Switch to Switch: Spey & Switch Casting Basics

A Comprehensive Overview of Switch and Spey Casting

1. Common Questions and Myths
2. Basic equipment and fundamentals of Switch, Traditional Spey, Scandinavian (Scandi) and Skagit (Pacific Northwest) styles of fly casting.
3. How to get Started: Switch and Spey rod and fly line Review for Beginners.

Common Questions and Myths

  • What is switch casting? Switch casting involves equipment and casts that can be made either overhand or under the rod tip (spey style) using one or two hands on the rods.  A true “switch rod” is one that can be used in all the ways mentioned above (over the top, under the tip, single handed or two handed).
  • Why Switch? First, lets take baby steps!  Understanding the mechanics of spey casting and using these casts interchangeably in your every day fishing with a 9ft. rod will make you a more versatile angler.  It’s hopper season and you are casting to the opposite bank with little back casting room…no problem!  If you want to catch a wiper or pike on the fly this spring but can’t cover enough water with a double haul, big wind/flies/sink tips,  this is your quick fix to effortless distance.  Above all else IT’S FUN!  Spey style fishing is a “samurai sword/zen” type of feeling.  When fishing is slow, atleast casting is a lot more fun then flopping over a nymph rig 10 ft. all-day-looooong!
  • “I’ve heard it’s very hard to learn?” Wrong!  If you understand the basics of overhand casting, loop formation, and how to load the rod, switch/spey casting will not be as difficult as it looks or is made out to be.
  • “I live in Colorado not Brittish Columbia! Our rivers are small, What’s the use?” This is a common misnomer amongst many trout fisherman. No, you don’t need to go to Deckers with a 15′  10wt, T14 sink tip and a 750 grain skagit shooting head.  What might make sense is a 10-11′ 5wt (especially at higher flows).  These longer rods coupled with basic spey lines and casts will help you become more efficient in covering water with dries, nymph rigs or streamers.
  • What is the biggest advantage? Put simply, Quick and clean changes of direction and line control over greater distances.

Basic Equipment and Fundamentals

Switch Style: Switch style incorporates rods and lines that can be used to cast over the top, under the tip, with one ore two hands.  The basic switch cast is what is refereed to as a “touch and go cast.”  The basic switch cast is important to learn before you can move any farther. Steps of a Switch Cast Video and Instructions

Traditional Spey Casting:
The traditional style generally uses rods in the 12-15′ range and lines with long bellies of 60+ feet.  Because of the size of these rods, they need to be used with two hands working as a lever.  The bottom hand in any spey cast should work much the same as how the non casting hand would work when making a single or double haul cast with a single handed rod.   This style is useful in that even after a 70-80 ft drift, you can be upstream and fishing with very few movements.   Traditional spey casts are all “touch and go” type casts that have roots in the basic switch cast.
Single Spey Casting Video and Instructions
Snake Roll Casting Video and Instructions

Scandinavian or “Scandi” Style Casting
This style was developed in…you guessed it… Scandinavia for casting great distances with little back-casting room.  This style of casting still utilizes the touch and go style of casts as in traditional spey but with shorter rods (11-13′) and “shooting heads” attached to running line.   The disadvantage of the shooting head system, is that after each cast, the running line must be stripped to a point where the shooting head is just beneath the rod tip.  In Colorado, the Scandi set up has it’s place when wade fishing in lakes. One interesting advantage is that in stillwater we are generally stripping in the line anyway as part of our retrieve. In moving water, this can be nuisance!  Video Demo and instruction on Scandinavian Spey Casting.

