Simple Way to Choose Spey Setups

December 14, 2015

The Spey Rod Setup Process 

After you read this article, write these things down. Send it to and we can put together a complete package for you.

  1. Choose your line system, SKAGIT UTILITY, WINTER PRIORITY, or SUMMER PRIORITY:  _________________
  2. Choose Your Rod Weight and Length: ______________
  3. What is Your Budget?:___________________
  4. What Type of Action do You Enjoy?  Fast, Med-Fast: ________________
  5. Any Brand/Model Preferences:________________________
  6. FINAL STEP:  Once you know these things, you have a couple of options. You can shop our "RTF - Ready to Fish" spey rod setups online at or simply email with this information.  We'll propose an outfit that meets your needs. We can invoice by PayPal or we'll chat on the phone to wrap it up.  FREE shipping and we'll pay your sales tax if applicable.  

Choosing a spey setup should be fairly simple and most of you will only need to do it once. Unless you went to Cabelas, Ebay, or tried to save some money bargain shopping somewhere for some hodge-podge of rods, lines, and reels.  You lucky ducks will then get the pleasure of going through the process several times over with a few mediocre fishing experiences mixed in there as well.  Plus you get to buy stuff a few times which adds to your airline miles.  When you get the right setup then you can jump on a plane and go someplace great.  Hey maybe that isn't such a bad shopping strategy after all.  Expensive though.

To get started we are going to take a little trip to a place called "reality" and visit the capital city. Budget.  We might as well get it over with and slay that stinky elephant in the room.  For some folks budgets are low, high, or there isn't one. We have setups for any budget so don't sweat it.  As a retailer and fellow consumer I want to share my personal shopping system as it relates to budget.  I am a blue collar guy, but when it comes to shopping for archery gear as a comparison, budget hardly even enters the picture and here is why. Way too many times over the years I tried so save money by getting the 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th best product.  Now, I will instead research a purchase until my eyes bleed regarding products and then pay whatever it takes to get it.  MSRP most of the time. I buy exactly what will give me the best possible experience in the field.  If it gives me the best possible experience doing what I love, it has immense VALUE to me.  Much more than if I had compromised and spent less. This is an important concept to understand as you go down the road of investing in spey gear.  

We are talking about your precious free time here which dollar per hour, is a lot.  I personally consider it wise to buy the best gear you can afford, regardless of price, in order to get exactly what you need and nothing more.  Spoken like a true salesman right?  Wait, hang on a second. I have guy calling that bought the wrong spey rod on sale and says it won't cast very well.  Better take this call. Its amazing I even have time for a blog article there are so many of these calls coming in!  I love you guys, but just pony up some $$ and let us set you up right.  

Can you tell I am a little burned out on helping folks that bought Cabela's spey rods in the Bargain Cave and or Ross Spey Rods on clearance?  I love to help out but I beg of you!  Buy it once, buy it right, use a fly shop.  Preferably Red's.  You aren't saving any money shopping around.  You are just getting dizzy.  

Self Help Spey Selection  

I think this blog article will give you enough intel to make a great choice and understand how the various line systems can alter a rod's effectiveness.  We will put together RTF (Ready to Fish) packages for any budget or destination.  Email or and we'll get you taken care of.

At Red's we thrive on helping customers make sense of all the choices out there and achieve the result that we all hope for, productive and enjoyable angling.  That is what actually matters.  The details are just details.  

Step ONE - What is your "system"?

Before we talk about rod weight, brand, or budget - choosing your "system" is step one.  I'll comment right off the bat and say that most of you will find the most versatility with the SKAGIT UTILITY setup.  It will do a bit of everything and if you don't have a specific goal in mind, this is a safe choice.   There are pro's and con's, read on to understand more.  

1. SKAGIT UTILITY SETUP - This is the most popular setup and found on 80% of the spey rods out there, and the best choice for anyone just breaking into the spey game. We'll match the rod you choose with the correct Skagit Shooting Head. It is a great choice because of its versatility and favored by anglers fishing in in compact situations requiring a short head, large flies, and sink tips. The Skagit Shooting Head will also throw small flies, a floating tip (sold separately), and perform under the widest variety of conditions. 

*This system requires use of RIO MOW tips. 5 weight spey rods use LIGHT MOW Tips, 6-7 use MEDIUM MOW TIPS, and 8-9 weight rods use HEAVY MOW Tips.

