Sunday Classic / The Cajun Spey Waltz

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The Perfect Sweep Photo by Louis Cahill

Snow is blowing in around the corners of my glasses and forty degree water is slowly making its way into my waders.

I haven’t seen the sun for several days and the river is full of chrome bright steelhead. It doesn’t feel much like Louisiana. Never the less the tune that keeps dancing in my head and eventually to my lips is an old Cajun waltz, “The Big Mamu”.

I have a deep and conflicted love for Louisiana. I almost moved there once. Like I said, I’m conflicted, but of the many things I love about the place, maybe I love the music best. The Blues, the Hot Jazz, the Zydeco and the beautiful and haunting traditional Cajun music. The sound of the accordion, the fiddle and the washboard pull at my heart strings. I don’t know why but I loved it the first time I heard it. But what does it have to do with steelheading? Apparently, everything.

I love Spey casting but I don’t get to do as much of it as I’d like and consequently it takes me a while to get into the rhythm. There are three basic parts to a Spey cast. The anchor placement, the sweep and the cast. Inevitably, when my casting goes to hell it’s the timing of my sweep that’s the problem. I’ve spent so much time developing speed and strength for my saltwater casting that it takes a while for me to remember that Spey casting is the exact opposite. Slow and easy.

I’m not a Spey Guru so I’ll keep it simple. The sweep is the part of the cast where you form a D loop and load the rod. Both very important. There is a direct relationship between the height of the rod tip and the speed of the sweep. As the rod tip is lowered the sweep must be faster to aerialize the head. A higher rod tip and slower sweep is easier to control, so that’s what I shoot for but I inevitably start to rush it and my casting gets sloppy. A friend told me to try and count to three during my sweep. I tried but I still rushed it and that got me thinking about how to count to three at a consistent speed. I struggled with it and then it dawned on me, the Cajun waltz.

The physicality of the music is perfect. It’s dance music, your body instinctively responds. The gentle, one-two-three, of the Cajun waltz sets the tempo and calms my nerves enough to start making consistent casts. I settled on “The Big Mamu” by Clifton Chenier. A song so ingrained in my mind I can hum it in my sleep even if I have no idea what the Cajun French lyrics mean. I assume it’s about a woman, it usually is. At any rate, I have to slow it down a bit from the tempo that Clifton played but it works every time. I whistle that tune and my casting comes right back to me. If you have this problem, find a song that you love with a one-two-three beat and give it a try. And if you see a guy swinging flies and doing a Cajun two step down stream, come say hi.


I couldn’t find a video of  “The Big Mamu” but this beautiful version of “The Breaux Bridge Waltz” will do the trick!


Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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4 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / The Cajun Spey Waltz

  1. Never tried the music thing before. I used to pitch in baseball and found my relaxation technique of taking a big breath in and slowly exhaling (a couple times if necessary) works well for me. Really slows things down, which seems to be the secret in Spey casting. The harder you try, the more screwed up things get. I think people who are into yoga and meditation would be great casters.

  2. Yup. The jump to Spey was definitely a challenge for me as well. I grew up blasting heads out into the surf on the Great Lakes. There the solution was always more power.

    I’ve started practicing my spey casting on the way home from work. If I am not relaxed I can’t make the cast. Great time to take an hour to relax and decompress before getting home. Less kicking the wife and yelling at the dog that way…

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