Back from AK. Did a week of doublehander chasing Searuns in the Sound area, followed by some resident trouts on some Yellowstone area rivers while heading down to Texas. During driving times between destinations where I am rocking out to the likes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica, Megadeath, and Ministry, I get lots of opportunity to think. One subject that I found a bit amusing was the condition that at the beginning of the North American Spey "Big Bang" it was commonly believed that the limit for "lightness" in doublehanding was at line designation number 7. A few years later and the real world application was found out to be 6... a few more years, then 5... now 4 and even 3. Of course, these are in "Spey" perspective, with, as an example, most 5 weight doubles being comparable to singlehanded 6's or 7's in fish-fighting aspects and line grain carrying capacity. Nonetheless, still an impressive downsizing of equipment and capabilities that have opened up a whole new arena of fishing opportunities for the doublehanded enthusiast!
The reason I am musing over this subject is because of how I was able to fish for the Searuns and then the rezzies of the Yellowstone area... with 3 weight doublehanders of TRUE singlehanded 3 and 4 weight stature in a Skagit casting capacity. This matter isn't exactly new-new, as a couple of "us" have presented some discussion concerning it last year on this site. But now I have accrued enough practical on-stream experience with these ultralight doublehanded systems to present very confident opinions about them.
But, before getting into a discussion on the practical merits of featherweight doublehanders, let's answer one question... why? What would be the greatest reasoning for wanting to Skagit cast a 3 weight DH (doublehander)? The answer would have to be, for the joy of of casting that way! I say this because of the following facts, facts that can be "banked on" as regards DH casting. The shorter the rod, and/or the lighter the line weight designation, and/or the faster the rod action, the more technically precise the casting technique must be to realize that systems casting potential. ALL THREE of the aforementioned conditions are INHERENT to the rod systems being discussed. The rods used were all originally singlehanders - an 8 1/2" 4 weight, a 9 1/2' 3 weight, and an 11' 3 weight - that had 4" to 5" handles added onto the butt. In other words, all three rods were sub 12' which is "short" in DH perspectives. All three rods performed best with Skagit bellies weighing from 147 grains to 193 grains... EXTREMELY LIGHT in the DH world. All three rods, are of faster action than typical "Spey" designated rods because they are actual singlehanded rods converted to a DH mode. Thus, in order to produce benefits from such light DH's that would actually be advantageous over the same rods used in their original singlehanded status, one must have the gumption to perfect their casting technique beyond that of the "average Joe". And the fact is, if you don't truly enjoy casting, then it is highly unlikely that the motivation is there to achieve casting "perfection". On the other hand, for those anglers that do undertake and complete a process of casting improvement in order to fish with featherweight DH's, the casting of longer, and/or heavier line weighted, and/or more moderately actioned rods then becomes, quite frankly, easy!
My primary motivation for delving into the arena of featherweight Skagit DHing springs exactly from that "love of casting" factor. My main passion in life is chasing winter steel with the swung fly. However, I have to admit that if it weren't for DHers and Skagit casting, that perhaps that passion would not be so strong... there is great added satisfaction to the winter steelheading game when, with a calculated series of compact movements involving seemingly physically minimal effort, a "normally" (in old school singlehander perspective) very demanding combination of sinking tip and outrageous fly go zipping out over the water with undeniably impressive speed and precision. The feeling has been described as being analogous to the perfect swing in golfing or nailing the "sweet spot" in baseball and it IS ADDICTING! So, in winter steelhead swing flyfishing, a recreational pursuit that by definition yields low "returns", being able to experience such "rewards" of hitting the sweet spot during the long intervals between contacts with fish, has become a significantly necessary facet of the game for me. Therefore, being quite passionate about steelheading, during the "off" seasons, I choose to experience angling pursuits that offer up some similar aspects to steelheading, as well as some different aspects from my "usual" fishing. The "similar" would be experiencing the sweet spots of casting, while the different ranges from species of fish pursued, to environmental conditions under which they are pursued. Thus, the 3 and 4 weight gig... an opportunity to pursue smaller quarry on smaller waters while still experiencing Skagit casting sweet spots (and also keeping one's casting skillset at a high level for the upcoming steelhead season!). It's not always the most productive or sensible approach of angling, but then again is "most productive" or "sensible" really supposed to be the primary definitor of RECREATIONAL or SPORT angling?! Isn't there some "fun" to be had in there somewhere?!
