Switch Rods for Steelhead – a Really Confusing Look.

Yes. Switch rods are bad medicine for Steelhead. They are basically short spey rods. In my book, a standard switch rod is any two-handed rod ranging in length from about 10′ to about 11’9″ long, give or take. They are called switch rods because you can supposedly cast them one-handed or “switch” over to two-handed use. Or possibly because you can Spey cast them or switch to overhead casting with them. Or, they were invented by some dude named Fred Switch. I think it was actually Bob Meiser who came up with the idea but the term Bob rod never caught on so he changed it forever to switch rod.

Also, switch rods, like the sweet Beulah Platinum design are lighter duty as far as line weight assignments. So, according to Rio Product’s, spey line recommendations the #8 Beulah Platinum switch rod requires a 450 grain Skagit head but the 13’8” #8 spey rod requires a 600-grain Skagit head, that’s if you’re into Skagit heads. By contrast, a #8 single hander might take a 300 grain Skagit head but just the idea makes my right hand hurt. I am just trying to give you a ballpark idea of what a switch rod might do in comparison to a Spey rod or a single hander.

So the bigger Spey rod can cast heavier tips and weighted flies further and with more authority and a significantly longer heavier spey line such as the Beulah Aero Head 52’ mid belly Spey line whereas the #8 switch we’ve been discussing could possibly handle the 44’ long 6/7 Aero Head though it might prove to be a handful for the average caster.  

Another wrinkle: many of the modern switch rods are rated to Spey Classifications. According to Rio’s Spey line recommendations Sage, Echo, TFO, and others call for grain weights for their switches that are similar to what they recommend for the same weight Spey rod.  So there’s that. (Thanks for the headsup Domantis)

Any two-handed rod shorter than 10’ could possibly be classified as a “Micro spey. Or not. The distinctions between Spey, Switch, Baby Spey, Trout Spey, Micro Spey and Tinky-Winky Spey are blurry. A Micro spey rod is basically a one-handed fly rod with a lower grip added. In my opinion, a Micro spey is a true switch rod because a true switch rod is a rod that can be cast with one hand or two. For me, again, a standard switch rod is a little on the heavy side for casting one-handed, at least for a very long time, with your basic large plastic Skagit or Scandi line, particularly with a sink tip and especially one outfitted with a heavy fly, if you like that kind of thing.

The bottom line for me is that though they are called switch rods I don’t like casting them one handed all that much, but it works in a pinch, for a while. I have much more fun using it with two hands, the way God intended.

Warning: George Cook Alert!   Cook explains switch rods as only George can. He actually uses the term “Trouty Trouterson”. My most sincere apologies.  Feller can cast.

So, back to our original topic. Switch rods for Steelhead. Very good. If you have an 11’ switch rod with a 23’ head, like a Rio Scandi Short body or Skagit head with a 10’ chunk of t8 and a 3’ mono leader and you can get the line to lay out straight, it will fish 47’ out from your feet. If you can shoot a couple rod lengths of line you will have almost 60’ from your feet to your fly. Subtract a good 10 feet for squiggles in your line and you are fishing 50’ away unless your using a shorter OPST Commando head, or Airflo Skagit Scout, or an 11′ Rio Skagit Trout  Max, then your closer to 40′.  That’s still reaching out far enough away that you don’t have to shoot a gob of line to cover the water that Steelhead lay in. Just keeping it real here.People on the internet often say that they are casting and fishing 75’ to 85’ away or longer and that is true sometimes but people usually give themselves the benefit of the doubt when bragging about how far they can cast so don’t believe everything you read.

Here are the situations I would choose for a switch rod.  

Under trees.  I always find myself exploring juicy water flanked by overhanging trees.  When I am wading through a boulder patch, located under tree branches, I want a short rod, and if I am wading through a boulder patch the fish are probably at my feet or close by, so a shortish cast from a switch rod can produce fish.

Smaller fish.  OF course its more fun to catch smaller fish on lighter tackle.  I think that’s why a lot of people are going to switch rods today.  But George is using some smaller switches to catch some pretty big trout.

Little water.  Some of the smaller coastal water can easily be covered by a single hander.  But for bigger fish and heavy tips and flies that require a Skagit head, you may feel better equipped if you’re packing a switch rod, particularly if you look for any excuse to cast with two hands.

Yes, you can use switch rods for nymphing.  I’m not a nymphing maniac but I found this video and it will tell you everything you want to know.

For more great info on Switch rods go here.