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Shooting heads DIY
1st section - preparing the lines
Shooting heads are excellent weapons for reaching further when fishing from the shore of ocean or lakes.
The distance is achieved through a simple redistribution of weight; more in front and less in the back. The shooting head is typically shorter and denser - even heavier - than the belly of a WF line, and the running line is thinner and lighter and at times smoother than the thin part of a WF line. The shooting head will give you these advantages:
- it will cast longer with the same effort because of the light, often low friction running line
- it will facilitate line speed gain and power in the cast, through concentration of the casting weight in the front end of the line
- it has a tendency to cut well through the wind, which is very relevant for the salt water fisher.
- it will take fewer blind casts to get the rod loaded, eliminating the need to work out line bit by bit.
- it can be configured to cast quite heavy flies - a benefit to the salt water or pike fisher
The use of a shooting head is not only a blessing. There are disadvantages too. Among these you will find:
- lack of precision. The strength lies in power and distance, not delicacy.
- poor short line abilities. There is a minimum length of line, which has to be out of the top eye before you can cast well.
- poor turnover of leader and fly. The heads are often constructed with short front and back tapers and rely on power to turn over properly.
- mending can be impossible because of the light running line being unable to move the heavy head - poor roll casting abilities for the same reasons as above.
- noisy landing. The line will often splash on the landing especially with sinking lines.
It's important to notice that shooting heads are very different. Some are half double taper lines with almost no taper, while others are carefully constructed with roll, spey and underhand casts in mind, and often as good or better with these casts than a simple WF line.
You can buy shooting heads from many fly line vendors. In spite of being shorter than a full line, these are not less expensive. They will usually cost the same as a complete WF or DT line. And they are nice. They are often finished with loops in both ends and many of them will either come with a running line or be spliced directly to one.
But there are good reasons to make your own, especially if you are just starting out in shooting heads. You can both save money (a lot actually) and get a line that is trimmed precisely to fit your rod.
The most common starting point is an inexpensive DT line. You can buy any brand you like, and it's not necessarily a bad choice to take a second rate line. These might differ in the quality of the coating and the precision of the tapers compared to the brand names, but that doesn't matter much. The reason for this is the fact that the shooting head will not pass through the top eye at the peak of each cast - it will be outside. The taper is less important because there can be good reasons to trim or even remove the taper. So feel comfortable picking up a second rate line or a no name offer.
Getting down to the bottom in deep currents for fish like cod and flounder means fishing with heavy lines - sometimes extremely heavy.
Choosing a line weight might not be a big issue here because many of these lines don't come in regular line weights. They either come in one-size-fits-all or are measured in grains. Typical weights are between 200 and 850 grains with the larger number being the heavier line - very heavy actually.
You will find fast sinking lines from all the major manufacturers of fly lines, but many of them are expensive special purpose lines, which you'd not want to cut before they are very worn.
Deciding how much of the special deep water lines you need, can be somewhat a tedious task. The best measure is not length, but weight - and here I mean weight in grams or ounces - not in AFTM classes.
In table N you can see the typical weight of the tapered part of a WF line for different AFTM classes. Those weights can serve as a guideline when you design your shooting head.
Your first decision in this venture is choosing a line weight. Let's assume you want to make a head for a 7-weight rod. Don't pick up a 7-weight line! Maybe not even an 8 weight. You'd probably always want to go one or two classes over the line weight of the rod. If you don't, you wind up with a very long shooting head. For your first head I'd suggest that you go two weights over the rod weight.
Bring home the line, and check the length and the tapers. Cheap DT lines often have varying lengths and different tapers in each end. The line should be somewhere between 24 and 27 meters (72 and 81 feet). You will need less than half of this, so bring out your scissors and cut the line in half! If there's a difference in tapers, choose the one with the most blunt taper and store the other for later use.
You can save some later work by stringing the uncut line on the rod and casting it on a lawn. Find the spot where the line casts well and loads the rod properly. With this done, you cut the line where you are holding it, which ideally should be the proper shooting head length plus a rod length. From this point there will be less trimming needed than from half a line. The typical length of the finished head will be somewhere between 9 and 12 meters (27 and 36 feet), so if the piece you are about to cut is shorter than 9 meters, you might want to reconsider.
An ordinary kitchen scale is fine for weighing fly lines. It just needs to be precise within 1-2 grams in its whole range.
In stead of length you can use weight as guidance when cutting the line. This will typically be convenient if you have already made several shooting heads for a specific rod or if you have a friend who has.
You will need an accurate scale, which can weigh with a precision within 1-2 grams or 0.05 ounces. Weigh an existing head for reference, and get out the line you want to cut. Wind it up in relatively tight curls - 10-15 centimeters or 4-6 inches in diameter - and place it on the scale. Note the weight. If it's a DT line you can now calculate the weight per length - i.e. per meter or per foot. With that and the reference in hand you can easily calculate the length of the head.
If your usual shooting head weighs 22 grams (3/4 of an ounce), and your 27 meter (81 feet) DT line weighs 67 grams (2.4 ounces), you need 8.8 meters (26.5 foot) of the DT line to make up a head of a similar weight. In that case I'd cut 9.5 meters or 28.5 feet of the DT line and use the trimming process described below to get the right performance.
If you are cutting a WF line, weigh the head alone, leaving the running line on the table, and compare to your reference. If it's too heavy, remove a coil and weigh again, and repeat until you have the right weight. Add one or two coils and cut the line. It's now ready for the trimming process.
If it's too light you need to go up a line class. You do not want any of the running line as part of the shooting head as it adds too little weight and a lot of length to the head.
The running or shooting line basically comes in three main types:
- plain, thin level (L) or trimmed double taper (DT) flylines
- plain or spcialized monofilament lines
- braided lines
- coated monofilament lines
Selecting one can be difficult. I have come to love the braided types, but have also used the fly line types with great joy. I'm not so pleased with the monofilament ones, but many other anglers love their superior casting abilities and low friction. You can sum up the advantages and disadvantages of the running lines like this:
Flylines (Many brands)
Pro: floats, handles beautifully, good friction turns over shooting head, knots untangle easily
Con: high weight, fairly high friction, stiffness limits casting lengths, expensive
Monofilament (Flat Beam, Amnesia)
Pro: low friction gives extremely long casts, mostly inexpensive
Con: most brands sink, difficult to handle, low friction yields poor shooting head turn over, kinks easily with tight knots as a result.
Braided (HT. Airflo, Scierra and similar brands)
Pro: good friction turns over shooting head, handles well, knots untangle easily
Con: sinks, curls and kinks if not maintained, can be noisy, can wear fingers, wears with time
Pro: good friction turns over shooting head, handles well, floats
Con: kinks easily, can be fairly stiff
My recommendation is to start with the fly line type if you can afford it. It's the easiest line to use out of the box. Second I'd recommend the braided line, which will give the best of both worlds. Wait with the monofilament, which in my experience will work best for the more skilled shooting head caster.
You will need 20-30 meters (60-90') of running line.
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