Cast Better: Make your own shooting head

LOVE them or hate them, if you want distance there’s no easier or better way to obtain it than with a shooting head fly line. Some anglers don’t like them as the running line gets tangled and more time is spent undoing them rather than fishing. This might have been the case when the only choice available was nylon, but with the modern running line this frustration has all but disappeared.

Let’s look at what’s available

● Pre-looped heads: Quite popular, with the Scandinavian company Guideline leading the way with their short cut and distance heads in different densities. The lines have loops already made during production and are easy to use and change. Airflo have a similar choice of heads but in one length, 30 feet, all with factory made loops for convenience.

● Pre-made factory joined lines: These are full-length lines built exactly like a shooting head, but the manufacturer has done everything for you. The Airflo Forty Plus is the ‘leading light’ here with a seamless join between head and running line, shooting through the rod rings easily. The running line is made of their power core, which is great for take detection while not affecting the distance that you cast. There are two lengths, the Forty Plus ED, with a 36 foot head and the Expert series with a 44 foot head. These are ideal for someone who wants all the work done for them, but the one downfall is the need for a reel or a spool for each line.

● In the UK we don’t have a great tradition of building our own shooting heads, but in Scandinavia, most anglers mess around with head lengths and weight – all the time searching for the best option for them. I believe we should take a leaf out of their book and start experimenting.

How to make a personalised shooting head

Every angler is different, aerialising various lengths of line. This is where shop-bought standard heads can let you down. Some anglers will be able to handle the whole shooting head and more in the air, so need a longer head. However, other anglers need shorter heads. So, how do we go about making our own personalised heads?

1. Find out how much line you can handle comfortably in the air while false casting. Once you’ve done this, you have to cut the line – but be cautious and cut the line one metre longer than you think. This way you can cut it back bit by bit to suit. Don’t cut too short; you can’t add line on.

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2. Once you’ve done this just attach the head with a nail knot to try it out. When you’re casting with a shooting head the whole line has to be outside the tip before release, but if you find that it’s a little long then just cut it back bit by bit until you find the correct length for you. The longer the head the further you’ll cast, because the longer the head the longer it stays in a loop in the air, resulting in greater distance achieved.

3. Once the correct length is gauged it’s time to put a loop on the end. You can put on a braided loop but make sure it’s short and you feed the line right up to where the loop is doubled. This prevents hinging when casting. Alternatively, you could make your own loop out of the line’s core and how you do this depends on the actual core.

4. If the line has a nylon core then first strip off about 5cm of the coating by trapping the line between your thumb nail and finger and pulling the line through. This might take a bit of time but it will come off. This gives you enough nylon to fold back on itself to create the loop. Before folding it back, flatten the end of the nylon as this ensures that, when the loop is done, the nylon will not pull out. Fold it back and whip tying thread around until secure. Make the loop small as this passes through the tip ring easier when fishing.

5. Braided core lines make easier loops because the core folds back easily and they provide a smaller and neater loop when finished. With a braided core you have a choice; you can either feed the core back through itself to make a loop or just fold it back on itself and secure as above. For the ultimate secure loop, feed it back through itself and secure with floss as above. Once you have done this just Superglue the floss to tidy everything up and make it ‘bomb’ proof.

6. Now, to those anglers who can aerialise a lot of line, be careful when making your shooting heads because you could overload your rod. If your rod is rated 8wt then this matches 30 feet or 10 yards of an 8wt line. But, when you make the shooting head you may find that the head length is 12 yards. So when the whole head is outside the rod tip, it could be the equivalent of a 9 or even a 10wt! This is when you have to weigh the head and compare the weight to the AFTM scale, so that you match the head correctly to the rod. You may have to use a lighter weight line so that the heads are correct – i.e. make the shooting head out of a 7wt or even a 6wt line so that it matches the rod correctly.

Also in the Cast Better series...

1. Casting in the margins

2. Camouflage your casting

3. Distance casting

4. Casting teams of flies

5. Casting in the wind

6. Reaching a tight spot

7. Good presentation at distance

8. Make your own shooting head

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