Flag carrier

Flag carrier

Tracy&James | Sunday, 10 January 2021

I ruined a fly line practising over the recent holidays. When I say that, I actually mean I finished it off although the kind of practice required for competition distance is quite tough on the plastic coating of even the best quality lines. To be honest, I always take the deterioration too far before I decide to retire a line i.e. only when it sounds like each haul is sawing the core of the line into the snake rings do I contemplate swapping the line for a new one. This reminds me of when I took my #7 rod in to my local tackle shop for a ring replacement, the rod builder in the shop had a quick inspection and told me to change them all bar the stripper guide. I’ve started seeing the same mark on the same ring on my current #5 distance rod that prompted me to take in the #7 rod, so in reality perhaps my #10 also requires a complete re-ring. (Perhaps in my defence I should say that both of these rods get used on my saltwater trips, so all the wear isn’t down exclusively to distance practice).

I hardly ever throw old lines away though, however wrecked they are they can be used to make shooting heads.  I am firmly of the opinion that if you harbour ambitions to cast a #5 weight a long way then casting a shooting head can help you progress.  Now, I’m not suggesting this for beginners, although I could imagine circumstances in which using a shooting head could help them also, rather for people who are already casting 100ft or so who want to be competitive.

If someone is genuinely casting 100ft, not just hitting it occasionally, then they should be able to cope with a 60ft head immediately.  This will give them a carry of 72-75ft ishwhen measured from the hauling hand to the end of the fly line.  This is the key thing that using shooting heads does – it pins the carry to a known distance, especially when combined with an addition that I’ll detail below.

Control of a long carry is vital for casting the trout distance event.  The problem comes in defining ‘control’ and measuring the carry.  It’s easy for someone to kid themselves that, just because the last cycle of a set of false casts is measured with a huge carry, then they’re good to go, even though line was slipped into the cast immediately before dropping it and measuring.  Using shooting heads pretty much eliminates this ‘cheat’.  As far as ‘control’ goes, I’d say that unless you can false cast line until you decide to put it down then you don’t have it under control.  For example, if there’s a build-up of slack or reduction of line-speed that causes the cast to fail on say the fifth or sixth false cast then that isn’t, in my book, in control.  As such, my personal practice involves cycling the line for maybe 20 or more false casts.  Within these multiple cycles I may also adjust the trajectory, try some loop shaping or practice my delivery position.  

With the shorter heads (~60ft) I also practice two types of backcast; a blocked, pull-back style with short overhangs and stopless when I’ve slipped 6 or 8 ft of extra backing into the carry.  However, these days I rarely use this head, preferring to go straight for my ‘mega-head’.  This is currently 74 feet long, having been extended by grafting on an extra section of line to the rear end.  The problem with such long heads is getting them into the air in the first place – once the fly-line length gets towards 70ft, I find that I have to hold the backingknot for the pick-up and then shoot to the carry point.  Unfortunately this is harder than it sounds as any false cast with the join clanking in the guides of the rod is almost certain to result in failure (or it does for me).  As such, I want to pick up holding the backing knot and then do one (long) shoot to the carry point.  This is where my other tip comes in – I put a ‘flag’ of tape on the backing line at the exact carry point that I require.  When this ‘flag’ is shot to the hauling hand, it can often slip a bit (or a lot if the line is wet).  To prevent this I also cut the line and re-tie it at the same point, leaving the tag ends long.  These tag ends butt up against the tape, thus preventing the flag changing position.  That way I know my exact practice carry is currently 88ft, which I still expect to false cast 20 times or more.  This is a bigger carry than I use in a competition but that’s the whole point, i.e. I want my competition carry to feel easy, not like I’m at my limit.  Obviously this ‘flag’ prevents the line being cast as it snags in the rings, but that’s irrelevant for this exercise.

The other big advantage to using shooting heads for practice is that you don’t end up wrecking expensive lines before you get to use them in competition.  Good for your casting technique and good for your wallet!

Have a great week, James