Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Switch Rods & Winter Steelheading

Chrome Bright "One Salt" Winter Steelhead fell to a dead drifted Glo-Bug on Switch Rod
With all of the popularity with two handed fly rods nowadays, many people are asking about switch rods. I have put up a video lower down in this post with some clips of switch rods being used for winter steelhead fly fishing. For smaller to medium sized streams with tight cover, there is not a better rod to be using while fishing for anadromous species like steelhead and salmon. The versatility of the switch rod is amazing, where you can fish a huge variety of fly lines on one rod to effectively fish with varying presentations.
Orvis Access Switch Rod and Mirage Reel with Airflo's 480 Grain Skagit Switch head
If you take the larger longer counterpart "the Spey Rod", you get the ultimate tool for swinging flies. You can cast far easily, and you can handle your line like a champ with major line mending ability. On the flip side, you have a tool that can swing flies better than any fly rod made, but you have a terrible nymphing rod, and I just feel like dead drifting flies under an indicator on a Spey rod is sacrilegious. Skagit heads with slabs of  level sinking line (like T-14) attached off of it are the norm for winter steelhead fly fishing with a Spey rod. When you want to get into nymph fishing with a Spey rod; you may get some funny looks from other anglers. The only analogy I can come up with to compare would be trying to "Hot Dog" surf (shred and do tricks) with a long board. You just don't do it! Spey rods are simply too awkward to effectively nymph with!
Orvis Helios Switch Rod and Mirage Reel
The single handed rod for steelhead fly fishing is typically a 10' long rod and often a 7wt or 8wt for the line weight designation. If you want to swing flies effectively for winter steelhead on this setup; you will have to cast big 28' shooting heads, and the lack of back casting lanes in tight covered coastal streams can make that situation a nightmare. Those big shooting heads are about the only way you can achieve the depths of a two handed rod's sink tip line throwing abilities, but they are cumbersome to cast at the least. If you want to dead drift flies under a strike indicator like a Thingamabobber, then you can fish an Orvis Salmon/Steelhead Taper with a long belly and long rear taper. That can turn over your flies, and you can handle your line relatively well from far distances. The problem is that you have to be good at casting your single handed fly rod, and many anglers only get to fish here and there; so getting good enough to proficiently cast over 40' is often lacking. The average every day angler has trouble casting over 40' on a single handed fly rod, and many spots you want to probe your flies through require an over 40' cast. This is where "Switch Rods" are an amazing compromise for those looking to get into the ultimate outfit for fly fishing for winter steelhead, or year round steelheading for that matter.
Click on Video Below:
Switch rods can fish really well for both the swinging and nymphing/dead drifting presentations for steelhead fly fishing. They can function with a variety of fly line tapers on them, and they often throw many fly line tapers with ease. On my own personal switch rods, I throw Skagit Switch heads, Skagit Intermediate heads, Orvis Switch lines, a Speydicator, Orvis Salmon/Steelhead Tapers, 28' Shooting heads, and even a few more tapers not mentioned. I typically go steelhead fishing with two spools for my Mirage reel; with one spool holding a Skagit Switch Head, and the other spool strung with a Orvis Switch Line. I can go back and forth between swinging flies with a Skagit Head attached to varying lengths and densities of T-8 to T-14, or I can nymph/dead drift flies under a Thingamabobber with my Orvis Switch Line. The rod can fish like a Spey rod while I am swinging flies, and I can fish it either like a single handed rod or a hybridized spey/single handed rod for my nymph/dead drift fishing. I have taken my 6wt switch rod out rigged with an 8wt Salmon/Steelhead Taper (single hand fly line), and it fishes really well. It does not "spey fish" as well as the Switch Line, but you always will have pros and cons with every fly line to rod match up. I can even throw those 28' single handed shooting heads  (while fishing for Fall salmon or rockfishing in the saltwater), and the switch rod does a great job handling them.
Switch Rods make fly fishing in tight cover with little back cast room very enjoyable!
 Years ago when I had a fly shop, I would suggest people get a 10' 7wt or 8wt, and then a Spey Rod as a second rod. Now I am bold to tell someone to start with a switch rod as your first steelhead outfit, and then build up your extra spool/fly line arsenal to fit the niches of your fishing presentations. You can then have a rod that swings flies and nymphs very well with the given conditions; so you can effectively be "In the Zone" where the CHROMERS are hanging out!

Tight Lines to All!!!

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