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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Skagit Lines "What The Heck are They?

This is one of those "What the heck is" posts.

What the Heck Is a Skagit Line?

When the discussion comes around to spey lines you start hearing stuff like, Skagit Heads, Scandi Heads, Scandinavian Lines, Switch Lines and such. It's enough to make your head spin. Let's break down a portion of this discussion and talk about Skagit Lines. For the most part when you are talking about Skagit lines you are talking about "Skagit Heads" A head is a short line that is a "Shooting Head" that is approximately 18' to 25' long. The "Skagit Head is attached by means of a loop to loop connection to a level (same diameter) thin "Running Line". It is a part of a spey line interchangeable system. 

Where did they come from? 

Skagit type lines were independently being developing back in the 1990's by the likes of Ed Ward, Mike Kinney, Scott O'Donnell, Scott Howell, Mike McCune, Jerry French, Larry French and  Harry Lemire on the banks of the Skagit/Sauk and other northwest rivers. These noted anglers were at the forefront of the Skagit revolutuon.

What were they trying to accomplish? 

These notable anglers were trying to find a line that was able to cast big flies on heavy sink tips. Little did they know, that the design of this line would make a huge impact in the world of steelhead and in general spey fishing. They would spent countless nights in the depths of fly tying rooms of the Pacific Northwest developing new prototype lines. They would chop and splice lines together in different combinations to construct new tapers. They were the mad scientists of spey lines. Their experiments would eventually develop into today’s Skagit Lines.  

Some would cut and splice their way, others would utilize bumped up Wind Cutter bodies to perfect the craft.  The shorter belly approach was underway.  The day had come to maximize the spey rod for winter conditions with large outsized flies.  New casts were developed to cast these new prototypes such as the Snap Tee, Perry Poke, Snap Z and Wombat which all lent themselves to the shorter belly approach.  

Today the Skagit line is used all over the world.  Be it for King Salmon, Steelhead or Sea Run Browns.  The Skagit Line has become the line of choice. Originally developed purely as a sink tip line system, the Skagit line also can be an effective full floating line particularly on lighter switch and spey rods. for 11’ to 13’9” rods.  As the Skagit Head system is attached loop to loop with a running line of choice, the spey caster will spend more time stripping line to recast (applies to all Skagit Shooting heads lines versus long belly full length integrated lines) but the reward is a undeniable highly energized long and straight cast.

So what about today?

As of this article, in 2014, we are seeing a growth in the use of the Skagit lines and many new products, especially from Airflo and Rio. There is a big reason for this, Skagit lines make casting and fishing two handed rods much easier and more enjoyable. They are working fishing lines that have many applications and can make learning to spey cast easier too.

Most people think about Skagit lines, as coming into play when using heavy sink-tips, big flies, and winter steelhead. This is true, and this is why they were first developed in the Northwest. The fact is that Skagit lines are a great fishing tools on both Spey and Switch rods and more people than ever before are using them year round.

I have gravitated towards Skagit lines for almost all my trout and steelhead fishing although I must admit most of my fishing is for resident rainbows on the Lower Yuba River. I use MOW tips and Versileaders or just swap my tips for a floating tip, often referred to as a cheater, and a tapered leader and I am ready to fish. On my home river there are sometimes quite a number of anglers and the pressure makes me consider fishing lots of different water types and depths. I have had to learn and fish new water to try and escape the pressure "traditional" runs and riffles see throughout a given day. I often find myself fishing smaller, tighter spots that don't allow much backcasting room, forcing one to get the fly out there with a very limited to almost non existent back cast. The shorter, quicker load of a skagit line allows one to do this. 

The second major factor has to do with how to learn how to Spey cast. Skagit lines allow one to learn and understand the basics of the two-hand casting a lot quicker than any other line out there. An entry level spey caster will get the hang of casting a whole lot faster and with confidence faster.  String up a running line and connect a Skagit head with the correct weight (in grains) with a loop to loop connection, add a tip and leader and you're good to go. When guiding or teaching it simply allows their clients to start casting proficiently and get into fish a lot quicker and easier.

So my recommendation is that start with Skagit heads, you won't be sorry!

Market Development of Skagit Lines.

Rio was one of the first company to design a Skagit taper. These lines were 27' in length and varied in grain weight, 350, 450, 550, and 650 grains. Soon there was a demand for more lines and Rio introduced more lines varying in 50 grain increments. Not long after, Airflo and Scientific Anglers followed suit and Skagit lines gained in popularity.

