All things Spey Lines and Sink Tips – George Cook, Erik Johnson, John Hazlett


George Cook, Erik Johnson and John Hazlett have been innovators, instructors and anglers in the world of two handed rods since the beginning of the “Northwest Spey” movement. These guys have thousands of hours on the water testing line matches and performance. Below you will find an in-depth discussion of all things spey lines and sink tips.

Skagit/ology 4.0 “Generation 4 has arrived”
2021 George Cook/Erik Johnson/Jon Hazlett

Almost two decades have passed since the introduction of the vaunted, original Ol’ Yeller Skagit Line. However, despite its effectiveness and popularity, misconception, confusion, and lack of overall clarity of the use of Skagit Lines remains. The following is a short but specific conversation regarding the history and usage of the various Skagit lines in the worldwide spey fishing theater.

History- Beginning in the 1990’s many of today’s most recognizable spey authorities independently where developing Skagit type lines. Noted casters and anglers such as Ed Ward, Mike Kinney, Scott O’Donnell, Scott Howell. Mike McCune, Jerry French and the legendary Harry Lemire among others were at the forefront of the Skagit revolution. Along the banks of Northwest rivers coupled with late nights in the depths of fly-tying rooms of the Pacific Northwest the chop-shop artist and line theologists were hard at work developing what would become today’s Skagit Lines. Some would cut and splice their way; others would utilize bumped up WindCutter bodies to perfect the craft. The shorter belly approach was underway. The day had come to maximize the spey rod for winter Steelhead conditions as well as Alaskan and B.C. Kings with large, outsized flies. The use of Northwest hybrid and Skagit Casts such as the Snap T, Perry Poke, Snap Z and Wombat lent themselves to a shorter more powerful approach. Today the Skagit line is THE approach to sinking line endeavors worldwide. Be it Kings in Alaska to Sea Run Browns of the Rio Grande from the Umpqua to the Babine and all points in between. The Skagit Line has become the omnipresent tool. Originally developed purely as a sink tip asset, the Skagit line also can be an effective full floating line particularly on 12’ to 13’9” rods. To be sure, the spey caster will endure a greater level of stripping of line to recast (applies to all Skagit lines versus mid to long belly lines) but the reward is a undeniable highly energized, long and straight cast.

Types- The original RIO Skagit Line worked from a 27’ body that today in the era of the NEW Skagit Max Launch is found in a 23’ to 25’ length. In 2009, the Skagit Short came onboard providing an ideal line for switch rods as well as shorter spey rods in the 12’-12’9” range. These lines are specialized shorter 17’ to 20’ Skagit lines now known today as the NEW Skagit Max Power. Often times the Max Power serves the ardent spey caster well in strategic tight corridor situations often found in such Steelhead haunts as the Oregon Coast, Olympic Peninsula, and Vancouver Island.

Usage- Specific Skagit Line size (grain weight) matchups come with a degree of variability coupled with angler opinion. Line speed versus load, moderate versus fast action all add up to a witch’s brew of variables that must be fleshed out on any given rod regardless of manufacturer. The great casters often find themselves 25 to 100 grains apart on any given rod. In the end the angler must boil it down and get the details. All in all, most spey rods 12’ to 15’ in length will have as many as three different Skagit Lines that will work. For example, the TCX 7126-4 the famous “Deathstar” can work with a Skagit Max Long in 525, Skagit Max Launch 550 and even 575. The 525 offers the line speed choice while the 575 offers the max load choice. Overall as it relates to this rod, we found that the 550 Skagit Max Launch is the everyday choice. Generally, one will be ideal. To discover this, the angler must seek out opinion within the spey community, be it a guide, angling buddies, factory rep or retail representative, as well as GET OUT AND CAST!

Skagit Trout Spey- Skagit Trout Spey lines are an ideal choice for trout spey rods that are gaining popularity throughout the West. Available as fully integrated lines along with traditional heads spanning 200-375 grains these new lines hit the mark dead on for trout spey rods in 2wt through 4wt along with the smaller switch rods in 4wt and 5wt. The integrated version allows for seamless transition between head and running line allowing the streamer enthusiast should they desire to strip the fly without incurring any loop “clang.” Heads are available and will work with a multitude of floating, mono, or hybrid style shooting lines. Overall available weights and dialed in lengths make these ideal for fishing various poly-leaders, conventional 10’ sink tips, along with MOW light systems. Usage with 4wt and 5wt switch rods along with 4wt Trout Spey can include the whole of MOW Medium Systems. To be sure, the trout spey revolution is upon us, and ideal lines are now found in spades.