Skagit Style Casting
The Skagit style cast developed in the Pacific Northwest for fishing medium size rivers with big flies and heavy sink tips for steelhead in the 10 pound range.  In order to turn over these large flies and heavy tips, it originally required a very large 15′ 8-10 wight traditional spey set up.  This was  a little overkill for the size of fish once hooked.  For this reason, the Skagit system was developed on the Skagit River as a way to use lighter rods and still deliver big flies and heavy sinking tips.  Unlike traditional and scandi style casts that use touch and go anchors, the skagit style uses a “sustained anchor.”  meaning that the water is used to load the rod with the help of a short and extremely heavy shooting head.  Since Skagit style casting does not require the precise timing of the touch and go type casts, it is EXTREMELY easy to learn.  Skagit lines have evolved immensely and today there are skagit lines and grain weights available for rods of nearly every length to include your 9 footer!  The head is always floating and different tips are added to achieve desire depths.  Rio’s new MOW Tips have revolutionized precision depth control over a variety of depths and water speeds.
Snap T, Circle Spey, C-Spey (Pretty much the same thing)

Double Spey

Gear Recommendations: Rods and Lines for Switch Casting
Though a 9 foot rod can be used, we prefer a rod 10-12ft in length

Scott T3H Switch & Spey Rods:  The 10’6 4wt T3H  is the ultimate Arkansas, South Platte, Eagle River, Upper Colorado, Roaring Fork Switch rod.  We love to use this rod for walking and skating hoppers, adult stones and terrestrials downstream.  Even at very high flows in Deckers, you can be on one bank and fish the other with total line control.   It is also a great nymph rod when long drifts and somewhat light tippet are required. This rod can be fished either single handed or two handed. 10’6″ 4wt Line Recommendations: Rio- 4/5 Switch line, 285 Skagit Short, Steelhead Scandi 310. Our other favorite in the T3H Line up is the T3H 12’8″ 6wt.  This is probably the most powerful & versatile spey rod I have ever used. It is my go to stick on windy days in WY & the perfect size spey rod for A-Run fish on the Grande Ronde.  12’8″ 6wt Line Recommendations: SA Spey Evolution 470 Grain Mid Belly Line, SA Skagit Extreme 480-520 grain.

Sage ONE Spey/Switch Rods: In the switch rod Category, we love the 11’6″ 5wt Sage ONE Switch Rod.  These rods are so incredible light it’s hard to believe it is 11’6.” Powerful enough to throw big stuff on skagit & enough backbone to be the best nymphing switch rod we have used.  Our other favorite is the 12′ 6″ 5wt Sage ONE is the workhorse spey rod for Colorado and Wyoming.  There simply isn’t a rod more perfectly suited for throwing all styles of spey for trout.
Line Recommendations: Rio- 6/7 Switch line, 325-375 Skagit Short, Steelhead Scandi 310

Scott L2H  Spey & Switch Rods: The L2H 11′ 5-6wt is the best bang for the buck  switch  perfect for targeting summer runs or for taking your two handed game to the trout stream.  If you are looking for the all purpose do it all Colorado switch rod, this is it.  Powerful and long enough to fish all styles of spey, and light enough to fish single handed.  $495. 11′ 5-6wt Line Recommendations: Rio- 6/7, 7/8 Switch line,  Skagit Short 375gr, Steelhead Scandi 350gr.
Scott L2H 11′ 8wt: An extremely powerful 8wt for making big flies go along way single handed or two handed.  This is an ideal rod for targeting wiper and pike, or for throwing  large and heavy, flies, sink tips, and  shooting heads on big water like Grey Reef, Miracle Mile, or the the lower Colorado.  This rod is the equalizer between fly fishing and conventional gear fishing on a river.   11′ 8wt Line Recommendations: Rio- 7/8 Switch line, Skagit Short 475gr, Steelhead Scandi 435gr

Echo Spey & Switch RodsEcho offers switch & spey rods that won’t break the bank and yet still offers the preformance we would expect from a rod company founded by casting guru Tim Rajeff.  Some of our favorites in the Echo Line up are the 10’8″ 5wt Echo SR, and the 12′ 5wt ECHO TR.  

