Shooting Heads Paired with Short Flyrods... whattayamean you're not using Shooting Heads!by Captain Jim Barr on 03/23/17
be willlng to bet that 95% of New England saltwater fly anglers use the
standard 9 foot fly rod paired with a variety of weight forward
floating, intermediate and sinking head fly lines as they fish for our
customary species of stripers, blues, bonito and false albacore. How
Perhaps as many as half of those anglers fish from a standup-type of boat, which for this article excludes various paddle craft. (Don't get me wrong, I like fishing from my kayak and canoe but from the standpoint of this article- for the most part they are not applicable to the case I'm about to make for a change in approach.) I'm talking about a boat anywhere from 12 feet and longer- where the angler has the luxury of standing as they cast. Many of those mid to larger watercraft have lots of "things" that can get in the way of effectively using the conventional 9 foot fly rod with a standard fly line that typically requires a minimum of 35 feet of fly line outside the tip top (not including leader and tippet) to properly load the rod. So we have a boat with a center console, t-top, antenna's, rod holders, engine, other anglers... and then we combine all that stuff that gets in the way of an arcing fly rod- with anywhere between 35 and 50 feet of fly line and leader, with wind of varying speeds and direction plus a rolling and pitching boat. It's no wonder most anglers would rather fish with a zip gun (spinning rod) than tempt fate with a fly rod.
Ok, so let's change up the fly casting model and use a different setup. Let's cast with one of the several short fly rods that have been developed over the last few years. The rods that readily come to mind are the Sage Bass II Largemouth (7'11" in 330 grain), the TFO Hawgleg, that was made exclusively for Bass Pro Shops/ White River Fly Shop (7'11" in 7/8 weight), and the Loomis Pro 4x SHORTSTIX (7'6" in 8/9 weight). The Sage and Loomis rods are four-piece models, and the Hawgleg is a two-piece rod. The Sage retails for about $550, the Loomis for $400 and the TFO Hawgleg is the bargain rod at about $150.
Now let's pair the shorter fly rod with a shooting head fly line system. This is in lieu of the standard weight forward floating and varying sink rate fly lines plus dacron backing that you would have spooled onto separate reel spools that would snap into your fly reel frame. This is the approach that Spey anglers use when fly fishing for salmon and steelhead. Instead of having multiple spools with different lines, the angler has one reel spooled with fly line backing which is then attached to a length of running or "shooting" line. RIO Product's Powerflex Max Shooting Line is 100 feet long and is the same thickness it's entire length. The line floats and has welded loops on both ends. It has an extremely tough outer coating, over a medium stiff core that shoots with ease.
The angler carries a zippered wallet that stores a variety of coiled Shooting Heads. These are anywhere between 24 and 30 feet long, also with welded loops on both ends. The RIO Outbound Short Shooting Heads are 30 feet long and come in Floating, Intermediate sinking (1.5 inches per second), and faster sink rates of 3-4 ips and 6-7ips. The angler then connects the Head of choice using a loop to loop system.
Unlike the standard weight forward fly lines that most anglers typically use that require a full 35 feet of fly line to be outside the tip top to properly load the rod, the Shooting Head system only requires the caster to have about 25 feet of fly line outside the tip top in order to load the rod. Also, unlike using the conventional weight forward fly line that requires the angler to utilize several false casts (at a minimum) to load the rod and to attain the necessary line speed to shoot the line to the target, the Shooting Head system minimizes the false casting to one backcast before the angler can easily shoot the line. This is because the shooting heads have more mass and are heavier than the first 35 feet of the standard weight forward fly line. This additional weight does a vastly more efficient job in pulling the reserve shooting line from the deck or stripping basket through the guide set on the fly rod. The result: Further casting distance, less work from reduced false casting and line pickup, and the ability to cast more quickly, while simultaneously taking up less backcast space to make the cast.
These changes in fly line dynamics combined with a shorter, faster loading fly rod results in a more efficient casting stroke that takes up a lot less space than the conventional combination, yet still provides good control and lifting power when playing strong and fast saltwater fish.