A lesson in Spey casting with Eoin Fairgrieve at the Fly Fishing Centre

By Allister Wallace

From time to time one comes across a unique learning experience that ignites the way you look at the activity. Such was the outcome I recently experienced, when having a Spey casting lesson with Kelso-based Eoin Fairgrieve. The Fly Fishing Centre is owned and operated by Eoin, who is a fully qualified casting member of AAPGAI (Association of Advanced Professional Game Angling Instructors). Eoin’s far-reaching reputation in the field of Spey casting is widely recognised, so I was keen to see what his teaching could do for me. I believe that with my level of double-handed casting ability, I could present him with sufficient challenges to resolve within a two-hour session. Game on!

Eoin Fairgrieve
Eoin’s website and video clips certainly whet the appetite in advance of any lesson. Both visually and practically, he gives the distinct impression that the complexities of double-handed Spey casting come within the scope of all who are prepared to practice his “key elements”. However, does the teaching translate into achievable outcomes? A damp spring day would prove to me whether this was money well spent and worthy of future recommendation.

As a teacher and former university lecturer, I feel that I have sufficient skills to determine where good teaching exists. What I was not prepared for was the excellent teaching I received by a skilled professional, who was able to give me plenty opportunity to learn by doing. Yes, Eoin, is one of those naturally gifted teachers who quickly analyses his client’s strengths and weaknesses and is able to elicit the best that can come from the lesson. I have to say that I was eager to take advantage of all the skills Eoin clearly has in abundance. On to the lesson…

On arrival at Eoin’s Fly Fishing Centre (near Kelso), you team up at the trout lake in the grounds of the Roxburghe Hotel and Golf complex. Eoin has tidy cabin facilities for changing into waders and getting ready for the day’s events. I had booked a two-hour slot, and one of the obvious aspects of his time management is that he is well prepared for your arrival. Part of my planning was to use my own equipment so, whilst I donned waders, Eoin set up my 17-foot Thomas and Thomas and 15-foot Loomis Stinger rods. I wanted to use my early season Skagit and Scandi lines.

We travelled to the nearby River Teviot by golf buggy and I chose the left bank to start the lesson. Eoin has such a natural way of making you feel at ease. However, during my warm up I got my excuses in first! “Have not been well recently", "have not lifted a rod for months”, and so on. One of my problems, however, concerns a shoulder operation that has dogged me, especially when fishing the right bank. A few years ago, I had the left shoulder joint replaced. As a consequence, the weakened shoulder muscles had, until the lesson, convinced me that left hand uppermost on the rod was beyond my casting abilities.

The lesson started with the breakdown of the elements of the circle-C cast. Apparently, my technique is sound. However, a combination of timing issues and a focus on the diagonal lift, forming the V-loop and completing the line tear were the adjustments he wished to focus on. Also, Eoin could immediately work out that the shooting line on my 15-foot Loomis Stinger rod was marginally too thick for the Scandi line. A schoolboy error on my part meant that the Rio MOW tip was not suited to the Scandi line, resulting in poor turn over. Such are the benefits of one to one teaching that maximise the improvements that can be achieved within the time available.

 My early thoughts were along the lines of, "Crikey, Eoin is making me do things well and I do not feel pressured. This really is good stuff!" Gradually, I saw improvements in my technique and my level of confidence increased. Eoin has ample skill in making you feel at ease and the lesson flows. All good…

I moved from the long rod to the shorter rod and Eoin showed me that it has the capability to send a fly to much the same distance. Wow! My preference for fishing both rods is to reduce lost time on the water, by setting up different lines that fish the fly at various depths. Despite the clear rod and line differences, Eoin explained that the key elements of the cast were the same. I could see that he was intrigued as to why I like the long rod, (a heavy beast), but it is a reminder to me of both the action and weight of my old split cane Sharpes Impregnated rod I used in the sixties. Some things stay with me despite technological advances.

 We decided to move to the right bank, so back to the golf buggy. Here is where my casting weaknesses were shown to the full. As a consequence of my weakened left shoulder, I have always resorted to right hand upper most and crossing the rod over my body. Not very efficient… Eoin suggested using the shorter rod and moving to left hand upper most on the handle. After three attempts and based on the muscle memory of the earlier practise on the left bank, suddenly I saw progress. I felt that my casting was not too shabby and there was no feeling of pain or awkwardness in the shoulder. To me, this is progress I did not anticipate!

We worked on the circle-C and the new casting skills became a confidence builder for me. Wind conditions, as we know, can play havoc with casting but the subtle work Eoin asked me to develop effectively countered this. Across the lesson, I gradually improved both line management and the all important timing aspect of forward delivery. All I can say is, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire two hours (plus). Eoin was very generous with his time and we returned to base via the golf course to have a recap of the morning’s work.

 If you have never had a lesson or if you know you need to take Spey casting to another level, I would highly recommend Eoin. His work of teaching fly fishing to youngsters and adults alike is widely recognised in the industry. Trust me – you will not be disappointed. A true gentleman and professional at what he does. Eoin can be contacted through his website or by e-mailing him at info@eoinfairgrieve.co.uk

A return visit to the Fly Fishing Centre is not far off for me.