The River Spey

Building The Two Handed Rod
by Bob Meiser

Part One

Two Handed Fly Rods, and their applications have become very popular worldwide. Up until only a few years ago, double handers would normally be found only on the coastal rivers of Scandinavia, the British Isles, and Canada, utilizing two handed techniques while pursuing Atlantic Salmon and Coastal Trout. Today, the two handed rod has become the tool of choice for many anglers pursuing not only anadromous species, but for an extremely wide variety of both salt and fresh water gamefish as well. Today's double hander has not just limited their rods to coastal rivers, they can now be found fishing over the surf and flats, big stillwaters, and interior river systems.

Having a few of these rods in your own arsenal may be to your benefit, and I hope that this article will help you build them.

A Brief History of the Two Handed Rod

The Roots of the two handed rod dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. In the 1850s, the majority of both European and North American Trout rods were double handers of 12 to 13 feet in length. Salmon rods were somewhat similar in length to our contemporary traditional Spey rods. Rods of 15 to 18 feet were the norm, with Shannon rods being even longer. These early Trout and Salmon rods were made of various materials. Most commonly used were Ash, Lancewood, and shaved Greenheart. While finely finished and ferruled, they were relatively simple in construction, and could weigh several pounds. Rod guides were often simple un-braced brass rings, which flopped as the line struggled through. The ardent angler made his own rods, and perhaps a few extra for his friends. The advantage of the long rod was that it's reach allowed the angler to cover more water. Often with the rod at full extension, flies were simply dapped on the surface in front of the holding Trout. Although few anglers had the equipment, nor technical expertise to shoot line, an extremely fit fellow with expert casting abilities could roll cast 30 to 35 yards of line. Surely this technique allowed the angler to properly cover big waters, but the shear weight of the rod alone required great physical stamina to complete a days fish. Perhaps liberal tosses of good Scotch Whiskey eased the pain a bit. Thus the tradition!

In 1849, Samuel Phillippe, a gunsmith and violin maker from Easton, Pennsylvania changed all of this. With the skill of a minor Stradivarius, he revolutionized the Trout and Salmon rod. Phillippe is credited with building the first entire split cane rod. His "rent and glued-up cane rod" now allowed the angler to work a long rod that weighed a fraction of the contemporary hardwood rods. The advantage of this milestone was tremendous and obvious. To this day, the cane rod, whether it be for Trout or Salmon, is considered by many to be the ultimate fishing tool.

Over the past 50 years, synthetics in the form of first fiberglass, then Boron, and Graphite have caused a revolution of their own. Although there is still a strong, in fact growing appreciation of Trout length bamboo rods, longer rods from 10 to 16 feet, utilizing graphite blends, internationally have become the overall choice of even the most demanding and avid long rod anglers.


Spey Casting, and the applied techniques of other various two handed presentations once learned, are among the most effortless, and enjoyable means by which to efficiently and effectively, cover large sections of fish holding water.

To generalize, there are basically two kinds of two handed presentations: One being the two handed overhead cast, and the other being the traditional Spey cast.

The primary application of the both the Traditional Spey and the two handed overhead cast is to efficiently cover the maximum amount of holding water, while exerting a minimum amount of casting energy!

Anglers swinging flies to fish holding in the mid-stream seams and tailouts of large rivers often need to achieve extended or long distance casts to effectively present the fly. This presentation often needs to be accomplished while tight to bankside riparian, or canyon walls. These common obstacles will totally eliminate the ability to efficiently perform the back cast. Nothing can accommodate this situation more effectively then the classic Spey presentation. A properly performed Spey cast will always keep the "loop" along side, or in front of the angler, thus eliminating the need for the back cast.

Again, to generalize, North American anglers have come to recognize two specific rod actions within the Spey family: The Traditional and Euro/Scandinavian actions.

The action of today's Traditional Spey rod has it's roots deeply ingrained within the river systems of the British Isles. Here, broad deep rivers burdened by thick bankside riparian, required the angler to develop advanced roll casting techniques. By utilizing their long rods, extreme roll cast presentations allowed advancing line to remain in front of the caster. The Greenhearts, and especially the later Bamboo long rods set a precedent for the desired "feel" of this action. Today's Traditional action Spey rods have retained the heart of this feel. To achieve this, most of today's blank manufacturers will utilize lower to mid range modulus graphite materials, rolled into tapers that will achieve medium to medium slow actions. Most will have heavy butt to lower-mid section strengths, while still allowing the rod to have an overall parabolic feel when presenting line. The cast is preformed with a slower, long stroke, relaxed delivery.

When compared to the Traditional actions, the Euro or Scandinavian style Spey rods will have a stronger butt and mid section, with rod strength distributed further up the blank, typical of faster action tapers. They will perform with as much efficiency as the Traditional action, but the cast is performed with a faster, shorter stroke delivery, a style that may be preferred by the aggressive caster. The faster action Euro rods will often utilize higher modulus materials to maximize rod strength, yet hold blank weight to a minimum.

Both Traditional and Euro action rods commonly range from 12 to 16 feet in length, with lines varying from 6 to 13 weights.


In some respects, the two handed overhead cast is similar to the conventional single hand overhead presentation, the major difference being that two hands are used to perform the cast. Both techniques require balanced lines to load the rod and achieve line speed. The single hand caster will utilize the single or double haul technique to maximize line speed, and achieve optimum forward distance. The double hander on the other hand, will not be dependent on the haul to achieve extreme line speed, rather, the caster will be more dependent on line grain weight to load the rod. In essence, the rod performs most of the work, minimizing fatigue to the casters arms and wrists. The two handed overhead cast has two primary functions, one is to achieve extreme forward line distance while presenting heavy, and/or wind resistant flies. The other is the ability to easily present an incredibly wide variety of shooting head systems, with an absolute minimum of false casting. Although the two handed overhead cast can be performed while using most faster action Spey style rods, it is best performed while utilizing fast to ultra fast action rods, that range from 10 to 13 feet in length, and will throw shooting head systems from 150 to 1200 grains. ~ Bob Meiser

Next Time: Building the Two Handed Rod

About Bob:

Bob is a custom rod builder who builds special purpose fly rods and spey rods. He is the owner of R.B. Meiser Fly Rods, Ashland, Oregon. You can reach Bob through his website at:
More Spey Rod Articles
Part Two
Part Three

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