Feb 8, 2018

Single Hand Skagit - How to Get Started

This Winter season of Trout Spey I've chose to reach into the really cool topic of single hand skagit. I've two hand trout spey fished a good variety of trout water across the US and while the Trout Spey or Micro Spey, whichever you prefer, hits home in many waters throughout America, I've also come to realize that there is a multitude of great trout streams in which this long rod just becomes too cumbersome and unnecessarily long. What I have found is small streams are ideal places for single hand skagit casting. It allows you to make casts in places where traditional overhead casting is not possible and trout spey rods are just over-kill.

At this time of writing, no USA companies are building a technique-specific single hand skagit stick for trout. I'm aware of two offerings for steelhead, first from Echo, OHS or One Hand Spey and one from Burkheimer simply called the Single Hand Spey. A Canadian Company, Pieroway along with the influence of Jerry French has both trout and steelhead offerings in a new line of single handed skagit rods called Renegade.

I see the skagit line sales and y'all ain't buying 200gr heads for spey rods! As of this writing, you have two options for single hand trout skagit: Dust off your old 5 weights or build your own custom single handed skagit rod. In the recent I've done both and have enjoyed some fun casting and great fishing.

Custom 9'3" Single Hand Skagit Rod
I'm certain the interest is growing in both steelhead and trout markets. I see your youtube videos and as I already mentioned, the line sales. Admittedly I'm going to be a little trout bias in this article that I believe is for good reasons. First reason is, for steelhead two hand anglers, single hand skagit will come absolutely natural, so I feel no real need to push this on you. Reason two is, I know many trout anglers despite the movement of trout spey still write off two hand skagit fishing as a tool they don't have any use for and has no place in their streams. Trout guys...with today's single hand skagit tactics you're about to run out of excuses. Drop "bob" already and feel the grab.

Michael McGovney swinging a 490-4 Peiroway Renegade

Single handed Skagit

Here's the beauty of this, we already have the lines. The modern short skagit such as OPST Commando, Scientific Anglers Spey Lite Integrated Skagit, RIO's InTouch Skagit Trout Spey and Airflo's Skagit Scout have not only changed spey but I would argue that the even bigger revolution happening now is they have created a gateway into single handed skagit.

Here's what I want you to do...

Go to your rod arsenal and pick out a 9' 5 weight, or something close. It could be a 586, 490, 376, 690, whatever you got that is trouty. Preferably on the moderate to mod-fast side of action is best; not only for groovy feeling but also for tippet protection. Follow the OPST provided chart below and choose a grain weight to match. Most 5 weight rods hit the 200-225gr skagit mark.
Courtesy of Olympic Peninsula Skagit Tactics

Choose your head or line system...

Here you have some choices, personally I choose the Scientific Anglers Spey Lite Integrated Skagit. The seamless, attached running line is very liberating with a single hand rod. The benefits include stripping flies all the way without loop interference in the rod guides and it also allows you to perform forward hauls on your cast without loop interference. Just for reference the S/A Spey Lite Skagit integrated shooting line section micrometers out at approximately 0.028 inch.

1/22/2019 - Update

The OPST Commando Smooth is now available! Now you have the famous Commando head seamlessly integrated to a thin shooting line. Just add OPST Micro Sink Tips and you've got a perfect simple system.

I know steelheaders are not going to deviate from separate head / running line setups. The benefits for this is you have many head choices and running line options to choose from. Admittedly I favor mono shooting line for the ease of distance but I feel in my trout fishing the versatility of integrated shooting line is a greater advantage then the additional distanced achieved with mono shooting line.

Choose a Running/Shooting line (Unless you chose the S/A Spey Lite Skagit Integrated)
Many steelhead veterans will reach for a mono type of shooting line such as OPST Lazar or RIO Slick Shooter. When I do use head systems I like to use RIO Gripshooter in the 0.024" for its easy handling section and great shooting distance. If you want to retain the fly line feel in your shooting line reach for RIO Powerflex Max in 0.024" or RIO ConnectCore in 0.026".

