Switch Rods – Why You Should Try One

Little Water + Little Rod = Big Fun.
Photo: Cameron Miller

We’re pretty shameless about the fact that we love spey fishing for steelhead, and spey fishing for king salmon, and more recently, spey fishing for trout. We fish in some places that are perfect for the two-hander…and two handed rods are fun!

Spey Fish With The Experts

There’s been a lot of buzz in the past couple of years about switch rods – lightweight double-handed rods in the 10 to 12 foot range that are designed for both two-handed and overhead casting. To be honest, the switch rod thing seemed to us to be a little gimmicky – until we spent some time with one.

Based on extensive research completed over 5 days at Alaska West on the Kanektok, we present to you some reasons that we think you should try a switch rod, if you haven’t already.

  1. Switch rods are really fun. Most switch rods live in the 4- to 7-weight world, and small rods mean little physical effort. Add light weight to a multitude of different spey-oriented and overhead casts, and you get lots of variety and lots of fun.
  2. Switch rods are effective for more than swinging. The classic sunken swung fly presentation works great with a switch rod, but so does a dead drift with sculpin/flesh fly/egg-type patterns. Switch rods are great tools for fishing mouse and hopper patterns on floating lines. The extra length of a switch rod means incredible line control, whether slowing down a swing, steering that flesh fly into and out of a snag, or skittering that hopper all over the surface of the bucket.
  3. You can fish small water with switch rods. You already know that we think spey casting is fun, but full-on spey outfits, even in light weights, are just too long for small rivers, side channels and small tributaries. A Sage 5126-4 spey rod (12.5 feet) plus a 400 grain Skagit line (27 feet) plus a short tip (7 feet) plus a short leader (3 feet) still lands a fly 50 feet away from you – not the best call if you’re fishing a 20 foot wide side channel. 5 weight switch rods like the Sage 5110-4 love heads as short as 16 feet and tips as short as 5 feet – making your fly swim beautifully 25 feet away.
  4. Switch rods will make you a better spey caster, because you can do it more. Great, you fish a spey rod for a week in June on the Kanektok and then for a week in September on the Kispiox. What about the rest of the year? If you live near decent-sized trout water, you can fish a switch rod for a lot of the year. Making those spey casts year-round will make you a lot better at it.
  5. Switch rods will make you a better spey caster, because these little rods are unforgiving. There’s no two ways about this one – it’s a lot easier to spey cast a 14 foot for a 9 weight than it is to cast an 11 foot for a 5 weight. You don’t want to learn spey casting on a switch rod. So why is this a good thing? Mistakes can be overcome with those big, long traditional spey rods. If you’re fishing a lightweight switch rod and you pull your anchor, or leave too much line on the water, or try to over-power a cast, or commit any one of a number of other spey casting sins, the cast just won’t work. Yes, it’s hard at first, but fishing light, short switch rods will definitely make you a better spey caster, because you pay for your mistakes.
Spey Fish with the Experts

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  1. Bill Taylor says

    How about a switch rod for single hand and two hand overhead casting in the salt? I have used a Meiser System 6 (10′ 6″, 5 pc, 7/8 wt) for wading for bonefish, triggerfish and other Seychelles species, as well as for stripers from a skiff in the Essex River estuaries, using Rio Outbound lines. I’ve used the same rod has for spey casting and stripping streamers with a skagit head and sink tip for big trout in Argentine rivers. Overhead is not spey casting, but the added length of the rod makes long overhead casts easy.

  2. Scott Owens says

    I use my switch rod for King Salmon and Steelhead on the Salmon river in New York and unlike some, truly fish flies. I love it! So much fun and can fish the whole body of water easily and landing is still a good fight but easier to work. I agree you have to love switch rods.

  3. joshua says

    i own a 7110 z-axis it is a joy to use. i use 15 foot 8 wt versi- tip system on it. great for swinging. the line management is off the chart.

  4. says

    I did some teaching at the Sandy Clave last weekend. I tried some Sage One rods in 4 and 5 wgt. I came to conclusion that using those rods to teach a newbie is a great idea. Everything about thier size,length,flex pattern,etc helps the newbie to learn …slowdown…. putting a bend in the front of the rod ….economy of all movement…let the rod tip do it!!

  5. says

    Tried 11′ – 7wt. swictch rod 2 years ago and last year. Tried all kinds of lines & shooting heads (even single hand rod lines) but decided to put the rod back on the rack. I finally picked it up one day to give it one last chance. Put on a one peice Rio switch line (7/8 wt.), got rid of the spey casts & started to use it like a single hand rod (with a bit of my own flare). As soon as I started to bring the shooting head part of the line out of the water…things began to happen. I am now casting nice long casts and the greatest thing is that I’m now staying out on the water 2 to 3 times longer without the achs & pains I had with the single hand rods. I am now completey converted over to the switch rod. If your thinking about a switch rod….forget the spey casts & develope your own style or just use the single hand casts but use both hands. If you want to learn spey casting….USE A SPEY ROD (13′ plus).

  6. Neil West says

    I have the sage TCX switch in a 7 and 8 and they are just brilliant for salmon and seatrout. Lines are AFS 7/8 on the 8 wt and 6/7 on the 7. Always with a 10′ polyleader.
    Airflo skagit switch 510 on the 8 wt is unbelievably good. I love to Spey cast but occasionally an over head is necessary with 2 hands. AFS is great for this as is the rio scandi short VT in an 8 for the 8 wt and also the airflo 40+ in a 9 wt for the 8 wt switch. This line Spey casts ok but a 2 handed over head sends it miles. The intermediate is particularly good. My next buy is a 4 or 5 wt switch to fish lakes with a Spey casting out fit. Any advice is welcome

  7. says

    I disagree that you don’t want to learn on a switch rod. It is shorter, lighter and therefore less intimidating and easier to keep everything in the box. Somewhat more flexible which means a newbe can learn that the cast is made by putting a bend in the tip and releasing it.
    I have done some lessons the last two years at the Sandy Clave, and helped Dec Hogan a couple times and did and a couple singles. I had great results using a 6110 and a 5116!

  8. andrew says

    I agree with you 100%, Beau. I’ve totally changed my tune on how forgiving switch rods can be since I wrote this post (way back in the dark days of 2009!).

    The switch setups we’re fishing today are just much easier for everybody to use. While rods have definitely gotten better, to me the huge jump has come in the arrival of the Skagit Switch (Airflo) and Max Short (RIO) heads. Much easier loading, much better with bigger tips and flies, better for a compact casting stroke…

    I’ve cast those on a bunch of older switch rods too…buttah!


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