The first time I watched Dec Hogan cast my jaw dropped… It was fairly early in the “Windcutter/Delta Spey Era” and short belly multi-tip lines were new to the Spey world. Prior to meeting Dec, most of my early Spey casting advice had come from two instructors. One was Scottish the other was Irish. Both of them beat into my head, “Ya push with the top and pull with the bottom!” The day I met Dec, he gave me some very sage advice. “Focus on your bottom hand for power, pull the rod through the stroke” were his words. After some practice I changed my casting stoke and my loops have been tighter ever since.
That was many years ago. Now the idea of using your bottom hand is nothing new. This is partly because of great Spey instructors like Dec, and partly because the evolution of Spey equipment. The trend in two-handed rods has been shorter lengths and considerably faster tapers. Additionally, Spey lines are following suite and also becoming shorter. Lately, I’ve been fishing a 12’6 #6 weight with an Airflo Skagit Switch for winter steelhead. The head length (without sink-tip) is only 20.5 feet! That being said, the shorter and faster the rod is, the more bottom hand you’ll need to use to drive tight loops. The same can be said about shorter Skagit and Scandi style Spey lines.
While a bottom hand dominant stroke is great for chucking long, pretty casts, there is a time to use your top hand to drive the rod. When you have lots of back casting room, you can drive a big, compressed D-loop behind you. The bigger the D-loop you form, the more power you’re going to get out of the cast. It’s easy to make a nice, smooth bottom-hand stoke when the rod is loaded with an efficient D-loop. However, if you’re in a spot with little to no room behind you, you’re going to have to change things up. This is where your top hand comes into play.
As you get closer to the brush, you’re going to have to take some speed out of your D-loop. Slow everything down early in sweep of the rod. Keep in mind; you still want a slight acceleration into the back cast. Judge your back cast speed by the distance behind you. The slower you go and the smaller the D-loop is, the less efficient the back cast will be. As you go into your forward stroke, you’re going to have to make up for the inefficiency of the shallow D-loop. Instead of trying to pop the bottom hand like you do with tons of line speed; use a little more top hand in your stroke. In really tight spots you may have to use all top hand to drive the cast. You’ll also have to lengthen your forward stroke to make up for the lack of line speed. Your loop won’t be as tight but I guarantee the fish won’t care. -Just as long as your fly turns over. The next time you get into a tight spot just remember this; The more back casting room you have and the bigger your D-loop is, the more bottom hand you can use. The less back casting room you have and the smaller your D-loop is, the more top hand you’ll need to get the job done.