Get some tips...

So many choices in this area that it's hard to even make a recommendation. If you've got steelhead poly's, (polyleaders or versileaders) go ahead and start with them and adjust from there. If you're buying tips just for trout I would consider OPST Micro Tips, Airflo Trout Polyleaders, RIO InTouch 10ft Sink tips and good old T-8 cut to fit sink material.

Choose a reel...

As long as you don't feel the need to have 500 yards of backing (exaggeration), and 100 feet of running line (more exaggeration). Stop! Put this in prospective. You're building a trout skagit setup. One hundred yards of backing should be more than enough. If your using a shooting line setup chop that line back to a reasonable amount like 60-70 feet. The S/A Spey Lite Integrated Skagits are 100 foot head and running line total, Perfect! Most of the time I get away with matching reel to the rod on my single hand trout skagit setups providing the reel is a large arbor of at least 5/6 size and I keep my backing to minimal. I could certainly see in some rivers such as Alaska big rainbow fisheries one would need a larger size reel for more backing, but I would also imagine one would be into a full on trout spey outfit as apposed to a small single hand skagit stick. You know your fishery, you be the judge.

Pick an assortment of flies...

I fish with anything from small intruders to soft hackles and many things in between. Swinging flies is more about getting your fly in front of fish then the fly itself. It's a game of forcing the fish to make a decision or miss out on a meal. Of course they can be selective but don't let yourself get to caught up on matching the hatch. More often than not I choose my fly according to the speed and/or depth of the water. Fast and shallow I want streamer flies that will swim. Slow and shallow I'll use a very sparse and lightly weighted leach pattern. Slow with silty bottom, get out you hackles and nymphs. Yes...I said it "nymphs", despite popular belief nymphs can in fact be fished on a tight line without a bobber!
597-4 Sage X Single Hand Skagit casts very well

The cast...

If you already two hand fish then skip this section. All the same rules apply from two hand to the single hand rod. Snap T, swing into the D-loop and away you go.

In this next statement is were I'm going to get a lot of sighs from the industry experts. If you are just getting started in spey, in my opinion, (IMO guys), with today's micro skagit lines learning spey with a single handed rod set up with micro skagits is FAR easier then learning full-on spey casting with two hand long rods. There, I said it! Now let me break it down to the basics.

Can you roll cast? Start there. Get to your water and pull out the skagit head all the way till it all hangs out the rod tip. This would be at the black marker section of the S/A Spey Lite. Start roll casting, feel it load. Get comfortable with it and work it until you can get line to lay out straight. You just performed the basis of all spey cast and this is a good time to inform you that all spey cast involve water loading just like a roll cast does. Spey casting is often described as modified versions of a roll cast.

Next you will need to learn some moves such as Snap-T and Reverse Spey that allow you to set your anchor point in various different locations. This is the point an instructor can really help but if you don't have a local instructor available you can find all kinds of YouTube videos demonstrating these casts.

Single Handed Spey Cast 

But it's too hard to learn!

John in the photo is not fluent in fly fishing period, let alone spey casting. This fish he is holding was taken on the swing with a single handed skagit setup in a about 15 minutes time from never having spey cast ever to fish in hand. I don't want to ever hear another word about it being too hard. Matter of fact with the proper prepared gear I believe a single handed spey cast is way easier to master basic technique as compared to learning effective traditional fly casting or two hand spey casting. John did have the benefit of not having old baggage to get in his way while dissecting each step of a snap T cast. He was a clean slate to work with and naturally possesses good motor muscle skills. I don't wish to downplay the event but don't want anglers to expect 15 minute success either. Combined circumstances of a good student, competent teacher, working gear and cooperative fish created a successful situation.

I'm writing this article to the trout guys who seek out smaller water...the guy that wants to swing some buggers while he watches for a hatch to come off..the guy who wants to ditch the "bob" and find the magic of tight line fishing nymphs or soft hackles...the guy who wants to learn some basic spey without throwing down a couple ounces of gold to do it.