NEW Skagit Max Power– Ideal for switch rods in the 10’6” to 11’9” range along with application for shorter spey rods in the 12’ to 12’9” range, 9 weights and under. These are specialized shorter 17’ to 20’ Skagit lines. The Max Power is available in 25 grain increments from 325 grains to 650 grains.

NEW Skagit Max Launch– The Max Launch is the go-to Skagit line from the Pacific Northwest to Western Alaska to the wind-swept plains of Tierra Del Fuego. Featuring RIO’s exclusive connect-core technology, along with a new taper that produces outrageous line speed with wind slicing tight loops. Available from 400 grains up to 750 grains, these revolutionary 23’ to 25’ heads are destined to become a Northwest favorite.

Skagit Max Gamechanger 3D/4D. These strategic use heads feature multi-progressive sink rates that serves to sustain an acquired swing depth. For those of you who have cast and/or fished the F.I.S.T. line, these take 3D/4D (D=Density) technology to the next level. Coupled with various sink tips, (10’, 12.5’, conventional sink tips/custom cut 9’,11’,13’) and IM.O.W. (limited to 3D systems), these lines can serve the angler well for deep lies for winter Steelhead, spring and summer Chinook, and South American Sea-Run Browns.

Building a la carte Skagit Floating Lines- The Skagit line as a floating line is both an effective and practical match up particularly on 12’ to 13’9” spey rods. The a la carte construction for a full floating line works as follows; Skagit Max Launch 550 as an example (23’) with a #9, 15’ replacement floating tip or a 10’ Floating Medium M.O.W. tip. This format gives you a complete Versi-Tip approach with your Skagit line in the a la carte floating line approach.

No doubt spey casting has more opinions out there than any other sport other than maybe Archery. In this, one thing remains true to form. Sink tip lines, in conjunction with intruder type flies get free flight lessons, long and straight with the Skagit Max Family of tapers. Floating line enthusiasts upon acceptance of extra line strip will enjoy the benefit of highly energized long straight casts with dries and summer patterns as well.

RIO Switch Lines George Cook/Erik Johnson/Jon Hazlett 2021

To Switch, or not to Switch? What a silly question. Switch rod mania has fully arrived. Despite the beauty found with the versatility of such tools, lies a state of confusion. Switch rods mean many things to many anglers; an indicator rod fishing beads on the Kenai in late August; skating a dry fly on the North Umpqua in the same time period; an Oregon Coastal rod in the dead of winter; a Great Lakes stick of choice; the bomber beach rod on Puget Sound transcending to an extreme distance or “Spey Game” Rod from the pontoon boat on Eastern Washington lakes. Lots of fisheries, lots of methods, one tool. No one line will cover all these needs, however the RIO Switch Chucker Line covers two of the most predominant uses: nymph/indicator fishing along with spey style swing fishing. The Switch Chucker will prove to be the best foot forward as a one line “Does Most,” covering an array of uses that have popularized the switch rod craze. There is no compromise here as the Switch Chucker is a Super Legit spey casting line that gives up no ground for the nymph/indicator enthusiast as well. Available in 225 to 570 grain weights (#2 thru #9).

Traditional Switch line: RIO’s InTouch Switch Line brings connect core technology to the all-important switch category. RIO’s InTouch switch line features a 55’ head which answers the call for nymph fishing, and a little overhead when called upon. The 55’ foot length allows for short to mid range nymph fishing with plenty of body and back taper to spare for the tactical advantage of stack mending. The thick diameter tip turns over big flies and indicator rigs with ease, allowing the most ardent nymph enthusiast the ability to turnover all the “junk in the trunk.” This is the go-to line for the pure indicator angler whether wading or fishing from a drift boat. Available in sizes 4/5 through 8/9 to meet your switch rod needs.

