Shooting Heads vs. Extra spools [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Shooting Heads vs. Extra spools

02-11-2004, 11:15 PM
I'm planning on fishing the Jersey Shore primarily and am debating buying a shooting head system for easy versatility or buying an extra spool, one for an intermediate line and one to get down deeper. Any suggestions or preferences?

02-11-2004, 11:44 PM
I've been wondering the same thing after years of using extra spools and reels to avoid the dreaded loop. Wouldn't want to wreck a prized rod and/or fish due to the loop getting hung up.

I'm trying out a newer Rio 8/9 (Spey 580gr) Scandanavian multi-tip with 15ft heads. Certainly for the money it's alot more inexpensive than spools, backing and/or another reel based on number of head options per dollar. You didn't mention what you are fishing with and unless your an Atlantis or a switch/spey rod owner I doubt you would be too interested in this particular line. But with 5-7 heads for $90 bucks compared to several hundred for(spool, backing, line? it's not looking too bad ;) .

If you have the cash I'd do the spool and lines, if you don't the multi-tip is versatile, but has the problems related to the loops.

Tight Lines,

02-11-2004, 11:57 PM
Just my personal opinion, but I don`t care for heads. I`ve tried them years ago and stuck with the full size line. There`s somthing that feels wrong with the shooting lines and they`re harder to handle than a running line. Also the dreaded loop connections, they not only run the risk of hanging up in the guides but they add a hinge effect in the line flow, interupting the transition of energy thru the line. Some people find this hinge effect unable to deal with.
On the other hand, I know some people who swear by thier head systems. Se la vie.

02-12-2004, 02:57 AM
These effects are proabably due to the inferior loop connection you were using at the time. It's entirely possible to construct a shooting head that does not hinge and feels super when casting, like the impromptu heads we've been building for the Atlantis.

For instance, Airflo, Rio, and other line makers are now offering loops that are compact, thin and factory made. These do not hinge and come easily thru the guides.

The #1 problem that I observe that people have is with overhang. I am not talking bellies here, ;) I mean there is too much running line in the air while false casting. First of all, there is little need for false casting with shooting heads if matched to the rod, but if done there should be no running line slipped until the last backcast before the forward stroke and even then it must be limited to the distance that can effectively power the head to turn over. This also depends on the flatness of the stroke, if you extend the drift in the Lefty Kreh fashion and keep the power stroke in a small cylinder you can drive the energy forward to overcome more overhang.

Full lines are light and long and usually require that a lot of line is slipped, and multiple false casts are made in order to get the necessary energy going. But they have no loop connection to worry about, of course.

Summary: shooting heads are cast differently, but are very effective and efficient when cast as designed.

I plan on using shooting heads more than 50% this year with the goal of developing or finding loop connections that are more than adequate and acceptable for the big returns on spool savings and configurability on the beach.

The loop connection is simply not that hard of a problem to solve.

02-12-2004, 06:34 AM
I would go with an extra spool. Here is why. A friend and I were fishing and he was using the head system. All of a sudden the fish were in a different mode and he had to change lines. All I did was reel in and snap in another spool. Mean while he had to get out his shooting head from a line wallet and it got all tangled up. You get the picture. So unless your very organised and cool under fire I would go with the spools. Also, I lost a whole line because of a faulty loop . My fault but again , you constantly have to check that loop. Just my .02

02-12-2004, 07:11 AM

You make a good point. But respectfully there are more things to consider beyond the cost of the extra spool.

You must reel in the line, then thread the line through the guides, then strip out the line to get the next cast away. If your buddy is busy untangling his shooting head and can't grab your rod handle while you thread the guides, you might end up getting sand on the reel. As a careful guy with premium equipment I'd bet you would remove your stripping basket and use that as a reel cradle, but that again takes time.

With a shooting head system, even the running line stays locked and loaded in the stripping basket. You swap the head and make a full cast right out of the basket.

Here are a few tricks from my years as a steelhead tip dude:

Wind the heads leader first with the connection loop on the outermost wrap
Use only the oversized leader wallets that have sleeves, typically velcro closure, fabric etc.
When using the head, hold the loop and drop the rest into the water. Then as you thread it things get real easy.
Put the running line loop through the head loop and push it up the line a few feet out of the way, then put the leader through the running line loop and pull it tight.
As soon as the fly is tied, you can make a full distance cast and the rod never left your armpit

There are plusses and minuses to each, and each has it's little tricks to make things work well.

In a recent conversation with Tim Rajeff (airflo) on this topic he joked "so what do you consider an ideal shooting head except that you can hold the end of the head and the end of the running/shooting line together in the air and it will melt together for you automatically?".

Well, my first thought was that he took the words right out of my mouth!