Now then, please don't take the tone of the last paragraph as implying that featherweight DHing can't also be effective... it most certainly can be incredibly so in the right situation. Just keep in mind that "effectiveness" isn't necessarily the primary purpose for their existence or use.
So, on to the "practical":
- I would not recommend featherweight Skagit DHing for dead-drifting situations. In the case of nymphing, the Skagit bellies used are, as per usual for the casting style, quite short and heavier than other DH casting styles and therefore not as "supple" as other types of lines. Thus, they do not lend themselves to the accomodation of complicated mends or of trying to get the line to land in loose curves onto the water to facilitate fly sink rate. As regards dead-drifting dries, add to the above reasons the fact that Skagit casts are are water-based, which is not conducive to keeping dry flies dry!
- featherweight Skagit DHing is very effective in most situations where swinging is involved... whether that be skating surface flies that maintain their surface position through "mechanical" actions with the water (skaters, wakers, gurglers, poppers), or swinging subsurface fare such as soft hackles or streamers.
- the main advantage of Skagit featherweight DHing over singlehanded overhead systems is the same as why "Spey" was originally conceived... ability to fish in tighter quarters due to the elimination of needing an overhead backcast.
- the main advantage of Skagit featherweight DHing over singlehanded Spey is that the use of two hands as a fulcruming device produces more real "power" than does Speycasting with one (singlehanded). Speycasting singlehanded while hauling does yield a higher degree of line speed which is very useful for casting small stuff, but still not the same "brute" power as two hands. I cannot explain the "why" of this but do know from practical experience that once one starts to increase fly size and/or weight, and/or employ a sinktip, that the use of two hands will produce better casting results than will one (singlehanded), even with the addition of a haul, especially when it comes to throwing sinktips.
The points listed above are what I consider to be fairly solid... in other words, pretty difficult to argue a case against. However, I experienced some other advantages with the featherweight DH Skagit systems that perhaps someone more skilled in singlehanded casting could possibly duplicate using a singlehander, but I cannot while using the same rod in a singlehanded mode. First off would be a wider range of "carrying capacity"... the ability of each rod to cast bigger and/or heavier flies, and/or sinking tips than normally associated with the stature of the equipment. All three of the rod systems worked well with up to size 2 weighted Wooly Bugger type flies and 2.5' T-8 MOW sinktip. The 11' 3 weight went as far up as a 3" splitshotted Pork Rind on a 5' T-8 MOW sinktip. Second, was an increased capacity for dealing with wind... I found the 3 and 4 weights in DH Skagit mode to cast effectively in winds up to a bit over 10mph, perhaps as high as 15 mph (this is guesstimation, thus the ambiguous nature of the figures). Last was distance... the two shorter rods, the 8 1/2' 4 weight and 9 1/2' 3 weight, could crank the 2.5' T-8 MOW and #2 Bugger out to around 65'. The 11' 3 weight could reach out to around 70'. All rods could reach a bit further when cast with smaller flies (once again, these figures are a guesstimation). These are, to me anyways, impressive figures for such light equipment!
To give a "real world" example of what can be accomplished with the featherweight DH Skagit systems, the 9 1/2' 3 weight worked very well for fishing the Madison River inside the park. With it I was able to (in conjunction with wading into the most advantageous position, of course) hit the far bank while casting a size 6 weighted bugger, trailed by a # 14 or 16 softhackle on a floating line and 11' leader, in the majority of places that I fished. In the mornings and evenings a 3"ish, lightly weighted Sculpin pattern on the 2.5 MOW was quite workable to about 55"-60' and once again, in most places I could place the fly within inches of the opposite bank. 8" to 10" fish felt respectable, while the largest fish landed - a 19"-20" Brown - was a very exciting battle (caught in a clean, open tailout - it would have been "history" had it been anywhere where that fish could have accessed structured cover!). I had one big Brown clearly expose itself as an unusually more impressive specimen as it surface slashed at the Sculpin. It would have been very interesting to see how the rod would have handled it had it hooked-up... it looked to be around a 4 to 6 pound fish!