Ballin’ On A Budget (Part 1): Convert a One-Hander into a Switch Rod

What is Skagit casting, why is everyone obsessed with it, and how can I get on the bandwagon at minimal cost?

There has been a recent resurgence of interest in the two-handed tactical approach to fly fishing. Why? Because it’s a super effective way of presenting large flies at a considerable distance. Throwing fat loops, and seeing pinwheels of water rip off your line was at one time reserved for Puritanical spey anglers and salty Downeasters (you know the kind I’m talking about — the old dudes in hipwaders overhead casting 13-foot “two hander” rods on a sandbar somewhere off Cape Ann). Over the past few decades, some innovative left-coasters have modified these more traditional two-handed techniques, and perfected what they would come call the Skagit method of casting. Of note, I recently stumbled across the Youtube page of a group of folks called Olympic Peninsula Skagit Tactics, and I was immediately consumed with how effortlessly this crew could cast larger flies on an appropriate-sized rod. The minute I saw this, I wanted in. [Note: you can indeed Skagit cast with a one-handed rod, but an opportunity to mess around and pretend I’m a rod builder looked too fun to pass up].

Unfortunately, I’m (still) on a college budget and I can’t necessarily dump a quick $500 to snag a new rod, a new reel, along with some shooting heads and a smattering of sink tips. So, what did I do? I chopped up my old one-handed bass rod and made a two-handed switch rod. Yes, its back is a little stiff, and I had to size up a grain weight on my OPST shooting head … but with an hour’s practice, I became proficient at Skagit casting, and I even landed a few fish in the process.

Check out my own step-by-step guide of how to modify your old single-handed rod into a two-handed beef rocket perfect for swinging streamers towards aggressive fish!

To do this, you will need the following tools and materials (I think I spent about $35 in total):

  • A dremel or corded drill with an abrading/cutting disk; OR a hack or sawsall equipped with metal-cutting blade; OR a drill bit of at least 1/4” that can bore through metal.
  • A vise or fixed clamp
  • One stick of JB Weld SteelStik
  • A 1/4” diameter threaded rod, of approximately 8” long
  • A length of 1/2” (external) diameter piece of brass tubing
  • Athletic (“hockey”) or cloth tape
  • Multipurpose waterproof glue such as Loctite or 2-part 30 minute epoxy
  • Plastidip (optional)
  • A cork grip (I repurposed a cork bike grip that I bought off Amazon, but you can either make your own or purchase a cork butt off the internet).
  • A lubricant such as bar oil (optional)
  • 1” diameter heat-shrink tubing (optional)

How to add a lower grip:

  1. Get a fly fishing rod that you don’t mind possibly ruining; when I did this for the first time, I used an old 9’ 8wt Quest II rod from LL Bean. (Note: This was my first ‘big’ fly rod, which I’d purchased almost on a whim; being an entry-level piece of equipment, its action was pretty forgiving, which turned out great for catching schoolies and for ripping big streamers).
  2. Secure the bottommost portion of the rod (i.e., the part with a handle) in a vise, or clamp it to a sturdy table. In either event, be sure to wrap some athletic tape around the part of the rod that is being gripped by the vise/clamp in order to prevent cracking or chipping the finish. This is optional, but seriously suggested.

    Chopping the handle off of a fly rod can be intimidating. Just take your time!
  3. Remove the bottom of the reel seat or existing fighting butt (Figure 1). Some reel seats are actually just a “cap,” and these can be pried off using a flathead screwdriver or blade and a pair of pliers. More often than not, the reel seat is solid or machined, in which case you’ll have to remove it using either: (A) some form of metal-cutting saw blade (like a hacksaw or sawsall),  (B) a dremel with a cutting disk, or (C) an appropriate and lubricated drill bit [in which case, you’re not “removing” it so much as you are drilling through it; be sure to do this slowly, and constantly apply oil to the drill bit. If you need to remove the fighting butt, these are usually attached by way of a graphite extension that, if not already exposed, can be accessed by cutting away some of the cork. 
  4. Obtain a cork grip of the appropriate style and length. I used a Planet Bike Corky Grip from Amazon (Fig 2). Working from the side with the hole, use a razor blade cut these to whatever length you’d like. I did not modify mine.

    rods.002
    Cork grips come in all shapes and sizes. A quick search on Amazon will get you what you need to get started.
  5. Take your threaded rod, and put a couple wraps of hockey tape onto one end. Insert this into the ‘hole’ within the reel seat; this should fit somewhat loosely (Fig 3). The amount of threaded rod that’s exposed (i.e., not in the hole, but extending ‘downward’ from it) should be approximately the length — actually, slightly shorter — than the intended length of your new lower grip. If you find that the threaded rod is too long, you can cut it with a dremel. Put a few more wraps of hockey tape on the rod to make sure it sits flush with the seat, then make a ‘snake’ of some JB Weld SteelStik; work this around the threaded rod, shove some into the hole, and let dry. Once dry, apply some more on the outside of where the threaded rod meets the reel seat (Fig. 4)

    rods.003
    Tip: Wear disposable latex gloves!


  6. Once the JB Weld is dry, take your brass tube and slide it over the threaded rod. Measure this according to the desired length of your lower handle; this should be the exact length of the lower handle, as we want some of the brass tubing to be exposed. Cut tubing to the desired length. Wrap hockey tape over the length of threaded rod, make another ‘snake’ of the JB weld, and apply this over the hockey tape on the threaded rod; don’t be afraid to go a bit heavy on the SteelStik. Next, slide the brass tube on top, using a razor blade to remove any excess SteelStik (Fig 4).rods.004
  7. Optional step: While this dries, coat the bottom of your new cork handle in Plastidip. I did about 5 or 6 ‘dips’ over the course of several hours. This will give your ‘butt’ a bit more longevity as the Plastidip will waterproof and preserve the cork (Fig. 5).

    rods.005
    Once you use Plasti-Dip for the first time, you’re going to dip everything you own.
  8. Once the JB Weld and Plastidip are dry, we’re ready for the next step. For those using heat-shrink tubing, slide about 3 inches of this it over the new brass handle: work this up to the reel seat, cover any remaining JB Weld, and synch it down with a heat gun (or blow dryer). While optional, I think this gives the butt a nice, clean aesthetic and it’ll ultimately give your cork grip a tighter seal. Once that’s done, put a few touching wraps of hockey tape all the way down the brass; slide the cork butt on to assure a comfortable fit (repeat wraps as necessary). Once the butt fits relatively tightly over the tape, gently ease it off, and cover the cloth tape with either two-part epoxy or a waterproof glue such as Loctite Go2-Glue (Fig. 6). Then, gently work the cork butt back up the tubing, and wipe off any excess glue with a wet rag. Allow this to dry for the appropriate period of time, then put a small bead of waterproof glue/epoxy (or even Aquaseal) around the ‘top’ of your new handle.rods.006
  9. Optional step: some people like to seal their cork with shellacking or even hair spray. I gave mine a quick protective coating by just rubbing some mink oil on it, but I’m not sure if this actually did anything but make it look shiny (time will tell!)
  10. Dial in your newly finished switch rod with the appropriate Skagit head, and go catch some fish!

    This is what mine looked like when everything was said and done.
    This is what mine looked like when everything was said and done.

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