Odds 'n' Sods of Information and Opinion

Skagit is not easy

Let’s get past the idea that Skagit is easier than the other two styles. If we want to Skagit cast well, it requires just as much skill and practice as the other two styles. It is most definitely not easier and we should stop making the automatic “buy Skagit” recommendation to a beginner based on that reason. A buy Skagit recommendation should be based on the person's likely fishing conditions and the best fit for them.

There is one occasion where I agree with the “Skagit is easy” sentiment and that’s when a guide must get a beginner into fish. The sport shows up to go “Spey fishing” with zero two-hand experience and the guide has to deal with the problem. The solution is to put a heavy Skagit head on a rod and have the guy thrash it in the general direction of the river. It works. In their shoes I’d probably do the same.

However, when we’re talking about people who want to learn to Spey cast well, then as far as I’m concerned there is no difference in the learning curve. In fact, for people transitioning out of single hand casting, Skagit is actually the most difficult to master!

How do we make a backcast in single hand casting? We cast the line straight back and pause! At the pause our modern fast action rods recover to the resting state, then we power forward. This is not how we want our students to cast a Skagit head, for we want them to use continuous motion.

I frequently have students show up with a nice rod and a Skagit head, well set up and balanced, but they can’t cast it. We get on the water, they throw a nice D-Loop straight back and pause. The rod load disappears, the tip sinks, the D-Loop falls, then they thrash it forward to recover. The rest of the lesson is then spent trying to get them to stop casting straight back and pausing. They’ve spent 10, 20 or 30 years of trout fishing, casting straight back and pausing on their backcast. A couple of hours of Skagit lessons isn’t going to undo that.

I spend all of our lesson time trying to fix something that really isn’t broken. Had they shown up with a Scandi or Spey line, then that straight back and pause is the right thing to do. We can then spend our time learning other things. However, they were sold a Skagit head, because it is supposed to be easy, and then we spend all of our time trying to unlearn something that otherwise would not be a problem.

Since they have spent so much money on gear and believe the “easy” mantra, they feel compelled to continue with their Skagit gear. I don’t argue with them about this and let them continue, for it’s their choice and their money, but I will demonstrate what they could be doing.

One of the worst outcomes of this is a loss of confidence and a loss of the joy of Spey casting. They believe the “easy” mantra, but they can’t stop casting poorly, therefore they consider themselves to be incompetent. I spend much of the time bolstering their flagging confidence, trying to convince them that it is only a matter of time before the penny drops for them.

A couple of years ago I had a student out with a Skagit setup who could cast it, but wanted to get some issues clean up. I asked him to make a few casts while I stood back and watched. He made decent, fishable casts out to around 70’ or so, with a reasonable loop shape. I told him that his casts were decent, so I asked what did he wanted fixed. His concern was about the high casting effort involved, the lack of a tight loop, inadequate distance and the poor feel he was experiencing.

The problem was obvious from watching his very first cast. He had a beautiful long line casting stroke, complete with a nice long pause. Had he been using a Delta Spey, he would’ve been zinging it across the river. We had a discussion about it and I told him that he had a lovely, long line casting stroke that I was going to have to change to improve his Skagit casting. He agreed on the change and we proceeded. By the end of the lesson he was doing well. He was satisfied with the improved feel, distance, loop shape and reduced effort. Nevertheless, I felt I had done him a disservice.

More recently I’ve had a number of anglers who have come to be me to be deprogrammed. They’re fed up with their casting struggles, dissatisfied with their Skagit gear and want to learn something else. It’s a pity they hadn’t bought the right gear for them in the first place.

To make matters worse, none of the rivers in our area really need the Skagit approach to fish effectively. All three methods will work equally well. I could accept the need to always teach Skagit if the fishing conditions demanded it, but they don’t.

I am not anti-Skagit, never have been, and I often fish using the method. What does bother me though is the constant drumbeat of “buy Skagit” recommendations, on the assumption that it is easy, that neither takes into account the person’s situation nor the rivers they fish. That is the real problem.