September 18, 2011
By John Larison
Looking for a line that casts easily from a 10-11 foot rod but can still turn over a heavy sink-tip and weighted Intruder? Give Airflo's Skagit Switch a try.
Like plenty of steelheaders in the Northwest and Great Lakes, I spend lots of time fishing streams and rivers with high banks and heavy shoreside growth. On my homewaters, alders grow thirty or forty feet high right on the water's edge, then lean over the current as the winter floods erode the banks. My favorite runs often require an angler cast from under these limbs—a predicament that limits rod length and D-loop size.
I used to fish these places with a single-handed rod and roll casts because the standard two-handers of the time required too much casting space. Then switch rods arrived on the scene, and I believed we finally had our silver bullet. Except the lines offered at the time were still designed for a 12-14 foot rod. Or they were so called "switch lines," lines designed for overhead and Spey casting—lines that struck me as mediocre at everything and proficient at nothing.
My friends and I spent hours on the casting pond cutting and casting heads, trying to take a long line and make it a short one—a short one that would still turn over a weighted fly even when cast from a 10-11 foot rod. Our lines worked, but they were clunky, and because they were only as strong as their weakest link, they didn't last very long.
These days, we have many options for short heads, both compact Scandi and Skagit. But until recently, I hadn't found a compact Skagit line that felt designed for a switch rod. Most still cast better from a 12-13 foot rod, and when loaded on a switch, still required a larger stroke than many runs allowed.
Then this past winter, I got my hands on a set of Airflo's new Skagit Switch heads. My fishing hasn't been the same.
These heads, which vary from 18.5 to 20 feet, load an 11 foot rod in the same proportions as a standard 27 to 30 foot Skagit head loads a 13 foot rod. In other words, they allow a caster to use the same efficient casting stroke as they would with a longer rod, only scaled down to 'switch size.'
They are meant to be matched to an 8-12 foot tip, and I found they had no trouble lifting the heaviest tips in my wallet.
While fishing a challenging winter river where fish hold in deep troughs, I even matched a 1/16 ounce worm eight above a three inch Intruder, and turned it over all day with the 480 grain head and a seven weight. In short, this head can handle some heavy lifting.
Airflo's Skagit Switch comes in thirty grain increments from 360 to 540 to match switch rods from 4 to 9 weights. Since the heads are short, matching the grain weight to the rod is of utmost importance. Personally, I found myself using a slightly heavier head on each rod than I would have guessed, something I attribute to the shorter length and hence less 'stick' from the water on each cast. Check out Airflo's line chart at: http://www.rajeffsports.com/spey_chart.pdf
as it offers a spot-on estimate as to which line will best match your rod.
The head comes with loops on either side, making it fast to link to running line and tip, and head comes marked with its model and size so you won't be left guessing.
Like many of Airflo's lines, this head is clearly designed by anglers for anglers: it excels in real life fishing situations. The Skagit Switch is now a staple of my tackle bag.