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Shooting heads DIY
3rd section - casting a shooting head
Casting a shooting head is different from casting a WF line. It will typically only cast well at one point with a certain amount of line out of the top eye. That point should ideally be when the head is 1 meter or 3 feet out of the top eye. This allows for a double haul, but will not leave too much of the light shooting line in the air, causing lack of control in the cast.
You work out line like you would in any cast until you reach the link between the head and the shooting line. Then you make one additional blind cast and let go. The rod should be well loaded - maybe even a little too much, and the head should trail a fair length of shooting line behind it, turn over the fly and land as straight as a normal WF line. My idea of an ideal cast is a roll cast to stretch the shooting head on the surface and a single back cast to load the rod.
Many anglers connect shooting heads and line baskets, but there is not necessarily any connection between the two. Having a line basket can be convenient - especially while fishing from rocks or in the surf, where tangles can be a severe problem. Some use a line basket in running water too to avoid the line dragging downstream. The sinking nature of many shooting lines - especially the monofilament ones - can also be a good argument for investing in a basket. But consider trying without. The basket is one extra acessory to haul along, and it does limit your stripping patterns, as you have to strip into the basket. An alternative is a clip, which holds the line in large coils. Take a couple of strips and tug the coil into the clip. When you cast it should release itself as tension draws it. Read much more about baskets, buckets and trays here.
Your next move is to select which end of the line you want to attach the leader. And yes, there is actually a choice. If you want a line that has more normal casting and turnover abilities, you should choose the tapered end as the front end, but reversing the line and choosing the blunt end will yield you a line that can have some awesome wind breaking abilities. Casting such a line might not be a charm, but when you have a heavy wind against you, you will be pleased with its performance.
If you want to put loops on both ends of your line you can always reverse it when needed. In this case you make an initial loop on the tapered end, and attach a leader to that. If you prefer spliced leader connections, nail knots or similar you attach your leader directly to the tapered end. No matter what you will probably want to choose the tapered end for the leader - at least for you first head.
When the proper length has been reached, you will need water to get onwards. Rig the rod for fishing with a proper leader, fly and the works, and go to the water to experience the handling and real casting while standing in water. Experiment with lifting the line off the water, roll casts and overhead casts. You will probably experience that the whole thing works perfectly, but you can also be surprised by a line that keeps diving, which means that the head might still be a bit long. Trim carefully and keep experimenting.
When the whole thing seems to work, make a really nice connection between the shooting head and running line. This point will go through the eyes many times during a day, and should be as slim and smooth as possible.
I personally prefer the spliced eyes on both ends of the shooting head, which enables me to change both leader and the whole head without tying knots. Others prefer even smoother splices like sown or glued ones covered with Aqua Seal or a similar compound and a good old fashioned nail knot, which indeed transfers power beautifully to the leader and the fly.
There are several things you can do to get a better - or rather, different - performance from your shooting head. Many fishers prefer cutting off a part of the front taper in order to get a stiffer front part, which will better turn over on power casts and better penetrate the wind. Look at the taper. Many fly lines have a tapered section and then a long, thin tip. This tip doesn't do much work in the cast, and might as well be removed. Cut the line about 15-20 centimeters (½') from where the real taper starts, and mount the leader here. The trimmed part will be 30-50 centimeters (1-2') of thin line, and the little weight removed will not effect the performance of the head.
A radical piece of advice regarding the taper is to totally reverse the shooting head as mentioned above. This will leave you with a head with no front taper, which does not give the most beautiful casts, but will enable the line to cut through even rough winds. If you have attached the head with loops it is worth the bit of trouble to try this configuration.
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