Fly Fishing with Doug Macnair
A Product Update: Revisiting the Shooters
Having received a number of inquiries regarding shooting heads and running lines, I thought the volume warranted an article dealing explicitly with the subject. At the outset, I want you to know that this "little" project turned into a time consuming labor of love. Far from being the simple task I thought it to be, revisiting the shooters turned out to be somewhat complex and yielded imperfect results. And yes, for those of you who know about my broken shoulder, it aches! I can't remember when I have done so much casting.
Of course, much of the complexity is my own fault: Since this is my article, it is my privilege to choose lines I considered "shooters or a derivative thereof. Whether-or-not you agree with my selection(s) isn't important. What is important consider what this article is all about: (1) ease of handling, (2) control, (3) comfort, and (4) distance. I have avoided, as best I can, comments that might infer this is a competition between lines and heads. Nothing could be further from the truth, if for no other reason other than the four variables tend to playoff against one another. Please keep in mind that there are more lines available than I can ever cover in a single article. Then, too, expense plays a part. Without the manufacturers' support, articles such as this can become very expensive to research and write. Some extend their products with confidence, others offer a discount, and still others seem to think that their "word" is all the consumer needs to know.
Almost any book on fly fishing has something to say about shooting heads and running lines; however, what they have to say may not be adequate, given today's technology. The theory, however, is straightforward: a heavier lead followed by a light low-drag line will go further than a traditional fly line during the cast. You might find happiness by considering this alternative to the traditional fly lines whenever you need to reach out and touch someone. But before going further, allow me to standardize terms for purposes of this article.
The Shooting Head: The shooting head or shooter, as I prefer to call it, is exactly what the name implies: it is the "head" of a fly line, whether purchased commercially under the code of "ST" or fabricated by the fly fisher from a weight-forward or double-taper line. Typically, shooters range between 30 and 45 feet in length.
The Running Line: Frequently called by the name, Shooting Line, I much prefer to use the term, running line, to describe the line that is up and about following the head.
Loop-to-Loop Connections: Shooting heads and their running lines are usually linked by a loop-to-loop connection. Why loops? So that heads could be switched out at streamside without cutting and tying knots. With the wind whipping about and wet hands, it's just not the time to be tying precise knots, that is unless you are into self-flagellation.
The Way It Was. In the days of not so long ago, those of us who used shooters either bought a commercial head or rolled our own.
The commercial heads were usually 30 feet in length. Most still are. If you are wondering what's magic about 30 feet, that's the length of line under the AFTMA standards that determines the line weight. In theory, it is that length - 30 feet - that causes the rod to load. As an example, the first 30 feet of an 8-weight line must weigh between 202 and 218 grains to qualify as an 8-weight. I think it important to note that the rating of the line is the only thing standardized in the sport of fly fishing; it is not the rod's alleged rating as some seem to think.
The whipped loop, however, has a distinct limitation when tied on the butt-end of a shooter made from a homemade double-taper line. The loop that results is too big to easily slip through the guides. Try it and you are likely to jam the tip-top. Not a good idea! Thus, the shooting head must remain outside the guides giving birth to the term "overhang." Overhang is defined as the distance from the rod's tip to the head/running line loop-to-loop connection. Allow me to quickly add that one man's perfect overhang is apt to be another man's imperfect crash. A perfect length of overhang does not exist among fly fishers. It's one of the few times when what's good for Bull Moose is not good for all.
Enter the Braided Loop. No doubt about it, the advent of the braided loop connectors, such as those offered by Airflo, Cortland, Orvis, simplified the ease in adapting almost any system to loop-to-loop connections. However, without access to oversized braided loops, affixing one to the belly of a DT line is still something best left to cold winter evenings by the fire. Braided loops are attached using the "inchworm" method. And, if something can go wrong, it will!
The Ancient Fish Gods laughed! Puny man, armed with his fishing stick and innovations had created a problem, not a solution. Far too many fly fishers experimented with the shooters and concluded they were for "the birds." Early-on, running lines were pretty simple: the choice ranged between a monofilament, "thin" level fly line and, a bit later, a braided line. Given the technology of the time, all gave distance an edge over the conventional fly line but not comfort, control or ease of handling. All too often, something would go wrong: the mono, given its great propensity for memory, tangled; the level line quickly became tacky and wouldn't shoot, particularly in the salt; and of course, the braided line also tangled and could raise a finger burn or two with a fish on.
