Montana Trout Spey

2015-16 Spey Rod Lineup

Here is the 2015-16 Spey rod lineup at Headhunters for those interested in casting and fishing with two-hands. With the introduction of micro-spey rods in the last couple of years, we definitely are seeing a switch in both what we carry and what customer want. We are also seeing the emergence of the “trout only” spey guy/gal. People who fish for resident fish rather than migratory species. Why leave Montana, right?

In years past we’ve focused on the 6/7 weight category as our primary rod, and toyed around with the handful of 3 and 4 weights available. The 6/7 weight Scandi rig is the perfect Steelhead/Trout combo for the Missouri (trout) and Salmon/Ronde/Clearwater (Steelhead). This has traditionally been where most of our customer use a spey rod. While we have always carried a few 8 weights, they were typically special orders for winter Steelhead on the OP. A 7 usually gets the job done just fine.

This season we’re talking more 5/6 weight around the shop. We still use and sell plenty of 7 weight rods, but they are becoming a Steelhead specific rod more than a Steelhead/trout combo (although they still work great for trout on bigger waters like the Mo’). The 5 weight is starting to emerge as the perfect trout rod for many, and has enough guts to be used for light summer Steelhead fishing on the Grande Ronde, John Day, etc. (This is especially true with the never-ending drought conditions many interior Steelhead rivers are experiencing. The Grande Ronde, for example, consistently runs nearly half – 5-600 cfs vs. 1000+cfs – of what it idid when I began fishing it in the late 80’s. There are also far fewer high-water events from rain over the course of the fall.)

Winston (Micro Spey) and Sage (One Troutspey) are both getting attention for bringing these ultralight two-handers to the market, but remember that ECHO was there way before the big (expensive) guys. They’ve offered 4 weights for several years, and 3 weights for a couple.

The introduction of these baby spey rods has spawned the “Trout Quiver”. Both our staff and customers are beginning to roll a smaller 3 or 4 weight for super-light applications, and a larger 6 weight as a Trout/Steelhead combo rod. Typically the UL rod is rigged with a Skagit line, and the 6 weight with a Scandi.

Using a Skagit on the smaller rod may seem wrong, but there are a couple of reasons for it. Firstly, there are far more “short-head” light-grain Skagit lines available than Scandi. Secondly, using a mono running line/Skagit combo can overcome some of the distance and power issues you can encounter with a 3 weight spey rod. Lastly, we are often using these rods for in-close and deep work in late winter (think Walleye).

The 6 weight switch or spey, on the other hand, is typically used for long casts and near-surface presentations for both trout on the Missouri, and summer Steelhead on interior rivers like the Ronde, John Day and Salmon. A Scandi style head makes perfect sense. I you need to go deep and long for winter Steelhead, many of the newer 6 weight full-length spey rods will get the job done with a short Skagit head. If not, then you’re the guy that’s in the market for a 7 weight, or even 8.

The lonely 5 weight has long been the odd-man-out. Too small for Steelhead, and too big to fall into the “micro-spey” category. That is changing as we see more trout or “resident” only spey anglers. Looking for a do-everything rod for big and small fish and rivers, but you have no plans to go chase Steelhead or Salmon? The 5 weight is probably perfect. Remember that a 5 weight equates roughly to a 7 weight single hander (also the odd-man-out) and has plenty of power for big trout and big rivers, as well as other species like Carp, Drum, Pike, etc.

After four years of teaching spey clinics through the shop, two rod models have emerged as the perfect blend of performance and price. The ECHO TR and the Orvis Clearwater both cast great and sit at a great price point that allow new-buyers to keep plenty of dough in their pocket for heads, tips, flies, a nice reel and probably another rod. Experienced caster pick these up and don’t feel they are sacrificing much (if anything) in terms of casting performance, and you save hundreds. Both rods throw Scandi and Skagit lines equally well, and both cover all the sizes including the lighter end. A little bit of East Coast/West Coast going on here. The best casters I know try these and respond with “what else do you need?”.

TWO BEST CHOICES – ECHO TR and ORVIS CLEARWATER

ECHO TR – $350

The “TR” stands for Tim Rajeff, owner and head casting-guru/designer at ECHO. The TR is not a new model, and it has proved itself over the last several years as a versatile, powerful and popular rod in the the Spey market. Cosmetically it’s on it’s second generation with a matte green finish and a grip we really like both cosmetically and from a handling standpoint. It’s a light rod and is durable as well, a trait that is very important to us. If I had to say this rod leaned in the Scandi or Skagit direction I would say slightly to the Scandi. It’s a little faster than some rods at this price point. A little.

