It’s now the end of August and the low clouds, fog and dreary rain are a mirror of my mood. It’s been a long season, dealing with many situations outside of my control – low water, tough fishing and bad weather! It takes a toll on my mind and body. Just when it seems like I need a break, angry August ends and we catch a break here in Bristol Bay.
As the huge runs of Sockeye Salmon finish spawning and the bead game starts to wane, I start to look forward to my favorite time of year. The beginning of September presents a new opportunity. It’s now time to start fly fishing again. I get excited about being on the river, as it gives me new energy and enthusiasm to be back out with guests casting to the trophies that makes fall in Alaska legendary.
My personal favorite way to fish the fall is with a spey rod. More and more often, I see long rods on the rivers I guide. It’s definitely my happy place swinging and stepping through a run. I get a lot of questions from new spey anglers about all sorts of things. Switch or Spey? What weight? What line? Tip density and length? Answering these questions brings me back to what I love about fishing! Choosing lines for a particular run, matching it with the right tip and fly, and finding success lets me live vicariously through my clients. For the sake of not making this just a gripe piece, I thought I would answer some of the most common questions I get about spey fishing in the Bristol Bay area.
Switch or Spey?
I get a lot of clients that wonder which rod to bring or get for Alaska. My answer is always that they both have their place. I used to think that switch rods were just a gangly single hander masquerading as a spey. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Really they are bad ass little spey rods and paired with the right lines, are truly capable. My advice to people when choosing between the two is what size water are you fishing? Is there a need for greater distance than a switch rod can comfortably cast? If yes, then go with a spey over switch, but the switch game is SO FUN with the shorter, lighter rods! When it comes to what weight rod, again it’s dependent on a few things. First, think about the size of fish you will be targeting and second the size of the water. Southwest Alaska is dominated by large fish and rivers. I like to fish a rod that can handle both. A 7wt spey and an 8wt switch rod covers most situations well. Personal preference plays a big role here, so if people want to fish lighter or heavier – it’s all good by me!
What line or lines should I have?
Well, like most fishing there is more than one way to go about it, but if I had only one line to fish in AK then it would be a skagit. There’s a lot of buzz around skagit lines and their following has skyrocketed lately. It is well deserved due to its diverse uses. With the ability to change tips, you have a lot of control over where your fly is. You have lots of choices and that’s good thing, but confusing to some, especially those new to the sport! Some of my favorites are Airflo’s Skagit Compact G2 and Skagit Switch G2 on my spey rods. Skagit lines have been getting shorter and packing more grains per foot over the years enabling the angler to chuck heavy tips and big flies with ease. The shorter Skagit Switch models have found their way onto spey rods and they work great for those confined areas or if the angler has a shorter, more compact stroke! On switch rods, I’m in love with the Airflo Scout. These short heads pair well with the shorter rods and turn over heavy tips and flies. With the addition of Airflo Flo tips, you can really control the depth you swing your fly.
Don’t leave out the Airflo Rage Compact and Scandi Compact for certain applications. With all the buzz around skagit, I see dry lines getting neglected a lot! The Airflo Rage Compact throws the faster sinking poly leaders well (along with all other densities) and helps fish those shallow holding lies much better than a skagit line could. Don’t get stuck in the one line and tip set up for every situation! Tim and the team at Rajeff Sports have put together a cheat sheet for line and rod pairings that I strongly suggest everyone that has questions take a look at. This will help take a lot of guess work out of line and rod choices.
What tip – length and sink rate?
As for tip choices, here in the Bristol Bay region there is a place for every density, from a floater to a dredger. Every run and situation is different but I always suggest lighter as opposed to too heavy. If you’re getting hung up all the time then you’re just not fishing effectively! When I started spey casting and got over the learning curve, I fell prey to just casting what I learned on. Find the fun in new lines and tips and in doing so, find success in fishing! Everyone has their own style. Finding the length of tip that works best for your style and fishing situation is a personal thing! I have always liked 12′ tips for my casting style, and am looking forward to Airflo’s new 12′ Flo tips available later this fall. That being said, there are a ton of tips out there that come in 10′ that cast and fish great. If you like the longer ones – over 12′ – the Airflo Custom Cut “T” tips are ready for your tweaking. For shallower runs, I use 10′ or 14′ floating and intermediate poly leaders on a Scandi Compact, although I find myself reaching for the Rage due its ability to turn over any poly leaders well.
In conclusion, there is no one set up for every situation but finding the right mix is some of the fun. If you’re spey fishing Southwest Alaska than I hope some of this babble helps prepare you for a good trip. Or at very least drives home that there is fun to be had diversifying your spey experience. After all you don’t want to get stuck in angry August. Live in your happy place, you will find me in mine – swinging and stepping through a run in Bristol Bay, Alaska. – Aaron Richter.