Man casting a spey rod hip-deep in a river
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Rediscover Your Home Water with a Trout-Spey Rod

By Shawn Combs, Orvis Director of Product Development/Design

Fifteen years ago, long before I came to work at Orvis, I made my first cast on the famed Battenkill in southwestern Vermont, and I fell in love with the river and its large, wild brown trout. After I joined the company in 2011, I spent countless hours on the river, from April through October, mostly targeting sipping fish or casting streamers from a drift boat. Although the dry-fly fishing can be wonderful, the hatch windows are short, and throwing streamers lets me cover much more water during those times when the fish aren’t showing themselves. After a few years, I thought I knew every nook and cranny—and every good trout lie—from the headwaters to the Hudson. But in the fall of 2018, a new way of fishing opened my eyes to so much I had missed, allowing me to rediscover my home water all over again.

I was looking for a way to develop and test our new, two-handed Clearwater fly rod—an 11 foot 4 inch, 3-weight trout-Spey model—so I challenged myself to fish the last ten miles of the Battenkill in Vermont on foot, two-handed casting and swinging flies through every inch of water. I soon realized that, explored this way, the Battenkill became a new river with new possibilities. Even better, I caught trout, including many from spots I had never considered might hold fish.

Over the course of 40 days, I covered the entire stretch—a mile or so at a time, often before work at first light. I quickly realized that the Battenkill is perfect for trout-Spey fishing, which is most effective on streams and rivers that feature a consistent flow across the entire width of riffles and pools. The beauty of this method is that forty- to sixty-foot casts help you to cover water that under normal circumstances would require you to wade farther and deeper, so you end up spooking far fewer fish.

Explored this way, the Battenkill became a new river with new possibilities.

Aerial view of the Battenkill in surrounded by spring-green trees

When it’s good, fishing streamers from a drift boat is frantic, exciting, and action-packed, but when you get to the take-out, you sometimes realize that you’ve been so focused on constantly pounding the banks that you haven’t even looked up to enjoy the scenery—views of the Taconic Mountains, a glorious sunset, or an osprey on the hunt. Plus, when you’re floating, you’re forced to pass up a lot of water that may hold fish, as you head inexorably downstream.

Trout-Spey forced me to cover the river at a much slower pace, giving me more time to read the water, to set myself up for the proper presentation, and to “be the fly”—imagining just how the pattern is moving through the water, so I could ensure a proper presentation. There’s something about swinging flies that keeps you engaged with your surroundings. When I did hook up with a fish, the grab was just as exciting as a streamer or dry eat, and I felt like a kid again. Fishing this way is quiet, contemplative, and the cast plays a greater role in the pleasure of the experience.

One long stretch of riffle water really proved the value of the trout-Spey rod. When we were in the drift boat, we would race through this stretch quickly because it didn’t seem like very fishy water and we wanted to get to the better pools downstream. But as I waded slowly through the riffles swinging wet flies, I caught fish that I never knew existed. The soft water behind rocks, outside edges, and small features held some beautiful, smaller brown trout and brook trout, which would be tough to target with a stripped streamer. But I was able to swing wet flies right in front of the noses of these fish, and they couldn’t resist an easy meal.

Man in full waders stands between the open hatch of an SUV and a Vermont state sign
Man holding a large brown trout in rapidly moving water
Man holding flies and a spey rod

The simple fact is, that I love swinging flies. There are certainly times when the dry fly and the nymph are more productive, but for me there is great satisfaction in nailing a good cast, mending the line to mesh with the existing current, waiting, and then suddenly, like a jolt to the arm from an electric fence, feeling life on the end of the line. A 3-weight is perfect for Soft Hackles on a Scandi head and protects a 5X tippet well when you’re swinging flies from size 12 to 22. For streamers or larger Soft Hackles, I switch to a 4-weight with a Skagit head and sinking tip. With this rod, I can throw streamers up to about 4 inches long, such as Zonkers and rabbit-strip sculpins, or a trout Clouser with bead-chain eyes.

Finding a new way to enjoy what you love most is a wonderful thing, and light two-handed trout fishing opened my eyes to a new world of possibilities. Fly fishers often consider whether the conditions are right for one method or another, but one of the beauties of trout Spey is that it can be effective during non-optimal times—when the river is too high, when there are no bugs hatching, and so on. And despite the name, this method is not just for trout, either. Swinging flies for smallmouth bass and other species in rivers can be equally deadly. Another bonus is that it keeps you tuned up for that steelhead trip in the fall. If you are looking for a way to breathe new life and excitement into your fly-fishing life, a two-handed, light fly rod could be just the ticket.

Man holding a fuzzy fly fishing streamer

Trout Spey: How to Get Started

Learning to swing flies on a two-handed rod allows you to slow down, become more engaged with the river, and find fish that you never knew were there.