Two-Handed Fly Rods in the Ocean – Recommendations and Tips

The questions are as predictable as the passage of the seasons.

Can I fish my two-hand rod in the ocean;  estuary; or  surf;
can I fish my long rod from the shore of a big giant big lake? The questioner might use different words to describe their tackle, but they are always referring to a rod longer than nine feet, whether it happens to be classed as a Spey rod, switch rod, or generically as a two-hander. The actions range from slow to fast, and the rod weight classification from about five to nine weight.

Jay Nicholas Two Hand Riods in the Ocean

The answer is simple but nuanced.

The simple part of the answer is this:

Yes, you can. Anyone can take any two-hand rod down to lake, beach, or boat and fly fish with it. Yes, you positively can fish anywhere there is water with a long rod.

The nuanced part of the answer can take up several thousand words. I know because I have been wrestling with describing the finer details of taking a Spey style rod from the waters these rods were originally intended to fish, and instead, fishing them far from their home waters.

After writing and reading and repeating this process over and over, I decided to highlight the whole mess and press the delete key. I decided instead to write a no-nonsense, get-to-the-point guide for the angler who is interested in stringing up their two-hander at the beach, in the boat or lakeside.

Oddly perhaps, the question almost never asked is this: “Should I take my long rod from the steelhead run to the big water” Just because it can be done doesn’t necessarily mean that it should, or that it will do

I believe that seeing is believing, experiencing is better than reading about it, and trial and error will sort out the differences between opinion and theory. While I can make suggestions here, the best way to make these decisions is by trying it and seeing what you like.

Recommendations for taking the two-hander to the ocean.

First, here are some starting recommendations that the reader may consider or ignore at their pleasure. Unless specifically excepted, these remarks relate to anyone who is fishing the surf, from a beach, in a small boat, or from any platform in a large lake.

Rod length.
• A pram of 8-10 ft is no place for a rod over 9 ft. The pram is a specialized fishing platform that is best fished with an 8-9 ft. fly rod.
• A two-hand rod of 10-ft. offers little advantage over any 9-ft. rod and is largely a waste of time.
• A two-hander of 11 ½ to 12 ft. is a great rod to fish in boats in the 14-20 ft. class.

Surf Casting.
• Where surf fishing is concerned, the best performance will be achieved from fly rods that are specifically designed for this environment. To my knowledge, only Echo and Beulah currently offer such rods. It is entirely possible that rods other manufacturers are as good or better – but I am not familiar with surf rod alternatives.
• A rod of 13 ft. or longer will work in the surf, but only if it is a tip-action rod paired with a powerful short-head fly line. If you are up to this challenge, you will reap rich rewards in casting distance. I am ill-equipped to suggest a specific rod for such purpose but I am sure that someone, somewhere, has this figured out.

Overhead versus Spey-style casting strokes.
• Forget using Spey style casting from boats in the ocean, and especially forget about fishing with Skagit-style lines from boats and beaches. Ignore this piece of wisdom if you wish, and give it a try if you must.
• My certainty in making my next point is likely based on my ignorance, but here it is: stick to overhead casting with your two-hander at the beach, lakeside, or in the boat.

Jay Nicholas Switch rod line recommendations

Adapting to the wind direction.
• Traditional Spey style casts can be modified depending on whether the wind is right to left, or left to right. The same is true with an overhead cast using a two-hander.
• A left-to-right wind is best attacked with your two-hander on your right body-side.
• A right-to-left wind is best attached with your two-hander on your left body-side.
• The left-to-right wind scenario listed above is natural for the right-handed angler.
• The right-to-left wind scenario listed above is natural for the left-handed angler.
• Both right and left-handed casters can adapt by casting off their subordinate shoulder.
• Anyone who is not confused by now is far smarter than I.
• The worst thing to do is for a right-handed caster to keep their rod on their usual right side if the wind is strong from right to left and vice-versa for the left-handed caster.
• This will often put a fly through the angler’s ear, back of neck, or shoulder.

Rod Actions.
• The two-hand rod most suitable for fishing in estuaries, lakes, and the ocean is one with a powerful butt a fast tip.

As noted in the introduction of this article, anyone can fish any two-hander in big water from lakes to the ocean, but I find the slow to moderate action rods painful to cast and worse to battle strong fish.

Here’s an example. I have fished many Spey rods with slow or moderate actions over at least thirty years. These are delightful rods to cast in rivers, to swing flies, and to battle strong steelhead, and sometimes even salmon. Take any of these rods out in the dory, allow an albacore to grab a fly dangling from a leader over the side of the boat, and it’s game-over.

The rods are utterly inadequate to battle the fish and to lift them from the depths. Can you still manage to bring the fish to-hand? Yes. Does it take forever? Yes. Is the process anything other than drudgery? No.

If you are in the neighborhood of seventy years old or are a student of fly fishing history, you will remember the “Noodle Rod.” You will remember the decade of fishing for salmon and steelhead with 2 lb. test lines and leaders. You will remember when Joe Brooks caught an Atlantic salmon on a size 32 fly. All these oddities are possible, all were promoted for a surprisingly long period of years, but all were abandoned as nonsensical.

Best Overhead Lines for Two-hand Rods.
• This is simple. Reach for a Rio Outbound, Rio QuickShooter, or Rio Quickshooter XP, load it on your reel, and go fishing. Analogs to these Rio lines are offered by Scientific Anglers, Cortland, Airflo, and Wulff. Day in and day out, however, the basic taper and head length offered in the Rio lines listed here will serve you well when fishing two-handers in big water with overhand casts.

Best Line-size for Two-hand Rods.
• If your two-hander is rated as a 7 wt., choose a fly line rated at 8wt. An 8 wt. two-hander will require a 9 wt. fly line. The rule is generally this, try a line that is rated about one weight over the rod’s rating.
• Experience will tell if this is perfect for your rods and lines, but it is the best place to start.

Recommendations for matching (freshwater) two hand fly rods to lines and fish species in the ocean.

Recommendations for matching (freshwater) two hand fly rods to lines and fish species in the ocean.

I hope this has been entertaining and informative. As always, your own experience is the best gauge of how any rod, reel, line combination will be pleasing and effective in your waters.

May your days on the water with friends be pleasant and rewarding.

Jay Nicholas, July 2020

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