The Snake Roll was invented several decades ago by one of my all-time Spey heros, Simon Gawesworth. He has taught countless people the finer points of it. It is well described and illustrated in his awesome book, Spey Casting. The Snake Roll is considered by many a difficult cast to learn. It can be a tough one to teach, as well. I remember the first time I tried it. I was guiding Peter Tronquet on the Lower Rogue 15 years ago for fall Chinook. During a slow time, he tried teaching it to me. I didn’t even come close that day. In fact, I don’t think I even attempted it for a couple of years after that.
Since then, the Snake Roll has become one of my favorites. I can’t remember exactly when it “clicked” for me. I can’t say for sure what clued me in. But, it is one of those casts that, when you get it, you get it. Over the years I have put my own twist on it, as it relates to the description of the parts, the progression of the strokes, and how to execute the cast.
If you are afraid of the Snake Roll, you are not alone! I sure was. Here’s a few tips that will help you get started.
Here’s how it works:
Overview: The Snake Roll is performed off your downstream side. While it likes to go straight across the river like the Double Spey, be sure your feet are pointing at your target if you change the angle. There are four rod strokes in the Snake Roll. Each stroke is either towards or opposite the target. Imagine there is a hot dog floating in the sky, resting on the horizon. As you make each stroke, you will “circle” the hot dog.
The Tension Stroke: The “Tension Stroke” always starts with the rod moving opposite the target, toward the bank you are standing on. I call it the “Tension Stroke”, because all you really want to do is get tension on the line. To do so, slowly move your rod from the water’s edge upward at a 45 degree angle, opposite the target (towards the bank). This acts as your “Lift”, and puts your rod in position for your next move.
The Target Stroke: From the top of the Tension Stroke, and without hesitation, initiate the Target Stroke. To do so, accelerate the rod towards the target, over the top edge of the imaginary hot dog in the sky. Your rod tip should travel the length of the hot dog once complete. During the Target Stroke, your line will release from the water, and as it turns over and starts to unfold, get ready for your next move!
The D-Loop Stroke: Before your line unfolds and lands on the water, initiate your D-Loop Stroke by sweeping the rod under the hot dog in the sky. Like any D-Loop Stroke, it is formed opposite your target. This is also your Anchor Stroke, as the D-Loop forms and Anchor splashes down simultaneously.
The Forward Cast: As the D-Loop Stroke finishes, watch for the anchor to splash down off your downstream side. A millisecond after it touches down, fire off your Forward Cast!
Notes: Tension, Target, D-Stroke, Cast. That is my Snake Roll mantra. Say it in your head a few times. This will help you remember the parts.
The imaginary “hot dog in the sky” is laying horizontally, elevated in the horizon. As you make your 4 strokes, it’s important to keep the rod high, and your strokes elongated, not round. Round strokes bring your line to anchor too soon, with too much anchor stick, and not enough D-Loop.
The height, length, and speed of your strokes are determined by the length of your rod and line. Shorter lines like Skagit’s and Scandi’s require shorter strokes, and longer head lines require longer strokes, in general. Like any Spey cast, the height and speed have to meet on a curve. A little experimentation is needed to dial it in.
The 4 strokes and tempo of the cast slows down toward completion. The Tension/Target strokes are quick and connected. The D-Loop Stroke/Forward cast take a little more time to develop. Besides Tension/Target/D-Stroke/Cast as your mantra, repeat in your head, 1,2….3…..4. That describes the tempo of the 4 strokes.
If you have Simon Gawesworth’s Spey Casting book, take a look at his illustrations. He shows the caster drawing the cast on a wall, using the tip of the rod as the pen. As you draw around the “hot dog in the sky”, imagine your rod tip against the wall, keeping the rod tip on that plane during the first 3 strokes. The 4th stroke (Forward Cast) slightly comes off the imaginary wall as you move into the Key Position at the end of the D-Loop Stroke.
Besides making your strokes too round, the biggest casting fault in the Snake Roll happens during the Tension Stroke. If you go too fast or pull the line towards yourself during the Tension Stroke, the line will end up too close to you and possibly lodge in your grill. Remember this one rule of fly casting: the fly follows the line, which follows the rod tip. If you pull the rod tip toward yourself, the line will follow, and bad things will happen.
With a little practice, the Snake Roll will become a cast you can execute with confidence. Once you get comfortable with the 4 parts, the cast will come together nicely as those parts become smooth and connected. As for the hot dog, well, don’t forget the mustard.