When fly-fishers gather and begin discussing the skill level or success rate of fellow anglers, you often hear the expression, “I would rather be lucky than good.” This is probably due to the fact that in fishing, perhaps more so than in other endeavors, as far as catching fish is concerned, a certain amount of luck is always part of the equation. However, even though we can all cite instances of “beginner’s luck,” it’s been demonstrated time and again that, in the long run, it is the skillful angler who ends up having the most success.
Aside from the factor of tackle size, fly-fishers have two choices to make in the presentation phase of the contest between angler and fish. One is what fly to select. The other has to do with the fly line you use to cast it. Fly selection can be a matter of endless debate, but the challenging part of this that makes it fun is that there will never be any definitive answers. Choosing a fly line, however, is considerably more straightforward.
Building the System
There is a fly line manufactured for practically every species and locale imaginable. The problem is that, with all the lines available, there can be a great deal of confusion in what line to select. One solution that takes the concept of interchangeable tips one step further is to change the line itself, and the most practical way to do this is to use a shooting head system.
What makes this possible is the fact that a shooting head system consists of two separate lines: a relatively small-diameter running line and a larger-diameter shooting one. Normally, the two are joined together via a loop-to-loop connection. The late casting champion Myron Gregory first introduced me to this system back in the early 1970s. Gregory was one of the first to use this setup in a casting tournament at the Golden Gate casting ponds in San Francisco, California, in the 1930s. The combination of the thin-diameter running line being carried by the heavier head section is designed to afford maximum casting distance. When you have to make long-distance presentations or cover a lot of water, a shooting head system is the ideal choice.
Traditionally, the head portion is 30 feet long. That makes changing lines easy. All you do is coil the head around your hand, pass it through a 6- to 8-inch loop in the running line, secure it with something like a pipe cleaner, grab a different head and interlock it with the running line loop. Basing recommended line weights on full-length weight-forward lines, the standard practice is to increase line shooting head weights typically by two line sizes. Thus, an appropriate shooting head for an 8-weight rod would be one with a 10-weight designation. For a 10-weight rod, use a 12-weight shooting head. For those who prefer to select their lines by grain weight, the following is a useful guide: For an 8-weight fly rod, the head should weigh approximately 300 grains, a 9-weight rod will handle 350 grains, a 10-weight rod 400 grains, an 11-weight 450 grains and a 12-weight 500 grains.