The River Spey

Building The Two Handed Rod, Part 2
by Bob Meiser

Part Two

Building the Two Handed Rod

From the rod builders perspective, the double hander can become a very interesting, and challenging tool to create. Although all of your tried and true rod building techniques should be applied during their construction, there are a few unique characteristics of these long rods that should be addressed. Because you are the rod builder, you have the opportunity to absolutely maximize the functional potentials of the blank and it's applied components. Here are a few builder points that I hope will help you achieve this goal.

In order to properly build these rods, it may be best that we consider the basics of their specific fishing applications. The old adage that "Form Follows Function" is especially applicable to rod building. Therefore; in going through the various components used to build these rods, I will touch on the reasons, and also a little history of why particular components are used on today's two handed rods.



Whole volumes can be read on this subject! But the bottom line is that we're building fly rods, so let's keep it in that perspective. Like all fly rods, the blank should be chosen to match your particular application and favorite presentation techniques. Double handers are no different.

Spey Style Two Handers

Smaller coastal or interior rivers with runs of anadromous game fish that range from 3 to 15 pounds can be effectively fished with 6/7/8 to 8/9/10 weight lines. Waters of this size would require Spey style rods that should not have to exceed 14 feet in length, with many anglers preferring to fish rods in the 12 to 13 foot range. The lighter weight lines and rods working best for dry fly, Skating, or very thinly fished Greased Line presentations. The heavier lines and rods being more suited to swinging sub surface wet flys or fishing through high water conditions.

Medium to larger river systems, pursuing riverborne game fish from 15 to 50 pounds can require longer rods and often times; heavier lines. These longer rods are often preferred not only to match the size of the fish, but more importantly; rod lengths and line weights that will match the presentation demands of these bigger waters. The complex hydraulics, and diversity of holding water within large rivers will often require extreme distance, long drift presentations. The longer reach capabilities of the rods' length itself will definitely come into play on these bigger waters, assisting in proper line mending throughout the flies targeted drift. The 14 foot. 9/10/11 weight has been universally accepted as the overall ideal rod for medium size rivers. It's what the 9 foot 5 weight fly rod is to medium Trout waters. It's an excellent all purpose rod that has the ability to present a wide variety of lines, and will effectively cover a broad spectrum of waters.

Many double handers feel more comfortable casting 15, even 16 foot rods over the larger rivers. These longer rods do allow an easy presentation of a multitude of lines, including floating and sinking multi-tip, interchangeable line systems. Rods capable of Spey presentation using 13 to 15 weight line systems are generally found in these rod lengths.

Rod action for all these waters are totally an issue of personal preference. Both the Traditional and Euro action rods have their place on these waters, and both are capable of presenting the fly while performing all the classic swing techniques.

Two Handed Overhead Rods

Rods that are designed to present balanced lines utilizing both the two handed overhead and underhand Spey style presentations are very common to the Scandinavian angler. These rods were designed primarily to present extended belly shooting head systems. The rivers systems that led to the creation of these techniques were markedly different then those fished by the Britts. Many of the upper latitude Scandinavian Salmon river systems were smaller, higher gradient and more confined by rock walls, and steep bankside riparian. Their two handed rods were adopted to meet this environment. The rods were shortened, necessitating faster actions to launch the heavy head systems.

Although the two handed overhead rod, and it's applied techniques are relatively new to the average North American angler, they have made major headway in recent years. These are rods that have personally attracted my attention, and over the past 5 years have discovered, and hopefully enhanced their incredible potentials.

The typical two handed overhead rod will have a fast to ultra fast delivery. Blanks used for these rods will range from 10 to 13 feet in length, utilizing lay-ups that will maximize the blanks weight to strength ratio. Helical-ply lay-ups work especially well for this application. The best word I can use to describe the desired action of these rods would be "authoritative." Although the Scandinavians routinely use these rods to perform a wide variety of specialized overhead and underhand casts, North Americans have found their primary applications within the two handed overhead presentation. By utilizing the two handed overhead cast, distances of up to 140 feet, throwing lines that can exceed 1000 grains, can be easily achieved. Today's advanced multi-tip, interchangeable shooting head systems are the lines for these rods. The various Spey style casting presentations are optimally performed within a moving water environment. The two handed over head cast on the other hand, can be performed over nearly all waters including: mid to large rivers, large stillwaters, surf, and shallow salt water environments.

Rods in the 10.5 to 11 foot range can be built into "switch" rods. These are rods that can be cast on the overhead utilizing either conventional single hand haul or two handed overhead presentations. Basically the applications of these versatile rods are only limited to the creativity of the angler! They will throw big Bass, Musky, or Pike bugs into the next county. Blast heavy lines into Striper surf, or grease line with the best Traditional Spey rods. In fact, with the proper lines, they will easily perform excellent underhand Spey style casts, with the ability to easily deliver back-cast free presentations in excess of 90 feet.

