Fishing The Fly Forum, based in Aberdeenshire,  Scotland

Hamish Young

Making up a single handed Spey casting shooting head
« on: February 06, 2016, 12:32:15 PM »
There’s some fun to be had in making up your own shooting heads, it’s something I came relatively late to but wish I had worked out before.
For me the interest came partly for fishing and partly for competition casting events but for everyone the fact it that when what you’re looking for something that isn’t available then the answer is to go make it yourself.
Part of where this comes from for me is the old trick of up-lining a singlehanded rod by 2 or 3 weights for single handed Spey casting. In the good bad old days I used a short headed WF9 on an old 10’ #7wt which worked very nicely indeed and is worth considering to this day so long as you bear in mind we’re talking about a floating line only (you just wouldn’t want to try that with a sinking line :!) and you’re restricted pretty much to Spey casts as overhead casts would be… errr…entertaining  :shock

Out of interest I tried this up-lining out on my Sage TCR 9’ #5wt and found that actually I had to go a long way (#9wt :!) to get what I was after, so I think there is a correlation between rod stiffness and weight you will need to consider here. Experiment :!

In fairness there are many lines out there now that will achieve the tasks I have in mind for these lines, the Barrio SLX is one but there are also single handed Skagit lines from Rio (which I have yet to try) which means you do not necessarily need to go down the route of making your own heads up. And whilst up-lining will work it’s not necessarily an answer, all sorts of issues there and it’s sometimes far simpler to just make up a shooting head – more fun too IMHO. Now I’m not going to get into welding bits of line together, not my field. But here’s a few thoughts and ideas about making up shooting heads and a Skagit style line for a single hander.

Getting the weight balance and length of head right are the key base elements, you still need head weight to match (or exceed) what a conventional line would offer and that applies equally to single and double handed rods. Any fly line, including a shooting head, really only ‘casts’ for as long as the loop unrolls in the air; so with a longer shooting head there has to be more time for it to unroll and hopefully turn-over. That's nice but equally it means that a short head like a Skagit will turn over faster. Bugger. Unfortunately a long head is generally not all that practical for river fishing so striking the balance between ultimate distance and usability is the key when making heads.

Although the rule of thumb is around 3.5 times rod length to head my personal view is that balance with length and weight is unique to each caster, there are guidelines but no hard and fast rules. There are also limits as to what you can practically achieve and that’s the key, finding the balance, a happy medium that works for you. Making up shooting heads is addictive and can become quite expensive, depending on how far in to the madness you dive! You will become a fly line taper geek, be assured of that! You cannot afford to be squeamish when it comes to chopping up lines, it’s a very necessary evil.
For a Skagit type head (able to deal with big flies, chunky T tips etc) you have to think about what a Skagit is – so for simplicity I would qualify a Skagit as a compact (short) and heavy shooting head without terribly complex tapers, it is heavier than other shooting heads and is intended to chuck heavy (fast sinking) tips with ease.
To be honest, most shooting heads I’ve made up for single handed Salmon fishing on rivers have ended up being Skagit in style almost by default as they have many advantages. With a compact head length Skagits are ideal where casting space is restricted due to bank features, trees, bushes etc. Because I’m solely considering Spey casting here a longer headed shooting head or conventional line might make it difficult to form a D loop whereas with a Skagit it is nearly always possible to form a D loop and a good anchor. So if a conventional shooting head is 3 to 3.5 times the rod length then a Skagit is going to be shorter, considerably shorter. You could be down to as little as 10 or 12 ft but most of mine (for a 9’6” #6 weight) have ended up being around 18ft long, so roughly twice rod length but still very short and heavy.

Thing to remember here is short line equals shorter or (perhaps more accurately) smoother casting stroke, you want to stroke a Skagit into action – do not smack it :! Skagits do, by the way, cast a long way but, be warned, they often land like a bunch of spanners – delicate they are not. Sure, you can adjust delivery so they don’t land heavily but in the main it’s an ‘agricultural’ line. You need to be reasonably proficient with a haul too, a well-timed haul is the difference between a great cast and a crap cast with a single handed Skagit. The haul increases line speed and makes the whole cast far more dynamic. When you form your D loop introduce a haul and when you’re accelerating forward into the delivery introduce a haul. Enough about casting the things, how about making them :?

So what do you actually need to make up your own heads? First ingredient is willpower, you have to be prepared to chop up perfectly good fly lines. If you can’t do that then you’re buggered already.
The right tools for the job is second. You need a set of digital jewellers scales, measuring tape, sharp scissors, plastic bags, a sharpie (for writing weights of the heads in the plastic bags…) a notepad and a micrometer or Vernier caliper would be very handy. Now I don’t own a micrometer, but if you want to really accurately find tapers in fly lines you really need a pair. I rely on feel and sight which does me fine, but if you really get into this then a pair would be handy.
In most cases for fishing I am looking for a line to chop with a short and quite aggressive front (or indeed rear) taper into a good heavy belly – think out of the box here, if you’re chopping up lines who says that the rear taper cannot become the front taper in your shooting head if it fits the profile ??? :! Like I said, line taper geeks…. It's all about function and not form or delicacy when looking for material to make a line that will deal with heavy tips and big flies. That said, if you’re looking at an overhead casting head then you still need the loops that the head forms in the air to have some shape to them! So you need to be quite specific about what you want the head to achieve and consider tapers carefully.

