Nymphing with Switch and Spey Rods- by Dave Henry

Book Reviews & Excerpts, featured — By on January 12, 2012 8:57 pm

Dave Henry has taken on a great new topic… 2handed rods for trout. While mainly a tool for targeting steelhead and salmon, 2handed rods (commonly called spey or switch rods) have a loyal following looking to expand their horizons; taking a rod that has its origins in swinging flies and applying it to nymphing. Dave does a great job breaking down tackle and technique.

Learn more at http://2handedtrout.com/ or at the 2handed trout facebook page
For more on Dave visit http://bcflyfishingcharters.com/

Nymphing is one of the deadliest techniques for catching numerous species of fish. In fact it is so effective that some anglers consider it to be unsporting or even cheating. Despite our love of catching fish on the surface, trout are primarily subsurface feeders. So many patterns are available to mimic their main sources of food and presenting a sunken fly in a natural, free drifting manner is a certain way to fool them.

All that said, nymphing is not as easy as it sounds. A skilled nympher will always out fish someone who is less skilled. Knowing where to drift the fly, understanding complex currents and using proper line management are all keys to being successful. There are far too many ways to set up a nymphing rig for one article. Each one warrants an article of it’s own. The basic premise is to drift a fly just off of the bottom of the river, through the feeding lane of the fish. External weight is sometimes used to sink the fly down quickly and an indicator can set the depth and allow the angler to detect subtle takes that might otherwise be missed. To truly become skilled at nymphing an angler needs to become proficient at mending line and detecting strikes and like any thing else, practice makes perfect.

Nymphing with a two handed rod is even more deadly than with a single hander as many are starting to discover. Whether fishing for trout, steelhead, salmon or any other fish the longer length of the rod allows for easy casting at all distances and increases the ease with which we perform tasks such as mending and high sticking. Here are a few points to consider if you choose to nymph with a two hander.

Any two handed rod can be used for nymphing but switch
rods and shorter Spey rods are best. I prefer rods under 12′ as the longer rods make hook setting more difficult. Set too hard and the tippet will break. Too light and the tip absorbs the the energy without setting the hook. Rods in this length range allow me to switch to single and double overhead casts instantly when needed and are perfect for high stick nymphing. Shorter rods may also be used from a driftboat or raft easier than a long rod, something to consider if you drift alot. 10’6 to 11’9 is the range that I like best for nymphing.

Any action or taper will do but I prefer a fast action scandanavian style rod. The contact anchor casts seem to work best with the terminal tackle I use. Often I’ll even just flick or roll cast the fly upstream using the tip of the rod to reset my drift. These rods also have that softer tip section for protecting lighter tippets but still have a strong butt section to dig in for long casts or to fight large fish.

Switch Rod Nymphing From a Drift Boat

Many different line combinations are effective for nymphing. Most floating lines will do the job but there are a few line types that are better than others.

An aggressive Scandinavian shooting head is my first choice. Scandis easily perform a variety of casts. Spey casts, double over head, single over head, even just flipping line upstream. If I’m using large flies, split shot and indicators, I like a steelhead taper or a custom cut scandi that has a little more diameter at the leader end. This allows for an easier turnover of the wind resistant terminal tackle attached to the leader. I keep the leaders on the shorter side in this case as well. However, if I’m using small flies or “naked” nymphing (no weight or indicators), any regular scandi head will do.

Skagit lines are my next choice. I find them effective when the terminal tackle gets heavy or when conditions are windy. A good short Skagit is also preferable when trees and high banks line the shore. A floating Skagit tip with a regular leader is best but sometimes I’ll loop a leader directly to the Skagit head. This requires a heavier head than usual to load up the rod and allows me to roll out my nymphs in really tight quarters.

I swear by tapered running lines for nymphing and just about any shooting head casting situation other than double overhead distance casting. These lines greatly improve my ability to mend line and help keep the rear of the head from dropping during the cast. The top tapered running line available is the SGS mendmaster.

Single handed lines are another obvious choice for nymphing. There are plenty of choices that are appropriate including lines that are made strictly for nymphing. I like lines with short tapers such as the Wulff Ambush taper. I find that these lines perform just like scandi lines but are better for single hand double haul casting. They are especially useful when nymphing small flies or in places where a light presentation is a key to success. If I’m predominately upstream nymphing I’ll always use a single hand line and a switch rod.

Sinking and sink tip lines can also be used for nymphing. When exploring deep pools or trying to get to depth in fast water, a sinking line may be necessary. The question is if this is considered nymphing or slow swinging. The answer depends on who you ask and it’s up to the Flyfisher to decide their own definitions of nymphing. I myself will use this method in highwater conditions. The odd time I’ll even high stick using a sink tip and short leader. I won’t go into detail for sinking line techniques. Just cast, mend and swing.

High Sticking with a 13

I strictly use hand tied or tapered leaders for nymphing with a floating line. It’s necessary for the fly to sink quickly so floating poly and versi leaders are out of the question. Length depends on the rod and line used but obviously it needs to be greater than the maximum depth you need to get the fly. When using scandi lines the normal length is 1.5 times the rod length. When using heavy nymph rigs though I’ve found that leaders just a little longer than the rod length cast better.

When I tie my own leaders I start with stiff material in the butt section. Usually flourocarbon. This helps turn over the nymphing rig, resists tangles and the tough material will last through an entire season. I’ll use something with a little more stretch in the mid section to absorb shock and then use flouro again for the tippet. I like flouro tippets because they resist the abrasion caused by rocks and snags. I’ve used Frog Hair brand for some time now but any brand will do.

