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longlines vs shooting heads

8867 Views 55 Replies 14 Participants Last post by  L A Smithers
I'm working on an article for the Spey Pages on this subject and was curious about the membership's experiences with line control issues surrounding various spey line designs. My own experiences suggest that the belief that line and fly control are superiour with long belly lines is largely a myth that has its roots in the days when shooting heads were backed by monofilament (which was not particularly useful for anglers who needed to mend their lines). Once upon a time I was of the view that you couldn't effectively control a fly with yards of running line between the rod tip and the head section of the line, but my experiments with a variety of shooting heads and shooting head-style lines the past two years has me looking back over some of my old posts on other BBs and shaking my head. I'm also wondering how much line control really is needed when swinging flies for anadromous species. What are your experiences with line control and various line styles?
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Line Control

Dana, I took your course on the Fraser River last march and wanted to learn to cast the long line. I had always heard one could not control the fly as good with the shorter heads. I did learn to cast the S.A. 8/9 line and the accellerator line in good conditions with no wind. In actual fishing conditions I found I always went back to the wind cutter. Now I am also using the new Air Flow line which handle very well. It seems weather I fish the Deschutes, Snake, Grande Rhonde, or Thompson there is wind. May be my skill level is not good but the shorter heads will cast into the wind so I end up putting the long heads back in my vest. As far as line control with heads I say whats the problem? With the win cutter and air flow line I feel I have good line control. The running line will lift another 20 to 35 feet of the running line to get the desired drift of the fly. Jerry
Hi Dana: On reading your post on controling the line with short heads vs long lines;I was surprised at your statement that you could control the line satisfactorily with the short head.
If of course you were merely using a wet fly swing and casting 45 degrees downstream ,then you could make little flips to keep the line straight. However if you were casting 90 deg across stream ,and your cast was longer than 75 feet with a windcutter ;I dont see how you could mend the heavy belly to insure a good dead drift. Perhaps you could elaborate on your method of controlling line. or have I perhaps missinterpreted your post.
LA Smithers,

I will let Dana explain the technique of long distance mending. He fished his shooting heads all season on the Thompson this year as he was interested in perfecting the Underhand Cast and the mends that go with it. On the broad Thompson flows he regularly fished well over 120-130'. These were casts very close to 90 degrees out and he had no trouble making the mends necessary.

While I much prefer long belly lines I did spend a few weekends using one of Dana's proto-type heads and I found the mends very easy to execute. While Dana does a much better job of explaining it, the basic technique involves lifting the rod and briging the line under tension, then a sort of a slow motion straight-armed lift upstream. The very fact that I can't exactly tell you how it works indicates that it is a pretty simple straight forward procedure. While I don't anticipate that I will be switching to short belly lines anytime soon, I certainly admit that what was once a major criticism that I had of the lines is certainly groundless - they mend very well at significant distances!
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Hi Kush: I read your post in reply to mine with intrest,however I`m afraid I still can understand how this can be accomplished.
There are of course places at Spenses Bridge such as the lower Graveyard and the lower Grease hole where the currents are uniform enough as to require little mending .On the other hand the Y and the Hotel do require true upstream mends.
With the typical head length of the Windcutter line of 50 ' and a 100 foot cast one is trying to lift a 12wt head with a 50 foot 2 wt line. It is true that one can pull hard on the rod and manage to get perhaps 20 ' of the head in the air,but they have already defeated the purpose of the mend ;by pulling on the rod and line the fly has been pulled up from the bottom significantly.To put this in perspective it is well documented that a pull of 1 '
will raise the fly in the water by 6".
If one feeds slack line into the mend as should be done to keep the fly from rising then from both personal experience and from watching some of the best spey casters in the world ,the Scots Gillies I am confident that it is impossible to lift more than a short length of belly with the typical 29 thousanths running line.
I am not trying to provoke an arguement by these statements but rather to elicite some rational statement of the technique which would be required to accomplish this feat.
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Hi Bud!

Here's a few lines from a newsletter article on distance casting that provides a little more clarity:


Mending shooting heads

One of the chief criticisms levelled at shooting heads is that once the head leaves the rod rings it is impossible to mend because the narrow diameter running line doesn’t have enough mass to move the heavier head section. For several years I was of this opinion, and am on record as recommending that anglers avoid shooting head-style lines for this reason.

