Fly Fishing with Doug Macnair:
All About Lines: Part 4©
There is not a lot left to be covered in our discussion of fly lines is the family of Shooting Tapers, identified by the line code ST. Ive deliberately left this category last because the shooters, or shooting heads, as I prefer to call them, are a bit more complicated than traditional fly lines. Consequently, I think most folks need experience with the traditional weight-forwards (WF) and double-tapers (DT) before becoming involved with the shooters.
The "Shooter" Defined: A shooting head is nothing more than a somewhat short piece of tapered fly line to which is attached a slim, trim, and slippery running line. Commercial shooting heads usually average about 30-feet in length, although several companies - Teeny Nymph is a good example - now offer heads in longer lengths. Importantly, everything that can be done with a traditional fly line can be done with a shooter, and sometimes more effectively.
The Running Line: The shooting head, of course, is only part of the story. To the head, the fly fisher attaches a very slender running line, usually about 100 feet in length. Significantly, the running line is just as important as the head. The objective of the running line is to exert little or no drag on the head when it "shoots" forward on the final forward cast. Consequently, running lines are usually fabricated of specially coated mono, such as Dai-Riki, Rio, or Sunsets Amnesia, in a flat mono, braided mono or a slick and thin level line such as Cortlands new 444 SL Lazerline running line. The ones mentioned here are a slim .022" in diameter. Thats thin! If it were possible, the perfect running line would be (1) absolutely weightless, (2) very strong, and (3) slipperier than a Teflon coated member of the Washington establishment.
The Secret to Distance and Convenience Afield: I dont know of a better way to reach "way out there" than with a shooting head. Using a casting technique called the "double-haul," a nicely matched system, and a shooter, the fly caster can attain distances rarely equaled with a traditional line. The shooters offer another important advantage -- the ability to make quick line changes in the field. Need to switch a floater to an intermediate? Its easy! Reach for your shooting head wallet and switch-out one head for another. The running line stays on the reel. Switching a traditional fly line thats anywhere from 82 to 105-feet in length while standing in a stream or on the saltwater flats is not an easy chore. It can be done, but most prefer to switch spools or, in some cases, reels. Simply stated, this means added take-along weight to the fly fishers load.
Rigging a Shooter: To make the switch-out of heads easy, the shooters are linked to the running line using a loop-to-loop connection. Personally, loop-to-loop connections are my choice throughout almost any system with one exception, connecting the tippet to leader. However, let me offer one caution: make the loops on the ends of the head as small as possible, and oversize the loop on the running line. The oversized loop enables the coiled head to pass through with ease, while the small loop enables the head to enter, or come close to, the rod tip during the final throes of landing friend fish.
Casting Cautions: Casting a shooting head is somewhat different than casting a traditional line. With a traditional line, its possible to work line into the air by false casting, steadily building line speed, until fifty or more feet are aerialized. Not so with the shooting head. Its the head that does the work, and it must do it quickly without more than one series of false casts. To initiate the backcast, the entire head must be outside the tip of the rod. Although you may have tied-off a very small loop in the head, it is likely to be too bulky to efficiently pass through the tip-top guide during the casting routine. Try it and you are apt to find the loop jams into the tip -- not good for you, the rod, or the cast.
Overhang: Its an Important Point. Not only is the entire head outside the tip, but also a portion of the running line. I call it the standoff or, as others do, the overhang. Whichever term you prefer, it is the distance between the tip of the rod and the rear of the head. This point is important! Overhang will govern your success or failure in tossing a shooter. If this sounds confusing -- think of overhang as the distance the running line extends outside the rod tip. The issue is, of course, what is the best length for the overhang? Frankly, I dont know! The "right" overhang varies from person to person. For some, it might be a matter of inches, for others it can be several feet. Overhang is an individual thing best determined through trial and error. To start off, try 3 feet and adjust one way or the other.
The Magic of "30": Remember the magic of "30" in our earlier discussions? How about "30" in the AFTMA standards; or "30" in loading the rod; or "30" in weighting lines? Attribute the numbers of commercial heads 30-feet in length to the magic of "30." Its the length of line the average person - man or woman - can aerialize on the initial backcast. Once aerialized, line speed must be developed quickly and the head released. The head carries the distance -- the running line simply follows-on unobtrusively. The slender .022" diameter running lines that I prefer offer little or no support to the cast. Its that simple. When overhang becomes excessive, the head will begin to chatter or vibrate and the cast will fail. At best, you will be disappointed in the performance. Later in this series, I will suggest casting techniques to handle most everything including the shooters.
