A CLOSER LOOK AT DO'S, DON'TS AND BALANCED SKAGIT OUTFITS
The first decision to make when choosing a Skagit is between a floating head, like the RIO Elite Skagit Launch, versus one that partly sinks, such as RIO’s GameChanger series of Multi-density Skagit heads.
Floating heads are the easier ones to cast – though, with a little guidance and practice, neither outfit is difficult. The floating head is also a great choice when the water you’re covering isn’t very deep or where the flow isn’t strong. A floating body catches more water and swings the sunk tip better in this situation. Happily, because they float, the thick Skagit section lifts off the water easily during the cast.
Even the fastest sinking GameChanger heads retain a short floating section at the back. This allows us to steer and control the head through the swing and very much helps retrieve and re-cast it without hooking rocks, extra roll casts, and so on.
These partly sinking heads come into their own where the water is powerful, and your goals are maximum depth and/or slowing down the swing speed. The sinking portion dips underneath what is often the fastest flowing water at the surface, and these heads will swing noticeably slower compared to a floating Skagit head. Great in the coldest conditions, and where your fly is fishing round faster than you’d like.
One final choice could be the length. All Skagit heads are short relative to other styles of line. Often around 25’ long in sizes to match a #10 rod. Shorter heads, like RIO’s Elite Skagit Power at 20’ in the same size, offer the option to operate in very restricted space – or to deal with the heaviest of tips. A note of caution on these short total lengths:
The Skagit system was developed where 13’ is a ‘long rod’. Longer tips help keep Skagit anchored and ‘friendly’ with rods over this length. Long MOW Tips and 15’ Interchangeable Tips can be great options on our popular 14’ plus models. So long as there’s just a little room to operate and form a D-loop.
Balancing the outfit
Skagit heads are normally sized in grains, so we use a size chart to match them to the # size on our rods.
Why are there so many more size steps and options in Skagit compared to other lines? Partly because the concentrated weight in a Skagit body means that even small variations in your D loop’s size and position make a noticeable difference to casting. What feels like an ideal setup while deep wading and pinned against the bank, might well feel a bit short and quite heavy the next time out, wading in ankle-deep water with plenty of space behind. The 25 grain increments and subtle differences in length provide fine-tuning for the more tech-minded angler who is fishing these lines frequently. Rather than getting too hung up on this initially, I’d suggest choosing something described as short (18’-20′) if your rod is under 13′, and the regular option (23′ – 27′) with 13′ and-longer rods.
Why aren’t there long Skagits to match our long rods? Grains per foot is the answer. The more a Skagit body gets stretched out, the less weight there is in each foot of line. Obvious, right? Yet we need those ‘grains per foot’ or concentrated weight to boss the sinking tips and big flies, making everything easy. It’s the Skagit advantage. If the tips and flies have to be lighter, or the casting gets harder. We have that covered already!
Varying tip choice from the Army of available options, Adjusting overhang and casting style are all effective ways to tune your Skagit setup. We’d say don’t worry too much about 2′ here or 25 grains there.
Do’s and Don’ts
All manufacturer’s charts and weight recommendations assume you’ll only ever be Spey casting Skagit lines. If you wanted to overhead cast a Skagit, you’d need to start again from the top and choose a different, much lighter grain weight head, then factor in the tip’s weight. Halfway down the pool, if you needed to Spey cast, then your outfit would be way too light to work well. Honestly, just don’t do it. The Spey casting performance of these lines should take away any need.
Although most Spey casts are possible with a Skagit – some are definitely better than others. “Sticking” to casts with a sustained anchor, so Double Spey, Snap T or Circle C, Perry Poke, etc is the best way to get safe and consistent results. These are the casts used by Skagit masters.
First time out, bring the Skagit head to just outside the rod tip and think slow and steady. The Skagit head is easy to steer and easy to load the rod with so ideas of ‘Power’ and ‘Speed’ are not required.
Any line can be cast well or badly, but there’s no doubt that an angler making their’ way down a quiet pool in fairly low water armed with Skagit and Snap T makes an impact. Looking on – worse still, fishing down behind – it feels like everything living in and around the river knows that something is afoot. It is possible to make reasonably quiet, gentle casts with a Skagit outfit, but every other line option available could be operated more gently.
Part of the issue here is no doubt the size of Skagits we deploy. Thousands of US Steelhead anglers take stealth and watercraft very seriously, but their Skagit outfits are lighter than ours: #8 outfits for big water and winter, #7 are all-year, allrounders and #6 would be considered “light/summer”
If Skagit is the line for “bigger and deeper” don’t forget to take it off – or at least scale it down accordingly when that’s not what you need.