Fishing and Head Length

Fishing and Head Length

Paul Arden | Tuesday, 20 September 2022

There is a type of fishing that involves casting a long line, stripping it in, casting a long line, stripping it in, casting a long line, stripping it in and repeating and repeating and repeating. The problem with this method, is that every time you do it you lose a little bit of intelligence… until one day you wake up totally braindead. I sometimes think that discussions on head length revolve around this type of fishing, which explains the arguments involved and… well, whatever.

And yes, if this is the fly fishing you do then a shooting head makes a lot of sense. Less false casting! More fishing time. More easy distance. You can even do it while deep wading and push the fish out even further.

I’ve done it! I occasionally still do it. Fishing is fishing after all. However if this significantly made up the 330 days/year that I fish, I would be in a mental hospital by now (some think I should be), and froth at the mouth every time I thought about fishing. I would say, “No no please please, don’t make me go fishing again, fill my waders with concrete, I’m going to try swimming this time…”

Just an observation.


Now fortunately there is more to fly fishing than this brutal attack on the senses. Let’s divide fishing into zones. The first zone is the first 25 feet of distance away from you. This is short-lining territory. And is probably the most important zone to fish. We can see the fish, or at least see how it eats or misses the fly. We can often see its eyes and where it is looking. This is a really important fishing zone – on rivers, stalking lake edges and when lochstyle fishing on a drifting boat. Sometimes all the day’s fishing is in Zone 1. And very pleasurable it is too.

The next zone is 25-50’. This is also an important zone to fish. Zone 1 is better if you can get in there, but sometimes you can’t and you need to fish Zone 2. Now you are going to need your handy presentation casts because your flyline will be laying on the water.

Zone 1 and 2 together accounts for maybe 90% of my fish. It’s a guess pulled out my nose, but it is very significant.

Zone 3 is 50-75’. Most anglers struggle to cast 75’. I don’t mean a guessed 75’ but a measured 75’. I know this because I’ve measured many anglers’ casts. Yes you will catch fish out here too. Sometimes you must cast this far too catch them – for example if you (and everyone around you) are habitually casting 75’, then you will have disturbed all this water and lined all the fish. Meaning that most of the fish you catch will be at distance.

Then we have a zone beyond this too. Let’s call it 75’ plus. Well I don’t know about you, occasionally I fish that far away but there has to be a damned good reason for it. That reason can be taking shots. Most shots for me are 20-75’. 75-100’ can be a great shot. That’s high level shot-taking and really quite exceptional.

So, let me talk about line profiles and my fishing experience in fishing these zones. Personally I want a line that acts as a DT to 75’. Why? Because I want the full range of presentation casts at my disposal, I want to be able to carry to reach the target, especially into the wind where I can just have the loop unroll without shooting. It’s about Control in Zones 1-3 and with a capital C.

But what about restricted back space, I hear you ask? Then I Roll Cast.

Now I’m completely happy to fish a DT and often do. However I find there are times (read: long distance!) when a long belly is more effective. I’m not talking 75’ here. But 100+. And for that very specialist situation, then there is an advantage in my DT being 70’ long. Ie a long belly WF line. Presentation casts to 75’ – yes! 100’? I don’t try really have a use for this.

So for me it’s not about having a long belly WF line; rather it’s about having a “short” DT line. That’s what a long belly WF line means to me as a fishing line. It’s not about distance; it’s about having control, accuracy, presentation casts, into the wind shots, dynamic Roll Casts… from my feet to 75’ distance and everything in between. Ie Zones 1 to 3 – and of those Zones, 1&2 is where most of the action happens.

Taking shots is different. Shots for me in a practical sense means anything from 6’ to approx 100’. Ideally zone 2 (interestingly). But Zone 3 is a big one too. And for that we need to be accurate. Once again a long belly line, or what we can now regard as being a short DT line, is what I want. Especially when dealing with a headwind.

Another fishing application that I enjoy, here in the Wet Season, but also in many other instances, is throwing the fly into bank-side structure. Throw the fly to land a couple of inches from the bank, strip strip and recast. Not strip strip strip strip strip strip until the short head is into the rod tip, because the zone to fish is the first few metres from the bank edge. I don’t want to have to strip all my line in again so that I can recast. What a waste of life! And what I absolutely love about this fishing, is Curve Casts. I love fishing with overpowered Curve Casts! Trying to do those with a short WF is just about impossible once the head is out the rod tip. Running a boat along under electric and hitting the banks is Zone 2 and 3 application.

Of course we are all different and have different fishing applications and experience. The problem is that the fly lines I want often don’t even exist today!!  At least not in the tropical coatings I need and in 8 and 10WTs. In years to come I will make them, if no one else has. In the meantime it’s not a big deal for me because my fly fishing right now is totally different. But when we are sailing around the world, you bet I’ll have them!


I’m in town today on a supplies run. Beer, petrol, fresh veggies and beer. Fishing is slow at the moment but we are forecast a huge Wet Season.  I can’t wait!! Shots to babies and bank edge fishing. Perfect.

Have a great week and plenty of fish.

Cheers, Paul