Interview by Brad Elfers
All Photos courtesy of George Cook
Brad Elfers: George, let's just jump right into switch and Spey. Not everyone is familiar with the switch and Spey game. Say I had always fished a single hand 9 foot rod, tell me what the advantage would be to fishing a switch or Spey rod? What are the disadvantages?
George Cook: An angler that makes the move to a Spey and/or switch rod is making an investment into a broader overall angling platform. Coverage, efficiency, tactical advantage and a straight up more interesting experience awaits. While by no means will one hang up the single handed fly rod, an angler’s horizons will open up dramatically, especially on bigger waters and ultra challenging tight quarters. In Alaska, the switch rod can become the omnipresent tool for both Southeast Steelhead streams while that same rod will find a home on the trout waters of South Central and Parks Highway streams. Bristol Bay waters are prime candidates for the use of Spey rods be it the kings of June along with both early season and late season big rainbow swung fly opportunities.
Brad Elfers: There are switch rods and there are spey rods. What is the difference?
George Cook: The switch rod is apply named based on the fact that one can indeed use it in a multitude of ways, from a straight up “long” single handed rod used “overhead” to a single handed Spey use tool to a “Baby Spey” stick employed in a Spey casting (Two Handed Manner). Typically seen in lengths from 10’6” to 11’9” in line weights #4 thru #9 , these rods in that 10’6” to 11’6” range are truly Switch (Multi use format) where from 11’6” to 11’9” I class them as “Baby Spey” small Spey rods. Spey Rods are typically seen in 12’ to 16’ lengths and are strictly a “Two Handed” operated affair. 12’6” to 13’6” in 6 thru 9 weights are the most popular sizes seen today. In steelhead or big rainbow country a 7 weight Spey Rod is incredibly popular.
Brad Elfers: Another very basic but kind of critical question, how do I know whether a switch rod or a spey rod would best suit the type of fishing I do?
George Cook: To Switch Or Spey…..Choosing the right rod for YOU: The smart move here is to take stock in just where, how and what are your favorite target fisheries. A steelhead angler in Northern California, Oregon or Washington is a distinctive Spey rod candidate while that same steelhead enthusiast pursuing chrome in SE Alaska will be by virtue of stream environment be a Switch rod player, most likely in a 7 or 8 weight. An Anchorage resident within easy reach of the Kenai Peninsula along with the Parks Highway Streams is likely gonna end up with BOTH a Spey and a Switch rod based on the overall diversity of the region at hand. Another important aspect here is to seek out your local Pro Shop that has staff that have already traveled down this switch or Spey path and can provide invaluable information particularly in reference to regional streams that may indeed be your “Target Fisheries”.
Brad Elfers: Say I am a beginner interested in getting into the Spey/switch game, what rod size would you suggest for me, if I am planning on mostly salmon fishing around the PNW and Alaska? How about for trout?
George Cook: The Steelhead Spey Angler in Nor Cal or Oregon is super likely to end up with a 12’6” 7 weight Spey Rod (SAGE 7126-4 Method or 7126-4 ACCEL come to mind here), possibly a 13’6” seven weight. These same size rods are likely South Central Alaska candidates for Big Rainbows, Steelhead and Silver Salmon. The Washington or British Columbia Spey rodder is fairly likely to roll with a 13’6” 8 weight Spey Rod like a SAGE ONE in a 8136-4. In the Switch theater the 7 weight Switch Rod is indeed “The .30-06 Of Switch” and covers many different fisheries from Steelhead to Rainbows , Dollies and Silvers, simply can’t go wrong with a 7 weight as a first Switch Rod (7116-4 SAGE ONE really hauls the mail here). On The Trout end of things the 4 and 5 weight Switch Rods get plenty of play while on the other end of things a 9 weight Switch Rod will see duty for everything up to and including Kings (SAGE Method 9119-4 The “Chrome Crowbar” is a big game Switch rod).
