Jun 26, 2012

Switch Rods - What's All The Buzz About?

bent 11 foot 7 weight switch rod
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
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.

Surf Casting
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?
-Fishing from a drift boat
-Fishing on saltwater flats or out of a flat’s boat
-General standup boat fishing
-Creek fishing
-Delicate dry fly trout fishing
-Spey fishing on large rivers that need long casts (90 plus feet)

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.

Switch rods we carry:

Ross Reach
Sage One
Sage Z-Axis - (Closeout Prices!) 
Echo 3
Echo SR
Redington CPX
St. Croix Imperial
G. Loomis Roaring River

Have a good time,

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