Pro Tips: An Introduction to Trout-Spey Fishing

Written by: Andrew Grillos, Montana Angler Fly Fishing

Sometimes, big water calls for a way to cover more water.
Photo by Andrew Grillos

A fun and effective method of trout fishing is the down-and-across streamer or wet fly swing, and the popularity of trout-Spey fishing in Montana has grown exponentially over the last few years. The simplicity of spending a day stepping down a run, casting and swinging, is a refreshing change from the usual day of trout fishing. The electric “grab” is also a big part of the excitement with swinging flies, since takes are always on a tight line. The down-and-across presentation is fairly passive, as you swing a fly through likely holding water. Then, out of the blue, a trout will aggressively grab the fly in a satisfying and exciting take!

As trout anglers, we tend to bring everything but the kitchen sink when it comes to fly selection and accessories. Trout-spey fishing is a great change because you can leave all the extras at home and just head out with your rod, a sinking tip or two, some leader material, and a small assortment of Spey flies.

The slower pace of swinging flies makes the sport more contemplative.
Photo by Andrew Grillos

The lifetime learning curve associated with fly fishing means there’s always something new to try. Whether it’s in preparation for a big British Columbia steelhead fishing trip or just a new way of catching the fish in your local stream, becoming familiar with two-handed casting is a great new challenge for every fly fisherman. Even the most skilled and experienced anglers enjoy the challenge of learning something new.

Another great reason to try Spey-fishing for trout is that it will make you look at holding water a little differently. Most anglers planning on nymphing a run would head right for the deep, defined transition zone at the head of the run and would likely cover that small section of the run very thoroughly with drift after drift. An angler looking at a run with swinging flies in mind would likely start out standing near the top of the run, but would target the water a bit below the defined seams at the head of the run, then focusing their efforts through the more consistent flow of the middle of the run and all the way to the broad, flat tailout.

Swinging is also a great way to cover the water in many of our larger Montana rivers. The longer casts achieved with longer rods and different casting technique allow the angler to fish their fly through holding water that likely doesn’t get fished by the angler with a single-hand rod. The Missouri, Madison, and Yellowstone Rivers are all examples of large rivers that lend themselves to the swung fly. The long, broad runs of these rivers give the angler a lot of room to continually cast, swing, step, and repeat, as they work their way down the run, as well. The typical rule of thumb is to take a few steps downstream after making each swing, thus fishing downstream rather than typically working your way upstream, as you would while nymphing a run.

The simplicity aspect is another great reason to occasionally go out and just swing flies. Once you’ve got your trout-Spey rod set up and dialed in, all that’s really necessary for a day’s fishing is to bring a spool of leader material and a small assortment of flies. It’s nice leaving the fishing vest or pack at home and just heading out with waders and a couple small items in your pocket.

Swinging flies for trout also forces the angler to slow down a bit and fall into a slower fishing rhythm, focusing on fishing under tension while the fly swings across the current. The short drifts and frequent casts you make while nymphing a run make for a very active and fast-paced day of fishing. The long, slow presentations as the fly swings across a run force the angler to be deliberate and patient, and gives him or her a chance to daydream or look around and enjoy surroundings a bit more. It’s much more relaxing than focusing on a dry fly or a bobber bouncing along the current.

A big rainbow like this on a light spey rod can be exciting!
Photo by Andrew Grillos

Andrew Grillos is former steelhead guide and trout-Spey convert in Montana.

Click here to learn more about Trout Spey
techniques and Gear!

6 thoughts on “Pro Tips: An Introduction to Trout-Spey Fishing”

  1. I laughed at first when reading that spey casting was a way to minimize accessories, but it makes sense! I’ll have to leave everything at home some day and try this.

  2. Leaving all the gear behind is the best. When I go swinging wet flys on my single hand rod or my light switch rod I take one small fly box in one pocket a spare leader and a couple spools of tippet in the other. That’s all that’s needed for a full day of fishing. Hands down my favorite.

  3. I would rather cast and fish with my spey rod and be skunked, than catch a lot of trout with my standard trout rig

  4. Andrew, I’m hoping you are recovering from your health challenges. Not sure when you wrote this piece but the knowledge you can share is always worth reading. I have become a soft hackle and wet fly junkie in Central Oregon. Whether its with a light rod on smaller rivers or a bigger rod on the Deschutes. I do take issue a little bit about using sink tips… unless you are swinging for steelhead and want to be down. Most of my ”trout spey” is in the upper part of the water column and floating lines are the typical. If I want to get down a little, I use a heavy wire hook on the fly, or add some weight to the fly. I do find that I use single hand spey casts a lot when swinging trout flies, especially on smaller stretches of the Middle Deschutes, the Metolius, or the Crooked rivers. The same holds true in Idaho and much of Montana’s smaller rivers….

    Hope you are recovering well. Best to you!

    PS.. my daughter Carleigh had her first child today…. a little girl who will no doubt love fly fishing too..

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