Spey Question



Good question. Speys are characterized by long flowing hackles, usually palmered through at least part of the body, and tented feather wings. The hackle was originally spey cock and later heron but today's flys sport a wide range of substitutes. I personally prefer Blue Eared Phesant although it is pricey. Bodies are commonly thin with floss or wool being common although bushier dubbed bodies are not unheard of. Tinsels are traditionally used and usually entail a counter wrap over the stem to make the fly more durable. Many winging feathers are used but traditionally it was bronzed mallard. I also use gadwall for winging as I like the black/white contrast.

I suppose a true spey would be tied on a spey type hook as well but a number of craftsmen I know tie their fishing flies on a wide range of types. Traditional hooks were blind eye and used a loop of gut. Some guys still tie these for show flies. They are fun to tie but if you are going to fish them, I suggest amking your loops out of braided mono or even 30# dacron stiffened with cement. Easier to buy looped hooks such as the Alec Jackson's or the Partrige Bartleet CS10/1.

One final comment regarding the wings is the orientation determines a Spey fly from a Dee style. Speys have wings tented over the body while Dees have splayed wings and are often tied in flat.

For a great read on the subject and a much better description that I just attempted, pick up John Shewey's Spey and Dee Flies.

Do they catch more fish? I doubt it. They are fun to tie though and as someone once told me, steelhead deserve the best.

Tight lines --
Spey Flies originated on the rivers of Scotland and Ireland. They are similar in beauty to full dressed Atlantic Salmon flies but are considerably easier to tie, in fact the average tyer can put out some good ones with a little practice and some good materials. They have very long hackles which undulate in the current and make them very seductive.

In my experience the other thing that sets them apart is how eager Steelhead are to take them. I have fished for Steelies with everything from yarn on an egg loop to dries and I have to tell you, dry line or wet tip, day in and day out, you will catch more Steelhead on Spey flies than any fly I have yet used.

The other other thing which sets them apart is how good it feels to open a box full of beautiful Speys and ask yourself, "what fly do I want to catch my next Steelhead on"?

You can get great Speys and materials at great prices at www.steelheadanglers.com

I think it is an appeal of fishing with patterns and techniques that have been reliable for 200 years throughout the world. There is more tradition than actual proof of effectiveness. This is proven by tracing some of the original anglers in the Pacific Northwest. People didn't really believe that a Steelhead could be caught on a fly in Washington and Oregon until the early 1900's.

Spey flyfishing is an evolution to a sport of tradition and theory. The techniques are not proven to be better except under specific conditions. (i.e. larger bodies of water flowing faster) Even in the case of spey flies, they are a preference. On the same body of water you will find many other anglers using many different techniques with similar catch rates.

Since the objective can be hazy with flyfishing, everything is a matter of preference that goes way beyond effectiveness. Spey flies and fishing is considered the ultimate in skill and techniques which is why it has so much appeal. There are similar cases is other sports such as Telmark skiing versus alpine skiing or Traditional alpine rock cimbing versus sport climbing.

The interesting thing is that you can learn spey flyfishing now a days without ever evolving through the sport of flyfishing. Many of us started flyfishing as children and used archaic equipment and techniques. The next step was advanced angling tactics for larger trout in blue ribbon trout streams. Then single handed fishing for steelhead in the summer. Now Spey flyfishing has become part of this evolution for the pacific northwest.

The flytying process had similar ties (no pun). Starting with dry flies and nymphs and progressing towards atlantic salmon patterns.
I'll be willing to bet none of you started tying grub flies before tying full dress flies or spey flies. This was standard practice in England and Scottland in the 19th century when flyfishing was a common countrysport.

Today everything is a matter of social status and personal appeal. I enjoy spey flyfishing because it represents where I am at in my flyfishing career. I have done everything short of tropical saltwater and big game flyfishing. In my opinion, there is nothing more pure than catching a wild steelhead beyond the hatcheries with a fly I personally tied with techniques that have taken me 15 years to refine and a flyrod and reel that have taken years to plan on which would be right for me.

Unfortunatly, I am a poor example of how one should learn how to spey flyfish. Just take the classes and buy the gear and you will be there. Today, it is easy as 1,2,3.


Well said Troutman! I still have a few of my first black leeches for lake fishing back in Idaho. I may not be a master tyer now but damn, I have come a long way. :BIGSMILE

I particularly liked your discussion of the evolution of old time fishers. You are right that today one can skip to the front and have a spey rod be their first flyrod. I am not sure that this is good but it is the future.

Regarding the effectiveness of flies, I recently had a discussion with two of the officers of the Steelhead Society of BC. They were relating how someone had come up with the idea for all the regulars (fly-fishing) on the Thompson to donate their favorite fly; the one that they caught the majority of their fish on. These were all put together on a board. The thinking was that there would be some commonality in patterns, color or at least in size. Wrong. The flies assembled ran the gammut from size 7 purple Speys through big 2/0 pink marabou creations and ended with 4" long black articulated leeches.

So if it makes little or know difference what we fish, why do we spend hours creating that certain pattern that we are sure works? Could it be that truly beautiful flies are designed more to catch fishermen than fish?


Ignored Member
So if it makes little or know difference what we fish, why do we spend hours creating that certain pattern that we are sure works? Could it be that truly beautiful flies are designed more to catch fishermen than fish?


Talk to any fly shop owner (well, maybe not any) and they will tell you flies are to catch fishermen not fish :BIGSMILE

Old Man

Just an Old Man
What do I know---I'm just an old man

You know I was thinking the same thing. The louder(colors) the fly the more it catches your eye And you think that you have to have it. I know,I've been down that same road. I was in Montana one summer and did the very thing. These are working now. $2.75 a fly That was about 5 years ago and I still haven't used them. A sucker born every Minute.

In regards to wether it is good for someone to be able to step in front of the line and buy the equipment right out without ever jumping through the evolutionary hoops, it is wonderful. I will never be against it until I see them fishing waters that I favor. Most folks are too fat or too lazy to make it to the good waters anyways.

When people spend that kind of money with such vengance, chances are they are pushing through a mid life crisis or utilizing their expendible income. What this allows is for us poor folk to buy their equipment at a cheaper rate than full retail when they get boared with the sport. It also keeps the flyshops open and stocking hooks and tippet so us poor folks can stop by once in a while and pick up what we need. Ask any flyshop owner about the science of flies. Many shop owners will be honest and tell you like it is. Granted, in the case of trout flies, size and silouette and colors are important but what about spawning salmon and steelhead? Man it has got to be tough running a shop in this economy.

Am I sounding too pessimistic? God I hope not.
Why and how are spey flies different than other flies?
According to Shewey (1), the defining characteristic of a traditional spey fly is how the body hackle is tied in. Specifically, the hackle (e.g., spey, blue-eared pheasant, marabou, Shlappen) is tied-in by the tip (about 1/2 way between the bend and the eye of the hook) and then palmered forward over a dubbed or wrapped body. Then, and this is the key part, ribbing of tinsel or some other similar material is wrapped forward OVER the previously palmered hackle.

This makes for a very sturdy fly - One that can withstand the carnage stemming from the mouths of many steelhead and still look great.

As for the wing, while striking, the wing does not define the spey fly because so many styles of wings exist. Spey flies can be wingless (i.e., just a collar of marabou, gadwall flank, partridge, etc.,) or winged. If winged, one can have hair-wings, married wings (i.e., the classic look), dee style, or the wings of Syd Glasso who used hackle tips in all kinds of elegant and beautiful ways.



Footnote: John Shewey, "Spey Flies & Dee Flies, Their History and Construction", Frank Amato Publication, 2002.