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What is Switch: A Buyer's Guide to Lines for Switch Rods
Switch rods get the blue ribbon for fly rod versatility. You can overhead cast them. You can spey cast them. Furthermore, they are the ultimate roll casting machines, so it is no wonder that they are taking the fly fishing world by storm.
What makes a switch rod a switch rod? It really comes down to their length, which falls somewhere between 10 ½ and 11 ½ feet. Also, their cork handle extends below the reel for two-handed applications. These rods are longer than traditional single hand rods and shorter than spey rods. Being right in the middle, anglers are able to cross over into both realms if they so choose.
Fly rod manufacturers typically provide switch rods in the 5 – 8 weight range, but there are 4 weights available. Trout anglers tend to hang out with 4 -7 weights, depending on size of the fish and the size of the water. Salmon and steelhead anglers prefer rods sized between 6-8 weights.
Keep in mind that switch rods are larger than their single hand cousins. Normally, about 2 sizes larger - so a 5 weight switch rod is really comparable to a 7 weight singlehand rod of the same construction. In order to balance out a switch rod out with the right fly reel and single hand line, be thinking about two sizes up, generally speaking. For a complete rundown on fly lines for switch rods, check out Fly Lines for Switch Rods.
When would a switch rod come in handy? Well there are a number of scenarios, but let’s simply break down the advantages across different angler groups. Then we’ll finish up by talking about their disadvantages…
Switch Rods For Trout Anglers?
Yes, switch rods can be extremely useful here. These rods really shine when there is limited back casting room. The longer the lever, the easier it is to gain distance on a given cast. So with the added length, roll casting in tight quarters with switch rods opens up areas of the river that you just couldn’t reach before. They can move a lot of fly line very efficiently. Now, for working dry fly patterns in close, I’d rather have a single hand. If I’m false casting a lot and looking for that soft, surface presentation, well the switch isn’t really the tool. But, there are times when you need to reach out to a seam line or slot from a rather inhospitable bank, and roll casting a dry here with the switch can get you in the game. So in general, I would rather use switch rods when using wet flies. It is quite easy to cast multiple fly, heavily weighted nymph setups with the switch. Again, roll casting leads the way here, especially when tucked in tight to shore. Another very noteworthy benefit however, is the exceptional line control of your drift. Not only is it easier to cast more line, but it is easier to keep your presentation looking true. Longer rods are able to reach out over varying river currents and eliminate their pesky effects on the drift. You can keep your line higher off the water, and have more control over the drift’s progression. Furthermore, mending your line is far easier with a longer rod. Some drifts may necessitate a large mend to stack line up behind your flies and switch rods make this a breeze. Essentially, switch rods can make casting fly line and managing fly line much easier, especially in tight casting quarters or for those situations that demand a lengthy cast.
For those anglers that like to throw sinktips and streamers for trout, here is another area where the switch performs. When fishing from shore, streamers are best presented by peeling them away and downstream of boulders, logs and other pieces of structure. Additionally, when fishing smaller rivers - to be able to hit the opposite bank with a streamer is gold. Switchies can get you there. By employing simple, water-loaded roll casts or even adding another hand for a spey cast, the switch rod can make for very efficient tools for distance and management. Fly lines that are geared towards swing fishing with subsurface flies really perform with minimal effort. You end up covering more water and have more energy left in the tank at the end of the day.
One other scenario for trout anglers is swinging soft hackles. Working downstream and swinging emerging patterns through feeding lanes can be an extremely effective way to fish for trout. Anglers who use the spey cast in this situation expel little energy and they are able to cover the water very effectively.
Salmon and Steelhead anglers.
Switch rods are very popular among this group of anglers. For the most part, when seeking out these critters you are either swinging flies across the current, or dead drifting weighted flies. On the swing-side, the number of spey anglers on the water is growing by the day. The efficiency that spey rods afford when covering vast sections of water over the course of the day, cannot be overstated. The spey cast allows you to shoot lots of line, with very little effort. They are perfect tools for the ardent steelhead angler. However, certain spey rods of 12 ½ feet or more can be heavy and a little cumbersome. Recent line developments for short spey rods have made long casts a reality for shorter rods. Enter the switch. I can’t tell you how liberating it is to cast a light, responsive rod without having to compromise too much distance or the ability to throw various sink-tips. However, it should be noted that traditional, medium – long belly spey line enthusiasts will not be able to cast these lines effectively with these rods. They are really built to cast shorter lines. For small – medium sized rivers, such as are here in Oregon, I love the agile nature of spey fishing with switch rods. These rods allow you to fish in extremely tight places. Zipping a lengthy cast out from under some overhanging tree branches is now a reality with these rods and pinning a fish on a switch setup is pretty invigorating.