While many of these lines were great for the 13'6"-15' rods, many anglers were having to modify lines to match some of newer, shorter, lighter Spey and Switch rods on the market. In the last couple of years, manufacturers have begun to design Skagits that were better suited to today's shorter lighter rods. Airflo was the first company to introduce a line of Skagits designed to match almost any Spey/switch rod starting at 360 grain @ 22.5' and going up to 720 grains @ 28.5'. Soon Beulah followed with the Tonic that ranges from 22.5 - 27' and match switch rods as light as 5/6 up to 9 weight spey rods. 

At the same time Rio launched their line of Skagit Shorts designed for switch and small spey rods. Rio's Skagit Short range from 275 grains to 525 grains and are 20' in length. As the popularity of Airflo's Compact Skagit grew, Rio soon followed suit with their new Skagit Flight that range from 425 grains @ 24'to 750 grains @ 31'. Now there are almost too many choices out there for an angler to choose from. This just shows the growth and popularity of Skagit and Spey casting.

The Lines Available in 2014

Today the main players in the Spey fly line market are still Rio and Airflo. Let's take a look at what's out there today.

Airflo Skagit Lines

Important Note: When attaching all Airflo Shooting heads, the Printed ID on the line goes at the front. The non-marked end (Black) attaches to the running line.

Airflo Skagit Compact

With the help of Tom Larimer, Airflo developed a series of Compact Skagit heads designed to throw big flies and sink tips in tight confined spaces. As a guide, Tom was able to work on the Skagit Compact heads in the field by having his guests fish them and making changes where necessary.

It is important to note that the shorter a head is, the more critical its weight becomes. By offering twelve models, ranging from a 23 foot 360 grain head to a 27 foot 720 grain head, Airflo has ensured there is a Skagit Compact head that perfectly balances with any rod and casting style. With the incredible stresses put on each end of a Skagit head it is critical to have a loop that will hold up. All Airflo two handed lines come with a tough, heavy duty, color coded loop system. You just loop your favorite running line, add an Airflo Skagit Compact and sink tip and your are good to go.

The Airflo Skagit Compact shooting heads continues to be one of my personal favorite. I carry a wide variety of then to match up with my switch and spey rods.

Link to the Airflo Skagit Compact;

Airflo Skagit Switch

Airflo line designers saw the need to develop a specialized line for Switch rods. I needed to have a shorter head. The new Skagit Switch line hits the mark dead on. Shorter in length than the Skagit Compact, this new addition to the Airflo Skagit group of lines vary from 18' to 20' with 7 sizes ranging from 360 to 540 grains. These lines are designed to load switch rods in tight casting situations, move 10' to 12' of sink tip, and reach out to hit the "zone". They have loops at both ends with the front loop clearly marked with the line size for easy identification. The line is a Mint Green color and keeps the line visible and controllable at any distance.

Attach one of the Airflo Skagit Switch lines with either the 20lb or 30lb Airflo Ridge Running line and you will make your switch rod balance correctly.

Link to the Airflo Skagit Switch;

Airflo Rage

There was a need for a compact skagit lline that would fish like a straight floater. So, working with Tom Larimer, Airflo developed the Rage Compact. This new addition to the Airflo Skagit family gives you a line that will keep you in the "Floating" game under extremely windy and tight quarter casting situations. It has an aggressive front taper that gives power for driving casts into the strongest winds, the rear taper helps load quickly, giving you incredible control in tight casting conditions.

This line comes in nine sizes from 300 to 600 grains, and lengths of 27' to 32' to match almost any two-handed rod easy. The front loop has the line size printed on it for easy recognition.

This line has become popular with many Northern California guides.

Link to the Airflo Rage;

Airflo Intermediate Compact

Airflo identified the need for a line that would cast and fish like a Skagit compact, but would avoid all the surface hydraulics caused by the river bottom. No longer do you have to put up with tumultuous surface currents pulling at the floating portion of your Skagit system. The Skagit Intermediate gets you below the surface and into more even, mid-strata flows, allowing for a smoother more direct fly presentation. The line is two tone in color, the front taper and belly section are Heron Grey, and the floating back taper is Scandi Blue. It features the Airflo Power Core for direct contact and solid hook sets, it has loops at both ends, and easy to read head size label. Skagit casting anglers will benefit from this line no matter where you fish.

