Skagit style shooting heads were a product of the “Skagit revolution” in the late 80’s, when at the time guides and anglers were looking to develop a spey line that would cast big flies and heavy sink tips to steelhead on certain rivers of the Pacific Northwest. They had struggled with the previous lines that had been in existence at that time, Scandi and long bellied tapers because neither are capable of lifting the flies or the heavy sink tips off the water to get them out to any distance. Thus; where skagit lines came into existence. Short heads, fast tapers and heavier lines were developed and allowed anglers fish the way they wanted to, and in turn created more fishing opportunities in more environments. This allowed anglers to target steelhead in a new way across the PNW, and it picked up fast. Skagit lines were a lot easier to cast than any line created previously, and people liked that about them. Not to mention that they worked, and people were catching a lot of fish on them. It was a new way to utilize a two handed rod, and it is still a great tool.
There are many places where it is a necessity, and many places where I’ll fish a skagit myself. However my issue with Skagit is that it seems to be most of what you hear about when people talk about spey rods anymore, and it isn’t always the best option to fish. After having the opportunity to experience fishing (and owning) both scandi and traditional taper spey lines, I personally believe they both well deserve some recognition as amazing fishing tools as well.
I bought my first spey rod back in the spring of 2016, and it wasn’t good for me. The rod and line specs didn’t match up, and I wasn’t educated enough at that point to know any better. I was told to buy a skagit head which was what I needed, and what I still use on the steelhead rivers around lake superior because it is the most effective way to swing in that area. I won’t deny that. But, the one thing that I wish I would have known earlier is how great scandi and other traditional tapered lines are for other applications. I was told that other lines besides skagit were basically outdated and didn’t have much use, and that’s what I believed for about a year after I heard that. The year following the purchase of my first spey rod I took a trip to a place where other lines had a purpose, and that’s where my knowledge and opinions on two handed rods completely changed.
In the fall of 2017 I had the opportunity to travel to western Idaho to fish the Clearwater, the first river I had the opportunity to fish for a proper ocean run steelhead. It is a beautiful place, and I fell in love with it from day one. I went there expecting to fish my skagit line with sink tips and bigger flies, as that’s how I thought steelhead were fished just about everywhere. I found the complete opposite upon arrival. Long rods, long floating lines and small flies are the weapons of choice there. I was surprised to see this, and I didn’t know what to think of it at first. Until I had the opportunity to cast a mid bellied spey line.
I got lucky enough to have local steelhead and trout legend Kenly Bitton as my guide for the two days (to whom I remain good friends with to date), and he was the first to hand me a rod with a mid bellied line on it. “I don’t like those f$&#in skagits, try this” (or something of that nature) he said as he handed me one of his rods instead of my own. It was a bit awkward at first as the casting required a bit more precision than I was used to, but through two days of persistence I got a grip on casting a spey line with a longer head, and I fell in love with it from then on. One of the first things I did when I got home was order a traditional taper spey line for myself and have acquired a couple others of the same type of scandi. They cast smoother, lay out cleaner, and swing better than any skagit line I’ve ever picked up. I love them to death and fish them any time I have the opportunity to, whether it be steelhead or trout spey.
Basically, the message I’d like for you to take from this article, dear reader, is if you’ve been someone who has been fishing skagit for a long time, or has been told that nothing has a purpose besides skagit in your area, at least give something else a try. Skagit certainly has it’s place and I’ll never deny that, but I want to spread the word that other lines are amazing as well. This is just my opinion, but it just might open up a whole new world for you.