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Big Y Fly Fishing Blog

Switch Or Spey

July 17, 2022
The great majority of our customers looking to purchase a switch rod are typically targeting Steelhead, Trout, and/or Salmon. They generally have some experience targeting these fish with single hand rods and are typically lured to switch rods with the idea of making the jump into spey fishing. In the back of their mind they figure that should the whole "swinging flies" thing not work out it it will make a great nymphing rod. Customer generally gravitate to an all purpose line like Rio's Switch Chucker in hope they can do everything with one line. However things quickly change, once on the river. One typically struggles with the spey casts, then gives nymphing a try only to find it cumbersome and a difficult to mend. This leaves the customer with a $400 plus investment that ends up sitting at the bottom of the closet.. How do I know? Cause I too was once one of these customers. I ended up selling my switch rod and going to a spey, however, some years later I have gravitated back to switch rods, which I truly enjoy and now prefer fishing. Here is why.

We find 90% of the struggle all starts with the line, this is where I went wrong as do most customers. Unfortunately while these lines can do both nymphing and swinging they don't do either well. Take the Rio Switch Chucker for instance, this isn't a bad option for swinging flies, however it isn't a great option either. The head is a bit to long, and while it can handle most flies used to target trout, steelhead, and salmon, it will struggle with some of the bigger intruders used in winter fishing. An angler looking to swing flies will find a shooting head system to be much more versatile and user friendly. Now take that same line and nymph with it. Sure it will nymph okay, but its not meant to do that fully. A heavy/short head with a thin running line makes mending and overhead casting much harder than it needs to be.  Something like Rio Switch Line (which shouldn't really be used to swing flies but can in the right hands, with the right flies and circumstances) or a true nymphing line bumped up a size or two will have a longer head and rear taper which is going to preform much better. In short grab the right line for the job, don't expect one line to do every situation perfectly or even well.

Swinging Lines
OPST Commando Head
Rio Skagit Max Short
Rio Scandi Short
Rio InTouch Switch Chucker

Nymphing Lines
Rio InTouch Switch Line
Scientific Anglers Andro Line (one size heavy)

Steelhead caught on the swing
On to the rod. Switch rods have made a ton of advancements over the last decade or so and have really come into their own. That being said there are rods that are better suited for nymphing and ones that should really only be used to swing flies. So how does one tell which one to use? Rods over 11'
are going to be much more difficult to overhead cast, if you think you may be using this to nymph with at all stick with rods 11' and shorter. On the other hand a rod over 11' is typically going to load a lot more into the handle of the rod and be capable of handling a larger variety of shooting heads, making it a much more enjoyable spey casting rod. Additionally rods with faster actions are going to be more suitable for nymphing, as they are typically more accurate with overhead casts and mend with more authority. Where as medium/fast action rods tend to be better for swinging as the slower action is going to make feeling the load point on the rod much easier.

Swinging Rods
Douglas DXF

Dual Purpose/Nymping
Beulah Platinum Switch
TFO Axiom II Switch

The reel. Switch rods typically take a  9/10 reel, we do this to insure enough backing can be installed on the rod as lines used are much bigger than on single hand rods. We also find that a heavier reel helps the angler keep their bottom hand down, which when spey casting is extremely important. That being said their are a handful of folks out there that prefer a 7/8 reel as they are fishing smaller tributaries where reducing weight and bulk are more important than backing capacity.

Favorite Switch Rod Reels
Big Y General
Redington Behemoth
Redington Grande

The expectations. Don't expect your switch rod to be the last rod you need. Swinging flies on a switch rod is great to an extent. If your in close corridors, or fishing small to medium rivers these are the best tool for the job. However, if your looking to air out a 100 foot cast your going to be sorely disappointed. When nymphing don't expect these rods to be as manageable as your single hander. Switch rods have a lot of weight in the bottom of them that can feel extremely awkward and do take some casting adjustment. However, once the adjustments are made mending can become much easier which leads to a longer dead drift presentation.

Switch rods like most fly rods are meant to be an addition to your "quiver" rather than a be all end all solution. If you plan on nymphing all day a switch rod will do it, but chances are a single hand 10' rod will be easier to overhead cast over the course of a day. The same is true with swinging flies, a true spey rod is typically going to be a much better fit. Where switch rods do excel are on those days when a long drift presentation is needed, swinging flies in tight corners, and when the only certainty you have is uncertainty. Now get out there and fish on.

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Posted in Fly Fishing Gear, Steelhead  

Setting Up Two-Handed Steelhead Rod

July 17, 2022

Using a two-handed (spey or switch) rod to catch steelhead is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend some time on the water.  The biggest hurdle for folks is that the setups are confusing.  We will show you the three most common setups for two-handed steelhead fishing. 


We first have to cover some basics on rods and reels.  There is no difference except for length between a switch and a spey rod.  Typically, rods over 12' are called spey rods and rods over 10' and under 12' are called switch rods.  (Note that this does not apply to specialty rods like 11' lake fishing rods, Euro-style rods or other specialty rods).  So if you intend to start steelhead fishing with a two-handed rod, make sure that you have an appropriate rod.

An article on whether you need a spey or a switch rod can be found here  


Sizing a reel to a spey or switch rod is a little different.  Switch rods will typically require a reel that will hold a line +2 sizes what you are fishing.  A 7wt switch rod should be matched up with a reel that fits a 9wt single hand rod.  A spey rod should be matched with a reel +3 line sizes.  A really long (+14') rod should be +4 sizes.  This helps with balancing such a long rod as well as holding the extra large lines that are used with these rods. 

