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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Why Do I Use A Switch Rod?

There a people out there that might ask, "Why the heck would I want to buy a switch rod"? That's a good question. 

I'm going to answer this question from the perspective of fishing my home river, the Lower Yuba. I personally use a switch rod a lot. I use either a 5 weight, 10'9" switch rod or a 6 weight, 11'0" rod a lot. For this discussion the make and model doesn't really matter.

Why are these shorter two handed rods called  "Switch Rods"? The term switch rod comes from the idea that the rod can be cast either one handed or you can "switch" to two hands. From my experience which is with 5 and 6 weight switch rods they can be cast with one hand but if you were to do so all day long you could have wrist and forearm troubles. They really are meant to be cast with two handed techniques. It sort of goes like, pick it up and roll cast it out with one hand to change direction and position the line and then "switch" to two hands to make the final presentation cast. This is my normal routine anyway. My presentation cast is almost always two handed.

Answer Part 1 - A Switch Rod is a Multi-Purpose Tool.

The Lower Yuba is the type of river that you can use many tactics and techniques on the same day in different parts of the river.

  • You may be going deep with indicator and shot
  • You may be decide to use tight line nymphing methods.
  • You may high stick using either of the above methods
  • You may swing streamers and steelhead type soft hackles
  • You may match the hatch using dries, emergers or nymphs
  • You may dredge the slots and deeper holes.
  • You may swing smaller trouty soft hackles.
  • You may fish egg patterns or Troutbeads behind the salmon 
  • Out of a boat you may pound the banks with hopper patterns
You can do all of these things with a switch rod. Can you do them with a single handed rod, Yes of course. But you can choose to do them with a switch rod and in a lot of cases casting further and easier. With the longer length you can manage your drift and mend at a longer distance.

Answer Part 2 - The Switch Rod can become a Fishing System.

You can look at a Switch Rod as a "Fishing System". What do I mean by that? Well, you can rig your rod to use many techniques and utilize many tactics if you organize your "system" properly.

How do I create a "Switch Rod System"? 

Switch Rod and Reel - You start by buying your switch rod and select a reel that balances with it correctly. That means that the reel needs to hold enough backing, 125 -150 yds, plus your fly line. We'll get to more of this in a minute. As a general rule the reel for a switch rod should be about 2 line sizes over a single handed rod. For an example for a 5 weight switch rod you would match it with a 7-8 sized single handed reel.

Two Spools - You want to purchase at least one extra spool to match your reel. Why? Your system will be comprised of two line systems. One spool will have an integrated full length line and the other will have a running line. 

Spool #1 - With an Integrated Floating Line

Your first spool will have; 

(A) 125-150 yards of backing
(B) An integrated line of choice. Sound pretty familiar? Pretty much the same as a single handed rod. The difference is that the line of choice will have more grain weight that the one you would use for a single handed rod. For instance if you were to use an line that is sized for a single handed rod like the Rio Indicator Line you would over- line the rod by 2 to 3 line weights, more grain weight. Not to try to be confusing, but some lines like any of the "Switch" lines are sized to size of your rod. For example a 6 weight switch rod would match up with a 6 weight Rio Switch Line.

Some of the lines available for a switch rod are; 
  • Rio Switch Line
  • Rio Switch Chuckar
  • Rio Outbound Short
  • Airflo Speydicator
  • Airflo Delta Spey
I'm not going to go into a lot of detail in this article as to the differences in these lines, that will come another day.

(C) Optional Rigging - Add a Light MOW Tip for running your flies right on the bottom when tight lining or swinging (See Discussion on MOW Tips below)

(D) A leader
  • A Versileader or Ployleader - The Rio "Versileaders" or the Airflo "Polyleaders" are specialty leaders that have sink rates from floating to 7 inches per second (ips,) . These are leader systems that vary in composition from 6 to 15 feet. The construction of these leaders involves using a level core of mono filament and then applying a supple taper coating in a wide variety of densities. These light tips help eliminate the hinge effect when transferring energy from the fly line to the leader.
  • Light MOW tips
  • A tapered Leader
  • A straight piece of monofilament or fluorocarbon

Summary - The main thing to understand is that on this spool you will select an integrated line that is approximately 100 to 120 feet long. The line of choice will be used for, overhead casting situations similar to fishing with a single handed rod, Where you need a delicate delivery for soft hackles or dry flies, where you need the ability to mend and control the drift of the flies, where you want to use conventional tight lining nymphing tactics and want the tip to get down in lower flows (Verileaders or Polyeaders), or where you want to indicator nymph. You will use your line of choice a lot during almost any time of the year.

Note: I have a 3rd extra spool which I load with a line like the Airflo Speydicator or the Rio Switch Chuckar for using with big Thingamabobbers when going deep and when fishing with Troutbeads or generally any time I'm throwing a lot of shot. 

