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Shooting Heads

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Martin writes:

I just bought this marvellous rod, a T & T HS 907S-4, getting it tomorrow or Tuesday. I tried it using a 7 wt. Orvis Wonderline, and I was quite impressed to put it mildly. Under the circumstances, I end up buying a floating Orvis 8 wt. shooting head - approximately 38 ft. long, weighing 17-18 grams/265-275 grains. The local T & T dealer recommends the 8 wt. shooting head but in my opinion the length of it needs to be adjusted - 17-18 grams sounds too heavy for a 7 wt. rod. I usually prefer a length of 35-40 ft. Any suggestions?

Best regards,

Martin, Denmark

Paul writes:

Hi Martin,

I've pulled your question out of the Bulletin Board since this has come up a few times and it is now time I give this a fuller airing.

The line/rod match sounds about right, but without actually casting the outfit I can't say, and just because it feels right for me doesn't necessarily mean that it will feel right for you. My suggestion would be to try it and if it feels wrong take it back. Allow me to explain:

Firstly, I'm not really into shooting heads since I don't like the feel of them and besides the tangles can really suck. That said I have experimented with them in the past and anyway, this is more a question regards AFTM application.

The shooting head, for the uninitiated, is simply a weight forward flyline but with a thinner running line. Instead of thin flyline, an alternative material is used, such as 20lb monofilament or perhaps 20lb braid. There are other alternatives. Personally I find them all rather unsatisfactory and prone huge tangles. However if distance is your primary objective then shooting heads are the way to go. This thin running line offers less friction as it travels through the rings allowing greater distances to be cast.

Most anglers manufacture their own shooting heads by cutting up an old double taper flyline and attaching the backing straight to it, using either a nail knot, or a braided loop connection. One good idea is to use an old weight-forward; the point where the line cracks is your chosen head length.

Some good advice with regards to the fundamentals of the AFTM and its significance can be found here and should be read immediately :-)

There are several important points to bear in mind that this page emphasises. The first is that the AFTM does NOT mean that any more than 10 yards of the correct line weight overloads the rod. Rods are progressive; aerialising more line should simply force a greater flex in the rod. There is a maximum bend of course. The theory is that we want to approach this maximum bend but still enabling the tip to recover quickly.

There are no hard and fast rules regards to this. And the only way to discover how much line should be used for the shooting head and hence the correct weight is to cast it.

The second significant point, that can be gleaned from the AFTM table, is that you can load the rod equally with different AFTM numbers of flyline, simply be aerialising more or less line. There is approximately a weight increase of 15% between lines as you go up the AFTM scale. So it follows that by aerialising an extra 15% of line you have reached the next line weight.

So to make this clear, since it has the same mass, 11.5 yards of AFTM 6 has approximately the same loading on the rod as 10 yards of AFTM 7. This becomes interesting when you know that the lower the AFTM; the thinner the flyline. The six-weight line in this instance is considerably thinner than the #7, and therefore will be more aerodynamic.

If you are aerialising a lot of line you should definitely be dropping the AFTM rating and going lighter and NOT heavier. This is contrary to common advice. The only time you would want to increase the AFTM is when using short shooting heads.

For distance casting long shooting heads are preferable, since this allows a longer unrolling loop and a slower shoot. Fast shoots increase wind resistance and achieve very little else. Remember that wind resistance is a square of velocity.

I have made mention of the significance of aerialising long head lengths before. It is an often-overlooked point.

How much line you can aerialise depends on your casting abilities and style. With fast well-timed hauls you can aerialise more. I stick about 18 yards of line in the air.

The best way to fully understand shooting heads is to make some.

In order to make your shooting head out of a DT line, find yourself in a field with it and start casting. Play around with false casting the different lengths of line in the air. The rod should feel responsive in your hands. When you think you have it about right mark the flyline where it emerges from the tip ring.

OK, here is the safe plan. Cut the flyline a yard or two nearer the reel end. Knot this to your backing and continue playing around. The rod should now feel overloaded. This is good and you are playing it safe. Were you to make the line too short there is no going back. You want to shorten this line a little at a time until it feels spot on.

Then permanently attach the backing to the line.

If you have never used shooting heads before the idea is to aerialise the head length and then a couple more yards this is the overhang and then shoot the whole thing with a sexyloop. When it goes right, it flies; when it doesn't, you have an amazing spaghetti tangle of backing.


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