Reel Seats

Nearly all of the major reel seat manufacturers inventory a series of seats either suitable for or specifically made for two handed fly rods. The builder should keep the following criteria in mind when purchasing a reel seat for two handed rods.

    1. Make sure the reel seat is sized properly. Double handers demand reels with extremely large capacity spools. The required lines can have huge diameter belly sections, 30 foot interchangeable tip sections, 60 to 70 feet of running line, plus 250 yards of backing. At minimum, this will require reels capable of handling a 10 weight, weight forward line and 100 yards of backing. Reels may have to reach 15 weight capacity. Legs on a few of the European reels favored by many double anders are by our standards oversized. They will not seat properly. Often our hoods are to small, or the barrels to short. Make sure to check the out the reel before you build the rod. Many of the manufacturers standard salt water seats work very well on the smaller to mid size butt O.D.s These seats will often go from .600 to .640 I.D. Most will have double lock nuts with integrated "O" rings, and some will have slot milled barrels to better accept the legs. Many of the traditional Spey style rods will have butt O.D.s that will far exceed .640, often reaching .750. These may require Spey specific seats.

    2. Seats can have wood or cork inserts, but the insert will often have a rather small I.D. Try to avoid excessive reaming of these inserts as this will tend to weaken them. For the larger O.D. butts, it will often be best to use aluminum or titanium barreled seats.

    3. As with all components, it is always wise to purchase the best you can afford. Reel seats for two handed rods can be put under extreme loads, and the fish can be large. Double lock nuts, slotted barrels, and heavy duty hoods may save the day.

    4. You can use either up locking or down locking reel seats. The decision of this will often depend on how you want the reel to balance out the finished rod. Rod balance is of great importance for these long rods, and this issue will be addressed a little further on in this series.


The proper construction of Handles for the two handed rod is a real priority. The various rod styles each have specific handle configurations that are directly related to their casting styles. Again, form follows function.

When performing the classic Spey cast with rods of 14 to 16 feet in length, a comfortable hand spread would be 18 to 22 inches. Casters working shorter rods of 13 feet and under can lesson the spread a few inches. A common length of the lower grip would be in the 6 to 10 inch range, with the upper grip being 14 to 18 inches. The total length of the handle assembly, from the bottom of the lower grip to the top of the upper would normally be in the 22 to 26 inch range.

The Scandinavian style handle assembly will often have upper and lower grips approximately the same length, with both being in the neighborhood of 10 inches. This grip configuration accommodates the two handed overhead, and extremely fast underhand casting styles performed by these rods. These are the type of handle assemblies I prefer to use on the 10.5 to 12 foot overhead switch rods.

Finished cork diameters for these handles will often be in the 1 inch to 7/8 inch range, with the actual casting grip areas being very similar in diameters to a conventional mid-weight fly rod.

While swinging the fly through the drift, the lower grip is usually tucked under the arm at the elbow, and left resting on the hip. This is the most comfortable rod position for this common technique, and is how the rod will be held for the majority of time while presenting to river fish. A common practice would be to end the rod handle with a mushroom shaped rubber/metal or rubber/decorative wooden butt cap.

Guides and Guide Placement

The same principels of guide placement are applied to these rods as are applied to all mandrel formed composite rods. In this respect, their extreme length should not be of concern to the builder. Your favorite guide placement, and spine location techniques will do. The issue of real interest concerning guide placement on the two handed rod is where to place the guides on the rod in relation to it's functional spine. To help answer this, one should consider the dynamics involved in performing the Traditional Spey cast.

Within the fly rod family, Spey blanks are unique in that they are asked to perform as much work on the lift as they are asked to perform while presenting the forward cast. The maximum load placed on a conventional single hand fly rod, is at that moment when the haul assists the fully extended backcast, just prior to the shot. Many fly rod builders will finalize their location of the spine/guide relationship in order to maximize the rods potential to assist in this particular task. Spey rods on the other hand not only demand adequate power to generate the line speed required to perform the forward cast, but will also require as much (perhaps at times more) potential energy to move a sufficient amount of "hinged" line to form the "D" prior to the shot. In other words; the rod requires as much, or more potential energy to lift and move the line as it does to throw it.

I have found that the old tried and true approach of determining spine location is your best first step. Once this has been determined, try this process: Temporally locate the guides along the blanks determined spine, and give the rod a full work out, performing all aspects of the Spy cast. Then, rotate the rods upper sections (two handers will usually come in 3 to 5 sections) as a unit in increments of around 60 degrees. Do this until you reach 180 degrees, test casting at each increment. Chances are you will notice an appreciative difference in the overall abilities of the rod as you test cast your way through this process. When you feel you have reached the location that maximizes the rods overall performance, permanently locate all the guides on this plane. ~ Bob Meiser

Next Time: Guides and Building in Rod Balance

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:
Previous Spey Rod Articles
Part One
Part Three

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