2-handed Rods for Stillwater Fishing?

2-handed Rods for Stillwater Fishing?

Matt Klara | Sunday, 20 May 2018

If you know me, or if you’ve gotten to know a bit about me through my writings over time, you know that two of my favorite types of fly fishing are stillwater trout fishing, and casting 2-handed rods to swing flies on big rivers. I think if you dig deep, there are a number of shared traits that these types of angling have in common. The joy of casting a long line. The relaxed pace of a slow stillwater retrieve or tight line swing. The sudden jolt of a grab from a hidden fish. But the standard gear that these two types of fishing utilize are radically different. On the big rivers, I’m typically casting 12 to 14 ft 2-handed rods, rigged with some type of shooting head and sink tip system or long floating line designed for Spey casting. On the lakes, I’m usually reaching for a 9 or 10 ft single hand rod and either a floating or full sinking line of various densities. But there is one instance where I can think of where I will reach for a 2-handed rod when fishing stillwaters, and it solves a very specific angling “problem” for me.

Mid-summer in the Rockies is prime time for fishing the alpine lakes.  The valleys are hot and often the lowland lakes and rivers are too warm for safe catch and release fishing.  Up high, the lakes are still cold and the trout are taking advantage of the short growing season and feeding like mad.  If you like hiking and lake fishing, alpine lakes are the best.

When I am making hikes into the high country that might be several miles one way, with a couple thousand or more vertical feet in elevation gain,  I find myself paring down on fishing gear to lighten my pack and to make room for more food and water and clothing essentials.  I’m also not able to take along my boat.  More often than not, I’m too lazy to even lug my float tube along.  Lets be honest, too, I usually don’t even bother bringing my waders!  But the water in the high country is frigid year round, so I’m usually relegated to standing and fishing (gasp) from shore. 

There are some lakes that I enjoy fishing that are rimmed with shallow flats that make for some really fun sight fishing opportunities.  The flats might be 2 feet deep or up to 6-8 feet deep, and on the outside edge of the flats, the lake bottom drops into the abyss.  Conditions are not always perfect in the mountains, and sometimes the fish move off the flats and simply cruise along the drop-offs during the day.  With steeply angled terrain or tall trees on shore, making the long overhead casts needed to reach the drop-offs basically impossible.  A roll or Spey cast is the only option.  Add a bit of breeze in your face, and now that 50 ft roll cast isn’t as easy as it should be with your typical single hand rod!

This is where I feel like the 2-handed rod has a real place in my lake fishing.  Like I said, it is a very specialized situation, which is why it took me four paragraphs to get to the punchline!  But then again, 2-handed rods are very specialized rods as well!  So, if I’m heading to an alpine lake that I know has drop-offs relatively far from shore, I might pack along a switch or 2-handed rod for reaching out past the drop easily with long Spey and roll casts!

The real trick is finding flylines that cast well on 2-handers AND fish well on stillwaters.  I’ve messed with full floating single hand lines on switch rods, sized up to accommodate the variations in line ratings, and that works fine so long as the stillwater presentation I’m using works with a floating line - Hoppers or other dries, indicator fishing, or maybe a long leader and heavy fly combo.  I’ve not had much experience with full sinking intermediate lines that are designed for Spey casting with 2-handed rods.  Full intermediates are a key part of my single hand stillwater fishing.  I know that some version of these lines exist in Spey format, probably in the world of Scandinavian salmon and sea trout fishing, but their window of necessity is just so small for me that I’ve not committed the funds to getting a hold of any to experiment with (yet).  Other options for fishing off the faraway drop-offs are standard Skagit or Scandi 2-handed flylines paired with sink tips or sinking poly-leaders. That setup allows for a big cast and then for the fly to sink deep off the drop and then be retrieved back and up toward the surface.  In those instances, it’s just important to use a leader more appropriate for stillwater angling instead of a short, stout leader more suited to swinging big leeches on a steelhead river.

So, there it is.  My answer to the question – When would you fish a 2-handed rod on lakes?!

Until next time.

Take Care and Fish On,