A lot of the fly fishing I do for sea runs is with a switch rod. What is a switch rod you ask? I don’t know or care about the definition and we will leave this to all of the opinionated idiots on the online forums that don’t fish with or own any to argue all day about. What I do know is that they are generally and usually referred to as 9.5 to 11.5ish foot fly rods with a small lower handle attached and a longer top handle so one can easily make two handed change of direction roll casts, two hand overhead and for the lightest rods easily single hand overhead cast, all dependent on the line you are using. You don’t need a switch rod for trout, anyone who says that is an idiot, they are just a fun and different way of fly fishing for trout.
This is not intended to be a “right at all costs kind of topic” and the trout switch rod is not the holy grail of trout fishing. I am not a guide and I have no financial stake in any type of fly fishing gear. There are just lots of things that are great about these rods and there is next to no commentary reflecting this. If you are looking for some info try Dave Henry’s site http://www.2handedtrout.com, this is definitely the best resource out there (he answers questions too), and Courtney at the Nile creek fly shop is definitely a great resource, (plus you can cast the rods with different lines and that makes all the difference in the world), use the search function on spey pages and sift through all the garbage for some useful info (good site, just a fair sprinkling of mean spirited and uninformed nonsense). The skagitmaster forum also has a lot of really good information and perspective (something sorely lacking in fly fishing) if you take the time to sift through it. If you are having trouble finding info well just remember that this is a niche within a niche, I know I’ve had no help from anyone aside from the aforementioned resources.
Let me qualify myself by saying that I have caught a lot of sea runs with 9′ single hand fly rods, it’s a lot of fun and fairly simple, relatively cheap, and even noble way of fishing for these fine fish. And they are perfect for a lot of conditions, smaller rivers and fish, low water, light breezes, light presentations, light tippets, small dries, and a number of other situations. Switch rods do not replace or excel at what single handers are best for, but are much better at other things. Complimentary like. Eventually what I have found is that in some of the situations I found myself in with a single hand fly rod is that I basically could not get anywhere close to rising fish or with really tight or non existent casting room or in wind, and that it was even worse with any kind of sink tip. It was either throw a spinner or don’t fish, and while I have no problem with spinner fishing, hell I’ve caught hundreds of sea runs this way and I grew up doing it but I prefer and wanted to continue fly fishing in these challenging situations. You can definitely do all of the same two handed or “spey” casts with a regular run of the mill single handed rod matched up with the right line(single hand skagit, ambush, snowbee switch, 40 +, etc.). The issue I see with this is that in some situations performance wise the 2 handed rod is far superior. This is my opinion based on chasing cutthroat at the beach, river, and occasionally lake, in a whole variety of conditions.
There are some people who say there is no need for a trout switch rod but I do not agree. Let’s break down the typical arguments. First off I often hear that the lower handle gets in the way when trying to land fish. Gets in the way of what? the handles on the trout switches are smaller than my hand on most, if anything it makes it easier to fight fish, and besides why else do they put “fighting butts” on single hand rods? A lot of anglers seem to want fighting butts on 4 and 5 weight fly rods. Another argument is that the lines are too heavy eg. typical switch/”spey” lines are roughly double the grain weight of equivalent lines. The fishery I am describing is not 8 inch rainbows with upstream dries, and my 9 foot 5 wt single is too much rod much less line for those fish. These sea runs can get pretty husky, can be deep in heavier current and fight hard, and is basically a non issue for any grain weight under 400, and if you’re using more why are you fishing for sea runs. Distance is another big step up, what trout single hander can throw 60-70 ft while wading chest deep in stronger breezes? never seen it, never been able to do it, and I seriously question anyone who says that that is well within the normal realm of single hand spey with trout rods. These are the kind of conditions and situations I’m talking about. I often hear when people are inquiring about getting into two handed casting comments like switch rods are “jack of all trades master of none” type tools, and that they are not really good at anything, you should get a spey rod instead. Really? a 12’6 foot + spey rod no matter what grain rating has no business being on most rivers I fish. They suck for stripping the fly, they suck in close and there is literally no room on most rivers that I frequent because of the brush/trees. Yet another place where I see a huge difference is beach fishing, especially where wind is in your face, I’m sorry but double hauling the crap out of a 9 ft 5 or 6 wt single in headwinds at the beach is the definition of not matching the tool to the job at hand. Don’t agree? You’ve probably never used a switch rod at the beach.
Beach sea run on the beulah classic 4/5 10’6 switch rod
When you read about sea runs one of the things you read constantly is how they prefer shallow water and stay close to shore. If you think that it’s probably because you could never cast farther than 30′ with your single hander in the wind. At the beaches I fish often, sea runs will routinely sit at 60 to 100′ out coho style, again these aren’t little tiddlers, these are husky old adult sea runs that have gotten as big and as old as they have by staying alive in a dynamic environment where they are constantly under threat from larger predators. What they do is make forays in to shore to feed and move back out to safer deeper water. They don’t swim around on the surface, they are deep, and they are there because they are smarter than the 10″ yearlings. The trout switch rod is an ideal tool in all of these situations, and the single hander is not. But hey, don’t worry it’s just my opinion, people have been fishing the beach with much success for many years with old heavy single handed fiberglass and early graphite, and they are the pioneers of this sport, and I have much respect for them. You can also use a boat to get closer if you prefer the single. My point is there are no rules! (except the regulations) switch rods are an equally useful tool as a single hander. Tenkara, soft plastics, spinners, bubble floats, whatever as long as you are gentle with these fish, use small hooks, and release them carefully it matters not.
