What is a Switch Rod and Should You Consider One?

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A switch rod is a style of fly rod. It is a cross between a single-handed fly rod and a two-handed Spey rod. It is a very versatile rod and worth considering for your next rod. You can cast them overhead using one hand or you can use the bottom handle with your other hand to do different Spey casts (think fancy roll casts). 

Switch rods are usually between 10 and 12 feet long. They have a top handle about 1-1/2 times longer than a normal single-handed rod and a short 4-inch handle below the reel. This lower handle is used when a two-hand cast is needed. 

Manufacturers are now making switch rods in the lighter weights. The lighter #4, #5 and #6 weight rods are most commonly used for trout and smaller steelhead while the heavier #7 and #8 weight switch rods are used for winter steelhead.

The Advantages of a Switch Fly Rod

You can switch fly fishing methods.

  • You can switch between different casts and methods while on the river without changing fly rods. They can be used as a single-hand rod when overhead casts are possible. They can also be used for two-hand Spey casting when you have trees behind you, always the case here in western Oregon.   

The longer length rod gives you better line control.

  • The longer rod makes casting and mending your line easier than what is possible with a single-hand rod. As a result, these longer rods can give you longer and more natural drifts when fishing dries and nymphs. They are also very good tools for high-sticking with nymphs.   

 They are lighter and less fatiguing than a Spey fly rod.

  • They are 30 to 40% lighter than a two-handed Spey rod. The lighter weight makes casting with one hand less fatiguing and when you decide to use two hands you can then generate more acceleration and power. This is very helpful when casting into the wind or when you are casting sink tips and large flies. The ability to use two hands means greatly reduced fatigue at the end of the day.  

They are good for tight spots.

  • You can fish small waters with a switch rod. Here in western Oregon I often have trees behind and even overhead. This makes casting a 14-foot Spey rod more than a little tricky. I think the switch rod is the best fly rod for small to medium-size streams. These rods are an excellent tool for roll casting.   

They are able to cast heavier flies for distance.

  • Being good for small to medium-size streams does not mean you can't get some distance. Spey casting with a short Skagit head allows you to fish larger waters and cast some real distance even with obstacles behind you.   

They are good for setting the hook.

  • They have better hook-setting abilities than the longer Spey rods. The lighter overall weight of a switch rod with its longer length allows for a quick and controlled hook set.


Clearance Sale! 

Save up to 50%

Fly Assortment Boxes  

Each double sided box holds flies that represent different stages of a insects life cycle for either Mayflies, Caddis flies or Stoneflies and includes a laminated card listing the flies and their hook size so you can restock the box.

Don't loose your chance to save uo to 50% Click here!

Reel and Line Setup Possibilities for Switch Rods

Switch rods are larger than a single-hand fly rod of the same weight, so to balance the rod you will need a reel that is about two sizes larger than what a single rod calls for. Another reason is that if you are using Skagit heads and Spey lines they are thicker than standard fly line so a larger capacity reel will be required.

I also would recommend getting an extra spool for your reel. This allows you to swing flies as you move downriver with the Skagit head, then switch to nymph fishing upriver as you work your way back toward your car (or the other way around of course), using the same fly rod.

On one spool I would have a floating running line with a short Skagit head. A set of different Rio MOW sink tips finishes out the setup and can really come in handy when you are swinging streamers or wets.

  • These short Skagit heads can be hard to mend once the shooting head is out past the rod tip but they are perfect for Spey casting with obstacles behind you. 
  • With this setup you will need to strip in the running line so the shooting head is at your rod tip before you cast again. 
  • The length of the Skagit head with the sink tips should be about three times the length of the switch rod. If your rod is 11 feet long the Skagit head with a sink tip needs to be about 33 feet long. Most of the Rio MOW sink tips are ten feet long so your Skagit head needs to be about 23 feet long. 

On the other spool I would have a long belly tapered floating weight forward (WF) line for dead drifting nymphs. I would recommend a line one or two weights heavier than the rod calls for.

In Summary

If you fly fish in country that often has limited space behind you, you need to consider a switch fly rod. Switch fly rods are a great multipurpose tool allowing you to fish different waters using different methods.

If I were to buy only one fly rod setup for trout, I would get a 5-weight 11-foot switch fly rod. I would have a reel two sizes larger than called for to allow for the thicker Skagit line and have a second spool full of WF floating line for nymph fishing.

Of course I would also have a "leader wallet" full of Rio MOW sink tips. 




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