Peter Humphreys and spey casting have similar origins, but it took a move to the United States for Humphreys to become one of the best.
Humphreys was introduced to fly fishing by his father, John, who taught him how to single-hand cast as a young boy in Cambridge, England.
As Humphreys got older, he continued to single-hand cast, but a move to Michigan in 1993 tied him to the style of fly fishing he loves and has excelled at: the two-handed maneuvers with a spey rod.
“I grew up still-water trout fishing, which is using a single-handed rod,” said Humphreys, an American citizen who resides in Rockford with his wife, Phillipa.
“I didn’t get into the spey casting until I got to Michigan. That’s when I discovered the Muskegon River and swinging flies for Steelhead.”
Spey casting, which usually is done with two hands, originated in Scotland in the mid-1800s on the River Spey, one of the world’s most famous Atlantic salmon rivers. Trees on the river grow down to the bank, leaving fisherman little room to maneuver their lines.
That is where spey casting was born — anglers couldn’t backcast because there was no room.
“Flies would get hooked in the trees, so they developed a style,” Humphreys said.
“Instead of arielizing the whole fly line behind them, they would put a loop of line behind them, but the fly and leader would stay on the water in front of them, avoiding obstacles on the bank.”
Spey casting has caught on all over the world, including the Muskegon River, where trees can be an obstacle.
“In overhead casting (single-handed), the line is straight behind you. But in spey casting, the line is like an accelerated roll cast,” Humphreys said. “It’s a roll cast with a change of direction. It allows you to make a long cast with very little room behind you. It is becoming more popular in the Great Lakes, including fly fishing for smallmouth bass. The West Coast Steelheaders all use spey casting, which is a much more efficient way to fish.”
Humphreys, 39, began spey casting in 2000 and, in 2006, received an instructors certification from the Federation of Fly Fishers for his two-handed casting.
Humphreys then received his masters instructor designation in single-handed casting.
Only 18 people in the United States hold both designations, only two of whom live east of the Mississippi River.
“Basically, I was self taught on the spey rod,” Humphreys said. “I thought I was pretty good, but I went to a professional from Scotland (Andy Murray for House of Hardy’s) and he made me realize I wasn’t very good. When I saw him cast, I knew I had a long way to go, and so I practiced and worked with him. He helped me when I took my two-handed test in San Francisco at the Golden Gate Casting Club, and I passed the first time.
“As for passing my single-handed testing and qualification, I was mentored by a local (Bob Braendle from Great Lakes Fly Company in Rockford). Now, I’m helping him go for his two-handed qualification.”
People from all over the world come to Humphreys to learn how to spey cast.
“Peter is superb at doing this,” said Ada’s Craig Charles, an avid fly fisherman. “He has taught me a lot of what I know. I have taken a multitude of lessons from him and fished with him. A good friend of mine has a place in British Columbia, and we go up and spey cast for steelhead. And if you can’t spey cast, you can’t fish those rivers in British Columbia.”
It is that kind of reaction from students that has made Humphreys the face of Guideline North America.
Humphreys is the top professional and instructor of Guideline.
“He’s the best spey caster in the Midwest, by far,” said Guideline national sales manager Stuart Green. “He is the best caster and instructor.
“Pete is also a great guy and easy to get a long with. People like to work with Pete, and his instructions are easy to get. His reputation is not just in Michigan — his star is rising across North America. ”
As for competing, Humphreys would rather teach.
“I wouldn’t compete with the guys in the world at distance casting,” he said. “They train, specifically, at distance casting. I’m a quality caster as far as smoothness and casting ability. And I like to fish too much.”
Although he doesn’t compete, champions know Humphreys.
“To be part of a Pete Humphreys casting demo is like being on a friendly outing with the buddies, as he has the ability to make everyone watching and participating relax and feel at ease,” said Leif Stavmo, a nine-time world champion caster.
“Smiles and laughs are part of the deal and are a trademark of Pete’s way of teaching, fishing and living life in general. With a solid FFF two-handed masters instructor degree, he knows how to pass his skills on to his clients.”
That is what Humphreys wants, to pass on his skills, like how he snaps a fly across the water.
“I love teaching,” he said. “A lot of people have helped me along the way and, now, that’s what I want to do.”