It's not too late for me to learn a new trick and the best personal reward is it's not too late to teach this method to those that will be the future of this awesome sport of tricking fish with a fly.

I'm willing to show you how...Are you willing to discover!?

Gorge Fly Shop Internet Sales Manager | Product Specialist

"The passion of fishing is a lifelong pursuit of discovery"


  1. What rod would that 9'3" single hand skagit rod be. I am looking for a single hand skagit rod for the Dirftless area. I was thinking the Pieroway Renegade 4wt, but that rod seems from the picture to be a little heavy for my streams.

  2. Hey Isaiah, My 9'3" is a one of a kind, custom built rod. It is a 6 weight and does well with a s/a integrated skagit of 240gr. I've never fished the Driftless region but from what I've read this is probably more rod than you want. Likewise I would also think that the Pierway renegade 490 is also more rod than you need. I would be looking at 7'6" to 8'6" rod in a 3 weight. Not much out there that is made specific for single handed skagit but most trout rods in this range will have a good action for a skagit. When choosing your rod be sure to take all the details into consideration such as fly size, tip size and head size that you will be using. Putting that part of the equation together will really help determine a great choice for what rod to go with. If you'd like to talk more about this, you can PM me at greg@gorgeflyshop.com. Thanks for reading, Greg

  3. "Drop bob already and feel the grab"
    Couldn't have said it better myself. I really don't have a problem with guys who nymph fish but all I see is guys with indicators that have no clue what a real take feels like.
    I setting up a single hand rod like you described. For now I have an older st.croix imperial 590-2. Do you think this might work? Also what head, tips and running line do you suggest?
    Thanks for all the insight. I can't wait to give this a try

    1. Thanks for asking. I played with a 8'6" version of that rod in the early days of my experimenting. It will work quite well for you. I would load it with S/A Spey Lite Skagit in 210gr. You could do the integrated version but I like using Mono running line so I like the head version. Slickshooter in 35 or 44lb or OPST Lazar in 35 or 40lb will work good for running line. For tips I would either go with OPST Commando Micro tips in 5' or I still really like the RIO 10 Intouch Sink Tips. Just add your desired tippet and fly and start swinging. Let me know if I can be any more help. best, Greg

    2. Hi Greg, Any views on the Rio Skagit Trout Spey Head. Thinking of getting one for a 5wt 9ft single hand rods. Would you go with 200 or 225 grain. Rio seem to have increased line wt recommendations for the new line (compared to Trout Max). Thanks in advance. Marc

    3. Hey Marc, Thanks for asking. Funny, I've just started testing the RIO skagit trout. So far all is great. RIO increased the length of these over the old Trout Max which makes it a bit smoother casting. I think as trout anglers, if we want to shorten up the system we can start looking at shortening our tips. I've been experimenting with this and finding success. I've noticed what your talking about with the line specs. I've been testing a 225gr on a 5wt and it's been just fine. I think it's the safe choice. Think about the rod you plan on testing. is it fast or moderate? How do you line it for single hand fishing? These are clues to help you decide. I went with the 225gr because it is the integrated version and for some reason RIO did not do all the grain weights in this configuration like they did in the head only version. I was a little concerned it would be too heavy for my 5wts but been pleasantly surprised that it doesn't feel heavy on the couple rods I've tested so far. Good luck and let us know your results. Best, Greg

    4. Hi Greg, many thanks for the feedback. I have been experimenting with Scout and Trout Max heads over the last year and it seems that the ideal head+tip to rod length ratio is around 2.4 for heavy (level) sink tips and 2.6 for lighter tips. The 11.5' Trout Max 200 is great for casting 10' T-7 and T-10 Flo tips while the 15' Scout is good for up 7.5' T-8 or 10' polyleaders, when presentation is important (less splash). I fish these on 9' 5wt rods of varing action (medium to very fast) and with a little adjustment they all work fine. Since I'm keen on the head version I think I will start with 200 grain Skagit Trout Spey - as my casting has improved I find I prefer heads on the lighter side of the grain weight window. I will let you know how it goes. Thanks again for your feedback and useful posts.

