March 01, 2013
One of the most complicated aspects of two-handed rods is line selection. There is such a wide variety of choices for switch and Spey rods that the process often leaves fly fishers feeling confused and discouraged. And if you don't have the right line, the best two-handed rod in the world won't do you a bit of good.
There has been a rapid evolution of lines for two-handed rods in the last ten years. Historically, Spey lines were designed with a long belly and a taper that was similar to a double-taper line. This style of line was mainly used to fish a fly on or near the surface, and to be cast using a long two-handed rod with slow, methodical casting movements.
Today, lines are manufactured for more specific fishing situations. Head lengths are generally shorter and designed in a manner similar to a weight-forward taper.
Top Spey Line Options
---Skagit Compact — 540 grain $55
The Skagit compact varies in head length from 22.5' to 27' depending on the grain weight. I used the 540-grain, which is 25 feet. All Airflo lines have a marking printed into the tip loop denoting the type of line and grain weight. This makes it easy to keep multiple lines and heads organized. Airflo heads are packed in a Ziploc sleeve with two reinforced holes that can be placed in a two-ring binder for storage. The Airflo compact Skagit is an impressive and versatile line. While it casts smoothly with tight loops when using lighter tips, the head is also capable of maintaining tight casting loops with a heavy 15-foot length of T-17 and a weighted fly. Airflo also has a Skagit line with an intermediate front taper to assist in avoiding the effects of uneven surface currents, and for attaining even greater depth.
---Rage Compact — 540 grain $55
The Rage varies in head length from 28' to 32' depending on grain weight. The objective of the Rage Compact is to create a Skagit line for floating line/surface situations. I would consider this more of a hybrid line between Skagit and Scandi. The Rage has an aggressive front taper creating significant power on the forward casting stroke. I found the Rage capable of precision, and tight loops. It can handle a floating leader or tapered sinking-tips, making it a good choice when depth isn't the key consideration.
---Skagit Switch — 450 grain $55
With the increasing popularity of switch rods, it is natural that lines designed specifically for them are being offered by many manufacturers. The Skagit Switch has the characteristics of a full Skagit condensed into a head ranging from 18.5' to 20'. This line allows a switch rod to cast with power and distance in confined areas. I found that slower rod movements in the setup and forward stroke allowed this line to fully load the rod, and create a smooth delivery with either light or heavy 12' tips.
---Delta Spey Multi-Tips — 8/9 $150
The Delta Spey has a midsize head that delivers casts with power and control. Its head length ranges from 52' to 56' and it has a smooth front taper that is capable of precision tight loops even with heavy Type 8 tips. The length of this head reduces the amount of line stripping you'll do when compared to shorter head lines, making it ideal for covering big waters — especially in the winter. The Delta Spey has an integrated running line with a built-in marker to indicate the best point to load up the cast.
---Precision Tri-Color Spey Medium Belly — WF8F $65
The Precision medium belly line has a rather long head for a 'medium ' line — at 65 feet it requires a longer rod and more precise casting movements. The good news is that it casts fine even when the entire head is not out of the rod tip. It has a slick coating and is a good line for covering big water on or near the surface while keeping line stripping to a minimum.
---Precision Switch Line — WF7F $65
Cortland's Switch is a versatile line that can be used for almost any trout and steelhead fishing you can think of. It is an effortless line to cast overhead with one hand, and also performed well with a variety of two-handed Spey casts. The oversized front taper turned over weighted flies on a monofilament leader, and also handled sinking leaders without any problems. I like the stealthy blue color of the head and the rear and running section of the line is white so it's easy to mark the head transitions with a Sharpie.
---Hydros 3D Skagit Multi-Tip Line — 400 grain $160
The Orvis Skagit Multi-Tip is a full line with an integrated running line. It is available in grain weights from 360 to 640 and has a head length which varies by grain weight from 20' to 25'. I used the 400-grain line on a switch rod, and found it loaded easily and created a smooth loop with little effort. The line type and grain weight are printed on the line. The Orvis Skagit Multi-Tip includes four tips ranging from floating to Type 8 although it handles even heavier tips. The running line has the Hydros 3D microtexture, but the head does not. This gives the handling line a rough feeling, but it also reduces friction in the guides so you can shoot farther.
---Multi-Tip Spey Line — 8F, 525 grain $160
The Orvis Multi-Tip Spey line is a midrange length line with a head, including the exchangeable tip, ranging from 45' to 55'. The 8-weight with a grain weight of 525 is 55'. The line is packaged with five 15' tips ranging from floating to Type 8 sink. This was easiest to cast with the floating tip, but it also handled heavy tips. It is high-vis chartreuse, but a single color throughout with no indicator for the transition from head to running line. This would make the lines easier to use, and you can add your own using a permanent marker or heat-shrink tubing.
