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Big Y Fly Fishing Blog

Favorite Two-Handed Winter Steelhead Setups

January 27, 2023
There is a strange group of anglers that prefers fishing in the worst conditions.  Wind, snow, rain, sleet, all in the depths of winter.  No one ever describe the Washington Coast as pleasant in the winter, yet a dedicated group of anglers descends upon the Pacific Northwest every winter looking for chrome. They bring long rods, heavy lines, and they fish as hard as any crew out there.  Here at Big Y Fly Co, we get that. For many of us, winter steelhead is the raisin-de-etre. 
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Posted in Fly Fishing Basics, Fly Fishing Gear, Fly Fishing Techniques, 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  

Searching Patterns and Techniques

November 15, 2013
Use these fly fishing strategies when fishing new water or when nothing is happening on familiar water.... more

Posted in Fly Fishing Techniques  

Lake Fly Fishing in Autumn

September 28, 2013
Fly fishing in Autumn is splendid, and a perfect time to hit your favorite or a new lake.... more

Posted in Fly Fishing Techniques  

Fly Fishing Stillwaters with Midges

July 5, 2013
Midges are popular flies for fly fishing rivers but also are a go to on lakes.... more

Posted in Fly Fishing Techniques  

The Visible Trout

June 20, 2013
Visible trout can make the fly fisher's heart pound, but they do require stealth.

... more

Posted in Fly Fishing Techniques  

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