As far as single handing these rods goes, there are definitely some rods that are hard on the wrist but there are a bunch out now that are so light it’s really no problem, seriously, if some tackle shop jockey tells you you can’t that’s simply not true, Mystic makes 3, 4, and 5 weight 11’3 switches that single hand cast better than a lot of single handed rods. Beulah’s 10′ 5 wt platinum switch is the same, you could cast all day no problem, and change out scandi, skagit, switch or single hand lines to adapt to what you find as you go. These rods are about as light as it gets. Don’t get hung up on the single hand idea, it’s just another one of the “rules” out there that really have no purpose, and two handed overhead is usually more efficient anyway. The Mystic 3 wt is pretty much the same as a single hand three or four weight in terms of power and throws some pretty light lines (sub 200 grain) for the smaller presentation type waters.
Below is the most complete list of rods I can put together, as new rods come out I will try to update. There are obviously many others, like Scott switches and the like, however, I have never seen a Scott rod for sale in any fly shop, nor have I ever seen one in the hand of an angler in my life so, from a VI perspective and within my commetary, they are irrelevant.
Budget trout switch/spey options:
Echo’s new three weight and four weight 10’6 SR switch rods are a fun, relatively cheap way to try these types of rods out. Fast action and the 3 wt runs around 190-250 grains/the four weight runs 250-300 grains.
Echo TR 12′ 4 wt spey (new) I haven’t picked up or cast one yet, so cannot comment on it’s grain range or action, look on speypages or echo’s site for insight.
Echo DH(discontinued version) 11’9 4 wt slow action, (260-340 gr.) heavy in weight and power for your average trout, can be found cheap. More like a 5 wt.
Amundson’s 3/4 wt 11 footer is a pretty awesome rod for the price (and definitely the cheapest factory option out there which as a real plus in my eyes) fast action (300 gr.)
St Croix imperial 11′ 5 wt (300 gr.) Like most rods in the 300 grain range, a little too powerful for your average trout, but US made, solid rods.
TFO Deer creek 4 wt 11′ switch (250-300 gr.) Spey 12’6 4/5 (similar grain range) reasonably priced full flexing rods, they have very skinny handles, some love, some hate
Beulah classic 4/5 (250-300gr.) fast action but deep flexing, a little heavy and overpowering for small trout but a good all rounder for trout
Redington Prospector 10’9 4 wt (240-275 gr.)medium fast action solid trout switch
Redington Dually 10’9 4 wt (250-300 grain) great budget option
Snowbee prestige 10’8 5 wt (250 gr) fast, light, fun rod
Dragonfly Excalibur series 11’7 5 wt(250-300 grains) 12’6 6 wt(300-360 grains) great for a budget, seen them on closeout for like $100, and pretty decent rods too, medium fast action
Middle range and expensive Trout switches and speys
Mystic 11’3 switch rods 3 wt(200 gr.) small trout 4 wt(250 gr.) medium trout 5 wt(300 gr.) larger trout. Very light in hand, medium action, true trout rods. Awesome rods.
Sage one 11’6 4 wt Fast action, (240-270 grains) sweet rod for swinging flies, a bit heavy for smaller trout, fun,fun,fun.
Sage z axis 5 wt (300 gr.) Fast action, discontinued but still around, they see use for cutthroats in Puget sound.
Sage TCX 5119 (300-350 gr.) Fast action, discontinued(WTF sage?) a sweet, powerful rod for larger trout.
Beulah platinum 10′ 5 wt (250-300 gr.) Fast action, powerful, crisp rod better suited for larger trout/small steelhead.
Winston Microspey series:
Meiser custom rods 3/4 10’6 switch, 12’6 3/4/5 spey, and a crazy 15’9 4/5/6( more of a light steel rod), rumour has it he even makes up a 2/3/4 10’6 rod, all have various actions, if interested check his site http://www.meiserflyrods.com/
Anderson custom rods 11’7 2-3-4 wts spendy, but sweet sweet trout speys http://andersoncustomrods.com/
Burkheimer 5115 an expensive, very nice switch rod for larger trout (think greasy Alaskan rainbows) http://cfbflyrods.com/
Building your own:
If price is an issue building your own, especially Meiser and Anderson (both of whom have their own very nice trout speys and switches) blanks can cut the price of the high end rods in half, and Rainshadow, Dorber, Anglers Roost Enterprises and others offer some very nicely priced (positively cheap) blanks in this range. You can also build your own up on 10-11’single hand blanks.
