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Roll Casts – Switch Cast – Single Spey casts – all the same thing?

12/20/07 – You often hear a Single Spey Cast is an elaborate Roll Cast.   When I first heard that I accepted it as the similarities were obvious. Once I started Spey Casting I confirmed it to myself for I found the forward stroke of the Single Spey and the Roll casts are almost the same. The big difference it seemed to me was the way you set up for that forward cast and I was pretty comfortable thinking of it like that. 

But as you get familiar with many methods of casting you discover you can parse the strokes into finer sections.  Such was the case when I wanted a little more out of my Roll Casts. To increase the distance of my Roll Cast I needed to load the rod better.  There had to be a change in my stroke. What happened when I changed the stroke was I started Spey Casting and I had never heard of Spey Casting.  What I started doing was the Power Roll Cast at least that’s what it was called then.   

I don’t remember the article or even what magazine it was in but I read that if you let the line go behind the rod when you made a Roll Cast you could get more distance with less effort. I liked the idea of that.  But was it still Roll Casting? Not really. That step, letting my line get behind the rod before starting the forward stroke, was my introduction to Spey Casting. Yep, Spey Casting for it seems that before it was the Power Roll Cast it was the Switch Cast

After I started Power Roll Casting along came Spey Casting or at least that was the way I looked at it. Spey Casting was new to me and I was surprised when I learned how long people had been Spey Casting. A basic Spey Cast is the Switch Cast and I was some surprised to learn the Switch Cast and Power Roll Cast were the same casts.  

Without realizing it I had followed an accepted, perhaps preferred progression from the basic Roll Cast to Spey Casting.  It was such a natural progression that it has become a common method of teaching Spey Casting basics.  Follow along and see if you agree.  

Roll Cast

The Roll Cast is normally a short line cast with 30 to 40 feet being a good long cast for most people.  The Roll Cast doesn’t allow for much in the way of a change of direction and so works best when casting on still waters.  Roll Casts work well with floating lines and straight casts.  

It has another use, perhaps my favorite and that is lifting Sink-Tip lines up to the surface so that you can eventually lift the whole line off the water.  But it is a limited cast and in moving water the faster the water is moving the harder it is to execute a good Roll Cast. 

When I executed a Roll Cast I stopped the rod on the pickup stroke when the line hung almost straight down from the rod tip.  The whole point of the Roll Cast was to be able to cast forward without a backcast.  To be able to cast while backed up to the Alders and keeping the line even with the rod – not behind it – was a key to a proper Roll Cast.  Then I heard about the Power Roll Cast and it told me to let some line go behind the rod before starting the forward stoke.

Switch Cast

When making a Power Roll Cast if the line behind the rod (what is called the D in the world of Spey Casting) starts to reach back and grab the alders behind you then you aren’t Roll Casting any longer even if you call the cast a Power Roll Cast.  What you are doing is starting on the road to a Switch Cast and the Switch Cast is a Spey Cast.  

If you really worked the Power Roll Cast eventually you would get a backstroke that would lift the whole line out of the water and you had to slow the stroke to keep the line from extending straight out behind you. That slowing of the stroke allowed the line to drop back to the water before starting the forward stroke. 

When you really get that loop behind the rod moving and then slow your stroke so the line tip touches down just in front of you – that’s when you can really blast the fly out there.  It’s that touchdown of the fly line tip that loads your rod and if you can start a smooth forward stroke right when the line touches down – that’s a thing of beauty – a wonderful thing happens.  What happens is your line sails out with almost no effort. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re using a 6-foot rod or a 15-foot rod if you make a Switch Cast stoke and your timing is correct your forward stroke will be almost effortless when compared to a normal casting stroke.  However, a trait common to both the Roll Cast and Switch Cast is that neither allows for a wide change of direction.   

Single Spey

The greatness of the Single Spey is that you can change direction by using it. Additionally, of all the Spey casts out there the Single Spey holds the honor of being the longest of all Spey Casts.   

Single Spey casts are a natural progression, an easy leap forward, from the Switch Cast just as the Switch Cast is from the Roll Cast.  But with power and added capability comes complexity.  Simply stated there is just more to do when executing a Single Spey.  And again it doesn’t matter if you are using a 6-foot or 15-foot rod the elements of the cast are the same. 

A limitation of the Single Spey cast is that the line must be on your upstream side when you begin the forward stroke. It just won’t work otherwise.  And the key to getting the line upstream of you is line control.  The cast forces you to learn line control and as you get better at line control any – ANY – cast you make Spey or conventional becomes better and easier.  

Now I can’t explain the Spey Cast here.  Better writers then I have tried to write out the steps and failed but I can tell you that it is a good, powerful cast and not that hard to learn if you build up to it starting from the basic Roll Cast.

Additionally, the Single Spey has the advantage of providing you with visual feedback throughout the cast as the line and fly never go completely behind you.  The fly line tip and the fly will drop back to the water in front of and upstream of you before you start the forward stroke and that visual feedback helps you gain control of your line and line placement.  Something a conventional backstroke doesn’t do.  

Gone is the question a beginning conventional caster often hears when making a backstroke – no one will ask, “did you feel a slight tug as the line straightened behind you?” Someone might ask “Did you watch your line touch down before you started the forward stroke?”  And a Single Spey caster should see that touch down.  Thankfully, the visual feedback is easier to recognize than the subtle tug of a conventional backcast. 

So is a Single Spey Cast just an elaborate Roll Cast? Well yes and no.  The two certainly share characteristics.  The big difference though is that the Single Spey will allow you to change directions with your cast.  Gone is the limitation of having to cast back to where your line was.  Instead you can pick your line up from a downstream dangle and cast it back out at 90 degrees, or at an even wider angle, from where it was.  

I guess I’d sum it up by saying that if you can Roll Cast you’re well on the way to knowing how to Single Spey cast.  If you move from the basic Roll Cast to the Power Roll Cast or Switch Cast you’ll be even closer.  And, then when you make the next step and learn to Single Spey the ability to switch directions during the cast you will find a whole new realm of water becomes fishable and fishing all the available water, not just the easy water is bound to improve your catch rate.

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Click this link to watch a video Jeremy Cameron and I made while fishing the Kennebec using Spey Casts and a short rod.