Link to the Airflo Intermediate Compact;

Airflo Speydicator

The Speydicator was designed to throw an unreasonable amount of weight at the end of an unreasonable length of tippet with an unreasonably large indicator. It is really an integrated Skagit Line.This has become my integrated line of choice on my Lower Yuba River. It an indicator line on steroids.

The lines come in four sizes starting at a WF4. They all have a short 21 to 23 foot head with a long 12 to 15 foot rear taper. Behind the rear taper is a 25 to 30 foot heavy level mending zone. The combination of the rear taper and mending a zone allows the fisherman to re-position the head after casting and still have enough mass to stack mend line for 60 feet or more. After the mending zone the line is made with Airflo's unique low stretch ridged running line, helping you to stick fish even at the end of the longest drifts.

Link to the Airflo Speydicator;

Rio Skagit Lines

Important Note: When attaching all Rio Shooting heads, the Printed ID on the line goes at the back. The end with the Printed ID attaches to the running line.

Rio Skagit Max

The Rio Skagit Max is a Skagit style shooting head that will cast big flies, and the heaviest sinking tips with the utmost of ease. It has a unique taper design that not only casts all the nasty stuff associated with Skagit fishing, but also forms beautiful loops and is extremely pleasant to cast. The head is built on RIO’s ultra-low stretch Connect Core for the utmost in casting control and sensitivity, and has a highly visible orange section loop for easy recognition. It is available in a multitude of lengths and weights to cover all rods and angling situations.

It has an Ultra-low stretch core for the best in casting and fishing sensitivity.  It has an easy loading design. It has a printed ID system on the rear of the head for quick recognition and a high viz rear loop. 

These heads run from 425 grains to 750 grains and are from 23 feet to 25 feet in length.

Here's the link to the Rio Skagit Max Line

Rio Skagit Max Short

The Rio Max Short is an exceptionally easy casting Skagit style shooting head that is ideal for short Spey rods, Switch rods and single-handed rods. The head will cast big flies, and the heaviest sinking tips with the utmost of ease. The head is built on RIO’s ultra-low stretch Connect-Core for the utmost in casting control and sensitivity, and has a highly visible orange section loop for easy recognition. It is available in a multitude of lengths and weights to cover all rod and angling situations.

Some of its features are; an Ultra-low stretch core for the best in casting and fishing sensitivity; Easy loading design; Printed ID system on the rear of the head for quick recognition; High viz rear loop. 

Rio iFlight

RIO’s iFlight is the latest addition in the arsenal of heads for the skagit fly fisher. The short, powerful head has an 8 foot long highly visible floating back end that is easy to track during the swing, and can be mended for total fly control. The unique clear camo intermediate front section is a fantastic asset for when extra depth is needed, in strong current and also on windy days, or when a slower swing is needed.

Some of its features are; Easy casting; Deep loading design for effortless casts; The powerful front end casts fast sinking tips and large flies; Slow sinking intermediate tip for deeper and slower presentations

Rio iShort

RIO’s iShort heads are powerful, intermediate based Skagit heads (with a short floating back section), designed for shorter Spey rods, Switch rods and single-handed rods. The intermediate front section give anglers deep, slow swings, and will cast large flies and the fastest of sinking tips with exceptional ease. For anglers using shorter Spey rods, Switch rods and Single Handed rods, and for tight casting situations, the iShorts are a fantastic choice. All Skagit heads are built on an ultra-low stretch core for the maximum in casting and fishing sensitivity. 

Link to the Rio iShort

Rio Switch Chucker

The Rio Switch Chucker is a fully integrated line. It is 100 feet long. It is an Indicator line on steroids. It is an integrated line with "Skagit" characteristics. The line is offered in line weights from #4 to #9. Although this line was designed to be used with switch rods They do have their place with spey rods.

The Switch Chucker is a very easy casting line, with a short head and plenty of weight at the front for casting indicators, sink tips and large flies. The line features a long front taper that makes it a pleasure to roll and spey cast with, and a short back taper that allows anglers to shoot for distance with ease. An integrated running line ensures there are no loop-to-loop connections running through the guides. The Chucker is a great choice for a Switch line for fishing tight in and for any Switch rod caster who wants the casting to be as easy as possible.

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