Spring steel-heading is a lifelong passion that I look forward to as much as any other fishing or hunting activity. For steelhead, fly-fishing is my tonic and I guess I’ve tried just about every sub-category in fly-fishing in order to catch steelhead. From Alaska, the pacific Northwest and all around the Great Lakes region, I’ve fished with most methods, from “chuck and duck” to skating dry flies. My favorite way to fish for steelhead, where possible, is to cast a floating line, perhaps a sink tip, in a traditional manner. Spey fishing with Spey rods is my preference.
There’s a great tradition of fishing for salmon, going back over 200 years on the famed River Spey in Northeast Scotland, from Loch Spey, through County Moray on to the port of Garmouth. It’s long been important for salmon fishing and whisky production, two things that go hand in hand to this day. They technique of “Spey” fishing with a fly was developed there in the wide, fast currents. Great volumes have been dedicated to the history of fly-fishing the Spey and I’ll leave the history for the reader to research. If you’re a fly-fisherman, it’s required reading, to fully understand the history and tradition of the sport.
In my home state of Michigan, we’re very fortunate to have an abundance of steelhead rivers, with a wide variety of river types. Some wide, shallow and rocky, some narrow and tight and some really big water with just about every variation on the theme. Big 14’ Spey rods aren’t always the perfect tool. Likewise, shorter rods in the 9-9.5 foot range, throwing 7,8 or 9 weight lines don’t always measure up either. Many serious fly-fishermen in these parts gravitate towards “Switch” rods. Switch rods are a new-ish take on two-handed Spey type rods. They tend to be do-all tools, ideal for a wide array of fishing challenges.
I had the pleasure of fishing a new Orvis 8 weight, 11 foot “Mission” switch rod on a few of my favorite steelhead rivers this spring. My intent was to put it through its paces, with a critical eye. I did and came away really impressed.
Orvis fly fishing gear has been coveted by fly-fishermen for over a century. Top quality gear is what you expect from Orvis, and the 8 wt. Mission Switch rod certainly didn’t disappoint. High grade components and construction go into Orvis rods and the 4 piece graphite rod was not only gorgeous to look at but it was also beautifully put together. As far as performance goes, you couldn’t ask for a better tool. Spey rods tend to be slow, in terms of action. Switch rods are faster, by design. The Orvis Mission switch is a cannon while still feeling very light in the hand. Not just a powerhouse, accuracy and precision happen with hardly a thought, with this rod. While technically a “two-hander”, designed for effortless roll casting, roll cast pick-ups, spey casting and long distance tosses with heavy flies, this rod will actually cast very well using one hand while double-hauling, something that none of my other Spey or switch rods do really well.
Versatility really is this rod’s forte. In addition to being the right length to handle many jobs, including effortless mending, it’ll also throw many different lines really well. Over the course of three days, I transitioned from smallish rivers to large, wide rivers. Because I wanted to put this rod through it’s paces I tried a few different line combinations while fishing. My selections included an Orvis steelhead/salmon taper 8 wt., a Jim Teeny full sinking line, an older Sue Burgess double taper, floating Spey line in 9 wt., and a RIO “Spey Chucker” line that is purpose built for relatively close quarters, effortless roll casts, with a lot of weight, indicators and/or bulky flies attached. The Mission Switch rod handled them all with zero drama, even the 9 weight line. It didn’t ever feel over-lined or disconnected. There’s so much effortless power and precision on tap that you’re unlikely to get fatigued in a full day of fishing. Something that I can’t say about many Spey rods. My 14’ 10 weight Spey rod will tire a guy out if lots of long distance casting is called for.
When it came to fighting and landing fish, once again this rod really shines. Lots of backbone, without being too aggressive is what you get. Most of my fishing was with a tippet of 4 lb. Maxima leader material. I never really felt like I was flirting with disaster with that light-ish tippet. Aside from a few fish that were instantly into the log jams, most fish came to hand or net without being mortally exhausted after exciting battles.
I’ve been using Orvis gear since I was a kid, in the 70s. There have been some ups and downs but Orvis have more or less always been a provider of premium gear and as a rule, listen to the desires of their customer base. In my years in the fly-fishing industry, some of it closely affiliated with Orvis, I witnessed product development, from Orvis, that was quickly executed to satisfy the desires that we had as guides and industry pros. The current crop of tackle is the best it’s ever been and is second to none in terms of what you get for your dollar. Styling being irrelevant to performance is nonetheless important. Applied technology and engineering to eek out all the possible performance is the most important aspect. Orvis wins big in both regards with the Mission. It’s beautiful to look at and is a precision tool that will shine in the hands of a novice or an old salt. While not cheap, you definitely get what you pay for, and no high-quality fly rod is cheap. The Orvis Mission is in line with what other companies offer, price-wise, with performance that I’ll gladly pay for.
I paired my Mission Switch rod with Orvis’ new Mirage disc drag reel, which I’ll devote a separate article to, but suffice it to say, this reel is the real deal too!! (pun intended).
If you haven’t yet, give a “switch” rod a try. With two-handed rod options from 3 weight to 9 weight, Orvis has all your bases covered. From light nymphing for trout to bombing huge deer hair mice and streamers, in a broad Alaskan river, you can’t go wrong with an Orvis Mission rod.
Brandon Vaughan has over 40 years of personal and professional experience in a broad array of hunting and fishing disciplines, from Alaska to Belize. Past professional experience includes working as a professional guide in Alaska and around the Great Lakes region. In addition to hunting and fishing throughout the lower 48, Canada and Central America, Brandon has been an Orvis Endorsed Fly-fishing guide, a fly-fishing and fly-tying instructor, a hunting guide and shooting instructor.