Then I met two gentlemen who changed my mind about shooting heads. The first was Per Stadigh. Per lives in Stockholm, Sweden, is a master salmon and steelhead angler and proponent of the Scandinavian style of casting and fishing that makes exclusive use of shooting heads. The second was American guide, angler and author Dec Hogan. After observing their methods I discovered that both anglers make use of a unique mending style that allows them to effectively control a shooting head at distances “you had not believed possible.”

Their method is as follows: once the cast is made and the line has settled on the water, the rod is raised near vertical in an effort to lift the running line from the water and maintain a direct connection to the head. The line is kept under slight tension, and when a mend is made the rod tip is moved in an upstream arc—a short, powerful move that capitalizes on the direct connection that exists between the rod tip and the shooting head. Anglers who have fished conventional tackle will immediately recognize this as similar to the methods employed when controlling a bait while bottom bouncing or float fishing. It is important to note that like all skilled anglers Stadigh and Hogan only mend when absolutely necessary, and then usually early in the presentation when setting up the drift of the fly.


I think one of the key points, and part two of my original post, was how much mending really is necessary? When it comes to steelhead, I think sometimes we mend too often and too hard. I know I used to do this, having cut my teeth trout fishing on Alberta trout streams where mending is critical. I find with steelhead the less I mend the more fish I catch.
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Jerry, nice to "see" you again!

It is exactly the experiences of people such as yourself who favor the shorter heads that got me re-thinking my bias towards long belly lines a few years back. When I started steelheading everyone told me that line control and presentation were the key to success. When I picked up a Spey rod I was told that long lines gave you better line control and thus better angling success. But then I started to meet a lot of people who used Windcutters and caught way more fish than I did. Initially this had more to do with experience than line control, but after a while I noticed that my long line friends and I weren't exactly outfishing the Windcutter guys, even on big water like the Thompson where one would think such an advantage would be apparent. Hmmmmmm...
Hi Dana: Many thanks for the clarification of your earlier post,as well as the description of the Swedish approach which presumably derives from the Goran Andresson Underhand cast.
I will have to concede that if you are catching more fish then the results jutify the action. However I would point out that; assuming you are fishing a 100 fot cast with an Andresson line of a 40 foot head and 60 feet of running line; and you are using a 16"rod and you do not feed line into the mend you will be swinging the rod tip through an angle of at least 45 deg which means the tip will travel roughly 12 feet in one second and you will pull the fly by that distance and at that speed.
This means that the fly will rise by about 4 feet assuming the water is 6 feet deep and the fly will travel at a speed of 8 miles per hour.
I know of very few if any aquatic animals capable of travelling at such speeds even healthy minnows are only capable of about 4 miles per hour.
I can only conclude therefore that the Thompson Steelhead have become very aggressive and remarkably stupid.
or maybe its just me being stupid :devil: ( devils advocate)
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Hi : It just boggles my mind how dumb these Scots must be. Here they have been fishing the Spey R for at least 800 years, they designed and have been fishing spey flies for 200 years and have developed the double handed spey caster rod 150 years ago . For 100 years they have been teaching and guiding English sports fishermen like Price Tannant, and George Kelson and Americans likeLa Branch ; and in all that time they have never stumbled on these brilliant ideas that are now emerging from North American experts.
It just makes one wonder a little bit maybe they were just to busy developing the steam engine and the automobile to really use their imagination and begin to understand fishing.
Old Coot Rising

Hi Bud,

Thought I'd left your crotchety self on the [email protected] list, but I see that I was wrong. :devil:

Seriously tho . . . I had this same discussion with Dana quite a few years ago when he was fishing the long belly lines (Derek Brown's SpeyDriver) for both floating and sinktips at prodigious distances. Reading your posts, they sound ~exactly~ like his arguments when discussing the merits and detriments of each line system. The problems with moving the fly in it's drift while mending, etc.

What I've personally found is that, after about 60 or 70', it becomes very difficult not to move the fly - even when throwing line into the mend to compensate - no matter what line system you're using. Most accomplished speyfishers I've been privledged to watch seem to set a major mend at the beginning of the drift, then make compensatory mends in the nearest 30 - 40' of line that don't disturb the fly after the swing has been set.

