Let's get right down to it. More and more fly anglers are hearing about and contemplating adding switch and spey rods to their arsenal. The most important thing to understand about these rods has nothing to do with the rods themselves. Here are some thoughts on spey fishing and some questions you should think about as you decide on your move into the world of spey:
Spey refers to a casting style that was essentially invented to fish in tight situations where back casting was either impossible or near impossible. For practical purposes, think of spey as a casting style that is meant to get your fly back in the water without needing to perform a back cast.
Spey casting can be performed successfully with a number of different rods and line setups. Every kind of fly rod made including single hand rods, switch rods and spey rods can be used to spey cast.
Can your current single hand rod and line setup meet your casting needs? Correctly lined single hand rods can perform spey casts very effectively. There are even aggressive line systems designed for single hand rods that propel flies great distances. It all depends on your specific casting and fishing needs on a particular stream, river or lake. If you are looking for more distance, depth and/or the ability to mend the full length of your fly line and cast big flies, then a switch rod or spey rod will be a great tool for you.
What are switch and spey rods? Switch rods are "hybrid" rods that are designed to be able to overhead cast and also spey cast. Two-handed rods under 12' can generally be called switch rods. Spey rods are usually over 12' long and are designed to primarily spey cast. Performing overhand casts with spey rods is impractical and labor intensive.
Why do you "need" a switch or spey rod to spey cast? You don't need a switch or spey rod to spey cast, but they definitely make the technique a lot easier and frankly, more fun. Switch and Spey rods cast further and can also handle a bit more "junk" on the other end of the line.
What is Scandi or Scandinavian? To put it simply, Scandi/Scandinavian casting is generally more of an "airborne" casting style using "touch and go" casting strokes like Single Spey and Snake Rolls. Scandi/Scandinavian casting is appropriate for lighter flies, light "sinking" tips and more delicate presentations.
What is Skagit? Skagit casting was developed for anglers who needed to cast big flies that also needed to be sunk deeply. All the extra weight on the end of the line demanded shorter, more compressed fly lines where the mass is concentrated over a shorter system. The "water-borne" casts developed by newer Skagit pioneers help anglers use the water surface to bend the fly rod and propel heavier sink tips and flies great distances.
Should you get a spey rod or a switch rod? In my opinion, both rods can cast quite far and can handle very heavy setups. They both also cast Scandi/Scandinavian and Skagit lines really well. If you fish smaller streams, rivers or even lakes, a switch rod can come in handy. Even if you fish big rivers switch rods can be great tools. Switch rods can be a bit harder to cast initially than Spey rods. Spey rods can move a lot of line without a ton of effort. If you see yourself on a bigger river casting for many hours, a 13' Spey rod might be just what the doctor ordered.
So now that you understand spey casting, spey rods and switch rods better, you need to decide what casting style and rod best covers most of the situations you'll encounter. Once you've decided on a rod and casting style, the next step is finding an appropriate rod line systems to match.
There are seemingly a million different rod and line combinations out there. As spey fishing gets more and more popular, manufacturers of both rods and lines are constantly coming up with new things to add more and more confusion.
The best advice I can give you about rods is to visit local fly shops, fish with a buddy's rod or do a bit of research on the various manufacturer reviews. If you know your price range, eBay or online forums/groups are great resources for finding switch and spey rods in very good used condition. I found my best and favorite switch rod on eBay for $100 and I wouldn't trade it for a $1500 rod in a million years!
I think of fly rods like I think of golf clubs. Will a set of $5000 golf clubs make me hit a ball like a PGA Tour pro? Not a chance. Will a $1500 spey or switch rod make me cast like a 15 year pro? Also, not a chance. Spey and switch rods have great resale value, so find one that suits your price range and has good reviews and buy with confidence.
Once you have your new rod in hand, google is a great resource for finding lines that properly match. A quick search will net you with a great range of line weights and manufacturers that will fit your rod properly. Once you've got a new line, an assortment of sinking tips or tapered sinking/floating leaders (if you're Scandi/Scandinavian leaning) will get you started.
So you've got your new rod, sweet line setup and some tips with a fly attached. How the heck to do you cast these things? It has been stated that spey casting is easy, and it is. Sort of. Throwing around fishable casts is definitely "easy." Mastering the art of spey casting is a whole different animal. YouTube is an excellent resource for learning the myriad of different spey casts.
In my opinion, the best part of spey casting is all the free practice you get while waiting for a grab. Each cast is a chance to work on the fundamentals. Right now though, the best thing to try to accomplish is getting your fly to turn over and fish effectively.
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