The season is in full “swing” for the folks who enjoy swinging trout up on a two-hander. Most folks are done chasing Steelhead in the upper Columbia drainages, and big game season has just ended. The balmy autumn has plenty of folks out on the river and they are enjoying some incredible fishing. It should be “winter” fishing, but it ain’t. And that’s how it always is now.
This weekend we begin our annual free spey clinics, which involve lots of learning, fine-tuning and equipment testing. The team at Headhunters has spent the last two months playing with all the new gear for the 2016-17 swing season. Here’s our favorite stuff beginning with rods. Keep in mind that we are largely recommending accessible and affordable gear for new spey anglers, or possibly more experienced ones who aren’t sure they want to use a spey rod for trout. We also believe that while there are many great rods out there – and a few dogs – regardless of price these models hold there own.
DEMO IT BRO!
Remember that we have all of this gear and more for demo at the shop, including lines. We sell very few rods without customer having first tried them out with a variety of lines. Why would you not! Please stop by and let us show you the different options available.
We’ve really made a move from the 6 and 7 weight trout/steelhead combo rods that we’ve used in past years, to full blown ultra-light “troutspey” sticks. At least when we’re fishing for trout. The newest arrival is the ECHO TR Trout, which has very quickly become the staff and customer favorite. The Trout models are additions to the revamped TR Series that has been tremendously popular over the years. Two models – an 11′ #3 and 11’3″ #4 – pretty much cover everything you’ll need for trout in the Rockies. The action is perfect and adapts to a wide variety of lines and casts. The grain window is large, allowing you to fine tune the rod to your casting style. It throws Skagit and Scandi lines equally well, and as we use both here on the Missouri that is a very important attribute. So far we’ve thrown OPST Cammondo heads, Airflo Scout heads, Scientific Angler Adapt lines, and Airflo and RIO Scandi Compacts, and liked them all. Tim Rajeff decided on the 11′-11″3″ range as the sweet spot, and we agree. The new army green gloss finish with orange trim is sweet. We love the skinny grip which keeps that “trout rod” feeling in your hand and makes it easier to use the rod tip to give action to the fly. It will also be more comfortable for women and younger anglers. Best of all the price – $375 – is unbeatable and we feel these rods compete with any rod at any price. Not saying they’re necessarily better, but I would take this series anywhere in the world (and have!). Kudos to ECHO for bringing us a fantastic Troutspey rod at an inclusive price. We’re also continuing to carry the 12’6″ #6 and 13′ #7 models for Summer and winter Steelhead. We also love the 12’6″ #6 on the Missouri for big runs and long casts with a Scandi head. If you’re looking for an affordable first rod the you won’t outgrow, this is it.
The Sage ONE Trout Spey remains in our lineup, and is another popular – but much more expensive – troutspey rod. With a very specific action built around the matching Skagit Trout head, the Sage ONE Trout Spey is a rod thats a little more dialed-in for it’s intended purpose. The 10′ 9″ #2 is designed for swinging small soft hackles on light tippets. The 11′ #3 will easily push streamers up to a weighted #4, and is designed to fish heavier tips. Both have a specifically designed Skagit action. When we grab these we know where we are going and what we are throwing. If sustained anchor Skagit casting for trout (or other resident species) is your thing, these rods may be for you. Beautiful finish and hardware, and loads of Sage technology inside. While we wouldn’t necessarily say the action is better than some of our other favorites, it definitely is unique among troutspey rods. If it fits your style you’ll love it. At $950 you will need to. We highly recommend the RIO Skagit Trout that designer Mike McCune created for these rods. If not, the OPST Commando is another recommendation.
Orvis doesn’t drop down to the true Trout Spey sizes at #2-4, but their Clearwater Spey Rods are very popular with our staff and customers for summer and winter Steelhead, and the 12′ #5 and 12’6″ #6 are fantastic dual purpose heavy trout and light Steelhead rods. They posesses an all-purpose action similar to the Echo TR, but we think it leans a little more to the right – the Skagit side of things, that is. When ECHO revamped the TR line this year, they eliminated the 12′ #5, which leaves the Clearwater as our only 5 weight spey. This is an excellent rod and an overlooked line weight. I would have no problem throwing this for light summer Steelhead on the Grande Ronde or smaller coastal rivers. And if you really want to dredge the Missouri or Yellowstone with heavy tips and larger Galloup-esque streamers, this might be the perfect tool. The 12′ 6′ #6 is a great Summer Steelhead rod and works for trout when needed, and the 13′ #7 is a rod we commonly sell to those headed to the Olympic Peninsula for winter fishing.
Sage has too many offerings in the spey rod category, and we’ve chosen to stick with the Sage METHOD for an advanced do everything Steelhead rod. We loved it’s predecessor the TCX, and while the METHOD is not quite as powerful, it’s a lot easier on your shoulders. These are fast action rods that throw Scandi heads like a laser and you can overload with a heavy Skagit head to fish long tips and massive intruders.
