In golf, wedges are one of your irons in the golf club family and designed for special use situations. They may not be the sexiest of clubs, but they’re certainly one of the most important when it comes to keeping your strokes down. In Golf, the short game (shots when you are relatively close to the green) account for more than 50% of shots you play in a round. Many experts agree that improving your wedge play is the first step to shooting a lower score.
In the world of Spey fishing, improving your short game (fishing relatively short lines) will translate to a much higher catch rate. When I see an angler immediately reaching for the other side with their cast I always ask, “If you were standing on the other side, where would you be casting?” The answer is simply right where they are currently standing. This immediately shows a flaw in the strategy.
The Birth of the Switch Rod
To me the switch rod is your wedge iron in Spey fishing. The introduction of switch rods was certainly not a smooth roll out. In the early years, no one really knew what these rods were supposed to be. Were they really meant to be overhand casted and alsoSpey casted? Many Spey guys absolutely hated the concept and guffawed at the idea that switch rods could actually be useful. However we fish very small creeks at times and immediately saw short spey rods were going to be a valuable tool.
Fifteen years ago, we did the whole single-hand Spey thing. We hacked up lines, we used the rage or the Ambush, but it all felt like a lot of work—too much work. Nowadays, things have evolved and switch rods fit in many peoples’ quivers as happily as a wedge sits in your golf bag. It is a tool that doesn’t always fit the bill, but when it does, it’s game-changing. The idea of overhead casting switch rods has been pushed to the wayside, and we now predominantly consider them short Spey rods that are useful for fishing short lines.
When switch rods came out, lines were behind the technology because switch rods were tapered like single-hand rods, not like Spey rods. All the lines were a complete pain to cast. This has thankfully changed dramatically. Now many switch rods have a taper that is slower in the butt section and faster through the tip just like Spey rods. This allows a fisher time to form a D loop without the rod unloading too fast. When the Skagit switch lines came out, fishing these so-called ‘short Spey rods’ all of a sudden became a lot of fun. The game was forever changed. It also birthed the new style of trout Spey, giving us addicts a new and exciting way to swing for trout.
Switch Rod Lines
The unique rivers we do our winter steelheading on are so small that even the short, 21-foot Skagit switch lines felt too long. A lot of our fishing is done in the 14- to 17-foot range, so when the OPST Commando heads came out, once again we immediately thought “Chi Ching! This will make life better on the water.” We were right: it has.
OPST has a new short-intermediate line out that has gotten our attention, and here’s why. The OPST Groove is an intermediate-short Skagit line, but you line it up 25 grains less than the regular Commando heads. This means in many cases you can get an even shorter line that casts equally as well.
Fishing intermediate heads isn’t something we do all the time; in the wrong water conditions, it can be a very frustrating line to fish. It hangs up too much in slow or shallow water. However, in heavy chop, they can be the exact right tool for the job. It may seem like all short lines work well, but for what we do, the shorter the line, the more comfortable it is for us to fish. Every foot of line on the head makes a very big difference. Our preference is to fish comfortably with just the head out. Fishing with 4 feet of your head in the rod is not comfortable—the line taper is mostly rendered useless. If the entire head is out, the line casts the way it was intended to.
Here is an example fishing with a Sage X 11’ 8 weight. If I go with a Skagit switch line, I would be in the 510-540 grain range with a 20-foot head – and we all know that’s much too long. Another popular one is the Skagit Scout, which is Airflo’s shortest line. The 480 grain to the 540 grain again puts me at 18.5 or 19.5 length – too long. The OPST Groove is quite a bit shorter. For this same rod, it works the best with a 425 grain Groove, which gets me down to a 16.5 length head. This is the exact sweet spot for what we do.
Spey fishing in small winter creeks and rivers usually equates to pretty fast flows. That means you want a system that will deliver heavy lines and heavy flies with ease. For me, that usually means an 8’ weight. A short rod and line that can turn big tips and flies with a normal casting stroke is a very useful tool. Think of fishing this way as your approach wedge or your putter. Presenting deep flies in small spaces close to where you are standing is going to catch you fish. Just think of all the fish you have probably stepped on over the years. With one of these set ups in the quiver, you can successfully and comfortably present flies to these fish. The results will speak for themselves.