The recently published (2013) book titled FLYCASTING SKILLS – for beginner and expert, by John Symonds and Philip Maher, has much to recommend it among the very short list of four books currently available devoted to teaching the two-handed Spey cast. It was written by two eminently qualified authors. John Symonds is an Advanced Professional Game Angling Instructor (APGAI) at single and double-handed levels, as well as an International Federation of Fly Fishers (IFFF) certified Two-Handed Casting Instructor (THCI). John’s mentor, Philip Maher, is a long time fly fishing tournament master competitor, as well as an IFFF Master Casting Instructor (MCI) and THCI, and a certified APGAI instructor for both trout and salmon.
Unlike Al Buhr’s tour de force Two-Handed Fly Casting – Spey Casting Techniques (2006) and Simon Gawesworth’s important Spey Casting (2004), which are books entirely (Buhr) or mostly (Gawesworth) devoted to two-handed fly casting only, FLYCASTING SKILLS, like the Henrik Mortensen book, Fly Casting Scandinavian Style (2010), covers both single hand and two hand casting equally, with almost all (more about that later) the important casts (overhead, roll, jump roll, single and double Spey, snap-T, snake roll, etc.) covered in detail for both single hand and two hand casting. Among the likeable features of the book is that all casts are shown via very clear, well thought out and helpful illustrations – photos, drawings, diagrams and symbols - on side by side pages utilizing single hand and two hand techniques. This is unique to this book and extremely useful to understanding and learning the casts.
Another feature of the book, which I as an IFFF THCI especially appreciate, is its concentration on teaching the fundamental principles and physics common to all good fly casting. These are things like straight line path, proper power application, stroke length, rod load, control of slack, etc., woefully lacking in so much unfortunate slap dash and fragmented instruction endemic to the seeming method of choice nowadays, internet online videos.
While the book is very good and a welcome addition to the limited lexicon devoted to the subject, there are some drawbacks. It has dated, uncritical, occasionally inaccurate, and limited coverage of the Skagit casting style (probably because of the UK backgrounds of both authors) and even less on Underhand/Scandinavian style casting. And there is one inexplicable omission in the book, all the more disconcerting because apparently it was not originally meant to be. On page 22 there is the following entry (my italics):
“For an upstream wind there are two other Spey casts that can be employed: the circle and the snap T. For a downstream wind, the double Spey or the snake roll casts can be used. Explanations of how to carry out each of these casts can be found in this book.”
The problem is, nowhere else in the book is there a mention of the useful circle cast, much less an explanation of how to carry it out. However, they are not alone in having an oversight or error in an instructional book like this. After a lifetime of fly casting and over thirty years of practical experience in teaching it, I can find things to criticize or disagree with in most every book, including those here.
In general it is a very good instructional book well thought out, with something useful for most levels of Spey caster, but especially for the beginner, novice or intermediate caster. It has some of the best explanatory illustrations I have seen in any book. Its coverage of fundamental principles is exemplary. Its cast by cast side by side coverage of single hand and two hand performance of the various Spey casts is unique and valuable. It can easily stand with the other three books I earlier mentioned.
While all four of the currently in print Spey casting books have something to offer all levels of caster, in my opinion each has a different scope that makes it most useful to a grouping within the total population of all Spey casters. My ranking of the four books mentioned here, from lowest to highest based on their value, in ascending order, to rank beginners, novices, intermediate, advanced, expert and master Spey casters, would be as follows:
1) FLYCASTING SKILLS, by John Symonds & Philip Mayer. Best (possibly the best) for rank beginners to advanced level casters, especially visually oriented learners, for the reasons enumerated above. It is also the least expensive and second shortest page length of the four books, for those to whom that matters.
2) SPEY CASTING, by Simon Gawesworth. Best for novice to expert Spey casters, possibly covering the widest range of skill levels of any of the books.
3) FLY CASTING SCANDINAVIAN STYLE* by Henrik Mortensen. Best for advanced to expert Spey casters. I have given this an asterisk * because, while it is a very comprehensive book and covers many important fundamental principles, it is at its heart about a specific style of casting more than universal principles applicable to all styles of Spey casting. It is of most value to advanced or higher level Spey casters who want to master Scandinavian style casting along with other styles of Spey casting.
4) TWO-HANDED FLY CASTING, Spey Casting Techniques, by Al Buhr. Intermediate to master level Spey casters and instructors. This is in my opinion the most complete, in-depth, detailed and comprehensive technical treatment of all manner of two-handed Spey casting, including all the currently predominant styles. It is without peer in its coverage of fundamental principles applicable to all forms of Spey casting. It is dense with technical analysis and explanation of a rich list of casts, and casting faults. While not always easy to understand, and therefore perhaps of less use to rank beginners and novices, it is in my opinion a bellwether for serious two-hand Spey students, advanced to master level, and all instructors of Spey casting. Ironically, the soft back version is the shortest page length (though densest text) and second least expensive of all the books. Go figure.
I believe FLYCASTING SKILLS, and the other three books, are in stock at the Red Shed Fly Shop. This makes sense, since the Red Shed has the most complete selection of books, videos and DVDs on Spey casting, steelhead and salmon flies and fly tying, and steelhead and salmon fishing, by far, that I know of anywhere.