Why consider a Switch Rod? With the winter steelhead season about wound down, I realize that I have responded to more people than ever who have enquired about the relative merits of Switch fly rods compared to full-on Spey rods when fishing Oregon coastal rivers. My answer applies to all waters, and here is basically how it goes.
I started out (in the 60s and 70s) fishing nine foot single hand rods for steelhead and salmon, with the occasional ten footer in the mix, but the longer rods were often ungainly and awkward to handle all day long. At some point I discovered Spey rods, well after most everyone else here in the region. The rods I worked with in the 80s and 90s were generally longer (14-15 ft) and were beastly things to fish especially with my lacking skills. Time passed and the rods and line systems improved considerably, with manufacturers introducing shorter Spey rods that were lighter but still capable of making very long casts.
Sometime after 2000 (who’s got the date?) you could purchase very good 8 wt Spey rods at 12.5 to 13.5 ft that were light and great casting rods. The standard seemed to settle in with 6 wt rods being under 13 ft, 7 wt rods being 13 ft but under 14 ft, and 8 wt Spey rods pushing around the 13.5 – 14 ft mark.
Well, the longer Spey rods were (and still are) fine fishing tools when wading out in nice gravel studded runs with plenty of back casting room for forming D loops. When fishing in places with trees or rocks close behind, as is often the case on our coastal rivers, these longer rods are not nearly as much fun to maneuver.
Enter the Switch rods, offered at somewhere between the old 10 ft mark of the long single hander – and the 12 ft mark usually occupied by five or six wt Spey rods. The switch rods in the generic 11 ft class offer a superior option when fishing with tree branches overhead or close behind. They also make great beach, boat, and estuary fishing rods that may be fished overhead or with traditional Spry style casts.
I have watched many anglers struggle with longer Spey rods when fishing close quarters, and often loaned them my Switch rods to play with. The result is always the same – they want to add a Switch rod to their tool box – then the question becomes – which rod to recommend.
The high-end customer has several options that are all good, but not everyone has nine hundred bucks to drop on yet another fishin’ pole. So I have devoted considerable effort to exploring a range of mid-price options for the angler who is about to delve into the Switch rod world for the first time.
The Switch rods I’m reviewing in this post are three excellent rods that I’ve fished extensively this recent winter steelhead season. I’d venture that I’ve put in at least 36 hours fishing each of the three rods (18 days x 6 hours fishing per day, with equal time (2 hrs per rod each day). I have fished other days with other Switch rods also, but none were as pleasing as these three (the term pleasing means that these three rods meshed well with my modest casting ability, considerable bad casting habits, and personal quirks). When people come to me and ask about purchasing a modestly priced switch rod, these three are the very first I’m recommending without reservation.
My attraction to these three rods is based on serious time on the river, not an hour or an afternoon. Day after day trudging up and down the river banks, falling in, stumbling, smacking my rod tip into overhanging brush (all three rods took a lot of punishment), wrapping flies around the rod when I placed my anchor poorly, and even a few steelhead hooked, lost, and released.
Mid Price – You will note that these three Switch rods are in what we refer to the mid-price range – meaning that there are rods that cost less and far more than these. The Sage ONE is an excellent high end rod as are the Sage Method, Scott T3H Premium, and Burkheimer Switch rods. These Switch rods are all very good but I wanted to keep this review focused on mid- rather than high-end rods.
The three Switch rod I’ll discuss are
Echo 3 Switch rod
Redington Chromer Switch rod
Scott L2H Switch rod
Price wise – the ECHO is just over five bills, the Scott is about halfway north of five bills, and the Redington a tad less expensive at roughly four hundred bucks.
Length – the ECHO is an even 11 ft while the Scott and Redington are both 11 ft 6 inches.
Action – All are what I consider fast action rods with soul, meaning that they are in a different class than rods like the Echo Dec Hogan II, a full action Burkheimer, or a modern glass rod. When I say these have soul, that means that I can feel them load as I’m casting. All three rods are fast but comfortably fast.