Brad Elfers: There are a lot of line options for switch rods. What is the best line for a beginner to start with? Do I need a special leader, sink tip, etc?
George Cook: Today the Switch Rod Angler has a multitude of fine line choices. One of the absolute best all round-all purpose choices that leaves nothing to chance in performance is RIO’s Switch Chucker Line. Whether you're playing an Indicator game or swung fly program you are nicely covered here. For a focused Spey casting approach the RIO Skagit Max Short is hard to beat. The Alaskan switch rodder likely ends up with both and is indeed set up!
Brad Elfers: What about reels? Will my reel for my single hand rod work or is there a better option?
George Cook: In selecting a proper-useful fly reel for your switch rod there is a pretty decent chance that if you already have an 8 weight or 10 weight caliber fly reel you already have your switch reel in waiting. On the Spey Front a larger 10 or 12 weight reel is likely the call in terms of both capacity, weight and balance considerations.
Brad Elfers: Let’s say I just bought myself a Spey or switch rod, what are the most important casting techniques I should learn first, to ensure a successful day on the water?
George Cook: Best advice here is to take some lessons. Honestly be it golf, archery or the Spey-switch game get off to a good solid start with some lessons. A mere 2 hours will put you miles ahead of non-lesson flailing away riverside session that has you seeking your spinning rod by days end. Learning the Snap T and Double Spey cast right out of the gate will put you in great position to tackle your favorite water in a new and highly efficient manner.
Brad Elfers: Can I use my switch rod on smaller creeks like Montana Creek or the Russian, or is it better to use it on bigger water like the main stem Kenai or Naknek? Are there other areas besides Alaska where a Switch rod will work well?
George Cook: The smaller streams of the Parks Highway are great targets for the switch rod be it a 7 weight or even a “Small Ball” switchie like a 4 or 5 weight. These same rods can and will work nicely on the bigger waters be it the Middle Kenai or the Naknek, in fact my single largest Alaskan rainbow (33.5 x 17) came on the SAGE ONE 4116-4 while swinging a sculpin with a 325 Skagit Max Short in early June. The smaller switch rods play “Bigger” than one would think.
Brad Elfers: Is a switch rod good in still water or off of beaches in the salt?
George Cook: Yes, the beach and lake game can be real interesting with a switch rod employed in the starting lineup. Here the line to run with in an overhead casting format for ultimate distance and coverage is what is called a RIO Coldwater Outbound in “One Size Up”, say a WF-7-F/I (Intermediate is killer for these two games) on a six weight switch rod. You’ll watch yourself throw spinning rod type distance in an overhead manner.
Brad Elfers: Why do you personally choose to spey/switch cast over single hand casting methods?
George Cook: Number of reasons here….Efficiency (more time fishing VS casting), tight quarters mastery (Little to no back cast room, no problem now) distance (greater distance when called upon), straight up more interesting as every cast is an adventure.
Brad Elfers: What would you say the average learning curve on Spey/switch casting is? If I don’t nail it in the first couple of hours- should I give up?
George Cook: Average learning curve for 95% of folks is 22-30 hours. That other 5% are the rare “Gifted Ones”. I’ve seen two students that had it completely nailed in sub 3 hours in 24 years of teaching. Generally most people get appreciably better in the 6-12 hour range, particularly if they heeded the “Lessons Advice”. Stay with it as “Rome was not built in a day” surely applies here.
Brad Elfers: Would you suggest a spey/switch rod to someone who has never held a fly rod of any sort in their hands before- or would you suggest beginning with a single handed rod to learn techniques?
George Cook: Never Fly Fished but wish to leap into the Spey-Switch game….not a problem as you’ll show up having no habits that will have to be deleted from your learning curve!
Brad Elfers: Any final thoughts on switch rods and fishing?
George Cook: Make 2015 the year to TRY IT OUT..Make The SWITCH to Switch or Spey and see just what all the excitement is about!