On the other end, nymph anglers (or dead –drift enthusiasts) are psyched to have the added length. Nymph setups are pretty unwieldy to cast traditionally, so the best method for getting your patterns out into the zone is via the roll cast. With the right line, the added length makes roll casting borderline effortless. Again, maintaining sound line control on the drift is also a huge benefit with these rods.
Monster overhead casts are pretty valuable when trying to get out past the surf. Although, casting an 11 foot rod overhead can become tiring after a while, anglers can use shorter, weight-forward shooting heads for this. One or two, water-loaded back casts can provide enough load throughout the rod to shoot enormous lengths of line.
Lake Fishing – Tube or Pontoon Boat
Being so close to the water, it can be difficult to make long casts from either a tube or pontoon. Technique must be pretty flawless in order to keep your line from catching the water during the casting stroke. In order to keep the cast on track, we need good timing and often we need to reach high overhead to afford us more room for error. The switch rod is far more forgiving in this scenario. By elevating the fly line higher over the water, and providing more rod to load, long distance casts come much easier.
When Not to Switch?
Ok, some of the problems: You will notice a slight loss of accuracy when you go from a single hand rod to a switch rod. Longer rods have a tendency to lose the tracking that your stroke is trying to encourage. Essentially, there is a longer rod span for discrepancy to arise, so if you are in a boat or wading in a place where distance is not difficult to attain with an overhead cast, then a single hand is a better bet. Also, shorter rods are more intimate feeling. You are better able to feel subtle changes in the rod. They are also lighter, so when dry fly fishing for trout - especially when a lot of false casting is necessary and you’re looking for a soft presentation, it is best to stick with the single hand rod.
Lines for Switch Rods: A Buyer's Guide
Finding the right line for switch rods (rods between the lengths of 10.5 – 11.5 feet) can be confusing. Let us try to clear a few things up by talking about the different types of applications that switch rods are used for.
Spey Fishing. These short rods provide a light, agile alternative when fishing small to medium sized rivers. Finally, lines now exist to give anglers a sound spey experience with rods of this size. Traditionally, spey rods have been used to cast lines to anadromous fish like Salmon and Steelhead. Anglers preferring to swing flies for these fish with switch rods should consider casting short spey heads, but there are a few choices here. If you want the capability of casting heavy sink-tips and weighted flies then you want a short Skagit line. Rio calls their version: Rio Skagit Short. Airflo calls their version: Airflo Skagit Switch. Both of these lines are very similar and like the regular Skagit lines, they perform best with some type of sink-tip attached to the front of the head. Their extreme weight forward nature allows them to turn over tips and heavy flies quite easily. People who wish to swing flies on the surface or mere inches below the surface can replace the sink tip and affix a dry tip to the head. Although this will work for dry line fishing, this combination is somewhat "clunky” when looking for a soft fly lay down on the water. Also, people using this setup will appreciate using a poly leader in place of a purely mono leader. So it is recommended that you attach a 10 foot poly leader to the end of the dry tip which will aid in rod-loading and line shooting.
Swing fishing with a sink-tip:
Head + Sink Tip + 4-5ft of mono leader. For example: (Airflo Skagit Switch + 10 Ft T-14 + 4-5ft of Maxima 12 lb)
Swing fishing with a dry tip:
Head + Dry Tip + 10ft poly leader+ 3-5 ft of mono leader. For example: (Rio Skagit Short + 10 ft medium Mow Float Tip + Airflo 10ft poly leader floating + 3-5 ft of Maxima 12 lb.
For spey anglers who want a better floating line presentation, a slightly longer head with a slightly longer front taper will be a better fit. Lines in this range are called Scandi heads. The Airflo Scandi Compact or the Rio Steelhead Scandi fall into this category giving anglers a softer presentation. However, like using a floating tip on a short Skagit setup, these heads perform best when used with a poly leader attached. Poly leaders between 10-14 feet should do the job depending on your stroke. Softer, more compact strokes can stick with the 10 footer. Furthermore, folks wishing to get a little sink or better wind-fighting ability can put on a higher density poly leader.
Dry line swing fishing with Scandi Head:
Head + 10-14ft poly leader + 4-5ft mono leader. For example: (Airflo Scandi Compact + 10 – 14 ft floating poly leader +4-5ft of 12 lb Maxima OR (Rio Steelhead Scandi + 10-14 ft slow sink poly leader + 4-5ft of Maxima 12 lb.
A recent addition to this class of lines is the Airflo Skagit Rage Compact Line. This line is a sort of a combination between a Scandi Line and a Skagit Line. By utilizing the castability of the Skagit lines and combining it with the softer presentation that is characteristic of Scandi lines, the Rage is an incredible line for dry line and light sink presentations. Like the Scandi lines, The Rage is best used with a poly leader around 10 feet long.
