Virtual Salmon Guide
A series of tips for fishing the Alness, and the Novar Fishings in particular, covering tackle, tactics and pools:
010 - Switch Rods
by Novar Fishings Manager - 14:41 on 30 August 2015
Switch rods have become very fashionable for salmon fishing in the last year or so. We first started to use them on the River Alness in 2012 – why?
The traditional rod for fishing a small spate river such as the Alness has been a 12-13 ft double-handed rod, typically AFTM #8/9, used either for overhead or Spey casting. For medium to moderately high water levels they are very capable, but for casting short lines in low water or in tight spaces, they are cumbersome. If you turn up to fish with a longer 14-15ft rod and a traditional Spey line, it might not seem out of place in a big spate, but in low to medium river levels when short line work is needed, it is totally unpractical. In low water conditions a single-handed #7/8 weight rod is effective, but it is not ideal for casting heavy tubes or playing big fish in high water.
Switch rods, so called because you can cast them as single-handed or double-handed, have been a revelation. They are incredibly versatile, allowing you to make short single-handed overhead or side casts with accurate presentation e.g. in the runs at the heads of pools, or to get under overhanging trees on the far bank, then change to double-handed overhead or Spey casts as you lengthen line and progress down the pool. A well-matched line; both in AFTM rating and profile is critical. Combined with a specialist switch, short-headed or Scandinavian-style Spey line, they are ideal for producing long Spey casts in tight spaces.
Here's a short video of one of our guests fishing the Ace pool on Beat 3 with a switch rod:
Switch rods are typically 10-12ft in length, and although they may look like an old-fashioned single-handed sea-trout or grilse rod with an extension handle or ‘fighting butt’, they are instead a small Spey casting rod, light enough to be used (for short periods at least), single-handed. There are many different switch rods on the market now with different actions, and designed for different line weights. Without promoting one manufacturer or another here, we would recommend a switch rod of around 11ft in length, medium to fast action for #8/9 line. This offers a bit of backbone for controlling fish and turning over 1 in to 1.5 in brass/copper tubes, essential in a good spate. We recommend matching switch or short-head Spey lines with a head length of 30-45ft.
There are days when sink tips or sinking polyleaders and big tubes are needed, and then you may be better off with a longer rod and higher AFTM rating, but a good switch rod and matching line will cover most situations on the Alness.
We’ve not seen anything written about this elsewhere, but providing you have casting room, switch rods are ideal for secondary tactics on any-sized river where retrieving line is needed e.g. stripping sunray shadows/monkeys etc across pools. With a big double-hander, you then need to wiggle the line out of the rod tip, then make a roll cast or two before your Spey cast. With a switch rod you can use it as a single-handed rod and false cast to extend line before shooting it out.
The right switch rod is a joy to use. It is incredibly light compared to traditional double-handed rods, and requires very little effort to cast it. You will not need a hot bath or massage at the end of the day just to recover from your efforts. On a small river such as the Alness, they will suit the most expert of anglers, but are also ideal for the novice, the young and the ageing, or anyone carrying an injury. We can’t recommend them enough!