The ECHO Glass Switch and Spey series have always been a staff favorite, and most customers appreciate these easy casters. The price is pretty sweet too at $279-299. I’ve owned quite a few 7 weight two-handers but right now the Echo 12′ 9″ #7 glass is the only one in my quiver. While some folks view it as a novelty, I would have no problem bringing this to BC as a dedicated sink tip rod. If you’re looking for a spey rod for the Missouri – but you might make a trip to the Ronde – the 12′ 4″ #6 is an ideal choice. The lighter 3 and 4 weight switch rods are a blast for trout and the soft tip sticks light biting fish. You really can’t go wrong at this price. They’re cool retro paint job and surprising performance will keep them in your quiver for years. They are a touch heavier than graphite rods, and while bigger, stronger casters won’t really notice, smaller folks and women tend to not like these rods.
Many of our customers are new to two-handed fishing, and as you can see from our rod selection we like to keep things real – and affordable – for anglers who want to ease into the game. And we don’t feel you need to buy a rod for $1000 when there are plenty of less expensive rods that perform equally well. The same goes for reels, though we find that many of our customers like to spend a little more on a reel than a rod. Probably due to the fact that a good reel should last you for the rest of your life, and possibly a good portion of someone else’s. You’re also likely to move that reel between rods. We don’t care either way. We want the sport to be approachable to every person that walks in our shop, and an inexpensive reel can help that happen.
The Hatch Outdoors Finatic is my personal favorite for two-handed outfits, whether it’s for Cutthroat on the Blackfoot or Dean River Steelhead. Some folks find them a little heavy for their dainty dry fly outfit, and they are. But that tiny bit of extra weight balances perfectly on spey rods. We love the fact that they come in both mid and large arbor versions, and we use the mid-arbor versions exclusively for all spey rods. We are constantly changing lines and that extra depth accommodates more systems in more sizes. There is something about the Hatch drag that I prefer for swinging the fly. It behaves perfectly on both light takes from cold winter trout and shitty hatchery Steelhead, and on blistering smashes from wild BC hens and early fall Browns on the Mo’. The mid-arbor 5plus ($500) pretty much covers everything in the “troutspey” universe, and the mid-arbor 7plus ($600) handles all of my Steelhead rigs except for big long-belly rods like a 14′ #9. They are not cheap, but they aren’t ridiculous either. They are bulletproof and can transfer to the Salt. Like I said, it’s all I use.
But not everyone wants or needs to spend half-a-grand on a reel, and Orvis has a couple of different offerings that we really, really like. For the last few years, we’ve sold a bunch of the Orvis Battenkill Spey, big click drag reels reminiscent of older Hardy designs in size IV and V. These are excellent matchups for the #6 and #7 Clearwater rods, and they ooze old school on the ECHO Glass #6 and #7. The Battenkill V is a great choice for long belly 8 and 9 weight rods, and will hold a tremendous amount of line. The good news is that the aesthetics, clickity noise, and price are excellent at $139-149. The bad news is that the jump down to the Battenkill III is a quantum leap in size. It’s too small for even the lightest troutspey rods. Fortunately…
This fall Orvis released the new Battenkill Disc Reels (we will get them in the online store soon), featuring a drag similar to the popular Hydros series, but with the old-timey design of the Battenkill spey. Really blocky and smooth. The drag is smooth as well, and the transition into the smaller sizes is much more uniform. And with a standard/mid arbor design you can fit a wide variety of lines on them. These reels will be an excellent choices for a budget/performance spey rods at $159-189. I believe these may end up being our most popular troutspey reels.
And a third reel from Orvis we recommend for spey is the recently introduced Orvis Hydros SL large and wide arbor reel. This reel was expected to make a big splash this season with it’s tremendous drag, tough as nails build, huge retrieval rate and great price at $198-239. Two things have hindered sales in the trout world. First, it’s what I would call a too-large-arbor reel. It’s just too big and I’m talking from an aesthetic standpoint. It kinda looks like a trailer winch on your 4 weight. It’s also a very heavy reel. Too heavy for it’s recommended line size. WAIT… Guess which two reel attributes most two-handed anglers appreciate in a reel? They like them heavy, to balance out long rods, and they like a quick retrieval rate for fighting a fish with a long line, and finishing up at the end of a run. The super large arbor also prevents your shooting line from coiling as badly as a smaller arbor. The drag is a little heavy for some, though it’s highly regarded in the Saltwater. This of course won’t matter for spey unless you are swinging tiny soft hackles on 4x. I think this may be one of the better spey reels on the market for both trout and Salmon/Steelhead swingers. and at a little over $200 is represents a fantastic value for performance.
Our easiest-on-the-wallet spey reel is the ECHO Ion, which we’ve sold for years. These reels are ugly. These reels have a weird compressed o-ring system for securing the spool. These reels are heavy. The paint chips off these reels in a hurry. WAIT… these reels are tough. These reels have never failed that I’ve heard of. These reels are $79-99. Yes, they are that inexpensive, and yes they will not let you down. Probably our most popular spey reel for beginners and for good reason.
And if you want to go the other way and spend more on a reel than I have on several vehicles, you can opt for an Abel Super Series reel. Solid, heavy reels with cork drags, Abels are considered heirloom reels. While there is no one attribute I find in them that makes them particularly great spey reels, the paint job on this one reminds me of BC, which reminds me of some of my greatest Steelhead days ever…
Of course there are many other fine reels out there. If your looking to line up a troutspey rod in the 2-5 weight range, you probably have a reel lying around, or you can stick to other brands like Galvan or Nautilus, both of which might be a little on the light side for optimum balance with a spey rod. If you are building a rig for Steelhead we highly recommend the above reels, or going with a heavier Saltwater reel, though they can be overkill and expensive.