Traditional Spey Series:
In Touch Short Head Spey (Looped 15’ Versi-Tip)
Old meets new in the form of the Short Head Spey line from RIO. This is an easy casting, traditional style spey line which is ideal for Northwest spey casters moving up from Scandi and Skagit style heads. Head length varies between 40’ and 50’ (available in a 5/6 through 10/11 weights) depending on line size. The longer head lengths allow for less stripping post swing, which for both the traditionalist and the “E-FISH-ENT” angler equates to less stripping and more fishing. While not a true mid-belly in the historical sense, the Short Head Spey is a modern day compact mid-belly that plays to today’s popular 12’ to 13’6” Spey Rods. This is a classic Versi-Tip format that can be utilized with traditional 10’ and 15’ sink tips (Type 3, 6, & 8). In addition, the MOW Light and Medium family will find a place at the table here as well. From a full floating line spanning the versatility of a multitude of sink tip types the Short Head Spey now becomes an all season line.

Traditional Spey Series
InTouch Mid Head Spey
RIO’s NEW In Touch Mid Head Spey features a progressive head in varying from 52-60 feet that provide today’s 13’-15’ rods in 6 through 10 wt. in ideal traditional mid length spey line. In a full floating integrated line featuring a 115’ overall length traditional casts like the single spey, double spey , and Snake roll can be performed both easily and with a high performance level. Whether you find yourself on Idaho’s Clearwater, BC’s Bulkley, the N. Umpqua, or Southern Oregon’s Rogue. Your traditional Spey line is here.

InTouch Long Head Spey
RIO’s InTouch Long Head Spey features head lengths from 64’-70’ (64’ at 7/8, 70’ at 10/11) with overall lengths from 110’ to 120’. More often than not rod length with these lines starts at 13’6” but hits a premium at 13’9” to 15’. The Sage 7140-4 X (14’ for a 7 Line) is a good example of ideal rod length coupled with expected steelhead use (Think Idaho’s Clearwater, Mainstem Snake/WA or Idaho sides and even Oregon’s Deschutes). The rear weight distribution ensures easy load while the unique front taper allows energy to unroll effortlessly to the fly.

George Cook/Erik Johnson/Jon Hazlett 2021

Rivers of the Pacific Northwest pose incredible yet rewarding challenges to the steelhead enthusiasts who pursue these great game fish from mid-May through October. Conditions can and will vary with a steady diet of both wind and fly size variance. Rivers led by the Deschutes of Oregon, along with the Grande Ronde, Rogue, Klickitat, Clearwater, and main stem Snake are prime examples of the need for today’s Scandi style heads.

RIO Scandi Lines are designed for the spey and switch rod steelhead anglers specific and focused Northwest needs. These lines feature an overall shorter head length 28’ to 40’ across grain weights from 180 grains to 640 grains. RIO Scandi lines are ideal for casting popular steelhead flies with 10’ & 12’ Spey VersiLeaders. RIO’s Spey VersiLeaders come in 6’, 10’ along with Scandi Light 10’ versions with 10’ being the default length of choice. Multiple varieties from floating, along with 1.5ips through 7.0ips are available. These heads will produce blistering line speeds coupled with positive turn over. Steelhead anglers can step into the Deschutes or Clearwater and proclaim, “What? Wind? No Problem!” RIO’s connect-core technology along with extreme slickness additives make these new heads the slickest shooting, greatest wind slicing lines available today.

RIO’s Scandinavian Series also features the Scandi Versitip lines. The Scandi Short Versitip features a 33’ head in 275-540 grains and provides the switch rod enthusiast with a high line speed offering to tackle summer and fall fisheries. Unlike the RIO Scandi heads these Scandi Short Versitips work off a 10’ interchangeable tip system that comes with a set of four 10’ tips featuring floating, intermediate, and type 3 and type 6 density compensated sink tips. These lines also play well on 12’9” and under spey rods particularly 5-7 weights. NOTE: It is critical that the angler understand that the overall fly size and weight lean towards smaller, lighter, and un-weighted, in order to effectively realize the line speed and turnover capability of these Versi-tips, along with Scandi lines in General.

