Today’s post is about using spey lines on switch rods, including some background on why you probably should cut a line for your rod, and the steps you can take to do just that. It’s written for people who have a bit of spey casting experience.
First, a disclaimer that today we’re mainly talking about using switch rods for spey casting. Although switch rods are designed specifically to be cast overhead as well as spey cast, we generally think of them as little spey rods, and that’s how we line them and fish them.
Right about 5 years ago, the first commercial Skagit spey lines hit the angling world. Anglers found that these lines had some great benefits, particularly in fisheries involving sink tips and bigger flies – Skagit lines just made it a lot easier to fish those setups, for beginning and experts two-handed casters alike.
The original Skagit lines had no front taper to speak of – they were basically just thick, level fly line in the head section. Over the past couple of years, ‘2nd generation’ Skagit heads have hit the market – the Airflo Skagit Compact and the Rio Skagit Flight are the best-known examples. These new Skagit heads have a real front taper and more mass concentrated near the back of the head, which makes for a much better performing line all around – loops are much tighter, flies get turned over easier, and less-than-perfect D-loops still produce decent casts. Skagit heads with real tapers are just better.
Here’s the problem – since switch rods are shorter than full spey rods, they require shorter heads, and nobody makes switch-rod-sized modern Skagit heads with real tapers. So what’s an angler to do? Simple – buy a modern Skagit head and cut it down so it’s the right size for your switch rod.
As of today, chances are your two choices are the Airflo Skagit Compact and the Rio Skagit Flight. The project that we’re going to use as our example created a line match between the Scott Fiberhammer and an Airflo Skagit Compact.
Picking which weight to start with is not terribly scientific, but our logic basically goes like this.
- Most anglers like heads in the 17 to 20-foot range for Skagit-style casting on switch rods.
- Depending on the head, that might mean that you’re shooting to cut it about 20% shorter (e.g. taking a 25-foot head down to 20 feet). These heads are tapered so their mass isn’t evenly distributed, but for a real, real rough ballpark you could guess that you’re also going to take out 20% of the grain weight.
- Using whatever means you can (input from other anglers, casting full-length heads), guess at what your ‘target’ grain weight for your cut line is, and do the math. In our example, we had cast the Fiberhammer with a 450 grain full-length Skagit head and thought that, while it was too long, the load seemed about right. So we started with a 570 grain Airflo Skagit Compact, because taking 20% of the mass out of that would land us somewhere near 450 grains when we were done.
How To Cut Your Head
Be careful! It’s impossible to ‘un-cut’ a fly line. Go slow and cut in small increments.
1. Cast the full length head first.
Note that if you picked the head correctly, the full length head is going to massively overload the rod. Go slow and be careful. Why take this step? Simple – if the rod isn’t massively overloaded you picked the wrong head, and this will prevent you from ruining a head by chopping blindly to start.
2. Cut a foot off the back of the head and cast it again.
Use a measuring tape and a pair of scissors, and cut cleanly. This process requires taking a bunch of cutting/testing steps, so to keep things relatively quick, with each new line length we just use an overhand knot to tie the back of the head to a loop in the running line. Really – an overhand knot in your fly line. Do this at your own risk, obviously – the ‘safe’ way to test would be to make a real loop on the back of the head each time, but we don’t have that kind of time.
3. Keep taking off 1 foot increments and casting until you’re in the ballpark.
When you feel like the rod is starting to cast pretty well but is still overloaded, maybe drop down to 6 inch increments.
4. When you’re getting close, go slow.
…and err on the side of not cutting! As you take mass out of the head, your rod should speed up and start to ‘come alive’. When you’re done is up to you!
5. Make a real loop on the back of the head.
…once you settle on a the length that you like. We like braided loops for this, and we’ve found that cutting a little point in the back of the head will allow you to slide the loop over the head much more easily.
In our project matching the Fiberhammer to the 570 grain Skagit Compact, we started with a 25 foot head, and cut 2 feet, then 2 feet and then 1 foot to land at a 20 foot, 480 grain head.
It’s a little bit of work, but matching a modern Skagit head to your switch rod is likely to make your time on the water easier and a heck of a lot of fun.