Making the Switch Part 2: Switch or Spey

Skagit casting has a long history before arriving here in North America in the mid-’80s. It has changed immensely and the line systems, now with shooting heads and tips, and rod technology (shorter and lighter) have changed the game and it would have not been this way, if not for the Skagiteers. There are so many pioneers and awesome educators in this style of casting, maybe more than any other. They all have helped the sport grow and change the face of two-handed casting as we know it today, whether its rod building, lines, tips for the casting style, and everything in between. We have so many options and can fish any style we want thanks to their innovation and imagination.

Spey casting used to be traditionally for salmon and steelhead, but that’s not the case anymore. Now anglers are using them for just about every species, from Taimen to Smallmouth, anywhere moving water is found.

The author getting done on the swing

How Do You Decide Between a Switch or Spey Rod?

Two-handed casting has many advantages, longer cast, casting in confined areas, like high banks or trees overhanging, if you have shoulder or arm issue, casting with two hands may keep you on the water longer. You will want to try either a Switch rod or a Spey rod, both have their advantages and disadvantages. Most single hand casters gravitate to the switch rod, the idea is, it may be easier to transition, or they can cast it single hand if need be. Not all switch rods are created equal, as there is no standard in how they are made a 7 WT from one manufacturer may be only a 6 WT in the other. Even within the brand the grain weights or actions can be different. This is the most difficult challenge, deciding how you are going to fish or more importantly where.

Switch rods come in a variety of weights, usually, 5 through 8 WT, are shorter than Spey rods (usually between 10 and 12 ft), and can be cast with two hands or single hand/overhead. It’s a great tool for Great lakes steelhead on small tributaries, confined areas, they have the ability to nymph fish, fish an indicator, cast streamers, and swing flies, etc.. It’s good at a little bit of everything, but some rods are better at nymphing while others are better at swinging. It’s in the manufacturing process, when they make a switch they lean to a little more single hand type or Spey type blanks.

Depending on how you want to fish will dictate the line system needed. The options for lines are endless but are now easier more than ever, a shooting head style or integrated lines, are also options within those lines. This is the problem of why people don’t make the switch.

If you’re not sure how you want to fish, just like with single hand rods, they have all-around lines that do a little bit of everything well. Brands like Rio (Switch Chucker), AirFlo (Switch Float Line), and SA (Skagit lite) all have integrated lines that simply require adding a leader and fishing it how you want. A great way to fish switch rods is in small streams and tributaries. If you want to use the switch rod to its maximum potential, I recommend having two spools for your rod, one for indicator/nymphing fishing (integrated line), and the other for swinging flies (with a head system). Now you can just about fish any water, condition, style, or fly, all on one rod.

Why Choose a Spey Rod?

As you’re looking at what Spey rod to add to your quiver, the rod size and length will vary by species and locations. If you fish big waters with high banks where you’d need a long cast, or you’re chucking big flies, a Spey rod may be a better choice. The choice is more about working smarter, not harder, to cast your flies and adding another weapon in your fly fishing strategy arsenal.

In recent years the rod manufacturers are trying to keep up with the trends and anglers. To make things easier let’s break two-handed rods into various categories, Trout Spey, Short Spey, and Full Spey.

Smallmouth bass on Spey
James Joseph catching bass on the swing

Trout Spey

They call them Trout Spey or Micro Spey and they range from 1-5 WTs, however, they are still 10.5 to 11.5ft long and can be lined up with up to 390-grain lines. They can chuck a decent size fly and are awesome for fish up to around 10lbs. They’re especially useful for summer steelhead, smallmouth, and walleye in rivers.

Short Spey

These are 6-8 WTs used for medium to large rivers, they usually reach around 12ft to 13ft in length and excel in using today’s high-tech short heads and are the perfect choice for steelhead and salmon or when more line weight is needed to toss larger flies or deal with high winds.

Full Spey

Full Spey are rods 13ft and longer available in 6 to 10wts and capable of casting huge lines, flies, and big fish like Taimen or Atlantic Salmon. If you fish steelhead on large rivers a 12 to 13.5ft would be the best all-around rod for most situations in North America, with today’s high-performance rods and compact lines, you will be able to cover almost any situation or species.

Most manufacturers either have their rods’ grain weights on the blank or their websites, such as Rio (in the Spey learning pages) and OPST, both of which have line matching charts for all the well-known rod makers.

Lines: Scandi or Skagit?

This is where things get confusing for some, how to pick a line. The easiest way is to decide how and what you are going to fish for. If you want to fish dry flies then you will need a Scandi line. If streamers are your thing, then you will need a Skagit line. Within those styles of lines, there are many options and a few nuances that give you the option of adapting to changing conditions. There are a variety of lines, but to get you started a Scandi and a Skagit are a great way to start.