The Scandi Versitip available in 445 through 700 grain weights also come with four tips of a 15’ variety. This new line plays particularly well for spey rods in the 13’ to 15’ range in 6-10 weight line sizes.
Trout (Scandi) Spey
RIO InTouch Trout Spey: Make no mistake these are Scandi lines, but in a Trout Spey Formula. Featuring a 22’ Taper these are simply wicked on today’s trout spey rods in 1wt-4wt. In addition, Switch rods in 4wt, 5wt, and even 6wts work wonderfully with these lines. Available in two formats, there are traditional heads (200-375 grain) along with an integrated version available in four grain weights (230/265/305/350). These new lines can be fished as full floaters utilizing either a floating poly-leader, a 10’ replacement tip (Floating #5), or even a 12’-15’ trout leader. Sink tip use can be of Poly-leader variety or conventional 10’ sink tips in a size 5 or 6, MOW Light Systems can see some employed here as well. Whether you are swinging soft hackles, Classic old school Streamers, or swinging/stripping a Sculpzilla (size 8 version) or micro mini intruder you will find these lines to produce blistering speed producing positive and repeatable turnover to which the Scandi concept is famous. All in all, for the trout spey enthusiast these are great casting and fishing lines, simply not to be missed as the Trout Spey Revolution forges forward.
One Final Note:
It should be noted that Scandi lines as a whole, are incredibly good tools for summer and fall endeavors but posing fly size/weight limitations. In this, an angler must understand and get his hands around the fact that while the Skagit style line approach provides the best anecdote to large intruder style flies, compared to the elegant, high line speed, and laser like loops produced with the Scandi style line approach. Given this, fly selection is a critical factor in getting the best performance from your Scandi style line. Traditional steelhead patterns working up through such vaunted summer run patterns as the Hoh Bo Spey, and smallish, lightly weighted, Micro intruders round out both an effective and productive fly to line strategic approach. All in all, an angler in the Pacific Northwest should expect to have a two-line battery for any given spey rod in his quiver. A single running line such as the Connect-core or Grip Shooter from RIO form the base of which a Skagit head along with a Scandi head can form a complete 12-month steelhead system.


The Genius of RIO’s Skagit MOW and iMOW Tips 2021
By George Cook

Originally brought forth by the “3 Speyketeers” as I call them, Mike McCune, Scott O’Donnell, and Ed Ward (Hence the name MOW…McCune-O’Donnell-Ward). The MOW System is nothing short of brilliant!!

Available in Light (T-8 format 7.0 ips), Medium (T-11, 8.0 ips), Heavy (T-14 format @9.0 ips) and Extra Heavy (T-17, 10.0 ips).

Each MOW Family (Series) has 6 “Family Members” consisting of the following:
10’ Floating Tip
10’ Sinking Tip
12.5” Sinking Tip
THEN….the 3 MOW’s…..7.5 x 2.5 (7.5 Floating integrated into 2.5 of given make up say medium as an example in T-11). 2nd MOW is a 5 x 5 (5’ of Floating integrated into 5’ on sinking).MOW #3 is a 2.5 x 7.5 (2.5 of Floating Integrated into 7.5 of sinking).

There are two ways to get these 6 family members, either individually or in a MOW Kit (Say, a MOW Medium Kit as an example).

Practical Usages as prescribed below….

10’ Floating Tip: The MOW system is built for use with Skagit Style Spey Lines. Regardless of Skagit “Type” (RIO formula’s include Max Launch/Max Power) the MOW’s are formulated to play in the Skagit line theater. The 10’ Floating Tip is a quick way to “Ala Carte” your Skagit Line into a Full Floating use line.

10’ and 12.5’ Sink Tips: Available throughout the MOW Range (Light/Medium/Heavy/EX Heavy), these practical length sink tips play incredibly well with a wide range of Spey and switch rods making them a wonderful addition to the standard “Traditional” 15’ sink tips (Intermediate/Type 3, 6 and Type 8). These 2 sink tips will provide the Angler with sink rates from 7.0 ips (Light T-8) all the way to 10.0 ips (EX Heavy T-17)that will cover a wide range of use from Alaskan Kings to Tierra Del Fuego Sea Run Browns as well as the full gamut of Steelhead application.