Tradition is a fine thing, but it's also a good idea to experiment for yourself. Maybe you should spend a season using the WindCutter so as to become more immediately acquainted with it's potential. ;)

My .02,

Brian Lencho / Doublespey
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Per, the "Great Mending Debate" continues!

Now look at me, turncoat that I am, singing the praises of shooting heads--what's wrong with me! :D

Doublespey and Coot, Per and I had this same discussion a few years ago on one of "those other" BBs, at a time when I was solidly in your camp, Coot! DS, remember the first time I tried to cast your Windcutter system on the Skykomish? Hah! I was hopeless! Even today real Windcutter anglers point out that I still throw too much line behind me, a habit of too much top hand from my exclusively longline days. But I'm workin' on it...

These days I guess I'm kinda the Spey casting version of a switch hitter--I just kinda see what's gonna work best for me at the time and put it to use. Again, just my experience, but I've found that no one line system is inherently superior to another; it all comes down to preference and a belief in what works best for you. Each system requires changes in method to get the most from it, and I end up hooking just as many steelhead on shooting head systems as on longlines, which could mean that I'm a mediocre all round kinda angler who can't get the potential out of any given line system, or that when used to the best advantage I can each line system offers me a pretty even chance of hooking that fish out there (or perhaps a little of both!).

And it probably also means I'm gettin' a little lazier as I get older--why pick up and toss all those extra grains if I really don't have to? :confused:
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Looks like Dana is a "swinger"....

Just want to add....

Dana, you sound like you have proven the case for mending shooting heads and it sounds like it can be done (would appreciate if you could show me one day).

But another issue I want to bring up is the issue of stripping and shooting. While Spey fishing and the longer rod allow you to mend and control line much more effectively, they also lend themselves to much more efficent fishing because instead of false casting the fly with the single hander, you are back in the water after a few movements and a power stroke. Much more time fishing after a long day, and we know that the guy who has his fly in the water more than the next guy will catch more fish.

Having said that, how much time do you lose (or gain?) when you are stripping and shooting as opposed to just picking up a set distance of line which is commonly done by long liners and getting back out there? I'm not saying go out and count how many casts you do in a day with a long belly line compared to a shooting head, but just give a ballpark figure for what you think you lose (or even gain?) in efficiency/time in the water over the course of a day between long lining and stripping and shooting with the Spey rod. It might only be a few short seconds per cast, but over the course of the day a few seconds can turn into minutes worth of fishing in the course of a day.

Another issue I want to ask about is the use of a rear taper in spey fishing. Do long rear tapers have a place in Spey fishing? For shooting heads? Long liners? I would think for a long liner that a long rear taper might be useless and it might be better off to just have straight belly and a short rear taper, but for a "shooter?"
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Maybe I should shed a little light on Dana. From my very close perspective I think Dana's changing outlook on casting styles is really due to the fact that he is a flat out spey casting junkie. He loves anything and everything about casting with doublehanders. I also know first hand, that when his interest is piqued - his enthusiasm and focus knows no bounds. So when he saw the underhand cast he just HAD to figure it and everything to do with it. His "switch" this past season to short bellied heads was, in my opinion, a natural progression for this "student of the game" - I don't hold it against him! As I said earlier, I even tried it for a while myself. I must admidt that there is in fact a certain rush to all that shooting line sailing off into the distance.

Scott's reference to all the stripping is now my only real criticism of the shooting lines. As Scott infers I do think that over the long haul of a season a long belly caster will get in significantly more casts than someone with short belly line will. Now having said that I am pretty certain that there is a smaller incidence of tennis elbow amongst the short belly guys than the long belly boys!

One further comment, this time in praise of the short bellies. I found them much more efficient casting into some of the heavy winds common on the Thompson. On a couple of extemely tough afternoons on the Graveyard I was seriously considering mugging Dana for his shooting head. He was casting 100' while I was making up some bizzare triple-dipple side-winder cast with my Speydriver to get my fly out 60'!
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A comparative study by Dr. Mendelson:)

Dear all,

This topic, as Dana said, is what brought us together. We were into some serious fights, and eventually came out as friends.......
As influx works both ways I did fish a good deal last season in Russia with Windcutter and Accelerator lines, just to make sure that I not was missing anything central out, when being so hard headed about the virtues of tailored shooting heads and thin running lines.

