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 Skagit Trout Max 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.

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


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