Shooting Trout With An Elephant Gun

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Photos by Aaron Stiny

Photos by Aaron Stiny

By Aaron Stiny

If you’ve adapted a spey or switch rod to swing streamers for trout you obviously don’t care about the numbers.

You probably enjoy both the casting aspect and fishing for a grab. If you wanted to whack ’em and stack you’d have your indicator rod, or better yet, powerbait. I’m seeing more and more people swinging their spey and switch rods on trout rivers, especially in the fall. Those who’ve turned to the long rods for their anadromous fishing know how much easier it is to move a large streamer with a skagit line rather than a single handed rod.

Unfortunately the size of the trout we find seldom matches that of the steelhead we also target. Let’s face it, there’s not much of a fight with a sub 20” trout on a 5 or 6 weight spey or switch rod.

hfork-(2-of-3)There are a variety of great truly trout-sized double handed rods on the market from the likes of Echo, Gary Anderson, Winston, and the forthcoming Sage rods. The ultimate conundrum being, when scaling down to trout sized (what I define as sub 300 grains) the lines have yet to catch up.

The skagit style heads and streamer specific lines available around and under 300 grains all have heads that are too long. This results in not having enough mass per foot to turn over a sink tip and desirable sized streamer.

Enter Mike McCune. 

willa-(1-of-1)Mike is one of the original skagit maestros, and along with some other influential folks, really drove the evolution of the skagit heads we all fish and enjoy today. About 5 years ago, Mike took me Shad fishing (yes you read that right, shad) on a Nor Cal river. Mike swore me to secrecy and pulled out a 3 weight Spey rod, an 11 foot rainbow colored custom spliced head of about 250 grains. Attached was 10’ of T-11 and a ‘bigass’ streamer. Not only did it turn over, it was effortless.

Fast forward a few years and Mike and Whitney Gould showed up on my doorstep in Henry’s Fork country. Sage had built him some prototypes, RIO some heads, and we were going fishing.

An 11’ #3 strung up with an 11’ 250 grain head, a T-11 MOW tip, and double articulated streamer made me feel like I was steelhead fishing despite being on the Henry’s Fork on the verge of the salmon fly hatch. The system turned over huge flies, heavy tips, and manhandled the wind like it was nothing. Additionally, having a head length of only 11’ allowed me to strip the streamer in much closer to the rod, keeping my fly fishing much longer than anything else would have allowed. We hooked a ton of fish, including a tanker for Whitney, and had a ball.

mobrown-(1-of-1)So if you’re still tout fishing with a 5 weight, or larger, two hander or as Mike calls it “Shooting a blacktail with and elephant gun”, do yourself a favor and step down to a truly trout-sized rod and super short squat head. You can still handle whatever sadistic streamer Galloup comes up with next, and fighting a 12” trout will be fun again. There are quite a few fun and affordable rods on the market, and thanks to Mike, we now have the heads to make them truly fishable. Look for RIO Trout Max heads in August for your fall streamer fishing.

Here’s a video of Mike fishing two-handers for trout.

Aaron Stiny
Gink & Gasoline
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15 thoughts on “Shooting Trout With An Elephant Gun

  1. I have a 5wt 9′ TFO signature I that I took in on trade. The guides were mangled so I tried an experiment.

    I added a lower grip and tried a rio scandi #4. Works great for ‘average’ trout streamers and smallies. Still need to try a skagit for big stuff. It is teh one rod that never leaves my boat.

  2. I have a 10.5′ Beulah switch rod that is designated as a 4/5 weight, great for 16-20″ fish on streamers. An 11′ 3-wt would be even better!

  3. eddie, would you please specify your setup with that 4/5 Beulah? I have same switch rod (Classic right?) loaded with 300 grain Orvis Switch line. Either wrong setup or just double-left-handed me but single-handed 5 or 6 weight works better for me… (Beulah recommends 250 grain though)

    • Hi, I have the same size Beulah switch rod Beulah recommend 240gr line. 2 years of giving up on the rod before I changed and used a wulf ambush 300gr. A touch heavy with a sink tip but with a plain leader it’s fantastic to cast. Now use an OPST 240 with their sink tips and again fantastic and a pleasure to cast. Just need to slow down on the sweep and away she goes. It’s now one of my favourite rods

  4. I’ve been doing the same kind of thing for a while myself. I’ve got a bad shoulder and skagit style casting, even with a one-handed rod, gives me more time on the water without getting tired,
    I just experimented with old lines until I got the right weight heads and tips. My preference is Wulff Triangle Taper and Ambush heads with OPST Lazar running line. I can use these combinations on one or two handed rods with very good effect.
    Gotta love these new 3 and 4 weight switch rods.
    It can work with nymphs, soft hackles or drys, too!

  5. Big fan of the switch rod, maybe it’s the constant connection to the rivers flow.
    Something rhythmic as i swing that’s relaxing.

    So effortless even in the summertime on the Muskegon swinging for small mouth
    Erin Mansfield

  6. I tried using my 7 wt Skagit rig on sallies and big trout, but it’s just too much gun. I’m glad companies are building light switch rods now and good lines. Looks like I know what I want for christmas now (I can already see my wife rolling her eyes).

  7. I don’t Know about the rest of you , but I just used a 5 wt, 10′ 8″ switch rod with a Skagit head to swing for Deshutes red sides . If you get a 16 inch Redside on the swing in the current you’ll know you’ve been in a fight . I just finished the that river and was broken off twice by fish I believe to be in the 18 inch range.

  8. How do you consistently cast an 11′ head on an 11′ rod – even with 10 additional feet of MOW tip – without blowing the anchor? I would guess that you have to significantly slow the sweep and stroke down, as well as cant the rod at a shallower angle.

    • I don’t know about other folk, but I cut custom heads for some uses, or I’ve marked heads and running lines with ink or knotted tippet material at intervals to tell me where to stop and begin my cast. Funky/clunky but it works til I decide if I want a custom head for the app.

  9. A few years ago, curious about light switch rods, I built one on a $29 IM6 11 foot 5-weight blank. It spey casts best with WF6F and WF7F single hand lines, and is fun for trout fishing on medium-size rivers like the Yakima River. Just a little food for thought.

  10. I currently have a Buelah Platinum 6wt switch rod that I use to throw soft hackles and streamers in the fall on the Madison River in Mt. It is overkill for the trout which average about 18″, I’m looking to downsize and would like some recommendations.
    Budget is definitely a consideration. I have both Scandi and Skagit heads and I would like to continue to use my current reel and running line. Any info would be appreciated.

    • Beulah makes great rods and I have the Platinum in 5Wt, as well as the Onyx in 7Wt. You should check out the “micro spey” custom and stock rods offered by FlySpoke.

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