Underhand Casting and other Shooting Head Spey Casting Styles

Classic Underhand casting style is a short stroke, Scandinavian style of Spey casting using a shooting head which was first developed by Goran Andersson. It is not the normal style of shooting head casting used today and is now a little dated and surpassed by other styles but is still a useful technique to know and to execute technically correctly.

In original classic Underhand style, only the long leader, or leader and poly leader / tip touches the water to form the anchor and the shooting head forms the D loop. The leader or leader and poly leader combination may be up to 24 ft long. To ensure only the tip and leader touch the water and not the head, a level sweep round of the rod tip (parallel to the water surface) for the most of the sweep is absolutely necessary. The cast is started with a little overhang so that at least six inches of running line is outside the top eye. The rod tip is usually lifted initially to about 45 degrees and tapped in the opposite direction at the start of the sweep. This tap in the opposite direction is to ensure the line clears or lifts off the water easily and earlier to prevent any excessive rod loading building up during the sweep from too much water resistance of the line. Alternatively a curving in swing lift may be used which will have the same effect.

There is no dip used during the sweep. There is practically no arm swinging on the sweep and the rod is kept in front of the angler, as the body turns to re alignment with the final delivery direction the rod is tilted and the arms are raised to the key position to create the sweep and D loop. The end of the shooting head should end up to his side opposite the angler, and the leader / poly leader and leader will then be placed on the water to his side but from opposite or in line to forward of the angler. All of the head will then form the D loop behind the angler.

The grip on the rod is different for classic Underhand style casting and the hands are much closer together with the top hand moved down the handle more than for Spey casting or more modern Scandinavian styles of shooting head Spey casting. To do this the top hand is moved down the handle so that it is a little closer to the reel, and usually a ring is made with one or two fingers (index and middle) and the thumb of the top hand rather than using a standard handshake grip. It is not a tight grip and used more of a fulcrum than anything especially on the set up. The bottom hand can then be pushed out more in the key position or firing position without the rod tip dropping too low behind and causing the unwanted dumping line on the water behind.
This allows pushing out of the bottom hand more while still retaining the right rod angle behind when in the key or firing position, (just before you make the forward cast). As with all Spey casting the rod tip reaches its furthest back position by rising or circling up to that position. Faster rod tip turnover speed is also generated from the closer fulcrum of the top grip on the final delivery, as Alastair Gowans astutely comments - moving the hand down the rod butt is like changing gear.

The bottom grip is the Scandinavian grip where the button of the rod is placed in the palm of the hand and the thumb is wrapped around the cork. This allows two or two and a half fingers also to wrap around the rod end.
The hands can be moved closer together in this style because less power is required to make the cast as the head length is short. The rod is stopped high on the final delivery to create a tight loop. How far the angler moves the top hand forward on the final delivery is a matter of style and perhaps wind direction. An oncoming wind will need a lower trajectory and more push through.

Up until the head is outside the top eye the shooting head line is used as a normal line on short casts. When the head is outside the top eye then underhand casting technique may take over. Underhand casting is practiced with normally a yard or so of running line placed out of the top eye of the rod. The amount of running line outside the top eye after the head is called overhang. The amount of overhang being used is critical and only a short amount of overhang should be used, up to about two yards. A little overhang tightens up the loop on the final delivery. The longer the overhang the tighter the loop will be but the more danger there is for an error of mis timing.

How the lift and set or sweep is made is one of the main differences between Underhand and Spey styles. The emphasis in Underhand is on the use of a short stroke and the bottom hand to apply most power and leverage on the final delivery. Underhand would perhaps be better translated into English as bottom hand casting. Underhand casting involves keeping the rod in front of yourself and making the sweep with the whole upper body trunk turning to alignment but not sweeping the arms. The body turns to alignment with the final delivery direction only, further upper body rotation and circling up behind is not used. The arms raise to the key position as you turn the body for the main part of the sweep. There is a level path made of the rod tip and the best way to ensure this is to think of the rod tip staying parallel with the water surface for most of the sweep, the tip raising up to the key position at the end – after it passes the anglers position.

Most importantly initially a tap or slight curve in the opposite direction to the sweep is made at the start of the sweep, this is critical for efficient clean classic Underhand technique and ensures that the head leaves the water below the angler. It prevents excessive rod loading on the sweep from too much water resistance building up from the line over the first half of the short sweep.