Distance casting ability – all are very versatile. I always start by making casts with only my sink tip out of the guides, and gradually lengthen the reach of my swing as I prospect a run. All three of these rods have allowed me to make very long casts and very short precise casts whether I’m wading out in an open run or hunkered under trees dodging tree branches. As far as I’m concerned, there was never a situation when I was incapable of covering the water because of casting distance limitations – other than my own limitations. All of these rods will deliver your fly to the farthest reach of our coastal rivers with ease.
Line matches – I fished a six wt in the Chromer Swtch and a seven wt in the Scott and Echo rods. Both seven wts cast an Airflo Compact Switch Skagit at 450 gr, but I fished an OPST Commando 375 gr head on both rods more often than not. The 6 wt Chromer fished spectacularly with a 420 gr Compact switch or a 325 OPST Commando.
Sink Tips – I fished 10 ft RIO Mow tips in T-11 and T-14. I also fished AIRFLO Flo tips in T-10 and T-14. I found it uncomfortable when I tried the 12 ft T-14 tips with these lines and rods, but otherwise they were all up to the task of throwing T-10 to T-14.
Handle – The handles on these rods are different but similar, and I’ll have difficulty in this discussion, but here goes.
16.75″ – The Scott L2H is the shortest handle of the three rods and is very subtly different with the bulges at lower and upper top grip. For my hands and my casting style, I preferred this handle configuration over the other two handles.
17.25″- The Echo 3 Swich rod has the middle length handle and I would characterize this as the most generic shape of the three. A good handle overall.
17.75″ – The Redington Chromer handle is the longest of the three rods and is unique insofar as the rubber tip on top and bottom hand. While the handle overall is a little thinner than I’d prefer, I found that I liked the feel of the rubber tips so much that I was swayed towards this handle.
Hardware – All three rods have good hardware. We are all fickle about these small matters but I found myself most attracted to the Scott reel seat.
Warranty cost and service – All three manufacturers offer great warranty service. Echo requires a payment of 35$, Redington 40$, and Scott charges 50$ to pay for warranty service. This is usually a per section fee, but the manufacturer has some discretion in this matter.
If you ship a damaged rod to the factory from your home, you pay the cost of shipping the rod but the warranty fee covers the return of the rod to you. All warranties are original owner-based.
If you deliver a damaged rod to the Caddis Fly Shop, we will ship the rod for you at minimum cost and you will cover than the warranty fee charged by each respective company when the rod is returned. In our experience, warranty service is rarely needed for any of these three rods, and when it has been exercised we get rods back from Echo in less than a week, Redington is usually within two weeks, and Scott may be three or four weeks, depending on the rod and the season.
Rod Performance – Excellent for all three rods. Remember, I fished other switch rods that were not so pleasing and chose these specifically because I can recommend each without reservation, meaning I can recommend them enthusiastically.
Making a decision – if you fish under trees and close to brush, the ECHO is going to make the cast a little easier because it is shorter. If you are price shopping the Redington will save you on the sale. If you compare warranty cost and time of return the Echo will save you a tiny amount and get the rod back in your hands the fastest. Did any of these rods perform better than the others? No that I could detect.
Did I have a personal favorite? Yes, but it is based on largely insignificant personal quirks, and you’ll not see my call on what is essentially a photo finish here, because it is not the slightest bit objective.
You are likely to see me out on the river with any or all of these three rods on any given day. This speaks highly for the performance of all these rods.
I’m sure that there are many very good 6 wt and 7 wt switch rods out there that I did not fish, but if you are even close to considering any of these three rods, I feel confident that you will be pleased fishing any of the three.
If you have further questions about these and other rods, lines, and matching lines to rods, I will be pleased to help puzzle through the morass if you contact me through the fly shop.
Jay Nicholas, April 2016