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Understanding Spey Rods

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By George Revel


Understanding spey rods and spey lines can be a bit overwhelming at first. Which is why I wanted to write an article to help clarify a few things for you.  I want to start of by making one distinction, spey casting is a technique that is NOT exclusively used with two handed rods. It is a valuable technique in trout fishing situations with single handed rods. In fact I spey cast about 80% of the time when using a single hand rod. Spey casting keeps my flies in the water and out the trees with minimal effort and has increased my catch rate. Rio has  gone as far as releasing a new line for single hand spey casting.


Now, lets tackle the question “why use a two handed rod?” Two hand rods are great for two things: casting far without much backcast and casting heavy flies and tips. I use them exclusively for swinging flies and have long since abandoned using them for indicator fishing. I find two handed rods to be too heavy and clumsy to make the mends that I want for indicator fishing. So, I opt for a 10ft or 9.5ft single handed rod for those situation. Beyond making it easy to cast far and cast heavy tips/flies, casting a two handed rod in a redwood grove on the coast is quite possibly one of the most transcendent experiences one can find.


Photo By Beulah Fly Rods

What is the difference between a switch and spey rod?

I think of a switch rods as a compact spey rod designed for smaller rivers. There is a notion that you can both single hand and two hand cast a switch rod, however single hand casting a heavy two handed rod is an exhausting experience. A longer than 9ft single hand rod is the right tool for single hand casting. Below 12ft is a switch rod and above 12ft is spey rod by current industry standards.


What reel should I put on my two handed rod?

It depends on the rod, but my advice is get a reel that is 2-3 weights larger than your two handed rod. Because most reels are designed for single hand rods you need to adjust for the size of the spey lines. For example, should get a 8-9wt reel for 6wt spey rod.


What lines should I get?

This is were it gets really tricky, but stick with me and a promise it will make more sense. 90% of Two Handed rods that leave our shop are rigged up with a shooting head system. A shooting head is a shorter (usually 20-40ft) heavy line that loops on to a running line. Shooting heads offer great versatility when fishing because you don’t have to change reels or full lines when you want to fish a different taper. It is a simple loop to loop connection to the running line. The running line is just a level line that “shoots’ behind the shooting head when you cast it. So let’s break down in order. You have backing which connects to the running line, which connects to your head which connects to your tips. Tips are generally how you can control the depth of your fly. Rio gives a very comprehensive break down of spey lines here.


Lets start off with breaking down running lines:
Personally I like running lines that made out of the fly line material with a diameter of .026” or .032". I find that they are easier to hold especially in cold conditions. You will sacrifice a little bit of distance but not much. My favorite is the Rio Connectcore Running Line. If ultimate distance is your game you might consider the mono-filament style running lines. My two favorite are OPST Lazar Line in 50lb and Verivas in 44lb. You will notice I gravitate toward the thicker diameters of these line which goes back to my point about being easier to hang on to. Your runningline may have a loop on the end like the Rio Connectcore Running Lines or you will need to put a loop on it in the case of the mono-filament running lines. I like a well tied triple surgeons loop for this connection. Your runningline will loop to your shooting head.


What shooting head should I get?
There are many different shooting head out there but I am going to talk about the 2 I fish the most:

  • Skagit Head: Pronounced Skajit, this head will be your best bet when casting large flies and heavy tips. They are a short and heavy allowing you to get your tips and flies out of the water. A Skagit head is your best head for winter fishing. Designed to be cast with Rio MOW Tips.
  • Scandi Heads: Also known as Scandinavian heads are designed to cast lighter tip and flies. Really a solution for summer and low water fisheries where fishing near the surface with smaller/lighter flies is your preferred method. Designed to be cast with 10ft versileaders.

If you have any spey related questions or are interested in getting into spey fishing please give us a call, email us, or come see us:

Phone: 415-483-2278

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