Remember back when the lightest Spey rod was a 12′ #5 that was actually more like a 6/7 and built for summer steelhead? Switch rods had become a buzz word but even they had a cut-off of #5. Back then many of us wished for the day when a factory rod that could be used for smaller fish like trout and char would appear on the market. And let’s not get started about the lines that were available…..
But then a couple of custom rod companies from Oregon started to build rods to chase half-pounders in their local flows and suddenly things changed….
But throughout all of this there were some dedicated two handed enthusiasts who chose to take matters into their own hands. They began to build their own 2 handed rods on single hand blanks or even modify factory single hand rods in an attempt to enjoy the benefits, real or imagined, of light two handed fishing. They had to cut and paste their own lines to match these ultra-light rods and still do to this day. There was a time when other two handed fly fishers scoffed at these tinkerers and called their efforts fruitless; Spey rods are for salmon and steelhead right? I guess they forgot that the word Spey refers to a style of casting and not a particular style of rod.
It is more than interesting to note that one of the most recognized 2 handed gurus on the planet, Ed Ward, is a fan of single hand conversions. After asking Ed what his thoughts were on the subject he, in Ed Ward fashion, wrote me an essay on the subject. Here is what Ed had to say about converting single hand rods to double hand rods.
Extremely Ultralight Spey?
by ED WARD
These are quite the exciting times regarding “things Spey”, especially for the light tackle enthusiast. Nowadays several major rod manufacturers produce dedicated Spey and/or Switch rods all the way down to #4 line ratings. There are even some “custom” builds rated as light as #3. It’s hard to believe that just 20 some-odd years ago the general consensus of the Spey world was that any rod under 13′ in length and less than number 8 in line rating was unfeasible. Just how much lighter can “Spey” go?
Well, for the past few years some Spey fanatics have been testing beyond even today’s limits by adding lower handles onto the butts of 3 and 4 weight SINGLEHANDED rods and converting them to a DOUBLEHANDED configuration. One might ask, why, when Spey and Switch rods of 3 and 4 weight designation are in fact already available via commercial manufacturers? The answer to that particular question would have to do with the circumstance that the majority of manufactured Spey and Switch rods use a different criterion for line designation than Singlehanded rods. Spey and Switch rod line ratings are generally of a magnitude two to three line sizes heavier/stronger than Singlehanded line ratings. A Spey or Switch 4 weight is usually comparable in casting and fish fighting strength to a 6 or 7 weight Singlehander. For Spey enthusiasts wishing to pursue finny quarry in the 8″ to 12″ size range with Spey-type tactics, a rod designated as a 4 weight Spey or Switch, can still be a “bit much”. The solution? Convert a singlehander of appropriate size to a doublehanded mode.
OK then, but can’t a 3 or 4 weight singlehander in its original singlehanded status carry out well enough the objectives for which such a class of rod would be selected in the first place – smaller fish, smaller flies, smaller angling circumstances? For the most part, in regards to the “tactical” advantages of Speycasting in general, the answer would probably have to be yes. The main tactical “advantage” of converting such a rod over to doublehanded use would have to be for the exact same reason that Spey-type casting was originally invented in the first place… enhanced casting capability in circumstances of limited backcast room. But, the fact is, one could easily enough employ Spey-type casts in a singlehanded format and pretty well “match” most of the limited backcast advantages of using such a small rod in a doublehanded capacity. So, at this point, the most justifiable reasoning for converting a singlehanded rod to a doublehanded casting aspect would have to be that of simply being able to cast doublehanded because one PREFERS that style of casting. A plausible secondary reasoning might be that some people may find it more advantageous to cast using two hands instead of one.
Are there then, any real FUNCTIONAL reasons to having 3/4 weight doublehand conversion rods? I think yes, especially in reference to SWINGING flies such as soft hackles and streamers. But the degree of significance may have very much to do with particular casting style. I originally chose to experiment with using doublehand conversion rods myself, over singlehanders, primarily because I found two-handed Spey-type casting to be a more mentally engaging and stimulating type of casting. However, as my experiences with conversion rods grew, angling benefits beyond the original intent of just accommodating personal casting preference also became evident. They were – the ability to cast flies generally regarded as being too large or heavy for 3/4 rod weight work; the effective casting of sinktips (short T-8 types) not usually associated with 3/4 weight rods; the ability to cast in degrees of wind beyond the typical 3/4 weight “window”. This was all in addition to the usual Spey-type casting benefits of being able to cast in circumstances of reduced casting room, along with quicker “cycling” of casts due to the omission of false casting. But, bear in mind that these results were obtained via Skagit casting, a casting style already known for enhanced capabilities in regards to the use of larger and/or heavier flies, and/or sinktips… so don’t overlook that implication. How other styles of Spey-type casting would compare in a 3/4 weight doublehand rod conversion scenario, I cannot say.