2. WINTER PRIORITY SETUP - Anglers targeting Winter Steelhead, Chinook, or rivers with fast surface currents should consider the WINTER PRIORITY SETUP. This rod/reel will come RTF with a Skagit Intermediate Shooting Head. This line systems swings across the river more slowly, and usually deeper because it gets under the surface currents. Skagit Intermediate lines are part sinking, part floating, and present a fly to fish in the bottom half of the water column very effectively. This system requires the use of RIO iMOW Sink Tips. OR a full 10' of T-8, T-11, or T-14. MOW tips that are part floating/part sinking should not be used with a Skagit Intermediate head.


3. SUMMER PRIORITY SETUP - This system is for the angler fishing for Summer steelhead or Atlantic Salmon from August - October and would like the best line for presenting small lightweight flies. Depending on the rod, this will be some type of Scandinavian style shooting head. These heads are longer than Skagit heads therefore require less stripping of the line back in after a presentation, hence less shooting line back out. These lines are favored by slightly more experienced spey casters especially when casting for distance. Longer heads are more stable in flight and cast further than Skagit Heads. These lines also tend to unfurl and land much softer than Skagit heads making them highly advantageous in clear water that is relatively flat. 


Step TWO - What rod weight and length?

Ok, so hopefully have made a decision based on what system that line system will best suit your needs.  Spey rods play about +2 rod weights compared to a single hander.  i.e. an 8 weight Spey rod is like a 10 weight single hand rod.  Time to choose a rod size. 

Please don't sweat this decision too much.  There are pros and cons to various rod weights and lengths and each has its own quirks.  Whatever you choose will offer some advantages.  The main thing is, buying the action that best suits your casting style (that is the next step after this).

2-3 Weight Spey (Switch) Rods - These are reserved for the smallest trout streamers and are excellent choices for presenting soft hackle nymphs and streamers up to size #6 (sparsely tied) and appropriate for trout 8-18".  The Sage ONE Trout Spey 2 weight at 10'9" is the premier trout spey rod in this category.  The Echo SR 3 Weight 10'6" is a super value and we sell it RTF.  

4-5 Weight Spey Rods -  Like the 2-3 weights, these are essentially switch rods from 10'6" - 11'6".  Once you hit 12'6" it is essentially a full spey rod and worthless for overhand casting.  The length of rod greatly affects the casting range potential in this category.
  • 10'6" - 11'  4-5 weights.  These are good for trout sized 12"-24" with an emphasis towards the 5 weight.  Your distance potential grows as you lean towards the 11' 5 weight in this category.  If you plan to cast streamers #6 and larger, the 5 weight is almost a must.  The 4 weights will do it, but they'll complain a bit.
  • 11'6" 4-5 weights.  These are good for trout 14-24" and the 5 weight will handle small summer steelhead to 7 pounds or so.  The 5 Weight Sage ONE has the best muscle in this category, with the 
  • 12'6" 5 weights.  This is your large river trout rod, best for fish 16" - 28" and this rod will give you great distance with flies in the #6-#4 range.  If you fish summer Steelhead and the fish don't typically exceed 8 pounds this rod is a great choice. Anglers also really like this rod on the Alaskan rivers where their streamer fishing is being done on foot in current (no line stripping).

6 Weight Spey Rods - Everyone loves a good middleweight.  They are quick when they need to be, but strong enough to give and take a punch. There are lots of options here for full blown spey rods, so I am cutting the switch rods out of this.  
  • 12'6" 6 Weights -  This is basically the trout cut-off.  Once spey rods hit #6 only trout 18" + are any fun on these rods.  Only on some of the trophy Alaskan streams, or Tierra Del Fuego at the other end of the planet, does this make sense as a trout rod. Even then it is a pretty big stick of graphite. This was personally my first spey rod and I still have it.  I like a 6 weight and for most of the fishing I do in the Columbia River tributaries it is adequate.  These rods will handle Salmon/Steelhead up to about 12 pounds quite well and you could certainly stretch that if you have to.  Most of my fish are in the 8-10 pound range and I like this rod quite well.  It will complain when casting big flies that have rabbit fur on them however, and if you interface with Kings or Winter Steelhead this probably isn't the best choice.  I personally don't get to the coast very often so this suits me fine.
  • 13' 6 Weight - I just upgraded into a Sage MOD Spey at 13' and really like it. In fact it is the finest spey rod I have ever cast.  Although it is only 6" longer than my old 6126, it gives me a bit more range but I still get that nice light feel in hand.  It fishes essentially the same as a 12'6" 6 weight.  