Here are the three most popular and effective ways to setup a two-handed steelhead rod:

Skagit System

Skagit lines are really powerful, heavy lines that can deliver a heavy steelhead fly accurately over long distances.  A Skagit setup is effective year-round and is the preferred method for many anglers year-round.  Nearly every single winter steelhead angler will have a Skagit setup on their rod.  

Both Skagit and Scandi Heads are short (15'-35') and do not have any type of level running line at the back of them.  You will have to add your own.

From the reel:  Backing > Running Line > Skagit Head > Sink Tip 

The setup is not complete unless you have all of those components.  Most folks will use a straight section of 10#-15# tippet, 4'-6' in length for the leader to complete the setup.  

Scandi Systems

Scandi line systems are light and accurate, they are not quite as clunky as Skagit systems, and they arguably more enjoyable to cast as the whole system feels much lighter.  Scandi systems are typcially used for summer steelhead fishing.  Most anglers will switch to a Skagit system once the water temperatures drop into the low 50s or colder.  

Like Skagit systems, Scandis need a running line, but no sink tip.  Some anglers use a polyleader or versileader with them (often floating), but most anglers just use a 9' or 12' steelhead leader. The flies are meant to be fished near the surface usually.

From the reel:  Backing >  Running Line > Scandi Head > Tapered Leader or Polyleader/Versileader.

Nymphing Setup

Nymphing Setups can be very productive.  Using a switch or spey rod to fish them can be advantageous as the reach, mend and casting are all a bit easier with that long rod.  If you choose to go with a nymphing setup, there are a few options, but most folks go with the RIO Switch Chucker or RIO Switch Line.  Both of these are entire lines instead of a head with a separate running line like a Skagit or Scandi system. 

From the Reel:  Backing > Switch Line > Leader/Indicator

This line system will be finished off with a leader/indicator, etc...  For setting up a nymph rod for steelhead, you can find some good intel right here.  

One note about these setups.  There is not one that will do everything well.  Nymphing setups are not good for swinging flies, Skagit heads are not good for nymphing and Scandi heads are not good for throwing heavy flies.  You may find yourself getting a couple of different setups as the seasons change or you figure out what style of fishing fits you best.  

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Posted in Fly Fishing Techniques  

Lake Trout Food Sources

May 31, 2022
 To Shop Lake Flies Click Here
This article will focus on food sources of lakes. While many of the same patterns that are used frequently in river fly fishing will also apply in lake fishing, there are some different areas of concentration for lakes.
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Posted in Biology, On the Water  

Top Ten Flies for Backcountry Lakes

May 31, 2022
There is nothing quite like hiking into a little, high elevation lake to seek out a little solitude and maybe a brook trout or two.  High elevation lakes are scattered throughout the West, and they can vary widely in size, depth, temperature, and the propensity to grow trout large or small.  One thing that does not vary is that most high elevation trout are more than happy to eat a smattering of flies with mediocre presentations (my specialty).   

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Posted in Fishing Flies, On the Water  

Big Y Natural Fly Rod For Perfect Presentation

May 25, 2022
We have been looking for a nice, easy casting fly rod that excels at casting dry flies to spooky trout, a throwback to days when "fast action" fly rods were a gimmick. After more than a year of research and development, we have introduced the Natural Fly Rod to our lineup of Big Y Fly rods.
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Posted in Fly Fishing Gear  

How to Read a Fly Line Box and Rod Labels

May 25, 2022
The following should help anglers understand what is in the box when they see a fly line at the shop or online, as well as how to interpret the numbers on a fly rod.
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Posted in Fly Fishing Gear  

What Makes A Fly Rod

May 25, 2022
What Makes a Fly Rod?  
-Things to consider when looking at fly rods.

Here are most of the things that you could consider when looking at fly rods.  What makes a rod right for you and your situation, and what makes it cost what it does.

Fly rods work to deliver a fly line by creating a load on the rod.  The load is created when the weight of the line stretches out and pulls on the rod, causing it to bend.  The "action" of a fly rod is determined by where the rod flexes when it is loaded.  This chart from Redington shows the flex of fly rods that have different actions.
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Posted in Fly Fishing Gear  

Big Y Olympia Switch Rod

May 25, 2022
New for winter 2020, Big Y has introduced a new switch rod to the lineup just in time for winter steelhead season in the Northwest.  Aptly named, the Olympia switch rods cast and fish as crisp as the snowy Olympic Mountains that feed our favorite steelhead streams like the Hoh, Bogachiel, Queets and Sol Duc. 

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Posted in Fly Fishing Gear  

Wet Wading Options

May 25, 2022

It's a great time of year for fishing.  Long days, warm weather, trout eating dry flies.  Sounds perfect?  It often is, but one thing that can turn a hot day of fishing into a sweaty mess is a pair of heavy waders.  

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Posted in Fly Fishing Gear, On the Water, Wading  

Seven Things You Need to Get Started Fly Fishing

May 25, 2022


Getting onto the water is the ultimate goal of any angler.  There are tons of accessories, tools, gadgets and knickknacks that are available for you, but there are really only a few of them that are really necessary to go fishing. 



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Posted in Fly Fishing Basics, On the Water  

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