  4. Hi Greg, I have done some experimenting with the 200 grain Skagit Trout Spey. Mine turned out to be 14.3 ft instead of 13.5 ft. At that length it could not cast the weight or length of tip the Trout Max 200 could handle on a 9 ft rod - 7.5' of T-8 or a 10 ft Replacement tip were good, but not the 10 ft Airflo Flo tips I can cast on the Trout Max. Although presentation was better with the Skagit trout spey, especially with lighter tips, it was not as good as with the Airflo Skagit Scout. I am planning on testing a 210 grain SA Skagit Lite next, as a heavy tip Trout Max replacement. On another note I am keen on purchasing a 9.6 ft or 10 ft #5 single hand rod for single hand skagit. I am considering the Sage X 597 or the Hardy Zephrus 10 ft, but keen to know what you think. Many thanks

    1. Hi Marc, I think the old trout max was ahead of its time and largely misunderstood. It needed to be marketed as a single hand skagit only. I hated to see it go away so soon. I wish rio would have made an integrated version of it. I feel like rio thought they needed to conform instead of break out beyond when they chose to leave max behind and develop the new longer, supposedly friendlier version. Like you said the new skagit trout spey is great provided you stay within sinking tip parameters. I think the time is coming for line companies to accept that a single hand skagit has different requirements than a trout spey skagit. I feel they are trying to compromise between the two. Old max was too short for a spey rod but spot on for a single hand skagit setup. I look forward to your thoughts on the s/a skagit. It's got my vote! I can't speak for the hardy but I have the X597. It's a favorite stick! while labeled a 5wt it has a wide range of operation. It can carry a 5wt line like no other. A favorite line is rio single hand spey 3d in 5 or 6wt. The rod doesn't care but speys better with a 6wt. I once mistakenly loaded it with a s/a skagit 270gr. I didn't understand why I was struggling with 10ft t-8 but shorter/lighter tips was fine. Than I discovered my mistake. I was surprised at how well it handled the 270 head. Today, I mostly use the x597 with single hand spey 3d and soft hackle rig. I feel it is just perfect for this. No reason it wouldn't make a great skagit stick but I had already restricted my SHS to 9' and under rods before I spent any time dialing in on a head for the x597. Thanks for sharing. Best, Greg

  5. Hi Greg,

    Thanks again for the useful feedback. I definitely share you opinion on the fact that we need specialised skagit lines for single hand rods, and that the Trout Max was ideal for rods around 9 ft long. On the whole I prefer head versions for the distance I can achieve with mono running line and if I do strip the head in through the rod tip I need and extra casting step to get it out before the spey cast - but I do appreciate the advantage of the the integrated versions for small rivers where distance is not an issue and stripping close is important. The cool thing about the Trout Max heads is they have a skinny rear tip, which means you can make your own integrated version by cutting off the rear loop, slipping a braided running line, like airflo miracle or SA ep, a few inches over the exposed end and then nail knotting it in place with 12lb maxima. If you then cover the knot with a flexible cement, like stormsure or aquaseal, you end up with an increadibly smooth connection. And braided running lines shoot pretty well, not as good as mono, but better than coated. I will let you know how I get on with the SA 210, based on the specs it should be good - unfortunately the NZ distributor doesnt carry the head only versions, so will take around 4 weeks to get to me. Based on your feedback I will defintely try get hold of an X597 to test. Adding six inches in rod length should increase the tip length one can cast by around 1.2 feet, which should help with longer heads, and hopefully get a little more distance on larger rivers. Talking single hand spey and soft hackles, I have just aquired a 230 Rio Trout Spey head. It casts exceptionall well with a 5ft intermediate Stealhead Polyleader on the lawn, but I have yet to fish with it. Not much opportunity for swinging soft hackles on local rivers, but hoping it will be good for searun browns chasing small baitfish in spring. Have you perhaps tried one on a single hand rod? All the best, Marc


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