---Mach Spey 55 Intermediate Tip — 8 $100
Hardy produces a wide range of Mach Spey lines in both 55' and 65' heads. I used the 55' and found it generated significant line speeds and easily put a deep load in the rod. The clear intermediate head on this line is a stealthy way to present the fly below the surface, however it took a little time and sometimes an extra roll cast to bring the entire head to the surface to make to next cast. The Mach Spey 55 and 65 is offered in full floating, full intermediate and a range of full sinking heads as well as intermediate tip and a range of sinking tips.
---Skagit Flight Head — 525 grain $50
The Skagit Flight Head varies in length from 22' to 31' depending on grain weight. I cast the 525-grain head, which is 25.5'. The Skagit Flight represents the next generation in Skagit design, with a more subtle front taper and a very smooth feel for a Skagit line. The Flight is capable of small, tight loops but has all the benefits of a Skagit line, and handles heavy tips and weighted flies with ease. The grain weight of the head is printed on the line for easy organization.
---UniSpey VersiTip Shooting
Head — 8/9/F, 600 grain $90
UniSpey VersiTip is a midlength line with a head length varying from 52' to 60' depending on line weight. It is designed for long casts and for efficiently covering big water with minimal line stripping at the end of the swing. It favors a compact casting loop, and handles a floating as well as medium-weight sinking tips. The head has a rear loop to attach to a running line. I like this concept as it allows for an easy exchange of lines.
---Switch Line — 7/8F $90
The Rio Switch line is an all-purpose tool with an integrated running line. It has enough mass to Spey cast nice loops with a sinking leader, and is light enough to effectively cast with a single-hand rod. This a great line that works well for anglers who truly want full capability out of their switch rods. This line easily accommodates two-hand and single-hand casting as well as rigging for swinging flies and dead-drifting techniques.
---Skagit Extreme Head — 520 grain $54
The Skagit Extreme Head varies in length from 18' to 29' depending on grain weight. The 520-grain version is 23'. Scientific Anglers was a little slower than some line manufacturers to offer shorter-head lines, but have made up nicely as this line clearly hits the mark, and loads the rod deeply for powerful casts. The head handles a wide range of tips and weighted flies. The printed SA ID on the line denotes the type of line, grain weight, and indicates which end to loop to the running line and which to the tip. It's the best line ID system on the market. The Skagit Extreme Head is sold floating or as an intermediate head for attaining greater depth.
---Scandi Extreme Head — 480 grain $54
The Scandi Extreme Head varies in length from 31' to 41' depending on grain weight. The line is dual color with the rear a bright orange for visibility, and the front a light blue for a stealthy approach. In my case the orange rear portion clashed a little with my running line, but marking the rear loop with a black permanent marker gave me a clear indication of the junction point. The Scandi Extreme is a great-casting line capable of significant line speeds using an underhand cast. When Scandi casting, I prefer to use a single Spey from either side of the river, and the Scandi Extreme seemed to pick up easily from the water, which aids greatly in setting up the next cast.
---Slide Spey Tip $130
Vision is a company from Finland that not many fly fishers in North America have heard of. They have a full line of fishing products from boots and waders to rods and reels — and they are quickly becoming famous for their Spey lines, which have excellent applications on this side of the pond. The Slide Spey Tip is a midlength head line with four interchangeable tips — floating, clear intermediate, Type 3, and Type 7. The head varies from 44' to 54' depending on the line weight. The Slide Spey is a smooth-casting line that feels good on short casts as well as over long distances. It generates good line speed and small loops, and is an excellent example of a modern line that can literally do it all.
---Ace Skagit — 550 grain $80
The new Ace Skagit varies in length depending on the grain weight, and ranges from 22' to 27'. The box announces that it contains 'A package full of kick ass ' and it's not far from the truth as it's effortless to cast with a slow, deliberate casting stroke and is capable of tight, efficient loops. Not bad coming from the homeland of Scandi lines! The line is packaged with a T-14 tip, which it easily handles with a weighted tube fly.
---Ace Shooting Head System Multi Tip — 477 grain $125
The Ace Shooting Head System provides for versatility and options. The taper is a Scandi design with a smooth-feeling tip. I cast a floating head and it generated good line speed using a short rod and an underhand stroke. The head is manufactured with a rear loop but it's up to you to add your own front loop or tie a leader directly to the line. The Ace Shooting Head is referred to as a 'system ' because the head comes in short, regular, or long versions. These heads all vary in length depending on grain weight. The short head is designed for tighter fishing situations and the long head allows you to strip less line for greater efficiency on bigger water. The heads are available in intermediate, sinking-tip, and full-sinking versions.