Make the switch

Andy Bow­man dis­cusses why a true switch rod is the tool of choice for the multi-dis­ci­pline trav­el­ling an­gler

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - CONTENTS - ANDY BOW­MAN lives in Dun­bar­ton­shire. As a wild trout, sea-trout and sal­mon-fisher from an early age, he has fished all over the UK and abroad.

A light­weight switch rod is the ideal tool for the multi-dis­ci­pline trav­el­ling an­gler, ar­gues Andy Bow­man

WHAT MOST MOD­ERN rod­mak­ers call switch rods are sim­ply small, light­weight dou­ble-han­ders with overly long han­dles, big butt ex­ten­sions and “zippy” ac­tions un­suit­able for sin­gle-handed use. To suit the trav­el­ling, multi-dis­ci­plined an­gler, I think a true switch rod must be able to spey-cast dou­ble- and sin­gle-hand­edly and be light enough to use all day. It must also per­form all sin­gle-handed casts with ease. Most mak­ers seem to favour seven- or eight-weight mod­els, but for the rea­sons above my pre­ferred all­rounder is an 11ft 3in six-weight. The com­bi­na­tion of enough length, power and light­ness of touch makes it a joy to use. I will only fish with a seven- or eightweight on pow­er­ful rivers such as those in Nor­way or if a big fish is on the cards. In essence, the blank must have a medium ac­tion to handle spey-casts but be fast enough to handle dou­ble-hauled over­head casts.


When fish­ing with a light switch rod for the first time you will no­tice it has less power than a long dou­ble­han­der and what power it has is all in the butt. To utilise this power when play­ing a big fish, you must keep the rod at a low an­gle. The lack of power must be com­pen­sated by a reel with a good brake, as you will rely on it to hold or stop fish. When a sal­mon takes your fly, don’t lift the rod too soon af­ter the take. To set the hook, keep the rod low, take your time and use the power of the butt.


For sal­mon I ad­vise us­ing much heav­ier lead­ers than you would with a stan­dard dou­ble-handed set-up. Sal­mon are not “gut shy” so I use a level leader of 15lb with a six-weight set-up on small rivers, and up to 40lb on a seven- or eight-weight rod for big rivers or if there is a chance of a very big sal­mon. For fussier brown trout or sea-trout dur­ing day­time I use con­ven­tional light leader weights, but if I’m fish­ing for big sea-trout at night, I step it up again.


There are many fly-lines de­signed specif­i­cally for switch rods and you can match the line to the gram or grain weight spec­i­fied on your cho­sen rod. My cur­rent favourite lines are an old six-weight Rio Spey be­cause of its grace­ful turnover, and the new Gaelforce Equal­izer Switch Spey (33ft; 7/8wt, 27 grams, 425 grains) for dis­tance and pre­sen­ta­tion on larger rivers. Al­though not as plea­sur­able to use, mod­ern com­pact Scandi-style shoot­ing-heads can be cast to ob­tain max­i­mum dis­tance.


Many fly-lines are sold with a set of tips. That’s good, but these tips are usu­ally long and won’t suit all sit­u­a­tions. For ex­am­ple, to keep a long fast-sink­ing tip on the sur­face you’ll need a fast line speed on a cast such as a dou­ble-spey. Be­cause of the va­ri­ety of wa­ters (rivers and still­wa­ters) you may fish on a trip to the High­lands or West of Ire­land, for ex­am­ple, you will need to en­large your ar­moury of tips. I am a great fan of Air­flo Polylead­ers and over the years have built a large col­lec­tion to cater for all even­tu­al­i­ties. The tips come in many weights, lengths and sizes, la­belled ac­cord­ing to quarry. I use heav­ier Trout and Sea-trout/steel­head lead­ers for sea-trout. For sal­mon in Britain and Ire­land, I use stan­dard Sal­mon lead­ers. For sal­mon abroad, such as Nor­way or Alaska, I use Sal­mon Ex­tra Strong. Each packet in­forms you of the max­i­mum leader strength you can use with a par­tic­u­lar tip­pet. Polylead­ers come in dif­fer­ent lengths, too, but I of­ten cut them down to suit, form­ing a new loop at the front.


You don’t need to scale down fly size too much be­cause the rod is smaller. My only ad­vice is that you should steer away from large brass tubes, which are too heavy to turn over.


