Casting a switch rod using two hands

What Is a Switch Rod (Fly Fishing’s Secret Weapon)

When I first went fly fishing, I felt embarrassed by my lack of knowledge. Learning about single-hand vs. double-handed rods, switch rods vs. Spey rods, and other considerations was overwhelming since I only had experience with spin reels.

However, there’s no need for you to go through the same embarrassing situation that I experienced. By the end of this article, you will not only know the answer to the question ‘what is a switch rod?’, but also why you should consider buying one for your next fly-fishing trip.

Switch rods have a bottom handle and can cast single or two handed styles
Switch rods have a bottom handle and can cast single or two-handed styles

What is a Switch Rod?

A switch rod is a fly rod that can be used cast with a spey technique or a traditional overhead cast. The rod is typically longer, ranging from 10 to 12 feet in length.  The extra length provides the leverage and line control to cast in a confined space.  Additionally, the rod will have a short handle below the reel for two-handed casts.

Spey rods—first developed in the 1800’s by Scottish fishermen on the river Spey—are two-handed rods tapered to be stiff at the tip and softer as you go along the length of the rod. While casting, this means that the force of the cast is loaded along the entire length of the rod. With a Spey rod you can’t cast overhead because the stiff tip of the rod won’t flex correctly, and it will throw your timing off during the cast.

When to use a Switch Rod vs a Two-Handed Rod?

Simply put, a switch rod is more versatile than a Spey rod or traditional rod because its extra length allows for both overhead and Spey casting as well as both one-handed and two-handed casting. That is, if you are skilled enough with both techniques.

 In contrast, a Spey rod is meant to be cast exclusively with two hands, but a modern switch rod can be cast with either one hand or two. In this way, switch rods bridge the gap between single-handed and two-handed rods for those who might not want to bring both out on the river or who can’t afford to get both styles individually.

You may be asking yourself, ‘why do I need a two-handed rod at all?’. Well, there is really no way to effectively cover a large river if you don’t have the advantage of using the power of both of your arms. With a single-handed rod you will undoubtedly tire yourself out much quicker while trying to cast long distances and heavy baits.

Furthermore, you can fish areas where backspace is limited and overhead casts are not possible. Of course, you can do short casts with a single-handed rod that are not back casts, but with a two-handed capable rod you can get your fly out far into the water even when space is limited.

The Advantages of Switch Rods

Saves you Time and Hassle

The switch rod’s multi-function capabilities means that you won’t need to switch between rods for different casts and methods. While I know the point of fishing is to catch fish, I like to remember that the real reason most people fish is simply for the fun of the activity. Being able to easily try out different casting methods without hassle is a huge benefit if you ask me.

Lighter and Less Fatiguing

Switch rods, on average, are 30 – 40% lighter than a two-handed Spey rod. When casting with one hand, this means less fatigue for the angler. When casting with two-hands, this means that you can generate more acceleration and therefore more force in your cast. I know that I’m always looking for ways to keep fishing for longer, and not getting tired out too quickly is definitely a part of that.

Better Line Control

When compared to a traditional single-handed rod, a switch rod’s length makes it easier to control your line both during the cast as well as when it gets into the water. The longer lever of a longer rod provides more control over a cast because it more equally balances forces transferring from the relatively stiff rod and the loose line.

Once the fly is in the water, the longer length of the rod simply means that the closest point of your control over the line will be closer to the fly than with a shorter rod.

Easier to Set the Hook

Due to their longer length and heavier weight, Spey rods can make it difficult for you to set the hook. Setting a hook requires a lighting fast controlled maneuver by the angler, and that can be difficult to accomplish with a cumbersome rod. Switch rods, being lighter and generally shorter, do not suffer as much from this issue.

Recommended Weight and Length for Different Fish

Small Trout and Panfish3-4wt10ft – 11ft
Med Trout and Small Bass4-5wt10ft – 11ft
Bass and Large Trout5-6wt10ft – 11ft
Steelhead and Salmon7-9wt12ft

Consider adding pictures of these kinds of fish

The cons of switch fly rods
The cons of switch fly rods

The Downside of a Switch Rod

As with all products designed as a compromise between two things, the switch rod does have some disadvantages when compared to using either a strictly one-handed or two-handed rod. If you only fish in one place, with one style, then perhaps a specialized rod might be better for you.

Pros and Cons of Switch Fly Rods
Pros and Cons of Switch Fly Rods

Single-Handed rods will always be shorter than switch rods of the same weight, so they will always be less fatiguing and easier to set the hook with. Furthermore, because of their length, although you can cast single-handed it won’t be as easy.

Two-Handed Spey rods will always be better tapered for Spey casting, so they are much better suited for those who prefer that style as well as beginners who are just starting to learn how to do a Spey cast. I know that using a switch rod to learn Spey casts can actually be very difficult because the lighter weight and different taper on the rod means that you have to be quicker in responding to the flex of the rod and the movement of the line than when using a traditional Spey rod.

However, for those who don’t have a lot of money to spend on getting a high-quality rod of each specific type, or for those who like the convenience of having a multi-functional rod handy without switching them out, a switch rod is probably for you.

How to Setup a Switch Rod (Reel, Line, and Leader)

The Reel

With a switch rod, you should use a reel that is 2 sizes larger than the size of your rod. For example, if you use a 6-weight rod then you should use an 8-weight reel. Because switch rods are large than a single-handed fly rods, you need the larger reel to balance out the weight. Furthermore, if you are using one, a Spey line is thicker than the standard fly line and therefore requires a larger reel capacity.

Switch rod setup for fly fishing
Switch rod setup for fly fishing

The Line and Leader

One common setup for a switch rod is the Skagit. For this, you need backing to fill your reel. attached to around 70-80 ft of running line. On the other end of the running line attach a 20ft Skagit head along with a 10-15 ft Sink Tip. At the end of the setup tie in a 6-10 ft leader and then your favorite streamer.

Looking to buy Switch Rod Shooting Head and Sink Tip?

This setup, originally developed on the West Coast of the United States, is great for fishing large steelhead flies. However, it can also be modified all the way down to being useful for small trout.

Looking to Learn the Tips and Techniques for the Fish You Love to Chase? I’ve Got You Hooked Up Below

Last Cast with a Switch Fly Rod

Now that you know what a switch rod is and what it is used for, I hope you feel comfortable deciding whether or not you need one. But just in case you’re still on the fence, hopefully, these questions can help you make that final decision.

Do you plan to be fishing a large river or for large fish like salmon and steelhead? If your answer is yes, you should consider getting a two-handed rod.

Do you need or want versatility out of your two-handed rod (i.e., you need or want to be able to switch casting techniques on the fly or you need to be able to use either one or two-handed casting techniques at any given time)? Again, if your answer is yes, you should consider getting a switch rod.

Author Hunter Winke

Hunter is an avid outdoorsman who loves to fish, hike, and even do a little bushcraft when he gets the chance. When he’s not outside, Hunter is always writing something. Whether that be a fiction story for his college’s classes or an article about one of his favorite topics, he has deep a love and respect for the written word.


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