Jon Hazelett’s Spey Casting Class was a big hit last weekend, with plenty of practical instruction, steelhead talk, and beautiful weather on the McKenzie River.
I joined Jon and a great group of fellow Spey anglers for the Saturday event, a perfect opportunity to tune my Double Spey and Snap-T casts. The day offered me an opportunity to catch up with Jon and bonus time to visit with several people I have met at fly fishing events over the last several years. I met Jon in 2003; fly fishing for Chinook on the Lower Rogue. Funny thing, though, I didn’t realize that I had met him until 2008, when I hired him as a guide on the upper Rogue and we started talking about the craziness of fly fishing for salmon.
There we were, floating down the Rogue in a party of three guide boats, enjoying a sunny day and trading fishing stories. Our conversation came around, as it inevitably does, to salmon fishing, and to a day on the lower Rogue when I had been showing my family where I had been fishing. As we watched a half-dozen Spey fishers who had staked out position in a productive riffle, I noticed a guy who had waded half-way across the river, spotting fish and directing the group’s casting over pods of Chinook moving upstream through the riffle. Wow, I thought, what a great system – all it took was one guy willing to sacrifice his fishing opportunity to maximize the opportunity for the rest of the group – altruism refined to new heights. The group was especially notable because it consisted of youngish men and women, all well equipped, all good casters, and a streamside chef who was grilling steaks for breakfast. Not your usual cast of characters on the lower Rogue.
Anyway, it was great to see Jon, a certified casting instructor, all-around great angler, and nice guy. And no, I’m not biased because Jon is a friend.
Now to the class. This was my first experience fishing floating lines. Wow.
I approached the river with a fair amount of confidence, a 15’ floating tip attached to my Skagit Head, and dumped a cast. Yuck. Dumped another cast. Must be the wrong head-weight for the rod (Winston 7123-4 B2MX), I thought. After all, this was my first day fishing this shiny new toy. I tried another head with the same floating tip. Same deal. I put on a different floating leader. Worse.
About this time, Jon had finished making his rounds with the guys and waded upstream to see what he could do to help me.
Find your anchor point, slow down, form a good D-Loop, and live with the 180 degree rule – he reminded me. Dump. He politely asked if he could try the rod/line combo. Drat. He was able to make respectable casts. But, thankfully, he suggested that I try out a Rio AFS floating line on the same rod. I had tried the AFS lines last year, with a heavy sink-tip, and had not been comfortable with the set-up. Jon patiently explained that the AFS lines were best fished dry, with a leader in the 3x rod-length range. Oh, I said – didn’t know that.
Jon put a 520 gr AFS line on the Winston and handed it back to me. Oh-my-gosh! This is how it’s supposed to feel! The same applied to my Dec Hogan 5122-4 – it performed far better with a full floating line than it did with a Skagit Head and floating tip. Turns out that everyone but me knew that Skagit Heads are best suited to fishing Sink-tips. If you want to fish shallow or skate dry flies, use a floating line! Duh. The Rio AFS and AirFlo Scandi Compact heads are a little longer and have considerable taper, in contrast to the shorter, blocky Skagit heads.
My classmates fished a variety of rods including the Echo Dec Hogan, Sage VT2, Sage Z-Axis, and Winston B2X and B2MX. Several of us cast a great little Sage Z-Axis Switch rod (6110-4) that cast like a dream.
We started the day casting from river-right with a slight upriver breeze, but with Jon’s guidance, our Double Spey worked as if it was dead calm, and our confidence level grew as we worked out the kinks. Jon worked his way from caster to caster, helping each of us learn or improve our Spey skills and reinforcing fundamentals.
Lunch on the river was a great combination of munchies and fishing stories. Fly size, line mending, time of day, hook setting, shooting lines, grabs that never quite stick, and sneak-peaks at each-other’s fly boxes made the lunch break zoom by. Jon told a great joke about how he conceived a different name for the Snap-T. Twenty minutes later, I finally got it and laughed out loud. Then the rest of the guys laughed at me for being so slow on the uptake. The joke? Never mind. You had to be there.
Jon made a show of donning a BEAVER hat before shuttling us downriver to a gravel island for the afternoon session. The breeze picked up a notch. We spread out on both sides of the island and had the choice of an upriver, in-your-face wind on the main-river side, or an upriver over-the-shoulder wind that was about the nicest assist I have ever had for a Snap-T. This water even looked like it could hold a steelhead. A few of us shifted our attention to rock hounding as we strolled up the gravel bar – and were rewarded with several nice agates and a piece of petrified wood. River booty!
We ended the day with a brisk upriver run in Jon’s 18’ V-Hull jet sled and de-wadered in the shade at Armitage Park. Hand-shakes, hugs, exchanged flies, and promises to see each other again soon. A great day on the river. And now I know that ya can’t just add a floating tip to a Skagit head and expect to fish dry flies. Oh well – I do love buying tackle.