The 3 True MOW’s

Here is where the absolute Genius of the MOW boys shines brightest! Given that any “Cut” sink tip under 9’ is likely going to basically become a boomerang/tumbler within the cast that will prove to be ugly at best and ultra-frustrating at worst. The “Integration Format” that McCune/Scotty O and Ed brought to the table from their “Chop Shop” artistry days providing the stability/cast-ability of a 10’ common denominator in overall length coupled with the desirable “Baby Tips” making for one of the all-time great innovations.

7.5 x 2.5 (2.5 being the Sinking Portion): True “Rock Garden/Tail Out Probe Tool”. One could think of a 15’ Type 3 in this instance but the beauty of the MOW idea/format is that the mere 2.5 sinking portion is simply unrivaled when it comes to sliding around and thru such haunts. The traditional 15’ sink tip or even the 10’ and 12.5” MOW Sink Tip family members are all prone to “Swing Drag Thru” often catching/hanging up and killing any real chance at a follow and/or GRAB.

5 x5 (5’ Floating with 5’ Sinking): Again, another Rock Garden probe but long enough to provide quick drop for given slots particularly in ledge rock environments found in many Steelhead streams. The 5 x 5 MOW Heavy (T-14 Format) is a great one for such a task where the angler needs a quick drop into a slot where he’ll need to engage quickly in order to be in that zone/slot target area. Lots of Pacific Northwest watersheds feature just such places making the 5 x 5 MOW a handy tool.

2.5 x 7.5 (7.5 being the sinking portion): My personal favorite in both the standard MOW as well as IMOW (See Below). This “Baby Tip” if you will has tons of application for a host of fisheries most certainly including the trout game. Given water depth and speed considerations often play perfectly into the hands of the 2.5 x 7.5 MOW quite often in the MOW Medium (T-11) format. Incredibly versatile sliding thru the boulders and swinging “All The way In” giving both “The Long Followers and The Down Below You” Critters time and opportunity to run down or run into your swung offering.

iMOW Family

I personally love the iMOW’s, as a general MOW use tool as they can, and do have their place covering a host of angling waters particularly where you know going in, that the bottom format is relatively clean but needing “Less” of a given sink tip. iMOW’s come in LIGHT/Medium and Heavy. Kits have 6 family members with the previously mentioned 10’ floating Tip subbed out for a 10’ Intermediate tip.

iMOW Family:
10’ Intermediate Tip
10’ Sink Tip
12.5” Sinking Tip
The 3 iMOW’s
7.5 x 2.5 (7.5 is intermediate integrated to 2.5 of given sink tip say iMOW Heavy T-14 as an example)
5 x 5 IMOW
2.5 x 7.5 IMOW

3D MOW Tips (Available in Light, Medium, and Heavy)

The 3D Story Line: The Success of the Skagit Game Changers (3D, 4D Skagit Heads), have provided the inspiration for a family of 3D MOW Tips. Increased “Swing Dig” is a hallmark trait of these 10’ tips. Available in 3 sinking formats (Light, Medium, Heavy). These new 3D MOW’s will find themselves as the new tip in many a sling pack, be it trout, steelhead, or salmon.
Light (8 grains per foot) with sink rates of I/S3/S4, S3/S4/S5, S5/S6/S7
Medium (11 grains per foot): with sink rates of I/S3/S4, S3/S4/S5, S5/S6/S7
Heavy (14 grains per foot) with sink rates of I/S3/S4, S3/S4/S5, S5/S6/S7

15’ Format MOW’s

The 15’ Storyline: The MOW revolution has become an omni-present item for anglers throughout the global spey theater. Over these last 10yrs it has become increasingly apparent that within this tremendous popularity, coupled with its incredible angling success that the 10’ basic length format is at times fundamentally too short. Not short in a fishing sense but rather in an execution of cast sense. It is noteworthy to understand that the original Skagit heads of 2003 were 27’-32’ across the original range. Today’s Skagit head lengths from all manufactures are largely in the 20’-26’ range. Depending on Spey rod length, coupled with head length, there can be, and is the potential for a percentage of casts to fall victim to a blown anchor within the D-Loop set. As rods reach 12’9” and beyond (Especially 13’-13’6”), a short head in that 20’-24.5” range is susceptible to this phenomenon. Given the overall popularity of 13’-13’6” spey rods, the need for a second-generation MOW system is well founded. This day has arrived.