During the sweep round made by turning the trunk of the body, the rod is tilted to the side by about 45 degrees by pushing out to the side with the bottom hand - like stirring a large pot of soup (doing this as both hands are simultaneously raised to the key position). This is fine tuned so that the rod tip will come round parallel to the water surface and with no dip. The bottom hand helps steer the rod tip in the right path. As the sweep finishes and the rod is raised to the key or firing position, the bottom hand is pushed well out. The thumb of the top hand will be at least at the top of the ear or forehead height in elevation. Only the leader or leader and poly leader will touch down cleanly, perfectly straight, on the water. Perfectly straight as there was no dip. There is a slight pause to allow this to happen. Years ago only long tapered leaders were used made by the Loop company. Now many people use tips or poly leaders (same thing) and standard length tapered leaders, both items together making the long leader for the anchor.
Underhand casters can be very fussy about leaders clipping off inches and trying them again to get it right.

The forward cast is made mainly by pulling in the bottom hand as both hands move down slightly. The top hand does not move far forward, A high stop of the rod tip is made to form a tight loop. How far the angler moves the rod forward or the top hand forward on the final delivery is a matter of style, and sometimes perhaps wind direction. An oncoming wind will need a longer arc and more follow through. The head is catapulted away after the stop and will easily pull out lots of running line. The running line should be slick and not too thick in diameter so as not to cause too much friction or resistance. To make a more dynamic distance cast with a higher line speed, a sharp shunt downwards of the rod butt is made with both hands coinciding exactly with the stop at the end of the forward power arc. When practiced correctly this creates extra rod loading and a more dynamic final delivery.

For Underhand casting in a downstream wind a Snake roll or reverse snake roll is used with the hands brought up to the key position or firing position at the end of the snake roll so that only the leader and tip touch the water. Sometimes a circle cast followed by a jump roll on the downstream side may be used. Any combination of line placements or cast that allows an anchor to form on the downstream side may be used.

As we are using a shooting head, for any distance it is necessary to strip line and hold the line in large coils on the fingers so that it may be easily released and shot on the final delivery. If it is not held in coils it would carry too far downstream with the current, pull under or lie on the surface and then cause excessive water resistance for the final delivery. The coils are held in the fingers, after five or six pulls the little finger will grab a coil, after another four or five pulls then the ring finger and so on. This coiling of the line becomes automatic and eventually done without thinking.

Underhand casting is an excellent way of fishing sunk lines. There are several main styles. The most widely known is Goran Andersson’s style described above and he is the originator of the method. Andre Scholtz has developed a slightly more dynamic rod loading style for distance. Other modern styles of Spey casting with shooting heads are more like short stroke Spey casting using some body movement and a normal grip. Many of the modern styles are collectively referred to as Scandi Style. Underhand or Scandi style casting is a popular style of casting in Ireland.

Modern Shooting Head Styles

Scandi Spey, or Modern Scandinavian Spey casting with a shooting head uses a more normal leader length and a normal grip. Poly leaders and tips may or may not be used and often they are not. The loop is usually not an open D loop but much more compressed V lop and is moving faster. The sweep is longer and flatter than pure Underhand with often less of an initial lift used. Longer heads may also be used though not necessarily. More body movement is used in the cast with weight shift and some upper body rotation as well as realignment being used. The grip used is the normal approx shoulder width grip. The leader only may still be the only thing that touches the water or the leader and some of the front part of the head. The forward hit is made with the top hand being used more as in normal Spey casting though it is still a power application suited to a shooting head, crisp and fast, a crisp acceleration that gives speed without excessive power or force. At the end of the back cast the angler may pause slightly to allow the leader to touch down and the loop to form and then make the forward cast after this slight pause rather than to use a longer stroke and circle up behind. The line is sweetly popped back on an incline after some momentum was generated on the sweep from weight shift and some upper body rotation was used.

As the head is short some Scandinavian anglers do a roll cast pick up from the dangle using a very slight change of direction and then sweep the line back to form the D loop.

Alternatively you can use traditional Scottish Spey casting technique with shooting heads and poly leaders. Simply circling up behind and shooting line on the final delivery.