The Evolution of the Species. Just as ancient man has changed, circa 1930 - 1950, so have the manufacturers. And so it came to pass that things have gotten better, not worse. . .. Not too many years ago, Cortland introduced their 444SL XRL line. The year it was introduced, the XRL won "Best in Show." If you wanted to reach out and touch someone, this was the line that could do it (and still can). What Cortland did is simply to integrate the concept of a shooter/runner into one continuous line. The term, XRL, stands for eXposed Running Line. The head, approximately 40 feet in length, is coated with Cortland's proprietary finish while the remainder of the line's braided core is exposed. The advent of the XRL eliminated the problem of overhang while offering all the advantages of a shooter. Importantly, the entire line slips through the guides with ease.
Of course, the advent of the XRL brought the usual gathering of critics. They argued that (1) the braid would burn your fingers; (2) the braid would "eat" the guides; (3) the memory would preclude "efficient" casting (whatever that is . . ..). A week of running a sample of the line through a set of guides under pressure satisfied me that this complaint was and is a pile of crap! And, yes, there is a some memory with the exposed braid; however, it quickly dissipates after the first one or two casts, especially in warm waters. As for burns, this sort of line suggests chasing the type of fish that will enable you to get to the reel, the best place to fight friend fish. For several years a prototype XRL intermediate was my favorite line in demonstrating teaching wind-fighting techniques. The XRL now available in weights ranging from floater to quick-sink and in weights 7 through 12.
Orvis countered with a mono-braid intermediate line that I found lacking in "shootability." Later, Scientific Anglers brought out the Mastery Striper Intermediate, a line that has gained the respects of ever-so-many salt fly fishers because of its "shootability, castability and durability," three factors worthy of an fly fisher's consideration. Both lines feature a braided running line with what appears to be a micro-thin coating; however, the Striper gets high marks in its shootability.
A couple of years ago, I reviewed Airflo's contribution to the shooting head concept with a complete package of PolyLeaders. Call them "mini-heads" if you will, but to me the idea is an offshoot of the shooters. The article was called, "What-A-Leader." It is as current today as when written. The Airflo PolyLeader simply offered a way to turn any floater into a more diversified line by looping a leader to the line that is more of a short head than a leader. Do they it work? Damned right! Read the article.
The Way It Is. Today, things continue to evolve giving fly fishers an ever- increasing array of weapons. As the observant octopussy opined, "It can't get much better than this!" In truth, the Ancient Fish Gods may never again laugh. So what's the big deal? Lines are better, monos are better, and braids are vastly improved. To amplify these remarks, I've selected two recent innovations for discussion, both of which are in the shooter's best traditions: Airflo's Multi-Head Fly Line and Scientific Anglers Mastery Quad Tip series.
The Multi-Head system is offered in an array of components. It's your choice -- choose between heads of either 35- or 45-feet and 4 densities ranging from floating to Ultra Fast Sink. The running lines are available in floating or intermediate and in two diameters, trout (freshwater), and salmon (salt). Taken together, there is a combination for any situation. Airflo has thoughtfully added color-coded loops making it easy to remember what's what. Airflo thinks a lot of this line having covered it with a five-year non-crack warranty. A ventilated head wallet is also available and highly recommended. There is no better way of carrying these goodies.
Scientific Anglers (SA) Mastery Quad Tip is another advanced shooting head system and a big news item. That's where the similarities with Airflow stop. SA takes a different approach. The heads are relatively short, 15-feet to be exact, and linked to the running line(s) by a factory installed braided loop connector. Of course, the 15-foot head negates any problem with overhang although I doubt there would have been one. Joined together, head and line easily slip through the guides . . ..
Rather than marketing heads and running lines as individual items, SA's Quad Tip is packaged and sold as a unit containing four (4) heads and the running line of your choice. It includes a head wallet to make things as easy as possible for old folks like me. The heads include a floater, a clear intermediate, a moderate sink Type II, and a fast sink Type V. The running lines are both floaters and classified for freshwater (weights 6 -9) or saltwater (weights 10 -13). Don't think for a moment that SA hasn't taken advantage of their Award Winning Advanced Shooting Technology, otherwise known as AST.
Somehow, SA found a way to inject their proprietary technology into the line's coating. The result is increased slickness while actively repelling water and dirt. I know of no one who has not given rave reviews to SA's Mastery series of AST lines.
So much for the background. Suffice it to say this article turned into is a complex project. As you may by now surmise, there truly is a bevy of stuff to be discussed: homemade heads, factory heads, integrated heads new heads, mono runners, PVC runners, braided runners, etc. In Part 2, I will layout in some detail how the whole thing went down, so stay tuned. Some of you will find my remarks controversial, others educational. If you are an old dog and learn a new trick, please give credit where credit is due. I recently learned again a bitter lesson that I've learned before: there are lots of "experts" do not. Sad!
© Copyright: Douglas G. Macnair, 2000-2008
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