Lines
Rio Switch Line:  This line is designed for a multitude of applications for anglers using Switch rods. The long head and thick diameter tip turns over big flies and indicator rigs while allowing anglers to throw mends and control the fly’s drift at great distance. The front taper and weight distribution form tight loops with minimum of effort, also enabling anglers to cast streamers and sinking VersiLeaders. The perfect all round line for Switch rods.  $89.95

RIO’s Steelhead Scandi Head: Developed for anglers that prefer to cast shorter spey and switch rods. The heads are shorter than other Scandinavian style heads, making it very easy to cast and load a fly rod, and novice to intermediate level casters will find these a real joy to cast. Shorter front tapers and more weight at the front help make these heads cast big flies and VersiLeaders easily, while also aiding casters when having to cope with tough winds. They are “butter smooth” to cast and  form exquisite loops with an unbelievable lack of effort.   $49.95

SA Scandi Extreme Head: Designed for Scandinavian style casting with a Short head and powerful front taper for conventional and poly leaders Lower grain weights designed for switch rods and shorter two hand rods  $53.95

SA Skagit Extreme Head: Extremely short and powerful taper for casting heavy sink tips Fast loading front taper designed for maximum flight time.  Lower grain weights are ideal for switch rods. Click HERE for more info and line/rod recommendations $53.95

Rio Skagit Short Heads: A short head version of the popular Skagit lines designed for shorter two handed rods, switch rods and single handed rods between 9 ft and 11 ft in length. The range of line sizes offered are ideal for rods between #5 and #9 in size.We recommend the RIO 10ft Skagit MOW Tips as the best tips for the Skagit Short lines on fly rods between 9 ft and 11 ft.  $49.95

Skagit MOW Tips
MOW Tips are based on the type of sink tips that Skagit maestros Mike McCune, Scott O’Donnell and Ed Ward have designed and used for years. Not only are the MOW tips exceptionally easy to cast, but they also give anglers far more precision in depth control than has ever been possible in the past. The MOW tip concept is simple; keep the tip length the same, regardless of how long the sinking section is. The majority of MOW tips are 10 ft long and feature a combination of floating and sinking line that gives anglers the greatest depth control. Click HERE for more info and tip/line/rod recommendations.

The floating Spey VersiLeader is perfect for forming the anchor when spey casting Scandinavian style. These leaders are ideal additons to all Spey lines and in particular RIO’s AFS heads and AFS OutBound lines.

Sharkskin Shooting Line: The Ultimate in Long Distance Casting and Minimal Tangling. $53.95

Rio Shooting/Running Line Powerflex® Core: The Powerflex Core shooting lines have a strong monofilament core that results in thin diameters, great strength and durability and a very slick XS Technology coating (new for 2009) for ultimate distance.  Each shooting line has a supple coldwater coating for tangle free performance and features a large welded loop at the front end to speedily attach the shooting heads. $39.95

7 Responses to Switch to Switch: Spey & Switch Casting Basics

  1. Charlie Whiting says:

    Theo,
    Tom Flemmer tells me your doing a casting seminar this weekend? Is that correct?
    Charlie
    720-210-7511

  2. Brian says:

    Are MOW tips recommended for other styles than skagit, i.e. scanda lines or Rio’s “Switch” line?

  3. Shawn says:

    I recently picked up an 8wt 11ft switch rod for striped bass and blues in new york city. I am mostly fishing surf and deep channels (20 ft) from shore. I really want to gain more distance- while being able to get down low as well. What line would you advise me in getting? I am very new to using a switch and am not really sure where to go from here. Thanks.

  4. John D. Meyer says:

    I own a TFO Professional 10’6″ fly rod, 7 wt. I was reviewing your web site info and would like to know what size switch line to use on this rod.
    I also have a Beulah 11′ switch fly rod and would like to know what size of line I should use on this rod as well. The switch rod is a 6/7 wt. Thanks Again.

    • Theo says:

      Hi John,

      The line will really depend on the type of fishing you are intending to use it for. That will determine what type of line to use. Traditional switch line, scandi or skagit.

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