What I found out is that the longer designs(too me even a Windcutter is looong..) are great to cast, at least in open situations or when waded out). One gets into effective distances ever so easy.

BUT, and this is the alarming part, they are poor in controlling the drift!!! This controversial statement derives from the fact that the long heavy belly is hard to keep up in the air. Also it is under pressure from a much "broader band" of currents, needing repetetive mendings to control the belly rather than the fly.

So I am even more convinced that the shooting head system makes for a far more effecient fishing technique. With them I often can cast 35-40 yds square, flip a good mend in that settles the 35'-45' head almopst parallell to the flow and then let it fish the "outer lane",where little competition is to be had. With the head sailing away under a a minimum of tension, and the running line either on the water, easy to lift free, or free in the air all the time, it is very easy to flip occational mends in that settles the head right. The horrible truth is that it reminds a bit of fishing a float... Often enough fish hook themselves as the take stops the fly but lets the head swim on to pull the hooks in from below.

I would like to return on this topic when I can get some peace to write (the family are off for a Sunday outing).

To close - to get the best of two worlds I tailor heads made of 25' level #12 Floating (A 40 yds DT makes many such") to 20 feet tips (#11) ranging for floating down to leadcore. Then you really get a good "float " with all the fine sinktips you Steelheaders have taught me to love. As for a running line either the Airflo Intermediate or the Flatbeam 35 pound is what I like.

Good luck!

PS. 1) I never feed line into the mends
2) To mee the final stripping in of line is combined with a constant stripping during most of the cast. In fast water maybe less than 1"/second, in sluggish water up tp 10"/second. All to ensure that the fly is actively swimming out there. Once the cast is fished out I continue this stripping in a gradually quicker pace. Maybe 20% of my fish take me in this final stage. With the fly under tension the positive hookups are far greater than when the fly is hanging passive in the traditional "dangle". As you immediatly feel the fish the trick is to strike hard as soon as this the take occurs. As you see a big part of the "stripping in" is part of the actual fishing, adding a bonus effect. Hence it is hard to say that one actually looses much time as compared to flipping a full line out, without stripping. DS
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Hi Dana Brian and Per: I `ll begin this with a :p although I may end with a :eek: So many replies so many arguements.
First to Brian who tells me I should try a windctter. Brian I knew Jim Vincent 15 years ago when he was still joining various pieces of line trying to create a spey line so as a result I got 3 windcutters from him when they were first built. Believe me I have fished them and indeed because they are much easier to cast than a proper DT I was almost sold but alas the endless stripping in, both while fishing as Per suggests and after the hangdown simply defeated the true values of spey style fishing. His accelerator line was simply a bad concept. The use of a hinge to turn over the tip at 22 feet simply refleted the fact that Jim was not rolling the line but shooting it. this is where the basic dichotomy exists between the traditional and the current You loose half of the value of the spey cast when you shoot line rather than rolling it. When the line is low and rolling you can defeat the wind but when its up and shooting you are at the mercy of the wind.
To Dana who says that he is catching more fish with the shooting head style.;there is of course another possible explanation for this/.Because you are casting further you are fishing where the fish are,I have noticed that with fewer and fewer fish in the Thompson they are holding further from shore. Twenty years ag most fish were caught with casts of 60 feet nowadays you have to be out 100 feet :chuckle: the fish are getting smarter.
To Per may I say that I thoroughly enjoyed a visit to your country fourty years ago. As the guest of Dr. Stig Hagner the woods manager for Svenska Cellulosa I did a lot of fishing on the company rivers and lakes. I found that my long greenheart rod was a real novelty to the locals as was the traditional spey cast.
I hope to go back some day because it is one of the lovliest places in the world.
I doubt that I have added anything to this discussion althoug I may possibly have learned something but anyhow my best to all of you.
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IMHO, I think the advantages of mending are over-stated. In most circumstances, an imperfect mend, and often a perfect mend, won't do anything to make your fly fish better or longer. The real key to fly control (as opposed to line control) is in leading or holding back rod movements through the cast, after making the cast at the appropriate angle, and sometimes appropriate length ( a short cast fishes quite differently than a long one sometimes) for the spot you're standing in.

Sometimes, having your fly fish a little fast is a plus because you cover more water over the course of a day. Steelhead rarely care, because they are, in fact, pretty stupid.