Spool #2 - With a Running Line, Shooting Head of Choice and a Tip

What the heck is a running line any way? A running line is a line that is attached to the backing, it is approximately 100 feet long, it is approximately .037" to .040" in diameter for its whole length ( a thinner diameter level line). It typically has a loop on the end that is used to attach "Shooting Heads". 

You need to choose the length, profile and grain weight of the shooting head carefully as it must "balance" with your switch rod. The Shooting Heads are a vital part of the "Fishing System". This system is mainly to be utilized for swinging below the surface, anywhere from a foot to the bottom. It will be used exclusively for downstream and across presentations.

So the Spool #2 is rigged something like this,

(A) Backing - 125-150 yards of backing

(B) Running Line - A level running line like a;

  • Rio Powerflex
  • Rio Slickshooter
  • Rio Gripshooter
  • Airflo Ridge Running Line). 
All good running lines, all just a little different. 

(C) Shooting Head - A Shooting Head, (Oh, Oh, this is where it gets interesting)

Shooting Heads - One thing that must be explained is that the grain weight of the shooting head you select must balance with the rod. This can be determined by charts provided by the manufacturer of the rod or typically on their website. Shooting heads are sold based on their "grain weight" not rod size. For instance my 6 weight Switch Rod balances nicely with a 390 grain Skagit Shooting Head. It will perform well within a range of grain weights. In my case somewhere between about 360 grain to 420 grain.

Being vary general, the Skagit and Scandi heads are used in different water conditions and with different sizes of flies.
  • Matra: Skagit Shooting Heads - "Winter, Big Water & Big Flies"
  • Matra: Scandi Shooting Heads -"Spring and Summer, Smaller Water, Smaller flies"

Shooting Head Options

Skagit Shooting Heads
  • Airflo Skagit Compact Heads - 23' to 27' long for throwing big flies and heavier sink tips
  • Rio Skagit Max - About 23' in length - they perform similar to the Airflo Skagit Compact Heads
Scandi Shooting Heads
  • Airflo Scandi Compact Heads - 28' to 34' long for throwing medium to smaller flies and lighter sink tips
  • Rio Scandi - 28' to 40' the perform similar to the Airflo Scandi Compacts.
Specialty Shooting Heads
  • Airflo Rage - 27' to 32' long. This line fishes like a Skagit Compact but is designed to fish as a straight floater. Great for windy conditions where you need to drive your cast into and through the wind. Similar use to the Skagit Compact
  • Airflo Skagit Switch - 18' to 20' long - This shooting head was designed for switch rods. These lines were designed for the fast action switch rods and they load fast and easily.

With that said I'd recommend carrying a Skagit Head and a Scandi head. The choice is sort of up to you. Staying basic you can't really go wrong with the Compact Skagit and Scandi Heads to get started.

(D) Tips

Tips for Skagit Heads - When using any of the Skagit Heads you will be using a "Tip". Some of the options for tips when using Skagit Shooting heads are; 
  • Solid lengths of tungsten. These can be can be purchased or made yourself using lengths of T-8, T-11, and T-14 line. Note:  A one foot length of T-11 weighs 11 grains. One foot of T-14 weighs 14 grains.
  • MOW tips - MOW tips are sold by RIO. They are basically 10 feet long and they combine different lenghts of floating and sinking sections to allow for more consistent fishing and casting performance while fishing sinking sections of various lengths. The come in Light (T-8), Medium (T-11) and Heavy (T-14). Personally I love them. 
  • As a general note, the smaller the rod weight the lighter the tips are to match it.
Tips for Scandi Heads - When Using Scandi Heads you will sometimes be using:
  •  A "Tip", like the Rio "Versileaders" or the Airflo "Polyleaders" and sink rates from floating to 7 inches per second (ips,) . These are leader systems that vary in composition from 6 to 15 feet. The construction of these leaders involves using a level core of mono filament and then applying a supple taper coating in a wide variety of densities. These light tips help eliminate the hinge effect when transferring energy from the fly line to the leader.
(E) Leaders
  • Tapered Leaders
  • Level sections of monofilament or fluorocarbon.

You will be using your running line and heads when you are fishing the downstream quadrant. This system can be teamed up with nymphs, trouty soft hackles egg patterns, streamers,conventional steelhead patterns, soft hackled steelhead patterns, leeches, and so forth. Great for doing the "Swing Thing".

The System

This "Switch Rod System" gives you the options to employ lots of tactics and cover lots of different water types. Do they work as well as a single handed rod for casting delicate dries and nymph? No! Do they cast as well as a two handed spey rod? No! They just do a little bit of everything pretty darn well. For a river like the Lower Yuba that comes in pretty handy.

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Have any Questions or Comments? Let me know, Clay.