Dry line swing fishing with Rage:
Head + 10 ft poly leader + 4-5 ft of mono leader. For example: (Airflo Rage + 10 ft of floating or sink poly leader + 4-5 ft of 12 lb Maxiama.
It should be noted that the Skagit short lines also work very well on short spey rods. Sage has a rod that is 11’9” long which they call an advanced switch rod. I am talking about the Sage TCX Switch. I would call this a small spey rod however and I must confess, the Airflo Skagit Switch 510-540gr is absolute heaven on this stick. So, for rods between 11’9’’ – 12’ 6” think about a short Skagit style line. The castability is astounding.
Trout anglers looking for an efficient swing-style tool for casting streamers and heavy tips will really like the short Skagit lines. 5 weight switch rods are incredibly fun for this style of fishing.
Strictly spey anglers using switch rods for swing fishing will do best not to try lines much longer than Scandi Heads. For two handed casting, these rods simply aren’t long enough to move more line effectively. However, that said, if you want a line that may crossover for drift or nymph style presentations these lines do exist and they do have a longer over-all head length. They will spey cast, but not quite as easily. You will get the line out further with two handed roll casts but the loops are often far more open and erratic.
Let’s take a look at some lines that are geared more towards a dead-drifted presentation… The main difference here is that although there is still a lot of weight at the front of the head, the over-all head length is longer. This means that the over-all grain weight of the line is spread out over a longer distance. Why do they make drift-style lines longer? Well, it because the back taper of the line needs to be much longer. For nymph anglers, having the ability to stack line or mend line upstream of their presentation is key to getting a long dead drift presentation. If you were to try this with a short Skagit line, you would cast, and then the only line available to try to mend would be your running line. Running line doesn’t have much mass, so it is difficult to mend a drift that is not under tension. Lines with a longer back taper will mend much easier and help you get a longer drag-free drift.
The two switch lines in this category that are appropriately weighted for switch rods are the Rio Switch and the Airflo Speydicator. Both have been designed to throw long leaders, split shot and dual fly setups. They each provide easy mending for drag-free drifts. Although they will both roll cast extremely well, the Speydicator is an easier two handed line and it will even handle some light tips for swing fishing, although this is not its best application. When looking for the right line weight, stick to the box line weight for the Speydicator (They are weighted for Switch Rods). If looking at the Rio Switch, go on the heavier end, especially if your rod is moderately fast.
So far we have mostly talked about water loaded casting. This is exactly what a spey cast is – really it is a glorified, two handed roll cast. The Short Skagit, Scandi and Rage lines will spey cast the best. However, for strictly one hand roll casting, all these lines will work (Scandi, Rage – not so much). The Rio Switch and Speydicator are great roll-casting lines which is really most effective when casting a bunch of junk for drift fishing. Another great roll-casting line for this purpose is the Rio Indicator. However, I would recommend sizing up 2-3 line sizes depending on the rod. This sizing up is pretty much standard SOP when outfitting a single hand line to a switch rod. If you are a load caster who often fishes in tight casting quarters, then go up 3 line sizes.
Additionally, there are more lines that will work for roll casting and overhead casting a like. Again, you want to size up 2-3 line sizes here. The Rio Outbound and the Airflo 40 plus line fit nicely into this category. For lighter presentations overhead, think about the SA GPX or Rio’s Rio Grande. The Outbound and 40 plus will spey cast but with much effort and it likely will not be pretty.
So for lining switch rods with a short Skagit Head (Rio Skagit Short, Airflo Skagit Switch):
**Keep in mind that this range depends on your casting style. If you are a load caster and like to take it nice and slow- go middle to high. If you are a line speed caster and prefer a faster motion think about going low to middle.
When looking for a Rage or Scandi Head for your switch rod, subtract 30 grains off the weight of your appropriate Skagit line. For example: The rod likes to cast a 470 Skagit Switch – then go with a 450 Rage.
For the Sage TCX Advanced Switch Rods, tack on an additional 30 grains more than your average-sized switch would necessitate. As an example, I like a 480gr Airflo Skagit Switch on an 11 foot medium action rod. For the eight weight TCX, I like a 510gr Skagit Switch.
For small spey rods in the 12.5 ft – 13 ft range, size the Skagit short line just like you would a regular Skagit line.
Hopefully this guide can be of some assistance. The perfect, do-everything really well, line for switch rods doesn’t really exist yet. Your decision on a line really depends on your method of fishing. If spey fishing, it’s pretty easy to just switch out your heads at the junction with the running line. However, if you want the option to nymph fish and swing heavy tips, you might consider having an additional spool. The Speydicator and Rio Switch have a long, fused running line as do the rest of the single hand lines.
For the angler who mostly nymphs but just might swing a fly every blue moon … and this angler could only buy one line, the best choice here would likely be the Airflo Speydicator.