Apr 30, 2012

Lines for Switch Rods - A Buyer's Guide


Switch rods and lines to use with them are quickly evolving. Since the time that this article was written many new lines have been developed that could be of great importance to switch rod users. One comes to mind is the New Rio Switch Chucker. The Switch Chucker is a full length line with the idea that it can do it all or most of it anyway..Its essentially a skagit line and you just add the tip to suite your current needs. Newly updated is the Skagit Short now called Skagit Max Short and a to compliment the new short skagit is the i-Short Skagit, a short intregrated intermediate sinking skagit head.

Like I said lots of new stuff for the switch rod angler. We are working with all the new offering and look forward to reporting back soon with our findings. Look for a new post about switch lines coming soon. This current post has been updated with all the current links and information contained within it is still very valid and useful. 

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's version: Rio Skagit Max Short. Airflo's 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 polyleader in place of a purely mono leader. So it is recommended that you attach a 10 foot polyleader to the end of the dry tip which will aid in rod-loading and line shooting.

Learn more about tips and polyleaders - Sink Tips, Polyleaders, Versileaders - A Buyer's Guide

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 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.

The Newer Trends For Scandi Lines and Switch Rods - 
A new set of Scandi lines From Rio offer up some interesting new options for Switch Rod applications. The New Scandi Body and the New Scandi Short Versi-Tip. The Scandi Body's for switch rod applications come in 4-9 weights and are 23 foot in length. You just need to attach a 10 foot tip of your choice and your ready to fish. The new Rio Scandi Body heads also come in Intermediate and Type 4 Sink. Possible tip options in Rio Versi-tips, Rio MOW and i-MOW tips and Rio Versi-leaders (Polyleaders). The Rio Scandi Short Versi-Tip includes four interchangeable tips including a Floating, Intermediate, Type 3 sink and a Type 6 Sinking tip. Just choose your tip and loop on your choice of tippet and your ready to fish.

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. This line shoots like an arrow! Like the Scandi lines, The Rage is best used with a poly leader around 10 feet long.

Dry line swing fishing with Airflo 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. Since this article was written the TCX Rods have been replaced by the Sage Method Rods. Same rules apply when we're talking about this middle ground grey area of two hands rods.

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 any 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's 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 II. However, I would recommend sizing up 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.

Additionally, there are more lines that will work for roll casting and overhead casting a like. Again, you want to size up 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):

  • 5 weights: 325-375
  • 6 weights: 375-425
  • 7 weights: 425-475
  • 8 weights: 475 – 525

**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 11' 9" 8 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. 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 so switching out the head at the running line is not really an option.

This area of two hand lines is constantly changing as newer better lines are being developed. One line to do it all will likely never exist but understanding you options will go a long ways in helping you make line choices that work for you...

Gorge Fly Shop Team

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