5 single handed rod. However, in poor conditions with a choppy wave on the lake and a wind of 50 - 70mph, it’s a little different.
After one hour double hauling with the single hander, even as someone who enjoys the casting part of my fishing, I could feel my arms and neck tiring, because we were casting in heavy wind and, having fished the near part of the lake, were now at maximum range. I thought, this would be so much easier with a double hander. Smart move! Within a few casts of the switch, not only was I less tired, but, importantly, my fly was now in the water much longer than before. The slightly heavier line I had designed for "Spey and roll cast Techniques" performed, not a little, but “much” better in those conditions, especially fishing heavier flies. I went from working at max and losing my timing, so casting with so much ease and at half the distance again, something which later would provide me with a fish of a lifetime.
Our guide was equally impressed by this method. Having not seen anything but single handed rods used, he was more than impressed the "ease" at which I moved the fly around, quartering the part of the lake with almost zero effort and with the fly in the water "a third" more time over the full day.
The key to this however, is mastering and understanding the double handed, or Spey rod. As someone who has taught more people than most, I have to say, the feedback I get is phenomenal, people cannot believe how easy those techniques are, especially those who come specifically to learn. So many tell me their fishing has got so much more enjoyable and easy, and all because they master a simple technique.
There's no doubt in my mind, this is the way to fish such a place, of course when fishing small dry flies requiring delicate presentation then use what you are more familiar with, however, in difficult conditions, this method will see you coming off the river or lake much fresher than if you spent the day hauling around with a small rod.
Case in point was the large trout I caught whilst on this trip. My fishing partner and I were stood 20 meters apart either side a tributary running into the Lake.
Having had a fantastic morning on the other beat, catching an 8, 10 and 12lb trout close to the shore fishing dries and nymphs on a single handed rod, I now was most keen to see my host, Andy, latch onto a few big ones too. As it turned out he was to have the most wonderful afternoon so, all in all, it made for the perfect days fishing.
After lunch we find ourselves standing no more than 20 yards apart, either side of where a slightly coloured tributary entered the lake. Given how the wind is blowing, we had to be careful not to catch on one another's line. Fish were lying very close to us, particularly on Andy's side where the wind was perfect and helpful for a right handed caster using overhead. However, for me to target the same area meant switching to left hand up the rod. Something with a single hander, I was not comfortable with. Couple this with the lighter line on single handed rod and everything was suddenly more difficult again. It was time again for the double hander.
Now armed with this I'm now casting left hand up the rod, the strong, gusting wind is no longer the enemy, but now my friend. Unlike the traditional overhead cast, The “Spey Technique” I'm using requires the line to be anchored/attached to the water and facing/pointing toward my intended target area during my forward cast. The wind, my enemy when overhead casting with my right hand up the rod just a second ago, now helps keep tension in the line prior to and during my forward cast, ultimately making things much easier for me.
Much more comfortable with this method, I now began to target an area a little further out than before. Andy was having a field day with trout of up to 12 lbs latching onto his streamer almost on every cast, an afternoon I shall never forget for sure. I’d caught some slightly smaller fish on my side however, amid the waves I saw a head pop up around 30 yards from where I stood. That was a fish and a half, I thought to myself. Another moves in the same place, not as big a fish, but never the less, a very good trout. I pulled another 5 yards off the Hardy reel. Now looking at the backing on the spool, I thought, if I can only get out to this fish! Waiting for the wind to die a little, or come from a slightly better angle, I shape up for a long cast. Assisted by the strong breeze the whole switch line flew out, fly turning over in the right spot, perfect! I wait for the sinking tip to do the job on my white streamer, slowly the fly sinks in what must be fairly deep water out there. I'm standing 20 meters into the lake and casting another 33<>. Our American fishing partners, Doc and Paul, had success the previous afternoon by fishing the fly on the drop, so I wait patiently, twelve, thirteen, fourteen; on fifteen I begin to slowly figure of eight, immediately the line tightens, I feel the weight, I know its good! On a river there's an added excitement to catching a fish with a long line, current between the rod point and fish making it seem extra heavy. However, here on the lake it was different, so at this time, although I knew it was big, I didn’t know how big!
The fish ran for the best part of 20 minutes and just as the others had done, played like Sea Trout, incredible bursts of energy, using every sinew of their body to get distance between the hook and reel. The raw power of this fish could only be described as immense, awesome in every sense of the word. Playing such a fish on a switch rod, let me get the butt of the rod resting on my belly freeing the reel to be operated, applying maximum leverage to the fish with minimal effort to my wrist. Around 10 minutes into the fight I realised I had something different from the others I'd caught, as the fish tired I could feel the weight. For around the first ten minutes I fought the fish on the backing only seeing my fly-line again on which seemed the latter stages of the fight. This fish was so tough, so heavy! Now back on the line, just as with Sea Trout, I could feel the fish running out of steam, relentless strain from the butt of my Greys Switch rod was beginning to take its toll. Finally, I saw a tail. Oh my God, I thought, is this for real! The tail looked enormous. What the hell was this I've hooked? Our guide had seen what I had just seen and suddenly the excitement levels increased ten fold, this was indeed a monster. Running line now back on the reel the fish felt extremely heavy, experience telling me this was dead weight of a fish almost played out, however, my leader was 12lbs, and I knew the fish was a good lot heavier. Many a good fish I've seen lost at this point in the fight due to an over eagerness to get the fish landed and more effort being applied just at the wrong phase of the fight. I carried on, gently retrieving line when the fish let me but ready to drop my rod point at any sudden movement. I was sure the fish was tiring, but how much? I'd never played such a big trout, did the fish have anything remaining in the tank? No was the answer, those fish are so powerful and like Sea Trout, fight hard and fast, but for this beast of the lake, the fight was almost over. I’m now in control and can now turn the fishes head at will.
Turning its head toward the net for the last time I though, please, please stay on. The fish glided toward the net and in a quick movement, lay trapped in the plastic mesh. OH MY GOD, said our guide. I've never seen such a fish. It really was a monster with a head that your whole fist could disappear into, not that you'd want too. Never have I looked at a fish and thought, I don’t want to put my hand near that, in that moment its sheer size became apparent to all three of us and, if that were possible, excitement levels lifted again.
Realising we had a potentially record breaking specimen, we took breath just gazing at this beast in the net. The head and tail, my god, they're huge! This is a Brown Trout!? We're all to excited for words, then Andy says, that’s got to be 25lbs! I've never seen such a big trout in this lake says Bjarni, our guide, who reaching for his pocket produces a tape measure. The fish is curled in the net but it looks like, holy Moses, 105cm! The longest fish taken from the lake. The girth measures 55cm and weighed in the net 11.7 kilos or 261/2lbs. An amazing specimen from an amazing place.
This is a story I'll tell over and over again during my lifetime, However, I know for a fact, I'd not have been telling the story had I not packed my switch rod, but the moral of the story is, fish with what you feel is right and suits you. For me, a guy who's life has been double handed rods, this was the obvious rod to use because it made difficult casting conditions very easy. However, if you're not competent with the Double Hander, then stick to the single handed rod. Roll casting makes little or no noise in the water and can move the line 20-30 degrees with almost zero effort with a double handed rod. Those good with a single handed rod will say the same. However, the line used for overhead casting is very different to that required when using the same rod for roll or Spey casting..
As a general rule of thumb, if picking a line for Spey or roll casting one third more weight should be added. So a #7 line weighing 18g for overhead will work best with something around 26 - 28g for Spey or Roll casting double handed.
Click Picture Below for a video of "The Lake". One of the most incredible places I've ever fished.