I recently had the opportunity to try out the state of the art “Switch” rod from Sage. Being a died in the wool steelhead fly fisherman, I’m always interested in the latest and greatest gear. Every time I open a package with a slick new product, I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. The most recent package was no exception. The shiny red rod tube looked like it was crafted by Santa himself, as did the beautiful red “Method switch rod” contained within. Labeling confirmed that the rod originated in Sage’s Bainbridge, WA. plant, and not the North Pole.
Sage calls their Method series of fly rods, “Ultra fast action”. This was the number one reason I picked the Method series out of the equally wonderful rods from the other Sage series. I prefer FAST action fly rods… Always have, always will.
The 11’-9” 7 weight model that I picked for Steelheading felt light and agile, at least for what amounts to a “light” Spey rod. Switch rods are really just that, light Spey rods. Traditional Spey rods can run to 14’ in length and pitch 10 or 11 weight lines. They tend to be slow in action, and a bit ponderous to cast. Great tools for fishing large salmon flies in in big broad rivers, and for fighting large salmon in a sort of refined, stately manner that wouldn’t unduly crease your $600.00 waxed cotton fishing jacket.
Switch rods on the other hand were conceived to be versatile pugilistic tools ideal whether punching long double hauls or Spey casts on Western rivers or chuck-n-duck type and roll casts into deep drop-offs in narrow Great Lakes tributaries.
My home waters of Michigan include just about every type of steelhead water so having a versatile rig is a bonus.
Most old-time fly fishermen prefer a touch of tradition in their fishing and I’m no exception. Where practical I like to make traditional casts with real fly-line and traditionally rigged flies, and I use these methods when I can but in many of the prime Steelhead and Salmon water around the great lakes, the lies are too narrow, brushy and technical to effectively use traditional methods.
Almost 40 years ago, Michigan Steelhead fly-fishermen adopted the “chuck and duck” method of presenting flies to steelhead and salmon. Fishing in tight brushy streams, in the dead of winter, in rivers that transition from ankle deep to 10’ deep around every bend, and with steelhead hugging the bottom of the deep, abrupt pools which often form under log jams and brush piles, it can be a challenge. It can be impossible to present a fly anywhere near an immobile, lethargic fish using traditional floating or sink-tip lines. Chuck and duck uses a running line, (which is typically used behind a shooting head), alone, without the shooting head. The small diameter running line gives an angler a fair chance of getting deep into a hole before the swift current rips it out. To the running line, a stout butt section of leader material is tied…6 feet or so of 15lb test, which gets tied to a small swivel. A sliding weight of varying styles, and sufficient heft to dive-bomb into the deep holding pools, runs between the swivel and the knot, sliding freely from running line to butt section knot at the swivel. On the other end of the swivel, 4-5 feet of tippet is tied, then a fly. Typically a 2-3 foot dropper is tied into the eye of the first fly, and another fly is attached, where legal. A long sensitive, fast action rod is ideal for this method. Switch rods provide the perfect traits to allow an angler to use either method with equal aplomb. Chuck n duck is oft maligned by purists as crude but it is undeniably effective. It employs fly line, flies, fly reels and fly rods. The cast is different and it sometimes uses a big chunk of weight, but so what? I’ve used it side by side with traditionalists all through the Great Lakes, the Rockies, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska…and out-fished the traditionalists 10 to 1 in most cases. Most prefer to call it light-line nymphing, which is actually very accurate. The method can be varied to suit your desired level of “tradition”, but it’s effective and it’s not going anywhere.
Having said all of that….I try to go traditional where possible….to wit, I headed out to a couple of my favorite steelhead rivers to put the Sage “Method” Switch rod through its paces…to stack the deck in my favor, I also grabbed my late model Sage 3200 reel and packed two spools. One with a DT 7 F Spey line…..and one with just a thin diameter running line.
First stop was the Pere Marquette river Near Baldwin, Michigan. The upper river, downstream from Baldwin is flies only and is hallowed ground for Steelhead, salmon and trout fishermen. I guided the river, on and off for many years and have had clients from as far as New Zealand, Sweden, France and Russia. It’s a world class fishery….when the fish are biting. The Pere Marquette offers a mix of wide, roomy water, and tight technical water so I started off traditional with the floating line and a long tapered leader. Even with traditional line and leader, there are a huge variety of effective rigs. Many use some type of strike indicator….or even balsa “corks”. I opted for a small yarn indicator and a 12’ leader with a small black stonefly nymph with a 2’ foot dropper ending with a small green caddis larva….a common and effective combo on the PM.
The Method switch was a dream. Roll cast were effortless. Spey casts leapt off the rod tip at the mere thought of casting. Mending line in the relatively narrow and fast runs was a breeze. Switch rods being hybrids can be false cast, cast one handed, and double hauled and the Method from Sage performed all of these tasks perfectly.
10 minutes into the second pool that I plied, my drift was rudely interrupted. The sensitivity of the Method proved to be exceptional and I swear I could feel the chunky, bright steelhead chewing my fly to death as I lifted gently to set the hook. Great feel and great backbone made the Method the perfect tool to battle the fish in tight log choked confines, while protecting the 4lb tippet. The length was ideal for managing my drift into, around and back out of the numerous brush choked holes.
I switched between light-line and traditional methods, and between wide and narrow rivers in the three days that I put the Sage Method through its paces. It handled every challenge without any effort. I lost count of hooked fished, but landed 13 Steelhead and a handful of brown trout on two distinctly different river systems using the Method. I never got tired of casting it ….or playing fish on it. It seemed to cast itself while telepathically keeping me posted on every movement at the end of my tippet.
Sage offers premium rods and the price of the Method is indicative of that, but it’s true, you do get what you pay for…and I’ve always been of the opinion that you should buy the best tools that you can afford, then try your best to wear them out. It applies to guns, chisels, guitars, frying pans and fly rods. The Method Switch rod from Sage is a tool that you can grow old with. In the process of trying to wear it out, you’ll make some great memories.
When you know you’ve got something special, you want as many people as possible to get their hands on it right away. In fact, both hands. Designed for two-handed aficionados who know that even perfect casts always have room for improvement, the METHOD is the two-handed casting machine they’ve been waiting for. Constructed using our now thoroughly battle-proven Konnetic Technology®, it features a seriously smooth, ultra-fast action that generously provides that most important quality needed for effortless two-handed cast: tremendous line speed. Thanks to its aggressive butt-to-tip taper that optimizes loading energy and flawlessly transfers it through the forward cast—plus vibration free tracking for exquisite accuracy—the METHOD smoothly snaps out the tightest of loops to carry the fly straight out to your target. All while being superbly light for all-day casting without fatigue. Big water. Big flies. Big fish. Big fun.