If I’m using store purchased tapered leaders I usually choose bonefish leaders. I like the way they turn over the terminal tackle and they are abrasion resistant. I will admit that, being saltwater specific, I have lost a few flies when a fish strikes hard. I believe that these leaders are slighty more brittle in cold water. To compensate I switch to a more supple material for my tippet.

Searching a Seam With a Switch Rod

Indicators and weight-
Nymphing can be accomplished “naked” with just a fly on the end of a leader. Outside of British Columbia, where more than one fly is permitted, you can use a dryfly as an indicator. But at some point you’ll want to be using some kind of external weight and strike indicators.

Strike indicators perform other tasks than just allowing one to detect when a fish has taken the fly. They also set the depth of the fly and allow you to track it’s path. Indies come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. I find that the round plastic ones float higher and are easier to see. They also cast easier due to their light weight and wind resistance. My second choice is oval plastic. For smaller, gin clear waters I sometimes use wool idicators or the floating paste type. One important feature to look for in an indicator is the ability to move it up and down the leader easily. I’ve used the twist-on style and the type that are pegged on with a toothpick for a number of years. Recently I was turned on to the Thingamabobber brand. This is a round indicator that allows you to push the leader through a hole and over the top to secure it. In seconds you can adjust where it sits, they float high on the water and are highly visible even in low light conditions. Because they are so buoyant you can use a much smaller indicator compared to the weight of your fly and split shot.

There are even more options when it comes to adding weight to your leader. Weight helps get the fly into the zone and keep it there. The most obvious and widely used weight is split shot, small weights of various size that you pinch onto the leader until you have the desired weight. This is the simplest form and the one that I use most but sometimes they can be a pain as the weights fall off, move around or pinch and weaken the leader. Another good option is the putty style weight. Just roll the putty onto the leader where you want it. To move it just pinch it off and roll it somewhere else. This type of weight also can come off and in cold weather it becomes hard, brittle and not fun to work with.

Some people like to use barrel swivels as weight. Just tie a swivel between the end of the leader and the tippet. This works well but doesn’t allow you to adjust how much weight you need. Others stretch the definition of Flyfishing and clip slinky style weights to three way swivels or a long tag end from the leader/tippet knot. Whether or not this is considered Flyfishing or gear fishing is a debate for the fishing forums.

British Columbia residents should be aware of the regulations on the rivers they fish. Some waters don’t allow external weight of any kind on the leader. In this case flies tied in different weights need to be used. Even indicators are illegal on some flows.

Thingamabobbers. My Favourite Brand.

Obviously flies used should imitate the nymphal stage of the insects present in the river fished. Egg patterns are also used to imitate whichever type of fish has recently spawned. There are certain patterns that will take fish anywhere, anytime. These include stonefly nymphs, single egg patterns, and small bead head nymphs. Patterns that I always carry and use most include the Gorman’s single egg, bead head Prince nymphs and large black stonefly nymphs. Streamers can also be used when nymphing. I’ll drift a flesh fly or muddler under an indicator at times with great success.

Deep Nymphing With Soneflies Catches Big Fish

Nymphing is a sure fire way to catch fish no matter what conditions you’re presented with. Still, stealth and presentation are always key to increase your odds. If you know of any other techniques or gear that we have missed, please give us a shout. We’re always glad to learn new techniques.

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  1. otis48 says:

    i swear by tapered running lines for nymphing”

    Do you really mean runnung line?>The 90 ft of line behind the 30 =/+ ft head?

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  2. Davy Wotton says:

    Used long rods for years so far as use for both wet fly and nymph fishing for trout, both wade and boat drift, which no doubt is a great asset for both line control and increased values so far as presentations.
    However a rod of say 11.6 with a 6 to 9 ins butt section below the reel is not a 11ft rod, all be it overall length is. Rod length so far as its practical length of use is above the reel seat, as during a fishing situation that is what matters in the case of nymph, wet, dry fly fishing for trout. You would not normally fish with two hands on the rod handle as that very much restricts your means of intimate control both for line and fly drift.
    Why then bother with the extended length, simply use a single handed rod of 11 to 12ft, which is way easier to control than a 2 handed deal in the case of light line wts.

    Frequently l introduce my guided clients to use of long rods, both wade and boat drift, many now own long rods.

    In the case of fishing for salmon/steelhead that is a different matter compared to trout fly fishing.

    Davy Wotton

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  3. mark says:

    Here in Patagonia, and due to a broken finger on my casting hand, I started using a newly purchased TFO 11ft 5wt switch rod. I have been using this rod as my nymphing rod, and I love it. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to nymphing with a single hand 9ft rod.

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  4. Skip Goetz says:

    I have been using a 12ft 2/3 wt light two handed spey rod,on the White River for some time know,fishing Wets,Streamers and using Nymphs.
    The 2 hand long rod is a great improvement over any single hand rod technique.!!
    More line and drift control, equals better presentations, and more fish !!
    Easy effortless casting with water born anchors, or two handed over hand cast.
    Less shoulder fatigue, you can fish long hours without getting tired or without any shoulder discomfort, as with a single handed rod.
    Longer casting distance with less effort.
    Less back cast space required, you can wade the shore line on higher water, and cast long distances to active fish.
    Two handed rods on the the White river is a well kept secret, if more people would try this technique, I think they would be pleasantly surprised how effective and productive this method is, compared to a single handed rod.
    And it is FUN !!! like the other poster has said, I will never go back to a single handed fly rod !!!

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