Shooting heads DIY


The sections

About lines
Sink rates

1st section - preparing the lines

by Martin Joergensen

1st chapter
Cast further
In which you learn why it might be convenient to own a shooting head


Shooting heads are excellent weapons for reaching further when fishing from the shore of ocean or lakes.
The one main advantage of the shooting head is longer casting distance with smaller effort. This is the single most important reason why people will choose a shooting head over any other type of line. There are other advantages, but true, you do cast longer with a shooting head setup.
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

2nd chapter
Where you learn why a shooting head might not be the best thing since sliced bread anyway

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.

3rd chapter
Make your own
In which you learn that it's a good idea to DIY

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.

4th chapter
Killer lines
In which you learn that some shooting heads sink fast - and just how fast

Getting down to the bottom in deep currents for fish like cod and flounder means fishing with heavy lines - sometimes extremely heavy.
In many cases you want to make a sinking shooting head - a very fast sinking one. That calls for special types of lines like Deep Water Express or Lead Core. Some of the fast sinking regular fly lines will do too, but will rarely sink as fast as the dedicated deep water lines.
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.

5th chapter
Line weight considerations
Where you learn to determine the proper line weight - and make the first cut

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.

6th chapter
Using weight as a measure
Where you learn that weighing the line might sometimes be necessary - or just a good idea

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.

7th chapter
Running line considerations
Where you learn the plusses and minuses of different running line types

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

Coated monofilament
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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User comments
From: Chris · ajagun_shegun_always·at·  Link
Submitted July 1st 2014

Hi Martin:
I have a St. Croix Avid fly rod, 13' 6" long, 7/8 wt. I have a 9 L line that I would like to turn into a skagit shooting head. I also have a DT 11 F line. An expert like you had suggested that I get SA extreme skagit head, 440 grains. Reading through your carefully written article gives me hope I can DIY - which is great because in the end I would become smarter - at this. I wonder though what your thoughts are about building my shooting head, skagit for me, given 9 L or DT 11 F lines that I have. Thanks.

GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted June 17th 2013


You shouldn't select a shooting line (running line) based on rod weight, but based on what kind of characteristics you want from it - stiff, subtle, smooth, coarse, thick, thin. There's a lot to take into consideration, but this article exclusively on shooting lines might help you choose.


From: Jesper · jesperbruunpedersen·at·  Link
Submitted June 17th 2013

I'm a bit in doubt about what line weight I should use for the shooting line. I have a #6 rod and will therefore use a #8 line as the shooting head, as recommended, but what line weight should be used as shooting line, same weight as the rod or thinner?
Thanks in advance :-)



From: Thomas H Hall · tommyh.hall·at·  Link
Submitted June 13th 2013

I would like to acknowledge the use of PVC coated braid running lines in conjunction with DIY shooting heads and i agree that the DIY shooting head should never be less than nine netres in length including the short front taper if the characteristic "Kick" is to be avoided in the final turnover of the line. This appears to be the case whatever the weight of the head. I experimented with very short heavy heads in attempt to fly cast in very restricted conditions but found that it ruins presentation. Nine metres long heads is as short and as practical as it can be.

From: Doug Goar · doug.goar·at·  Link
Submitted December 25th 2011

This is too cool!!! I have rods that are called "Float and Fly." They are a spinning rod built from a fly rod blank. Mine are both 9 foot and probably translate into a 6 or 7 weight. I am using the newly released Nanofil line which is super slick. I'm now going to build a trial shooting head using your directions and give it a try on the Nanofil.

GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted June 29th 2011


I have no idea what does the trick in furniture polish! The main trick is most likely to make the line water repellent, and for that any greasy or oily substance can be used. I personally prefer the silicone-based products such as Mucelin.

The effect of the furniture polish might also be smoothness and shootability. For that purpose there are line treatments, which improve the slickness of the line. Loon has some, and so do other manufacturers.

But personally I find the running lines smooth enough while floatability is generally lousy, so making sure the line floats is a priority for me. Any water repelling substance can be use for that: Mucelin, silocone for shoes, grease for gaskets and much more. I even know an angler who used hair gel! The gel is water-soluble, so I wouldn't go for that, but anyhow...

Hope this helps.


From: swellcat · swellcat·at·  Link
Submitted June 29th 2011

An Australian vendor suggests Dacron (same stuff used for backing) treated with Mr. Sheen (a furniture polish, I gather) as running line. Any guesses as to what components of the polish are helpful and, therefore, what substitutes might be used?

GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted February 16th 2009


When working in 9, 10 and 11 weight rods, the difference between one line class and the next is quite significant, and if you are talking premade shooting heads (just the head with no running line), I would hesitate to acquire an 11 weight head for a 9 weight rod - even with the intent of cutting it down.

Lefty is right in his arguments (what else, he's Lefty!) that a longer head will give potentially longer casts, but depending on your casting position and skills, remember that keeping a 40 foot head in the air is no easy task. If you fish from a boat it's manageable, but if you wade, it's a lot harder.

But the idea of starting long and working your way down is still my preferred way of doing things, and in you situation I would consider finding a full double taper line in a suitable weight class - typical a 10 weight in your case. This is the way I usually go about trimming shooting heads. Most DT-lines are even longer than 80 feet meaning that you can most likely get two heads from one line.

If you look for Salmon Double Taper lines in shops and on the web you will most likely find lines in the 9-12 weight range, and some of those might be what you need. Some of the manufacturers have them on their program in both floating, intermediate and sinking versions.
They are not uncommon in UK and Scandinavian shops, where classical two hand rods for salmon might be more common than in the US.