Initially I suggest that your source of material is the trusty DT line and preferably heavy DT lines (9,10,11 and 12) of 90 feet, 100ft DTs just create more waste bits…..But short headed WF lines are equally useful as are bits of Spey lines etc.
To make up a distance casting head for a #6wt I might cut a 90' DT7F or 8F in half, whip on some running line at the cut end and go cast it in a field. Too heavy :? Take a foot off the rear of the line (the belly) tie the running line on again and cast. Still too heavy :? Cut off 6" and repeat until it works for you. If the DT had a long front taper now is the time to cut that back so you've not much more than a short transition from belly to a short front taper. That will give you a useable head for distance work and a starting point for a Spey shooting head – which will be heavier and shorter.
If you know what the weight of the head is you can then cut up heavier lines (DT 10, 11 even 12) and make up shorter heads of the same weight. These heads will be more suited to fishing for Spey casting and the longer heads for distance work – these short heads are effectively Skagits.
Key thing here, a Skagit will chuck heavy tips around and that’s what I wanted for the Don and other small rivers. If you want a shooting head that will use things like 10ft polyleaders watch that front taper carefully, it doesn’t need to be as aggressive as is desirable on a Skagit. Thought I’d better mention that :!
You can make heads out of WF lines and my rule of thumb when chopping up WF lines is to go two line weights up - but WF lines cut into heads are fickle and quite advanced. Start with the trusty DT.
Above all keep notes as you go :! Those bags with weights of the heads inside are a valuable resource.

Once you’ve got the head weight you like weigh it and measure overall length carefully. This will give you a broad template to work to when it comes to making up more heads that will suit you.
A long head for distance casting would be between 40ft to 50ft. For conventional overhead casting and fishing then you want heads in the 30-35ft length and you’d be looking at over-lining by two or three and to make the Skagit-type Spey casting line then we’re at 20ft or so and potentially over-lining (in terms of finding our source material) by as much as 5 or 6 in order to achieve the required weight.

When it comes to which tapers to use I really do think it’s down to experimentation and preference. Mill-end lines and double tapers are your friends when it comes to playing around and finding what works for you. Remember, you can cut off a fair chunk of the front taper of a DT or the back taper in a Spey line – you just need the will to do it. You do want a good pair of digital scales and a good tape measure and notebook with you at all times. Ebay is your friend when finding bits of line to play with - I have yet to pay more than a tenner for even a brand new DT line.

Looking at some of my notes I’d suggest the following table contains some useful information as a starting point for anyone making a Skagit style head up for single handed Spey casting. These are based around using short ‘T’ tips and more often superfast sinking 10’ tips (Versileaders for example) on rods I use. The one I use still on a 9’6” Orvis Helios 1 #6wt is 18’ long and comes in at 280 grains but was originally 300 grains.

Line weight                      Head weights
#5 (TCR 9’)                        250 to 275 grains / 16.2 to 17.8 grams
#6 (Helios 9’ 6”)                275 to 325 grains / 17.8 to 21 grams
#7 (Helios 10’)                   375 to 425 grains / 24.3 to 27.5 grams
#8 (Orvis prototype 10’)    460 to 525 grains / 29.8 to 34 grams

These are just my ramblings guys, I hope it’s not as confusing as I feel it is and is some use to you in having a go  :z16

H :cool:

Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience ;)

Hamish Young

Re: Making up a single handed Spey casting shooting head
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2016, 12:35:41 PM »
I didn't even mention running line, handling lines...... oh bugger  :X1

Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience ;)

Mike Barrio

Re: Making up a single handed Spey casting shooting head
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2016, 12:44:37 PM »
Awesome stuff Hamish :z16   At the heart of your fishing ..... lies a great fly line!

Patrick Mcguigan

Re: Making up a single handed Spey casting shooting head
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2016, 13:10:49 PM »
Brilliant post !

Thank you for taking the time  :cool:

Jeff Donovan

Re: Making up a single handed Spey casting shooting head
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2016, 17:48:32 PM »
Excellent stuff, very informative, well done...  :z16
Close to the edge down by the river.......... Yes.

Marc Fauvet

Re: Making up a single handed Spey casting shooting head
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2016, 17:55:45 PM »
 :z16 :z16 :z16

Tony Considine

Re: Making up a single handed Spey casting shooting head
« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2016, 16:03:05 PM »
Hamish, I can go back forty years to making up shooting heads,fishing Rutland and Grafham from bank and boat.
We always made up our own,from floater to lead core.  33ft was the starting point with a floater then trial and error
casting until it felt right,as you've described. We didn't know anything about weights at the time,seems so obvious now!
You don't mention running line.We used to use oval 30lb nylon which could tangle spectacularly,then they started
selling  level running line similar to fly line.
I've not considered single handed spey shooting heads,but sounds interesting. I think I would use the back end of a light
weight forward floater as running line, I'll have to start digging in my oddments drawer.

Hamish Young

Re: Making up a single handed Spey casting shooting head
« Reply #7 on: February 08, 2016, 19:30:21 PM »
I used to make lead-core shooting heads for trout hunting on Loch Shiel nearly 30 years ago. Was it really that long ago  :shock
I recall taking a chap out on Shiel who fished Rutland, got the shock of his life when he saw some of the kit I was using back then as it was very similar to what some guys were using for rudder fishing.... a technique I have also used in the pursuit of loch brownies :wink
I digress.
You're right Tony, I didn't mention shooting lines and I think it comes down to preference really. Having tried all sorts I have stuck with Varivas Airs, breaking strain relevant to the task at hand.
I was introduced to it a few years ago by Ben Dixon and haven't looked back since.
For those newly into shooting heads I would advocate not going too light or supple, you want to be able to haul on the running line - not cut your fingers off :!

Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience ;)


  Forum moderators : Mike Barrio - Hamish Young - Sandy Nelson

Barrio Fly Lines, designed in Scotland ... Cast with confidence all over the world

Barrio Fly Lines - - At the heart of your fishing ..... lies a great fly line!

Please click here to read our cookies and privacy information before using our website forum

All content on this website is © copyright