Given the loop thing is resolved, I am still convinced that the configurabilty of such a system is the way to go. Bill Kessler (wrke) recently sent me a loop sample that is similar to what I used to do for spey lines but much more streamlined. For braided core lines (most lines except clear intermediates) it strikes me as pretty close to ideal for striper fishing.

Note: the new factory loops from airflo and rio are very good right out of the box.

02-12-2004, 08:23 AM
Have to agree on the newer loop designs. I was tidying up my windcutters the other day and was wondering if I had the right line since I didn't notice the join first time through. I have had some misgivings on heads in the past but on balance I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages today so I'll be using heads more this coming season too.

Juro, I'd like to take a look at your loop system sometime - maybe at Wilmington?

02-12-2004, 08:44 AM
Sure - sounds like a good place to look at them. I will try to reproduce Bill Kessler's and I have a few adaptations of my own to try this year.

First off the Airflo loops are great the way they are, so it would only be the running line end that matters.

Since they are so thin in diameter typically (.030-.035 or so) I used a regular 30# braided loop using a loop splicing tool ($2.99) the way I like them, lots of material pulled inside itself and a small loop then coated with flexible vinyl repair stuff which adds a little resiliency to the mesh. We'll see if it stands up to the rigors of the salt but it's doing pretty well against the pavement.

I have to say that even with such a simple setup that it pulls right into the guides with ease and does not hang up in either direction. Still I think we can do better on the running line loop to match with the shooting heads with factory loops.

Also, not all heads will have loops. I am already eye-balling some of my full lines that have beat up and cracked running lines to put loops onto, will probably get another few years out of them now!

The ultimate would be to come up with a loop connection system so good you'd even cut off the factory loops :devil:

02-12-2004, 12:55 PM
Thank you everyone for your great opinions. the rod I will be using would be a 9 wt/9ft (Temple fork). Financially it sounds more econimcal(at least for now) to purchase a Rio or Airflo system which were my top two options. The only thing that is not clear to me is if I were to purchase a shooting head system, would I have to make my own running loop connection, or will the factory loop do?

02-13-2004, 08:41 AM
Tglynos -
The the Rio and Airflo lines you are thinking of purchasing are MULTI TIP lines and typically have only 15' tips.

These are drastically different than the shooting HEADS (typically 30') that Juro and others are referring to in the posts above...

Juro has a great recent post on this subject on another board - but I forget which one ( ?). Maybe he will chime in and re-post here or point us in the right direction...

02-13-2004, 09:34 AM
Matt -

I didn't notice that he was referring to an exchangeable tip system although GregD did with the Skandi head; but thanks for the vote of confidence on the other post just the same.

I can't remember either but reel-time is down and out right now (server). I'll see if I can find it and re-post it here later.

02-13-2004, 09:54 AM
Here it is:

Shooting heads are, and have been for many years, widely used for the very reason you asked about. Looking at your sig, you are a river salmonid angler. The anglers from Alaska to Washington to Oregon to California have been taking advantage of the single spool, quick change systems for decades and it's 110% true that you can go with one spool and a "pocket full of options" in a multi-head system.

The problem has always been the loops. Where river swingers don't strip the loop into the guide, striper dudes strip the damn leader into the tip sometimes. That means whatever clunks in has to clunk back out again cast after cast. So if the loop was made very slim and slick, there would be no real reason to complain about the ability to configure on the fly.

I have to respectfully disagree with the whole line change method, I have a hard enough time managing lines on spools in my fishin' room never mind on the water. I prefer to use lines over 100ft long and that is just more than I want to be winding on and off on the water.

A simple 30ft head fits in sleeve number #3 in a leader wallet right next to it's pretty sister the floater and it's ugly cousin the deep water express on the other side

My point is that it's not easy to carry several fly lines along where it only takes a good leader wallet to carry several shooting heads.

I agree that the whole line option eliminates the loop connection. But once again that damn loop is the problem not the "hot swap" on the water.

So focusing on loops... IMHO the Airflo loops are among the best in the business, and with a little practice building your own compact loops is not difficult.

If the loop slips thru the guides with only a slightly noticable click then you have it made. If it gets caught up in the guides with a fish on, you have a problem.

This is the year of the shooting head for me. Of course I will still use whole lines, but with a greater percentage of my fishing going to two-handed rods I want to be able to configure things on the beach.

One example - poppers. With a shorter two-hander, say 11ft you can throw a 12wt floating line and a huge popper 80-100ft with one backcast and no effort. That means fun with bangers when the fish are busting.

I never use a floating line in striper country because my spools are full of intermediates and sinking lines already. With the shooting head option I am going to have two different grades of sinking, a clear intermediate and a big-ass banger head (floating) in a single leader wallet in my short pocket.

