Shooting Heads

Shooting Heads Go The Distance

How does a shooting head work, what is it for and how easy is it to use?
Neil Richardson

Rob Edmunds replies: A shooting head is a fly line with an exaggerated profile. It consists of a head length that is one size heavier than the rod’s AFTM rating (for example if you have a 7wt rod you should use an 8wt shooting head). This head length is connected to a very much thinner running line. The shooting head will allow you to cast much longer distances with the minimum of effort, so they are especially useful for those anglers who suffer with tennis elbow, struggle to load the rod easily or when you just want maximum distance in difficult conditions i.e. high winds.

However presentation is compromised (especially when striving for distance) and it is not advisable to use teams of flies when fishing this type of line (two flies maximum in my opinion).

Shooting heads are simple to make. Cast the line to see how much you can aerialise easily. Mark the line at this ‘loading’ point, then add another eight foot (measuring towards the reel end) and cut the line at this point. The head length will vary from 25 to 38 feet depending upon the ability of the angler to aerialise fly line.

Then join the running line (shooting head backing) to the back of the line (where you’ve just cut will now become the front of the line). Then cast this set-up again. If it’s too heavy or you can’t aerialise enough of the head, simply cut off one foot at a time from the thicker front end of the line until it’s custom made to your ability. But remember you want it to be heavier than normal and load the rod quickly and easily so don’t cut back too far.

Finally attach a braided loop and leader and you are ready to fish

When casting simply get the thicker head line just out of, or just in, your rod tip, then let go… don’t try to hold up the thin running line as it will just collapse around your head. Casting with these lines will require some practice but the benefits are worthwhile. Shooting head style lines can now be purchased ‘off the shelf’, for example the Rio Outbound and Airflo 40+ range offer all the advantages of a shooting head, without the hassle of making one yourself (but are costly in comparison).

Off the shelf shooting heads can be used with teams of flies, as the forward profile has been specially designed, but you will loose just a little distance because of this slight change to the taper. Better still they are competition legal, as home-made shooting heads are banned in some matches.

Reprinted with permission of Trout Fisherman magazine.