Make Your Own Shooter: Making a shooter is something you might care to explore. Its fun, and as I earlier mentioned, it is the only two-for-one deal in fly fishing. The nice thing about doing it yourself is the magic of "30" no longer governs. Your heads will be tailored to a length that suits you. The fun begins with the selection of a double-taper line (DT), floating, or sinker. Picking the line weight, however, requires a little thought and experimentation. The average article on "do-it-yourself-shooters" ordinarily suggests picking a DT line 2-weights above the rating of the rod. Assuming you only plan to pickup a head 30-feet in length, thats okay. However, it is not okay if you plan to pickup a long head - say 40 to 45-feet. It really isnt all that hard to overload a rod and that can be bad news to your fishing experience. My recommendation is 2-weights over for heads between 25 to 30 feet, and for heads 40 to 45-feert, it's even-Stephen or 1-weight over.
Sizing Head Length: To figure out which it right for you -- practice! On grass or water and using a floating line, experiment with the line length you can comfortably lift into the backcast. Dont "eyeball" the distance, measure it! "Eyeballing," another fly fishing phenomena, has done little for the sport other than to clutter the floor of learning with a smelly residue that reminds me of the digestive waste of large Texas Bulls. Once youve determined the right distance for you, mark and cut the line. If the DT line is 82-feet long, you will end up with 2-heads 41-feet in length. If you need a head of only 25 to 35 feet, I suggest shortening only one of the two lengths. As your skills develop, your understanding of the shooters nuances will also increase. Surprisingly, the remaining unaltered length may prove to be the ideal for you at some future date. Besides, saving a buck every once in a while will give you a good feeling in this sport.
Now that the line is cut, I must confess there is another argument among the "X-Spurts" of fly fishing -- which end is which! If you follow my lead, it wont make any difference. I prefer leaving the tip intact and, if shortening the length of head is required, doing it from the butt or cut end. There are those, however, who argue that once cut, the line should be reversed. What was the tip becomes the butt, and what was the butt becomes the tip. If you agree, trim back from the "tip" that used to be the "butt." The folks arguing this proposition are, in fact, offering up a very weak "weight-forward" argument. To me, it is much to do about nothing, except to say that I think they are nuts. With loops at both ends of the head, experiment before making the final cuts. Whichever way works best for you is the right way to go.
In case you are wondering whether or not a shooter can be made from a weight-forward (WF) line, the answer is a resounding, YES! But why anyone would want to ruin a perfectly good WF line amazes me. Its a one for one trade-off. This deal offers you no profit; no profit, no deal!
Recent Innovations in Technology: If youre lazy, but still want or need the reward of distance, there is a shortcut to the "shooters." A few years ago, Cortland came up with a line called the 444 SL XRL. Since its release, the line has gained many advocates along with the nicknames, "boomer," the "rocket line," and "shooter." What is it? Essentially, the XRL is a continuous fly line 105 feet in length that transitions smoothly from a coated head of 38 to 40-feet to a braided monofilament running line. The eXposed Running Line is what gives it the name, XRL. Because the line is continuous, overhang is of no concern to the caster. There is no overhang! The head freely enters and departs the rods tip during the casting sequence. It matters not whether you lift 30, 45 or even 50-feet into the backcast. Be assured that the thin running line rattles through the guides like a bullet train. I think of the Cortlands XRL as a "super" weight-forward line. Its available in line weights 7 through 12 in floating, intermediate and 2-sink variations.
Since the advent of the XRL, its been my hope that line weights 5 and 6 can be eventually added to the series in the floating and intermediate formats. If and when that proves possible, a lot of people experiencing difficulty in mastering the fly cast with these popular weights will quickly gain confidence in their ability to throw a line. Scientific Anglers Striper series, offers an alternative to the XRL. Its a longer clear line, 120-feet in length. The Striper uses a new coating process uses over a stiff braided monofilament core fused by a micro-thin coating for maximum castability. The Striper, too, casts like a bullet; however, the line is currently only in the Mastery intermediate format.
These new lines portend great things in the future; however, they are not without limitations. The braided mono cores tend to be on the stiff side as I personally prefer. While a strong point in warm or hot weather, in cool weather coil memory can become a problem. You should plan to spend a little time stretching and working the line before its ready for optimum performance. Removing the coil memory isnt all that difficult. By the way, my long casting demonstrations feature a 10-weight XRL line, 2-line weights below the rating of WindTamer™, my light 12.
Next up -- A word or two about backing, a subject rarely given the attention its deserves. The wrong backing, or the lack thereof, frequently results in lost fish, lost lines and, importantly, broken rods. God Bless.
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