The new running lines are spectacular as well, for instance the Airflo Polyshoot XT which comes 150ft long. Do you think Tim Rajeff is trying to tell us something? At a recent meeting, I complained that the running line is too long because I loved to cast into the backing and no one can do that with the XT. Then I looked to the right and saw Mark Sedotti and said "well almost none of us"

I have fished interchangeable heads in steelhead country since the 80's and will admit I was turned off by the loops clunking thru the guides and went to solid lines. But full lines give you exactly one option and require either a spools change (fast but requires much money) or a full line change (not something I want to do with fish busting in front of me).

A shooting head, given the loop thing is solved, is a fantastic solution.

I was weaned on steelhead and salmon out west where sinktips rule. The grainier belly sections of lines when combined with various tips are a great combination because they give you the best of all worlds - castability, mendability, and depth control.

The floating belly allows mending of the line into the head portion, while the sinking tip (which can be exchanged for different densities to suit the pool) controls the presentation depth. It's really an ideal system for swinging flies in current sub-surface, and of course with the loop system you can always put a floating tip back on and fish bombers or skaters.

I never fish indicators or split shots on the leaders so am unable to comment on the effectiveness of lines for those techniques.


Sink tips that combine floating heads with various density tips are perhaps the optimum system for swinging flies for salmon and steelhead (most G/L anglers are not swinging but drifting flies). This is the dominating approach on the west coast, thus sinktips and floaters are 99.9% of the lines being fished for steelhead west of the Mississippi.

Shooting heads are very effective for configuring on the fly, but unless the loop system is made to be of minimum resistance in the guides that poses a problem for full line strip retrieve fisheries like the stripah. Sinking shooting heads snag up too easily when swinging flies in a rocky salmon river and are rarely used in the pacific northwest as a result. Tips (above) are the preferred method there. Back here on the striper coast, IMHO the only problem is with the loop, but better loops are coming soon.

Whole lines are cool, I use 'em too... but I am on a mission to give shooting heads a total workout this year and find/make loop connection systems that are hardly noticable going through the guides. Frankly, if a loop connection is undetectable going through the guides then I really can't see any reason why the majority of anglers wouldn't use them for coastal flyfishing, but that's just my .02

02-13-2004, 10:04 AM
Juro - that's the post! Best info i have read as the subject has come up alot recently. Thanks for taking the time to write all that wonderful info down so meticulously...

I have a question about the running line that I have not seen addressed previously (or maybe I missed it above).

Most people seem to use an Int. running line with their Head system. It works well for Int. lines through heavy sinking heads and Lead Core. What about the situation during the day where you need a Floater?

Will a floating head work on the Int. running line or will it be dragged under rendering it useless. I am thinking of (generally shallow water) situations where I may be using a Gurgler, Banger or maybe even just a nice light flatwing that I want to dance in a "riffle" pass over the rocks or maybe a grass bed of an estuary...

02-13-2004, 01:00 PM
Thanks for clarifying things for me. To make sure that I get it right: There is a difference between multi-tip systems and shooting heads(mainly length differential). Multi tips are generally not preferred for the coast, but shooting heads may be worth a try? You guys have been a great help, thank you. Oh and if I am still on the wrong track, please just hit me in the head with a tack hammer and set me straight.:eyecrazy:

02-13-2004, 01:15 PM
Matt -

You ask a good question, Sean Ransom and I were just discussing this on the phone yesterday as he is already getting primed for his striper country visit.

After listening to Tim Rajeff talk about the relationship between diameter and material volume, where subtle differences in diameter make for opportunities for significant cross-sectional area / volume increase and vice-versa, space that is used to contain air in the case of floating lines, I would have to assume that the .030 XT intermediate polyshoot line is not enough to drag down a floating head particularly of the caliber I will be fishing on the Atlantis.

That being said, a 7wt floating head might be, but I plan on using a short bug-style taper of several hundred grains to throw those big offshore style bangers with the two-hander, and it's not likely that one would be able to tell the difference between the two running like bouyancies. This probably applies to most saltwater floating heads verses intermediate lines particularly because the line is kept moving at a brisk pace as well - but I could be wrong.

In surf I believe that a line that cuts into the surf is better than one that gets bobbed around in it. Of course I have only really thoroughly tested the sinking line half of that theory, and that a full sink does tend to slice into the surf better than an intermediate. Certainly the more tension on the line the better when it comes to surf.

We'll know soon enough! I have some floating running lines this year which I will put to the test against the intermediate.

02-13-2004, 01:23 PM
Tglynos -

I would re-phrase as multi-tips are not necessary for the coast instead of saying not good for it.

With multi-tips half the head is floating, and you exchange the front taper. With shooting heads the whole head is one type of line, which is more suited to saltwater fishing. Multi-tips are best for swinging flies at controlled depths in rivers where you need to mend line and let the fly swim with the current.

Hmm.... but this does give me an idea...

02-13-2004, 11:27 PM
Again much thanks for the clarification. It saved me from making a possible mistake. I have to ask, what sparked that contemplative HMMMM?