The real advantage to long bellies is not having to strip in line.
However, this season I went back to the windcutter after getting a new Loop rod and discovered the following advantages:
1. the shorter back-cast loop is a real advantage when you're tight to the bank;
2. the extra-thick head sets hooks very securely without "striking";
3. my monthly visits to the chiropractor have become unnecessary.

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Hi Poul : I`m glad to see that I have one more person to dissagree with. You say that mending line has little to do with how the fly fishes, I`m afraid you are dead wrong. The majority of steelhead and to a lesser extent salmon hold tight to the rocks and will not rise to the fly. This was the whole basis of the design of the true spey fly. The small head,the fine body on heavy long iron and the shapeand design of the wings were all an attempt to get the fly down to the rocks quickly and to keep it down there.
This can only be accomplished by successive mends of the line which properly involve throwing slack line into the mend.
The minute the line tightens either because the fisherman begins to strip retrieve line or because a downstream belly develops then the fly rises and you are out of the fishing zone.
It is true that if the fish will come up to a waked fly in tailouts then a tight line will be successful, similarly if you fish the wet fly cast with a sinking line 45 degrees downstream then the fly will stay deep. But if you believe that the dead drift followed by a slow swing is the way to go you must mend line and you must avoid the fly rising.
Sorry to be so dissagreable but its hard to teach old dogs new tricks especially if the tricks seem to defy reason.
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Thank you for your nice comments about Sweden and your good input in the discussion (anything based on experience rather than hours in the library is worth gold!)

What you say about the casting of course is true, for many of us. Their are no general truths. Maybe I am too obsessed with catching fish - rather than enjoying the art as such. But that's me.

The few times I have had the oppertunity to visit B.C I have felt humble. What an fantastic corner of this planet!! It is sad there are too many "wallet-emtying time" zones that separte us.

(It is a small world: my father (L-E Stadigh) studied with Stig at the University of Uppsala!! I think they made the life rough for quite a few brownies, as well...)

All the best,
Very good thread by knowledgeable anglers. I have to play the part of the Old Sage (Satanic Advocate whatever) here for a moment and re visit the late great Roderick Haig Brown and some of his more enlightening prose. To wit : "The real truth is that sport is made by and exisist in just three things: tradition, ethics and restraint. Reduce, remove or destroy these and nothing useful is left. It may be enough to satisfy the newcomers to the sport for a little while, but it cannot hold them long-there will be nothing to grow on, nothing to advance to. In the end, if any real efficency could be attained, the sport itself would die and be forgotten."
This is out of Fisherman's Summer and beleive it or not the single most fundamentaly pure thought regarding angling I have ever come across. I have, since reading it over 40 years ago, tried to fish accordingly to the thoughts these few lines instilled in me.
Simply stated if it makes it easier and its new fangled it needs to be reviewed. Does it make things alot more efficent? If I answer this with yes then it usually is my choice to stay away. you of course can chose to do whatever you want.
Bear in mind some of the individuals mentioned herin are Professionals that are deriving monetary rewards for making successful anglers out of neophytes. This requires increased efficency and I don't think its quite up to the test of the RHB three categorys of tradition ethics and restraint.
Anyhoot its always uplifting to go to my library and dig out the RHB and get the quotes right, now I will read the whole book in camp this week.
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L.A. Smithers:

I think you mis-understood my post. I didn't say that mending has little to do with how your fly fishes. It has a lot to do with how your fly fishes: when I mend, my fly usually isn't fishing or swimming the way I like it to until the current removes the slack from my line. So, except in limited specific situations where you have to mend to effectively fish, I'm saying that rather than having a neutral effect, mending actually has a negative effect.

I fish surface/waking flies less than 10% of the time although I always fish a floating line except for winter-runs. I generally like my fly to fish deep, but not on the bottom. In my view, a fly fished a foot or so above the fish is more visible and therefore more effective than a fly fished right in the rocks (therefore hidden by the rocks until the last second). I use a 20' leader and very sparse flies on heavy wire hooks to gain depth. I guess we each have our own well-earned style, which is what it's all about. As long as I'm having fun and catching my share, I'll stick to mine and you'll probably stick to yours. ("Never argue about politics, religion, or fishing method?")

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