The main rea­son to use a switch rod is flex­i­bil­ity. In re­cent years, I’ve toured the west coast of Ire­land fish­ing es­tu­ar­ies, rivers and loughs and took only one rod and a spare of the same model. That rod was my six-weight switch. It al­lowed me to adapt to what­ever dis­ci­pline was re­quired. I have done ex­actly the same thing around the Scot­tish coast and on Orkney, the West­ern Isles and the He­brides. When you are in re­mote places, you need to know that your tackle is up to the job – you can’t just nip back to the house and grab an­other out­fit. In these places, you need to adapt to the sit­u­a­tion or weather. You could be wan­der­ing the flats of a wide, wind-blown es­tu­ary, or the rocky shores of an ex­posed loch.


Fish­ing an es­tu­ary for bass or sea-trout sounds straight­for­ward: stand on the sand, no ob­sta­cles, stan­dard over­head cast. Wrong. Es­tu­ar­ies are windy and if you want to fish the best wa­ter you can’t al­ways have the wind on your back. I re­cently fished an es­tu­ary in Scot­land with a strong, cold, north-east wind. To cover the best wa­ter, the wind would have to blow on to the right side of my face which – as many right-han­ders know – is a very dan­ger­ous over­head cast. With my switch rod, I could use the el­e­ments to my ad­van­tage by us­ing a dou­ble spey-cast off my left shoul­der.


Hill lochs are sur­rounded by twisted heather, rocky out­crops and moun­tain ash, but this rugged beauty can cause prob­lems. With a length ad­van­tage over a sin­gle-han­der, a switch rod will help keep your flies above the heather, not in it. At one loch I fish, the bank is formed by a rocky cliff, off which big­ger fish feed in wind lanes. Be­cause the bank is high, you need to be at wa­ter level to avoid spook­ing the fish. Us­ing a va­ri­ety of spey-casts I can fish it ef­fec­tively with my switch rod, with­out break­ing the sky­line. It is very dif­fi­cult to do this with a stan­dard sin­gle-han­der. With 6ft-8ft of dap­ping floss at­tached to ny­lon back­ing, and a bushy dry-fly, on windy days you can also dap from the bank. With the ex­tra length and hold­ing the rod high, you can get the flies out a sur­pris­ing dis­tance.


A switch rod’s reach makes it a great tool for loch-style fish­ing and es­pe­cially dib­bling a bob-fly. A 9ft sin­gle­han­der just can­not com­pete. The ease with which you can roll out a team of flies and the dis­tance – with­out a sin­gle false cast – is a great ben­e­fit (less tan­gles, less time lost). Play­ing fish is also eas­ier due to the ex­tra reach. The switch rod can fol­low the fish and keep it un­der con­trol when it zips un­der and around the boat while you rarely have to move from your boat seat.


Fish­ing for sal­mon on a small over­grown spate river is where the switch rod out­per­forms any other type. These small wa­ters are not suited to longer dou­ble­han­ders due to the tight spa­ces and smaller win­dows of op­por­tu­nity to get a line on the wa­ter. Trees, bushes, fences and rocks com­bine to make it dif­fi­cult and there­fore nim­ble sin­gle-handed casts, such as the side cast and roll cast, are cru­cial, while the var­i­ous spey casts you can per­form with a switch will give you the full ar­moury to suc­ceed in dif­fi­cult sur­round­ings. When play­ing a fish, the rod’s ex­tra length will help you to keep your quarry away from bank­side ob­sta­cles.


In the hands of an ex­pe­ri­enced fisher, a switch rod can be used on large rivers, too. A long dou­ble-han­der will out­gun it ev­ery time if you need to cast a long way, but not all fish are on the other side of the river. What the switch lacks in power, it gains in the fight. To­tal con­tact. Ev­ery shake, leap and run is ac­cen­tu­ated – you are truly bat­tling the fish. And if you are lucky enough to hook one of the big boys, stick to the rules and you stand an ex­cel­lent chance of land­ing it. Hook­ing and play­ing a large sal­mon on a switch rod is ex­hil­a­rat­ing.

“Ev­ery shake, leap and run is ac­cen­tu­ated – you are truly bat­tling the fish”

For es­tu­ary fish­ing the switch rod is a rev­e­la­tion.

As well as over­head casts, your rod should be able to spey cast with ease.

LEFT When loch-style fish­ing, an 11ft switch rod will dib­ble a top drop­per far from the boat.

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