7 Weight Spey Rods - This is 70% of the market right here.  Anglers chasing Salmon and Steelhead typically want a rod in this size range because it makes casting big flies and heavy tips easier, and it will handle Steelhead up to 20 pounds (if you can hehe) and Chinook.  The shorter rods have equal lifting power, but the longer rods offer better distance and pick up sink tips easier which is nice for beginners.  The longer rods will also cast longer heads, which means less stripping in line after a cast, and less shooting line.  Longer heads are also stable in flight.  If you fish large rivers like the Deschutes, Clearwater, Snake, Hoh, Queets, Skagit, Cowlitz consider going 13' - 13'6".  If you fish smaller rivers like the Rouge, Klickitat, Kalama, Trinity, Sol Duc, Bogachiel, then lead towards 12'6".   Don't overthink this, there are pros and cons to each so you will have an advantage somewhere despite your c 

  • 12'6" and 12'9" 7 Weight - This is your small to mid-sized water rod.  I personally have a 12'6" Sage ACCEL that I love.  Beginner's love it too and it is easy to get out to about 80' or so.  Beyond that, it is much better getting a longer rod.  I like the way a 12'6" rod mends and plays at reasonable ranges and I like throwing 30' casts with it, whereas with a longer 7 weight I have tendency to skip past that water and overthrow the fish.  If you are on water that has shorter runs, plunge pools, and is not much wider than a typical 4 lane highway the sub 13' 7 weight is a great rod.  It will handle as big of fish as the 13'6" 7 weights as well.  Casting Scandinavian Style lines on a sub 13' rod is a bit more challenging. 
  • 13' 7 Weight - This is the F-150 of spey rods.  All you Chevy, Dodge, and Toyota guys  are welcome to insert your jokes in the comments below.  This is a great all around weapon that plays well in all stadiums.  It is a great choice if you aren't sure exactly where you might use it.  It plays well for big winter steelhead, BC Steelhead, and incidental King work.  You could take this rod on any King trip anywhere and wouldn't be too seriously undergunned.  The 30+ pounders will eat you for lunch, but most fish can be tamed by this rod.  
  • 13'6" 7 Weight - If you want to cast long and fish all heads with effectiveness, including Scandi style heads, this is your rod.  It fishes excellent on large water and if you are on big rivers like the ones mentioned above this is your rod.  It still does most of the things that the 12'6" rod will do, but isn't nearly as enjoyable to cast at short range.  

8 Weight Spey Rods - These are big whoopin' sticks here.  Guys that fish the Olympic Peninsula, British Columbia, and focus on Chinook prefer an 8 weight spey rod.  

  • 12'6" 8 Weight - This is like a crowbar.  Big fish, mid sized water.  The Sol Duc River comes to mind here, or Chinook in Alaska, Vancouver Island, or a few other places.  It will be fairly enjoyable to cast at 30-50', but will stretch to 80' without putting you in a cast at the end of the day.  It is a short, stout rod.
  • 13 - 13'6" 8 Weight - This is a great rod for the angler focused on Winter Steelhead with some Chinook overlap.  Great for big water and some anglers will favor a 13'6" 8 weight even on river with smaller steelhead because the distance potential is so great.  On the Snake River below Heller's Bar, big distance is key.  This rod with a Scandinavian head on it will offer the angler long casts and help them cover water more effectively.

9-10 Weight Spey Rods -  Let's make this short.  Kings, Kings, Kings.  The longer rods will tend to cast the big weighted flies with a tad less effort.  If you are going to the Kanektok in Alaska, the 14' 9 weight is ideal.  These are big casts, for big fish, and you'll do it all day, every day.  We like the Sage METHOD Spey Rod for this application as the "premium" choice but the ECHO King is a great value package.  

  • 9 Weight Spey Rods 13' - 14' - Kings and some use of this rod for winter steelhead.
  • 10 Weight Spey Rods 13' - 15' - This is for the angler that is absolutely dedicated to fishing Kings.  The 15' rod is the ultimate distance rod for big flies and big sink tips.  

Step THREE - Budget. Yuk. 

At Red's, our complete RTF, "Ready to Fish" packages start at $500 at the very bottom.  They go up to about $1900 for a setup that will offer the absolute best long term performance.  

