Making the Switch, a Light Introduction to Single Hand Spey Fishing

If you fish rivers sooner or later you will come across this situation, you have to cast with obstructions around you, no backcasting room, or longer distances than you could with a single-handed rod and a haul or two. Enter Spey casting, long rods designed to be cast with two hands offering the best solution to your problem at hand. Two-handed casting has been around as long as single-handed rods, but other than salmon and steelhead applications, they were not used by non-steelhead or salmon anglers until recently. Double-handed, Switch, and Single-Hand Spey setups have made a resurgence, as lighter and shorter rods enter the market designed for more diverse fishing applications.


As with learning any new skill, two-handed casting comes with its own learning curve and terminology. Terms like “shooting head”, “running line”, and the variety of tips can get quite confusing to the uninitiated. What’re “D” loops, Skagit lines, Scandinavian (Scandi) lines? you may be asking yourself while staring at a fly shop wall. Even the casts have odd names like; the Perry poke, double Spey, single Spey, Snap “T”, Circle “C”, Snake Roll, and Dragon Roll to name a few.

If you want to jump into the world of two-handed fishing, you can do it one of two ways: 1) purchase a Switch/Spey rod or, 2) Use the rod you currently have and turn it into a single hand Spey simply by changing your cast and line. Today we will be breaking this down into simpler terms so that you have more options to fish in different conditions and situations.

Single Hand Spey

Single hand Spey fishing is the best way to get started and is a budget-friendly option when diving into this awesome way to fish. You only need to purchase a few things, as you likely already have the most expensive part, a single-handed rod. The single-hand Spey game is the easiest to get into, as you just have to learn a few casts, most of which you probably already know. Basically, if you can roll cast, you can single hand Spey.

There are two ways to set up a single hand Spey rod 1) the head system, or 2) an integrated line. Both have their advantages (distance, easier casting, fishing with no back-cast room), and disadvantages.

  1. The head system will give you more options of changing a multitude of lines down the road (with one rod you will be able to fish various methods) and with a mono running line, you’re casting distance will increase dramatically. However, some anglers don’t like the loop-to-loop connections going through their guides, which can increase the odds of the line getting stuck on the way out of the rod, resulting in funky casts or lost fish.
  2. The integrated line has the same advantages, except you won’t get the distance that the head system gets, you can’t change out multiple lines and may need a larger reel or spare spool as the lines are thicker than your standard 5 wt floating lines.

The set up takes a few extra pieces, but it’s worth the effort. So, let’s learn some terminology that will help you decide your set up. To keep it simple, the best way to get introduced to Spey is a Skagit head. This can be confusing, but luckily, companies like OPST, SA, Rio, and Airflo have made it easier than ever for everyone.

The Spey set up, best for versatility
The set up for ultimate versatility

The shooting-head (a.k.a. Skagit head) is the actual line creating the cast, a thick piece of short fly line anywhere from 12-20 feet. It comes in various grain weights to match the size of the rod (e.g. a 5wt is 200 grains and is 13 ft long) and requires a running line and tip to cast properly.

Running lines are different diameters and lbs test, mono, or level fly line that attaches to the backing on one end and the shooting head on the other. Brands such as Rio, OPST, S.A., and Airflo all have good options. Some have loops built-in and others need you to make a loop to loop connection with perfection loops. A monofilament running line gives you more distance and takes up less room on your reel, however, some don’t like the feel of mono and opt for a running fly line instead.

With regards to your line head, you will attach a tip; a piece of sinking fly line in various grain weights, with different types of sink rates to achieve different depths or presentations to your shooting head via a loop-to-loop connection. These can range between 5-12 feet in length. I have found that OPST, Rio have the best options to fish various water conditions and depths.

Integrated Lines are a good option for those who do a little of everything and don’t want the mess around with the running line or loop-to-loop connections going through their rods. All the buyer needs to do is pick up an appropriate size line (matching your rod) from your favorite brand add a tip or a leader, and hit the water.

I know initially, it sounds confusing; however, it is that simple, a running line, a shooting head, and a handful of tips. It’s the ultimate combination where adaptability is concerned and allows the angler to carry one rod and switch quickly from dry flies to streamers and everything in between, simply by changing the head, tip, or both.

With this set up it’s as close to getting a new rod without actually getting a new rod. So next time you’re looking for a new challenge or approach to your trout water, take out your standard trout rod, add the line system and hit the water.

To see what line you need, check out Reds Fly Shop’s Spey Line Selection Chart, OPST & Airflo as they have the most accurate recommended line weights for single hand rods.

Here is another great video of How to Effectively Swing Streamers and Wet Flies.

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