Scandi Lines

A Scandi line is a longer head (20 to 40ft) and tapers to the tip, allowing for a delicate touch. You’ll attach your running line to the rear, then add a long 10 to a 15-foot mono leader to the front and you can fish as is. A better option would be the poly and versa leaders that can be added as well. Those are tapered leaders with tungsten coatings designed to get various sink rates. With a Scandi head, they struggle to throw large heavy flies and strong winds.

Skagit Lines

Enter the Skagit head, it was made to throw large flies and heavy sink tips. Mass moves mass and the heavy, short aggressive 15-24ft head does it with ease. A Skagit line is easier to cast for beginners with big fly high winds, or high banks. A sinking tip added to the tip and is required for the line to cast properly. Also, they are the best for casting with little to no backcast.

Two handed combat
The author using his skills on the two-hander

Choosing Your Tips

The tips required to cast Skagit heads are different than those for Scandi heads. But, there is some crossover between the two and some Scandi tips can be put on Skagit lines.

In the beginning, a Skagit tip was a piece 10 to 15ft of level sinking line to achieve the desired swing. The 10 and 12ft being the most popular. They come in various densities, such as T7, T8, T10, and T14 or light, med, heavy, and Xtra heavy. The “T” is the tungsten material it’s made of and the “7” being the sink rate in inches. They are still used by a lot of anglers today and have their advantages. Each manufacturer has their own terminology or name for them. However, these were not the best for various water types, so the MOW tip was evolved. A MOW (Mike McCune, Scott O’Donnell, and Ed Ward) tip is the same length, but it has a section of the floating line integrated to the sink tip. For instance, a 2.5ft floating then 7.5ft sinking, 5ft float and 5ft sink and 7.5ft floating to 2.5ft sinking.

These were revolutionary and the fact that by just changing tips you could fish anything a river could throw at you such as; deep pools, pocket water, runs, and riffles with the same line. Technology changed and fishermen wanted more the iMOW was created, it has the same sinking rate within the series, except instead of a floating section it was an intermediate line attached to the sinking section again even more versatility.  Other manufacturers have made their own versions of these tips and they work similarly or better depending on who you ask. OPST has a series called “riffle run and bucket” (which have dual-density sinking lines built in S3/S4) and Air Flo has their Flo tips.

Each tip has the desired sink rate and they weigh different, so it is important to match the right type, the right rod, weight line.

Versa Leaders vs Poly Leaders

Tips for Scandi lines are more manageable and mendable on the water, as they’re lighter and can’t throw as large of a fly. And the solution is poly leaders or versa leaders in various sink rates. A poly/versa leader is a tapered mono leader with tungsten material coating, it does have various sink rates, but it is tapered to assist the Scandi head in turning flies and leaders over.

The Casting

Casting Spey lines is a little different than casting overhead, there are some similarities but certainly far more differences.

First, let’s look at what makes a Spey cast. In a river, after swinging the fly we need a way to move the line 180 degrees of where you want the fly to land and we need a backcast area. Enter the “D” loop and then the forward cast. There are a variety of ways to do this and there are so many videos out there to demonstrate this.

If you are just starting out, its similar to a roll cast, so if you can do that, it’s a good foundation to start with. If you’re starting out a Skagit head with a few tips and watching a few videos should do the trick while learning. Or, better yet, take some lessons, or hire a guide to shorten your learning curve. Those folks could use some help in times like these.

The names of the casts, Perry poke, Snake Roll, Double Spey, Single Spey, Snap “T”, or the Circle “C” all enable and angler to move the line in 180 degrees of where you want to cast. All casts use different techniques to do this with different factors. But, they all have one thing in common, the back cast or the “D” loop and the forward cast.

It’s easier to watch it than describe in words for sure. Here are some tips. Keep your hands in the box and take your time, keep it slow. Learn one or two casts and practice them until you’re comfortable, then add another, continuing one at a time, as you master the basics.

Some of the best teachers of the sport listed below to help aide the casting. Also, check out “Skagit Revolutions” by Tom Larimer and Rio’s Modern Spey Casting. It has the veritable who’s who of Spey casting instructors, featuring the likes of Simon Gawesworth, George Cook, Dana Sturn, Mike McCune, Ed Ward, and Scott O’Donnell.

For Those Diving Deep into the Spey Game, Check Out These Resources: 

Line Speed Jedi’s YouTube Channel

Rio & Simon Gawesworth’s Spey TV 

Olympic Penninsula Skagit Tactics’ YouTube

Spey fishing has a few more parts and terminology compared to single hand fishing, however, it gives you more options and more ways to fish various flies with just one rod. Whether you fish it single hand or with two it has its advantages and opens up areas that were unfishable with traditional casting. It gives you a new tool in the tool-box, so when you see or know that a large fish is hiding in an area that you couldn’t fish previously you have the knowledge to get the chance of landing it. You learned the technique and when you finally hook up with that fish of a lifetime you know it was all worth it.

April Vokey’s 3 Tips for Improving your Spey Cast

Huge Brown Caught on Trout Spey Rod

Tips for Small Water Great Lakes Steelhead

 

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