I have used a 6 weight TR all over the Skeena drainage with Scandi heads and never felt like I needed more (more expensive?) rod. A great caster, and at $350 it is very difficult to find a rod that casts $500 better, but it’s easy to find one that costs $500 more. The 12’6″ 6 weight is our bread and butter rod around here, but the 12′ 5 weight is coming on strong. ECHO now makes the TR in a 12′ 4 weight, the only 12′ under 5 weight rod that I am aware of. I am fishing this rod this year and really like it for the Mo’ with a OPST Commando head and Lazer running line. Not what I would put in the “micro” category, but that might be a good thing. While considered a Scandi-ish rod, the 6 weight casts a 450gr Skagit with no problem. Probably enough for most sink tip applications, and I’ve used that rig for BC Steelhead.

Just a money rod that performs. It’s not a rod for tech-geeks that want to sit around and disect rod/line designs. It’s a fishermans rod for those who consider rods “tools” and want to spend their time fishing. And we like that.

ORVIS CLEARWATER – $350

This rod has been very popular with our customers, and I have heard some very good spey casting instructors say that this is one of their favorite rods for newbie casters. But you won’t outgrow it. At least not soon. Cosmetically, it has a bit more of a PNW Skagit look, with a curvy grip and high-gloss green fish. It also leans a bit to the Skagit side, but like the TR it does both with ease. We’ve sold quite a few and I can’t recall seeing a broken one, so it has that durability factor we love.

The Clearwater is a touch easier caster than the TR, and probably won’t give you as much on the long end because of that. But it delivers plenty and I would have no problem fishing this rod all week on any Steelhead or trout river. It has excellent latent power that throws long, powerful casts with very little effort. If you’re into the casual style of sustained anchor casting this would be an excellent choice.

Like the ECHO TR, the 12’6″ #6 is the most popular at Headhunters, but also popular is the 13′ 7 model for winter Steelhead. The 12′ 5 weight is an awesome rod for the Missouri and light Steelhead. It’s a strong 5. Probably a #5.5.

ECHO 3 – $550

The ECHO 3 is the flagship spey rod at ECHO. We’ve carried this model for a few years, mainly to have the exceptional 12’7″ 6 weight available. The ECHO 3 is beginning to emerge as our “premium” spey rod, however. At $550 it represent a great value without exceeding your mortgage payment. But for that $550 you are getting a beautiful, fast and powerful rod that compares very well to faster rods from Sage, Loomis and others that cost much more. You’ll get everything you would with more expensive rods in terms of performance, but with savings that allow you to build the rest of your kit up. It’s another very durable rod, perfect for backcountry trips up north.

Faster rods like these can be slowed down by overloading them with Skagit heads, if you’re more of a sustained anchor Skagit caster. This rod really shines, however, with a Scandi head or even mid-belly line. Tight loops and long casts are easy, and this rod can generate tremendous power. As mentioned, the 12’7″ #6 has no haters. If you attend one of our clinics, that’s what you’ll see in my hand as my personal demonstration rod. If you find me on a Steelhead river, you’ll see the same. It’s a great rod. The 13′ #7 is very popular as a dedicated tip-rod for Steelhead. Our only complaint is that ECHO has yet to produce a 11’7″ 4 and 12′ 5 weight. Would be so sweet…

We probably wouldn’t recommend these for a beginner, and they probably cost a little more than you want to – or need to – spend on your first spey rod. But for a high performance Steelhead/Trout combo at a great price, the ECHO 3 is unbeatable. Also, we sell a few (special order) ECHO 3 Switch rods (11′ #7) each year for spring fishing on the S. Fork of the Clearwater. Reviews are excellent.

Sage METHOD – $1050

Sage makes several models of Spey rods (too many?), but we have always focused on the fastest top-tier model. The TCX was one of our favorite models, and was replaced a couple of years ago by the Corvette red METHOD. These are fast action rods that are not forgiving of mistakes. They require some physical power to cast, and after a week on the Bulkley you’ll feel it in your arms and shoulders. So why get one? The performance – especially with Scandi heads – is outstanding. These are shooting machines and will throw all kinds of flies in nasty and windy conditions. People either love or hate the bright red paint job. We like it.

I usually love 12’6″ rods, and I like that Sage makes this model in 6, 7, and 8 weight 12’6″ models. This is the kind of rod that I am going to buy for a specific application, and I like that you can really dial the weight in. We also like the 11’9″ – as opposed to 11′ – length in the switch rods. Much better for spey casting and sink tips. We sell both 6 (trout/Steelhead) and 7 (Steelhead) models in both switch and spey configurations.

The METHOD is also a very popular  switch series. The 11’9″ 6 and 7 weight models are great for light summer Steelhead (7) and trout (6 weight). Until rod companies build some reasonably priced travel spey rods, these shorter – but powerful – switch rods are an ideal rod for a trip to Patagonia for big trout, or Iceland and the Canadian Maritimes for Atlantic Salmon. A little easier to travel with, and you can spey/swing or thrown upstream dries.  The price is also premium, however, and there are rods like the ECHO 3 that are right there in terms of performance. Probably not recommended for beginning casters for most Spey only situations. But if you’re an experienced caster looking for top-shelf performance and a do-everything rod, the METHOD is hard to beat.