In my own case I have been able to buy inexpensive mill end lines at really good prices on a couple of occasions, and that just makes the deal even sweeter.

Hope this helps.


From: Russ · saupere·at·  Link
Submitted February 16th 2009

Martin, I am just rigging up for saltwater flyfishing (mostly fishing for snook, redfish, spotted trout, bluefish and various snappers in Indian River in Florida) after being a trout fly fisherman in PA for many years. I've acquired a 9wt graphite Lamiglas flyrod that's 9feet 6 inches long. I've read alot of Lefty Kreh articles about saltwater fly fishing and have made it a habit to heed much of his advice. One piece of advice he gave me is not to use many flies bigger than 1/0 in size. That they are just difficult to cast. With the casting difficulty aspect in my mind, naturally the idea of using shooting heads has caught my fancy. Mr Kreh in his book writes that most of the line manufacturers provide shooting heads that are precisely 30 feet in length because that's how flyline weights are measured, by the first 30 feet. He finds fault with that because as soon as the shooting head unfurls in mid air it quickly falls to the water. He says to get better casting distance it's better to start with a shooting head of about 40 foot or longer and work your way down to the optimal SH length thru trial and error much the same way you advocate to determine what's the best SH length you can handle. In my case I am finding 40 foot shooting heads hard to find in 10wt. I know where I can get one in 11wt. Would I be making a huge mistake attempting a shooting head that's 2 steps above my 9wt rod? Not that it matters much but I will be using a 10wt Tioga reel.

GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted January 24th 2009


The Teeny-type lines are usually vastly overweighted for the rods. I sometimes use a 700 grains line on my 9-weight pike rod. To call it casting when I use it is exaggerating a bit. It's more like catapulting... But with gentle casting motions it's possible, and man, it does get down to the fish!

Once you tread into the world of these lines, the usual "recommended casting weight" rules seem to cease existing, and other rules such as "get down fast!" come in play.

Don't worry too much about the weight in grains of the T-lines, but use what's recommended - and be prepared for a new casting experience.


From: Ken · manzari·at·  Link
Submitted January 23rd 2009

Thanks for your reply. I have never casted a full sinking line before. I plan to use the Rio T-14(tungsten) line and make a shooting head. For the floater, I will by a cheap 12wt tapered or double tapered. I fully understand there will be casting differences between the sinking line and the floater. My confusion lies in the fact that theoretically, 280 grains loads a 10wt(AFTMA) and everything I have read states that 350-400 grain sinking line will also work for a 10wt. I don't get it.

GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted January 22nd 2009


Once you step into the realm of Teeny (or Rio) sinking lines, you are in a different world. The heads on these lines are typically much heavier than their "normal" counterparts and 3-400 grains or even 700 grains is way beyond what you would use for a floating or even intermediate line on any rod.

If you have used a T-line, you have probably noticed that the casting style you need to use is much different from the casting style you employ when casting your average line. The T-lines are simply much heavier for the simple reason that they are built to sink like rocks (almost),

When making fast sinking heads I have always used some type of very dense line - like the Scientific Angler Deep Water Express or Lead Core. You could of course also cut a Teeny or Rio line, but it would hurt my heart to trim off the shooting part of these lines. The ones I have used have been full lines with sinking heads and have worked fine as such. But if you want a system, where you can exchange the head, you need to cut and add loops of course.

For the floating head you just follow the recipe in the article and either weigh or try your way to a 30' head in the right weight. This will cast line any line or shooting head, while the sinking head still will cast more like a yo-yo or a bunch of keys tied to a normal fly line. this doesn't matter much since the idea is to get down, not to present the fly nicely.

Hope this helps you.


From: Ken · manzari·at·  Link
Submitted January 21st 2009

Mr. Joergensen,
I have read your excellent article concerning shooting heads, but I am still somewhat confused, (not very difficult for me).
I would like to make both a sinking and floating head system. My current saltwater rod is a St. Croix Legend Ultra, 10 wt., 9 feet long. I will most likely use the sinking head system off my 18 foot center console here on Long Island Sound(Connecticut/Rhode Island), but will also use it wading.
I was considering using Rio T-14 line for the sinking head. Here's where I am confused. From what I have read, my understanding is that I could use a 350-400 grain line for this rod. That would be anywhere from 25 feet to 28 feet of T-14. Yet, the AFTMA rating for a 10 wt. is 280 grains, +/- 10 grains.
Now if I were to build a floating head, the ideal length would be up to 30 feet for ease of casting. My confusion/question is, Do I go to 280 grains, or the 350-400 grains? How can 350-400 be ok if the rod is properly loaded at 280 grains? If I try to go to the 350-400 for the floater, the head would be very long, even overlining by two to three line weights.
I did learn in your article that practice casting is really the only way to accurately measure the length of the head. But I am still confused on how that rod can cast 350-400 grains for a sinking head when 280 grains loads the rod properly.

Sorry for being long winded here. I hope I have accurately expressed my confusion.
Thanks in advance for your response.

GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·  Link
Submitted December 14th 2006


I know that running lines differ, and that they are a matter of personal taste. But since I prefer not using baskets or any such contraptions, I find monofilament lines unsuitable for my personal type of fishing. Your mileage may vary...


From: Nicolas Olano · nicolasolano·at·  Link
Submitted December 14th 2006

Good. But you forgot to mention that runniung lines can differ in performance depending on where and what you are fishing for. Try using a stripping basket with ammnesia and you'll see what I mean. Try using a flyline on a medium sink tip and you loose the object of the excercize.


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