There weren’t many choices not all that long ago, and that’s where all these preconceptions seem to stem from, eg. single handing heavy six weight switch rods with 400 + grain heads. These rods have opened up a lot of water to me. They are more versatile than any other type of trout rod I have ever seen. There are certainly a bunch of things they are not good at (super long distance 90′ +, tiny streams, really small fish, throwing huge tips and bunny flies, upstream dries). The line rating numbers on these rods are all over the place, eg. one companies 4 is anothers 6, and because of this has left a lot of people questioning switch rods. It’s all about the grains and the lines, 170 or less to 300-350 is trout territory. I haven’t even mentioned line control or reels, but better line control and not needing some needlessly heavy or expensive reel seem to be advantages to me.
These rods caught my attention because I had a real world challenge and with some trial and error (and no help) they have more than delivered, they are pretty much all I fish these days. I just want to put it out there (without all the spey pages nonsense) in case someone else was interested in these rods as I was.
Two handed cutthroat
Even little guys like this are a blast on the lighter switches. If you find fishing for trout fun and aren’t hung up on a bunch of “rules” from the upper class in scotland then give them a try. You’ll probably be surprised.
Here are reviews of the trout switches that I use pretty much exclusively for cutthroat
Beulah classic 4/5 10’6 4 pc. switch rod
A good all round cutthroat switch rod for the beach and river, for swinging, waking and stripping flies and will handle fish to 4 or 5 lbs if req. (a few incidental pinks have been landed on this rod). I would call this a moderate fast rod that is somewhere in between a 5 or 6 wt single hander. This rod really likes a 250 gr snowbee switch line and a 300 gr tonic(skagit). The 245 gr. elixir (scandi) line I have for this rod is definitely not my favourite, while it casts fine, it seems way too short. I use this rod for both single hand and two hand overhead, as well as two handed “spey” casting at rivers and beaches and for nymphing egg or flesh patterns. A ten inch cutthroat feels a bit small but a fourteen incher is just right. $300-460 depending on where you find them
Best used for: best all rounder for cutthroat
Mystic 4 wt 11’3 4 pc. switch
Very very light, and there is certainly no other rod out there like it, an intriguing moderate to full flexing rod but with a fast tip, and fast recovery. A true switch rod that is honestly as comfortable to cast overhead as it is to two hand cast. I’ve cast 200 and 250 gr. snowbee switch lines overhead and two handed on this rod, and it loves my 245 gr elixir. It will also cast anywhere from a 5 wt single hand line to a distance 7 wt line(if you want to load it to the cork) it has much longer handles than most switches, they are almost as long as the handles as my thirteen foot sage spey rod but it’s definitely not a negative. High quality cork, saltwater friendly, good quality reel seat. A 17″ sea run recently had this rod bent into the cork, just to give you an idea of the power. They are US made, and not very well known but I highly recommend any of their rods. $500-570 new (they even make a lighter three wt. version of this rod which is one of the craziest fly rods I’ve ever cast)
Best used for: Smaller cutthroat, lighter tippets and poly leaders, fun
Beulah platinum 5 wt 10′ 4 pc. switch
This is the weirdest one of the group, light, saltwater friendly and with a fairly stiff moderate fast action and very quick recovery and more powerful than either of the other two rods above. It has smaller and more highly decorative handles than most switches, can cast a wide variety of SH and spey lines 200-340gr. although for two handed casting the single spey or switch cast with a 300 gr snowbee switch line with a 10′ clear intermediate poly leader is pretty much as easy as it gets, a lot of fun. Takes a little bit of getting used to because of the short leverage point, and finding the sweet spot takes a little experimenting, and I wouldn’t recommend single hand overhead casting 300 gr lines on it all day, not because it doesn’t cast well but because it’s hard on the wrist, try lighter lines and it’s fine 7-8 wt (outbound, xd, 40+) single hand lines instead $350-500
Best used for: Big bushy dry flies, larger fish, smaller water with no back casting room is where this rod really shines, nymphing egg patterns and flesh patterns(if that’s yer game)
A few other switch rods that I used to own and fished for cutthroat
Amundson 6 wt 11′ switch
A fun rod at a great price, light with a soft tip but too much rod for most cutthroat even in current, fished best with a 385 gr steelhead scandi and a 390 or 420 gr compact skagit but definitely a light summer steelhead rod not really a cutthroat rod, great blanks with low to moderate quality cork and components, but highly recommended, and they have a 3/4 wt. that is a bit better suited for cutthroat. $160-$300
Best used for: fishing in rivers where summer steelhead and cutthroat are equally likely to be around and you cant bring/afford two rods.
TFO deer creek 4 wt 11′ switch
Also a reasonably priced light switch rod that again is a bit too heavy for smaller cutthroat, it fished well with a 250 gr snowbee switch to a 340 gr. AFS, great handles, moderate-slow action and better cork and components than the amundson, a little bit lacking in the wind due to its action, and overkill on small fish but definitely a fun, affordable rod. $250-350
Best used for: good quality budget trout switch
These days there are many other reasonably priced to obscenely expensive trout switch rod options. I have decided to highlight these are rods because I have used them over seasons in lots of different weather, tides, river levels, and fish. Rod choice is often esoteric, this is just my own experience within the application of sea run cutthroat fishing specifically. Take it for what it’s worth and feel free to drop a comment.