TIPS for maximizing value:
  1. Spend more than you thought you would initially.  Yea, that sounds like crappy advice but I have seen more customer satisfaction from folks that overbought vs. underbought.  Getting a well built reel,rod, and line system that won't let you down is worth it.  
  2. Saltwater Friendly Reels.  If you are calculating your purchase and looking at reels, consider going high end if you intend to someday fish saltwater.  If you plan to Tarpon fish, its easy to your spey line off and put on a tropical fly line.  Better to spend $700 on a reel once, use it for everything, than buy two $350 reels that aren't frankly the best at either one.  The same can be said for splitting a $350 in half.  Buy it better, buy it once.
  3. Understand the Modular Line System.  Understanding how to change spey heads will allow you to later use your reel/running line with a different head on a different rod.  I have Hatch 7 Plus Finatic Reel that has a mono running line on it.  I simply change heads (takes about 2 minutes) and I can use that reel on any spey rod I own.  I often use it on my 6 weight spey, 7 weight switch rod, or 7 weight switch rod.  I just put on a slightly different head but I get to make good use of my best reel. 

Rod Actions and Feel

The overall feel of a rod is critical to your enjoyment.  If you enjoy casting then chances are you will put in the long days and number of casts required to become proficient with your new rod.  

Fast vs. Medium Fast

This is all about personal preference.  On my switch rods (not necessarily what we are talking about here), I like a fast action rod.  The Sage ONE Switch Rods is my #1 choice in the premium market, I like the Redington Chromer in the middle class.  With a short rod I like a shorter, faster stroke and I may overhead cast them which requires a much faster response from the graphite.  On SPEY RODS, which is the topic at hand I prefer a more flexible deeper bending rod.  Just my personal choice. You ask the next pro what he likes it is probably an even split.

I like more moderate actions because most of what I do is Skagit Style casting.  A basic summary would be that Skagit style casting uses a "sustained" anchor point and the overall tempo of the cast is slower.  After the anchor motion your rod comes to rest and even a slow action rod is allowed to recover.  As you form the cast a rod that bends deep will smoothly pick up the tension on the sink tip and fly and very dynamically deliver the cast.  It is a silky smooth transition of power.  I like the feel, and I find that I have less fatigue after fishing for a day or two straight. I am telling you fatigue is a real thing.  Every play 36 holes of golf straight? What about 72?  Have you ever spent 8 hours straight at the driving range?How was your stroke at the end of that?  Ok, I think you get it.  We are looking for nice tight casts every single time and you need to be enjoying it the entire time.  That is why I like Medium Fast.

The Fiberglass Revolution

I am not the only one that enjoys a slower more moderate action.  There is a lot of sway moving in the direction of Glass Spey Rods right now. The ECHO Glass spey rod has become quite popular.  Its fun to cast, smooth delivery, and its an effective rod.  I promise you that after spending  a day on this rod you'll not only be a better caster but you'll be hooked on moderate action rods.