ECHO 3 GLASS – $299

Incredibly affordable, popular and fun at the shop is the ECHO Glass series of Spey and switch rods. These retro looking honey colored spey rods are slow and smooth, but with mega power. I’v never met a spey rod that I could make so many casting errors with, and still execute a good cast. It’s really amazing. Anglers who haven’t fished with one probably think of them as a “niche” or “gimmick” rod, but they ain’t. The 12’9″ 7 weight is an ideal sink-tip rod for BC or winter Steelhead, and Ninch uses his all the time on the Missouri. The 12’4″ #6 is a perfect rod for the Mo’ and coastal summer Steelhead. Our staff love the 4 and 6 weight switch models ($279) with short Skagit heads for both trout and Walleye.

Casting these rods is a little different. You need to slow down, and they like to perform an open kind of “whip” style of cast. But they do perform, and a good caster will not be giving up much distance with them. They cast Scandi lines much better than you would expect, but they shine with a Skagit head, sink tip and big old nasty on the end. The only complaint we hear is that the weight of fiberglass – while not noticeable to bigger, stronger casters – is too much for smaller casters. Women, in particular, cast this rod well but choose other models to have a lighter rod in the hand while fishing.

The price of these is ridiculous. For less than $300 you get a ton of fun, great performance and excellent durability. The softer tips on these rods are well suited to fishing sink-tips, and especially light biting fish. The switch models are only $279, and make an ideal “budget” micro-spey when compared to offerings from Sage, Winston, etc. And at under $300 you can afford to financially “test the waters” first.

Sage ONE Troutspey – $950

Probably the most asked about rod in the shop this season, the new Sage ONE Troutspey is not just a shrunken version of another rod. It’s specifically designed as a trout specific spey rod that leans heavily towards the Skagit side of things. There are 2 models of the Troutspey, a 2 weight and 3 weight. Both rods serve a specific purpose. The 2 weight is designed for swinging small soft hackles and protecting light tippets. The three weight was designed specifically to throw larger streamers (up to a #4 heavily weighted) and rip a 10′ T8 MOW tip out of the water. Mission accomplished.

The team at Headhunters loves both, although none of us would call them “easy”. We recommend that you have some kind of spey casting competency. Even the best casters need a few minutes to figure out hand position, tempo and power (or lack of). The 3 weight is designed to use with very short Skagit heads and a “sustained anchor” style. We recommend either RIO’s new Skagit Trout Max (11′) or the OPST Commando head (12’6″). We have cast Scandi heads on these, but don’t really see the point. There are better rods at #4 for that, and the belly (D Loop) gets really long for some. Time for a Scandi Super-short from someone, which we need for the 2 weight. On the Missouri, we see no reason to swing tiny soft hackles on a Skagit head/tip.

So, the super relaxed, Skagit action with plenty of reserve power kind of puts these rods in a class by themselves. There are equivalent sized rods elsewhere that throw the line, and in some cases farther. But the 3 weight has the ability to throw some large flies and tips that most rods this size can’t. You need to be a dedicated Troutspey guy or gal – and an experienced caster – to justify the cost of these rods. If you are that person, you will probably really enjoy them.

ECHO SR – $329

Headhunters has carried the ECHO SR (Switch Rod) off and on since we opened the doors. It’s not always our favorite rod, but there is little else available in some sizes at that price range. We brought it back this year in the 10’6″ 4 weight version, as a graphite alternative to the very expensive Sage ONE Troutspey. The ECHO SR performs great when lined correctly. If not it can make casting a bit tough. But at $329 it’s a much easier pill to swallow than micro-spey models from the Sage, Winston, etc.

Action-wise, I’d call it fast. It is designed as a “switch” after all, and has a light and fast enough tip to cast overhand. To us “switch” is over. No one we know is using a rod for both single handed and two-handed casting. So as a little spey we might have added a little weight to the tip, a few inches of length and changed the flex a touch. But, we’ve tried a bunch of heads on this guys and when lined right it sings. Our favorite is a 225 grain Skagit compact (18′). This is a bit underlined, and this combo casts more Scandi-like than Skagit. But it still throws a floating or sinking sink tip, poly-leader, and heavy fly. It’s a pretty sweet set-up. If you try to go too heavy with a super short Skagit head the tip collapses, which makes sense with most “switch” rods.

These good looking and tough micro-spey rods represent the best value we can find if you want to go really light. This would rod be especially valuable for medium sized freestones, and because it’s a switch rod, you could “switch” if necessary and toss a hopper dropper rig or nymph rig.

