January 29, 2013
By Ross Purnell, Editor
My first Spey rod was a 14-foot 9-weight with an action described as "Euro." At the time I bought it, it was probably the best-selling two-handed rod in America. I caught a memorable 20-pound, fire-engine red steelhead on the Suskwa River, and some June Atlantic salmon on the Gaspé Peninsula, and I believed it to be a fantastic rod.
Now it sits in a corner neglected, and unused. Technically there's nothing wrong with it except a few bumps and scratches. On the other hand, plenty is wrong with it, and I couldn't in good conscience give it away.
That's because today's new two-handed rods are light years from where they were when Spey rods first arrived North America. In general, the more popular models today are shorter and lighter, both in the physical weight of the rods and in the weight of the recommended lines.
Instead of using 9- and 10-weight rods to carry huge amounts of line, and create immense D loops, the most popular (and effective) rods in the US today are meant to throw relatively small D loops with a quick, compact stroke using much shorter Skagit and Scandi heads.
The trend toward lighter, shorter rods gave us switch rods, which are in name and theory small enough to switch to single-handed use. In reality though, most switch rods are rarely used with one hand except those rare occasions where you need to scratch your nose, or warm up one hand in a pocket momentarily.
Switch rods are two-handed rods 99% of the time, they are just sized down for smaller rivers, and gamefish that don't require a beefy stick. Switch rods are generally 11 or 12 feet, and are great choices for smaller Lake Erie and Lake Ontario steelhead streams, swinging streamers for smallmouth bass, or tidal salt ponds and surf fishing for striped bass.
You can use Spey techniques and two-handed rods for almost anything that swims in moving water. And while you may not at first catch more fish (or even as many) you'll find that merely casting is more complex, addictive, and more fun when you add that extra dimension, so get out there and try it!
Echo King $425
The Echo King is — as far as we know — the only Spey rod designed specifically with Chinook (king) salmon in mind. The 13' rods have the extra power needed to cast the heaviest flies and sinking-tip lines, not to mention the fighting power to subdue the strongest freshwater gamefish in North America. The rods have saltwater hardware for tidal waters, and the extra-stiff design makes overhead casting easy.
Echo 3 $350-$550
Tim rajeff says Echo 3 rods are the most advanced high-performance rods he's ever designed. They aren't just two-handed rods — they are available in 18 different single-handed models for both fresh and salt water. Using a new resin system combined with a higher-modulus graphite, Rajeff has created a narrow-profile rod series that also translates particularly well into two-handed rods. There are three switch and three Spey rods in the series, with a crisp, powerful feel that doesn't hurt the pocketbook. Our testers used an 11' 6-weight for big river Western trout fishing, and a 13' 7-weight to bomb out Skagit heads along hard-to-wade steelhead streams. 'Use this rod blindfolded, and you'd never guess it's about half the price of comparable Spey rods, ' said our tester. 'It's fun to cast and brings out the best of your abilities. '
G.Loomis NRX [imo-slideshow gallery=67],050-[imo-slideshow gallery=67],170
When G.Loomis released its flagship NRX rod series last year, the company started with a modest lineup of three Spey rods that covered 99% of the steelhead and salmon fishing you'd consider doing in large rivers. For 2013, rod designer Steve Rajeff added eight new double-handers to nearly quadruple the number of choices, and offer a rod for almost every situation imaginable. The new models all use the same combination of G.Loomis's proprietary carbon fiber and 3M Matrix Resin as in previous NRX models but are now available in the new green color scheme and are designed for specific fishing and casting situations. 'From small flies and Scandi lines, to 4-inch Intruders and heavy tips in deep, off-color water, there's a NRX that's right for the job, ' said our tester who bent the rods on BC steelhead and salmon.
Redington Prospector $400
Redington's two-handed rod series has three Spey rods as heavy as a 13' 500-grain 8-weight, and five switch models as light as a 10'9" 4-weight. The emphasis on the lighter switch models means there are lots of choices for trout fishers looking to get into two-handed rods. These are switch rods you can actually use one-handed if you need to, but you'll have more fun using Snap-T casts, and less fatigue using both hands to high-stick these rods with nymph and indicator rigs.
Sage ONE $850-[imo-slideshow gallery=67],025
Sage unveiled a complete line of new ONE rods in the spring of 2012, but waited a full year to perfect, and then add two-handed rods to the popular series. Our tester used the 11'6" 7-weight switch version for West Coast steelhead and admitted 'It was hard for me to return this rod. Every once in a while, you come across a fly rod that doesn't feel like a fly rod at all but an extension of your fingertips. That was precisely my experience with Sage's new two-handed ONE. I had the privilege of fishing the ONE for Oregon steelhead under a wide range of casting and wading conditions and after my first five minutes with it, I already felt like I'd been fishing this rod for five years. The casts went long, the big fly turned over easily, and I hit my mark every time. I turned to my buddy and said, 'You gotta try this.' The ONE has absolutely no detectable wobble in its cast, either during the sweep, or after the forward stroke. The recovery is instantaneous, which means that more of the energy you put into the rod is transferred through the tip and into the line, allowing the ONE to perform in places where other rods fail: deep wades, overhanging limbs, gusting winds — you know, steelhead country. ' The new ONE two-handers come in 14 different switch and Spey models from 4- to 10-weights. The have the same black ice color as regular ONE rods, with black and bronze trim.
Scott T3h $925-$995
A fly rod with a narrow shaft might look cool, but according to Jim Bartschi, president of Scott, the tradeoff in performance isn't worth it. He says it's a universal engineering principle that 'diameter is proportional to stiffness and strength ' and that rods with narrow shafts sacrifice both properties, as well as the stability and tracking that comes along with it. Scott's new two-handed rods have a large-diameter base with extremely thin walls, and a fast taper toward the tip which results in standard tip diameters. Our tester reports that 'The T3h has the best recovery and the most efficient energy transfer of any rods out there. Fishermen will feel a better 'pop' off the tip of the rod, and be able to take advantage a single rod to handle all styles of Spey fishing with equal aplomb. ' The 10'6" 4-weight T3h might be the lightest two-hander in existence, and a true trout rod for all kind of fishing. Bartschi recommends an Airflo 240-grain Compact Scandi line for swimming soft hackles or skating stoneflies, or the 260-grain Speydicator line for nymphing along brushy banks.
Thomas & Thomas DNA $960-$980
T&T's new DNA rod series uses new graphite materials for a significantly lighter, slimmer blank than the previous DH series of two-handed rods. DNA rods are also 4- and 5-piece rods, and significantly easier to transport than the 3-piece DH series. There are nine DNA models with three different actions — pay attention as there are a whole bunch of acronyms on the way. Regular DNA rods are all-around two-handers for casters who want to do Spey and overhead casting with a variety of lines and techniques. DNA-XD rods have an 'extra-deep ' flexing action with a stiffer tip meant to sweep heavy sinking tips from moving water, and are designed for Skagit lines and sustained anchor casts. DNA-XF rods are 'extra-fast ' and are for surface fishing with Scandi lines, or for overhead fishing for stripers in the surf.
Wild Water H2X $240
If you've always wanted to try Spey casting, and just haven't gotten your feet wet (yet), the price of a new two-handed rod can be daunting. Many of the best-known brands retail in the neighborhood of [imo-slideshow gallery=67],000, but Wild Water's new H2X series can help you take the plunge at a more affordable price. The burgundy rods have aluminum reel seats and are assembled in the U.S. at the Wild Water factory in Ontario, New York. The H2X series also includes a full line of switch rods, and single-handed 10-foot nymph rods from 3- to 6-weight.