  1. To Joe Rotter: Hey Joe, I have been reviewing your comparison videos on Spey and Switch rods. Fantastic! I am a traditional fly fisherman and utilize a one hander. I am new to Switch and/or Spey and don?t know anything about it and really need your help. I think you are the guy to get me up and fishing. I am researching and putting together a Spey/Switch outfit. I am beginning to lean toward a 11?6? or 12?6? 7 weight. I will be utilizing this outfit primarily on the Great Lakes tributaries for Steelhead. I am primarily a nympher. For me, this outfit must be able to easily cast and mend a Blood Dot yarn egg/Estaz egg, an indicator and two #7 split shot. Also, I want to be able to easily make long casts and swing a streamer when the opportunity presents. Also, and I don?t know if this is even possible? I go to Montana every October to fish the fall Brown trout spawn run up from Hebgen lake into the Madison River. I would like to be able to use this same Spey/Switch outfit there on the Madison River. I mostly use a double nymph rig on the Madison with split shot and an indicator. I know a 7 weight Spey or Switch will be overkill on the Madison, but will it work? Again, and I don?t know if this is possible either? I do plan in the future to fish some of the larger river systems on the west coast for Steelhead, the Skeena, Dean etc. Will I be able to use this outfit there? Will I be undergunned on these rivers and will it work? I guess what I?m trying to determine is if I can get away with one outfit which will be versatile enough to do it all???? I don?t know?? I have so many questions here, I don?t know where to begin. However, one thing I do know for certain is that before I buy an outfit; I definitely want to take a day with you on the river and learn the basic Switch/Spey casts. Once I get the feel for it, I would really like the opportunity to cast numerous rods of different lengths, weights and actions and a perhaps a few reels and also several lines to determine what works for me and what I like. I do know that I do not like a very fast rod, I seem to prefer more of a moderate action. I fish a Sage Z-Axis one hander and love it. I?m thinking Sage ACCEL. Right now, the choice of lines seems to be the most daunting and overwhelming of all Skagit/Scandi etc. I really don?t know where to begin here? HELP...!!! Once I decide, I will purchase the entire outfit from you, rod, reel, backing & line and heads, tips etc. I would like to do this with you in the summer when the weather is nice and warm and the river is not crowded with fisherman. I can fly out and meet you anytime. Is this possible? Thank you, Keith Santillo 540-538-4220 mobile
  2. Joe, great breakdown of setup options, fly fishermen entering this market have a big advantage with your team's combined knowledge and experience. Where the heck was this blog when I got into two-handers five years ago??!! Keep up the great posts, I'll make it up that way to visit Red's one of these days soon.
  3. This is a great article Joe, I've been doing this Spey thing for about a year and a half now and the most confusing part of the whole thing is exactly what you've covered here. Casting? well maybe in a couple more seasons I'll feel more like a veteran. I've Fly Fished for over 35 years, a lot of it right there on the Yak and have to say this has been a lot of fun learning to Spey fish. It's quite a charge when you get a fish on line and can bring it to the net. I fish an Echo 4wt 12.6" Skagit and Scandi for summer flies and a 11.6" 7wt Switch with the Rio Chucker for big bugs and have a hard time picking up the single hand rod. I wade a lot and this really opens up casting opportunities on especially there on the Yakima.
  4. I have a 7 wt. 13'6' Remington Chromer and am having trouble finding a skagit line that works well with this rod. I learned to spey cast five years ago on a 9wt. 14 foot cabela's board. I have tried several different weighted skagit lines and a couple of scandi's. I fish mostly summer run stealhead on the Methow River and the Okanogan (when they are open) Can you give me some advise on which lines and how heavy (grams) are best for this rod?
  5. Joe I'm heading to Jurassic Lake next year and I'm told that I might want to bring a spey rod in addition to my single handed rods since 100% of the fishing is from on the bank or wading a short distance from the bank and there are several very productive areas where there are obstructions for back casting with a 9' 8 weight. They recommend 12'6'' 7 weight minimum not only to back cast above the obstruction but to get distance in the wind (up to 40mph-yikes). I know nothing about spey rods-never even picked one up. Where do I start? Ideally I'd like a rod that I might use again(Jurassic Lake isn't going to be an annual affair) but even though I live on the water (Fox Island) I haven't gotten into sea run cuts or resident coho yet and all of my fishing of late has been river fishing which I prefer-mostly the Missouri at Craig although I NEED to get reacquainted with the Yakima. So at 68 I'm mostly now just a trout fisherman-my steelhead days are sadly probably behind me. So I guess I'm looking for the best of both worlds-something that will give ne that added edge at Jurassic but something that I might also use again in my normal fishing. Thanks for any help. Chuck
  6. Hello, I am a fairly sophisticated angler and am wanting to get started with spey fishing. My fishing partner/good friend is a feind with his 13+ft spey rod find myself setting my casting rod down and just watching him work. I want to learn this skill and therefore thought I would come to you. We fish for all things in AK and are pretty successful at it. Kings are my passion but I don't necessarilly want to be limited there. I like long rods and cannot seem to put down my 11' GL2 baitcaster for everything (salmon) these days. We go to Yakatat about every/every other year and crush chromer steelies there. I am in love with what the tool will do to my fishing experience and have exhausted the forums and Youtube videos trying to absorb as much as I can. Based on your comments about buying it once, I was hoping for some recommendations. Thought I am not super wealthy, I do have some disposable income and always buy quality gear. Can you please reccommend a few options on something ey rods, reels and line set ups that can set me off in the right direction. Please include costs. Try to sell me on a few options. Thanks for your time, Sean in AK
  7. What is recommended rig for Gulf Coast Redfish, casting long distances with moderately heavy flies? In the wind?
  8. Have you answered Sandy's question re Gulf Coast Redfish? I'm interested in doing that also. Don't have a boat so I'm land bound and need to increase my distance to these fish