15’ MOW TIPS. Available in Medium (T-11), Heavy (T-14), and Extra Heavy (T-17). Each MOW Family will have 6 family members. Consisting of the following:
15’ Floating
10’ Floating x 5’ Sink
7.5’ x 7.5’
5’ Floating x 10’ Sink
2.5’ Floating x 12.5’ Sink
15’ Full Sink

The Sinking lengths of these new MOW’s are based on proven sinking lengths which have not only become standard, but legendary. It is worth noting that the 15’ full sink tip may prove better at 12.5’ to 13’ to which an angler can feel free to custom cut back in order to achieve great casting coupled with wicked sink length. We say this because T-14 and T-17 have a known history of super effectiveness at 13’ in length, “where castability and sink rate meet on the curve.”

All in all, the MOW Families have a lot to offer the Spey and Switch Rod enthusiast. I can tell you with absolute confidence that every angler out there has and knows places that are “Made To Order” for MOW use, in particular the 3 True MOW tips. The Spey community owes a lot to the genius of the 3 “Speyketeers” Mike McCune, Scott O’Donnell and Ed Ward.

Sorting Out Sink Tips In The Modern Era 2021
By George Cook

For a good decade (1993 thru the early 2000 period) the conventional (Now Traditional) 15’ sink tip was the “Tip Of The day” so to speak. Here the angler was typically armed with an array of 15’ Sink Tips in Type 3, 6, 8 and even a clear version Intermediate. Both Single Hand as well as Spey Anglers employed their use plying waters from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego. Such tips, particularly in the Type 6 and 8 sink rates were extremely common in the Pacific Northwest. Such popularity was well deserved and fully earned as these sink Tips (The Brainchild of RIO Founder Jim Vincent) were simply indispensable be it winter or summer assignment. The beauty of these 15’ tips was that they cast extremely well and play wonderfully throughout the Steelhead range of the west coast. In this, the classic and beautiful gliding runs from the Rogue to the Babine and all points in between were covered by single hand (Versi Tip Line sets) and spey anglers alike, (Windcutter and Skagit lines of era). The selection of these tips by the Steelhead and at times the King enthusiast, was well thought out on any given run. The study of a given run (Head/Body/Tail out) closely coincided with just how these tips would play out in such waters and the education/selection/use understanding was well under way. Available in various Grain weights from 95-190 with the #9 (129 Grain) and 150 grain (#10 Weight) leading the way these tips while not as popular today these still have their place in every anglers shooting head wallet.

15’ Intermediate Tip

Use: The sleeper tip in your wallet. The intermediate has a reputation as a “Slicer/Wind Cutter” that can and will serve the summer angler well from dawn to mid-morning even during the day as it provides what I like to call slicer line speed that often makes the difference on a turned over fly on such haunts as Oregon’s Deschutes or Idaho’s Clearwater (Same goes for an Intermediate Spey-Freshwater Versi-leader used on a Scandi style line).

15’ Type 3

Often overlooked but has a distinctive place in the Steelheaders wallet with Silver Salmon use as well. The obvious use is classic tail out scenarios both winter, and summer; unobvious use is for what we lovingly call “Frog water” which many of these Pacific Northwest Rivers have and Big Ol’ Late winter Runs have a penchant for hanging in. These often “Given Up On” portions of bottom end runs can hold Big Nasty Steelie Bucks that can only be swung up with lesser sink tip or MOW type animal. Anything beyond a Type 3 (3.0 ips /inches per second sink rate) sink tip is simply too much, dragging bottom and out of the game.

15’ Type 6

A Longtime, prime time sink tip player. To be sure, loads of Steelhead and Kings have been subdued with these 6.0 ips tips. When in doubt upon arriving courtside on a classic northwest Steelhead run string up a 150 grain (#10) 15’ type 6 sink tip and proceed with CONFIDENCE. Truly a tip to not be missed as it will serve one well in the global spey theater.

15’ Type 8

7.0 ips provides for high line speed charged cast coupled with a sink rate that has become the new standard in historical 15’ tips. #9 @129 Grain along with the vaunted 150 Grain (#10) are the go to players here. Long classic glide runs are possibly the foremost targets with these tips.

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