Now, some “hard” data. I have converted several Singlehanders over to a Doublehanded format, with my three lightest being an 8′ 9″ 4 weight, a 9 1/2′ 3 weight, and an 11′ 3 weight. I have built SKAGIT lines for these 3 and 4 weight rods that range from 11′ to 13′ in length and 147 to 193 grains in weight (bellies only – without tips). This is significantly lighter than the 245 to 265 grain lines that I use on my lightest manufactured 4 weight Switch. All of these 3 and 4 weight conversions have been fished with up to a 5/5 T-8 MOW tip and 2″-3″ long moderately weighted flies, though this is definitely on the “heavy” end of the casting/fishing scale for them. On the “light” end of the scale, I have gone down to as small as size 14, 16 soft hackles swung from a floating tip. To give an example of “enhanced” casting capability, the rod I’ve used most so far, the 9 1/2′ 3 weight conversion, can Skagit cast 2″-3″ weighted streamers on a 2.5 T-8 MOW out to around 65′, perhaps a bit further, even through cross winds of up to around 10-12 m.p.h. I would say that this is no small feat when one takes into consideration the casting/angling circumstances for which 3 weight rods are usually applied. Theoretically speaking, just this one 3 weight rod has the capacity to fish all the “normal” 3 weight small fly scenarios, from dry to nymphs – by using a “normal” singlehanded 3 weight line and singlehanded casting/tactics – then by switching over to a Skagit line and doublehanded tactics, can “extend” its capabilities to casting larger-than-usual weighted streamers on short sinktips. This last attribute I am particularly fond of… the ability to fish sizeable streamers to smaller – 8″, 10″, 12″ – Bass and Trout on a size of rod that doesn’t “out gun” them in the fight department.
Now, I want to clarify here that I’m not trying to imply or promote that ultralight conversion rods are an end all, be all, of light tackle angling, or that they are some magical route to catching more or bigger fish. Instead, the primary reasoning for this particular aspect of Spey-type casting/fishing is going to be to serve those anglers who wish to expand the challenge and fun of Spey-type casting and angling beyond that of the typical Steelhead/Salmon scenario. After all, there are a lot more trout streams (plus Bass and Panfish), with a lot closer availability to most anglers out there than there are Steelhead and Salmon streams. With just an investment of a bit of time and craftsmanship, the angling opportunities to which Spey-type casting/fishing tactics can be applied becomes almost limitless!
In conclusion, it is necessary for me to present a couple disclaimers here about the Single-to-Double conversions. First off, there is some belief out there that the stresses of Spey-type casting may be too much for rods designed as Singlehanders. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. A couple of my rods have a good two year’s use with no signs of trouble. However, for all I know, there could be millions of stress cracks in my rods just waiting for the right moment to catastrophically explode, much like the Blues Brother’s Bluesmobile did upon completing its “mission from God”. So, any conversions undertaken are at the individual’s risk!
Secondly, I explain over on the SkagitMaster website how I attached a lower handle on to my Singlehanded rods to convert them to Doublehanded use. So far, I have had no problems with that particular method. But, I am no master rod builder… therefore I would advise that anyone interested in this type of project consult with a professional rod builder before undertaking said task.
Third, the shorter the rod and/or the lighter the line that it casts, the more precise that casting technique must be to realize benefits in rod performance… so, this gig is definitely not going to work for everyone!
So as you can see, while they may not be realized by most anglers, the benefits of using these converted single handers are clear to those of us who prefer casting two handed rods. Being able to utilize Skagit, Spey or Double-overhead casts and techniques for even the smallest of fish or in environments where longer Spey and Switch rods are just too much rod. We have more information on single hand conversions coming in the future, including tips on building or converting your own so stay tuned…. I may even try my hand at building one myself. If you have a favourite technique for converting rods or building them from scratch, contact us and let us hear about it.
Many thanks to Ed Ward for being a big part of this article and hopefully we’ll hear more from him in the future. I have become a recent light line Skagit fan and will be exploring these lines and their uses on my light rods over this season. Ed knows a thing or two about Skagit casting and is a regular on the Skagitmaster website and forum. To find out more of his thoughts on this and other topics, join up and ask away. There’s a wealth of information on a variety of subjects and a great atmosphere as far as forums go.