OTHER RODS

We have a few other rods bouncing around the shop for you to try as well. The Sage Accel Spey is a rod we wanted to bring in, but there are just too many series that bottom out at 6 weight. We did however, bring in the switch version, an 11’4″ 6 weight with a slow, smooth action that I believe some people will really like. This is a rod I would recommend for someone who fishes the Missouri a lot with a two-hander, and makes 1 trip a year to the Ronde or Salmon for Steelhead. Pretty interesting stick.

We have had some of the Thomas & Thomas DNA XF (Scandi) rods around for the last few years. The 11’7″ 6/7 is the ideal Mo’ rod on paper. In reality, it’s not quite perfect, but is still a great Steelhead/trout combo switch rod that prefers a floating line. Beautiful craftsmanship is not inexpensive.

We have a demo of the new 11’6″ #6 Redington Chromer, with the cool black rubber partial grips top and bottom. While it’s a good rod, most of our staff and clients though it was good. Not great. No one got excited about it. And at $399 it’s a little more than it’s competition. But if murdered-out black is you look, you may love it.

THAT’S IT?

Yes, that’s about it. We used to carry more models from more manufacturers, but in reality we need to inventory the rods people want. While there’s always someone out there looking for unusual models and makes, most of our customers are looking for fishing “tools”. They want the best rod for the price, and they want spey casting to be easy. And they want to catch fish. We feel that we’ve addressed that with this selection. Even if budget and space was a non-issue, I’m not sure how many more brands and models we would bring in. Our customers have spoken by supporting the rods above.

MY GEAR

This season I’ve chosen the ECHO 3 12/7″ #6 for my Steelhead/big trout rod, which I line with an Airflow Compact Scandi on a Hatch 7plus reel. Perfect for the Lewiston area, and I hope to make a trip to the CA. coast this winter. And for casting instruction it is a consistent, adaptable rod. For a lighter rig, I’ve chosen the new ECHO TR 12′ #4 mentioned above. Lined up with an OPST Commando Head, OPST Lazer running line directly onto my Hatch 5plus (no backing), it’s kind of a “macro-spey” rig. The extra length/reach is something I like for both casting and swimming my fly. I expect this rod to provide several Walleye-taco dinners for my family.

DEMO’S

Come by the shop and demo any of the above gear. As the demand for certain sizes move down a notch, we may not have 7 weight rigs available in all these models if you’re looking for that new winter Steelhead rig. If that’s the case, you usually can get a pretty good idea by trying the 6, or ask our staff if any of them have the 13′ #7 in the model you’re interested in.

We have tons of shooting heads and tons of folks that take advantage of that. And you don’t have to use our rods to demo the lines. It’s common for an angler to take out 2-3 grain weights of a shooting head to dial in the right model before purchase. Call the shop with any questions.

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5 Comments. Leave new

  • Really good article, John. It will be very beneficial for a lot of your customers.

  • John I’m heading to Jurassic Lake next year and have been told that I might want to bring a Spey rod in addition to my single handed rods because some areas have back casting obstruction issues for a 9′ rod. They recommend 12′ 6″ 7 weight at a minimum not only to get above the obstruction with over head casting but to punch through the wind (up to 40mph). I know nothing about Spey rods. Even though I live on the Puget Sound (Fox Island), most of my fishing now is river fishing for trout, especially your river and the Yakima. So even though I’ll probably always primarily use single handed rods, if I’m going to get a spey I’d like one that could be used on the Missouri or Yakima or even I guess around here for sea run cuts or resident coho ie: the best of both worlds-meeting my Jurassic need but also something I might use later on. Thanks for any help. Chuck

    • Chuck – That’s a tough one as the minimum being recommended to you is the maximum (or past it) that we would recommend for the Missouri, and definitely beyond what you would want for the Yakima. For overhead casting you typically want a faster action rod like a Sage Method, which would feel quite overgunned on the Yakima and Missouri. It would make a great Steelhead rod back home, and could be used for beach or Kayak Salmon, but would be heavy for Sea-runs (which I grew up fishing for right across the Sound from you in UP). Short of dropping $1500 on a new set-up because “it would be nice to have”, I would recommend renting one, and we have that rod as rental/demo. You will want to inquire about what line type they are using (spey, single hand, switch and floating, sinking, etc.). If you were interested in a two-hander for the Yakima, Missouri and sea-run cutts I would recommend an Echo TR Trout 4 weight. There are also some beach fishing specific rods out there from Beulah and others if you wanted it primarily for fishing in the Sound for Salmon. Probably want to be more in the 6/7 weight range for that.

      • John Thanks As I suspected, there’s no easy answer. What I should do is make a trip out to Craig for some fishing and pick your brain in person-kill two birds with one stone:) But that rental Idea makes a lot of sense except that I’d want to practice with a spey rod a lot before the trip. As I said-no easy answers. Chuck

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