Shooting Heads

Posted on January 09, 192000 at 00:47:17:


turn your saltwater rod into a rocket launcher!

Shooting heads have been around for a long time but their popularity is only recent here in the Northeast. Early shooting heads were often home made contraptions containing lead core trolling line or belly sections of flyline that were attached to monofilament running lines. The choices of shooting heads that could be commercially purchased was slim to none. Today just about every major flyline manufacturer produces these lines in just about every conceivable weight and design. The shooting head is here to stay and most definately fills a niche for the saltwater striper angler.

A modification of the traditional weight forward fly line, the shooting head was originally designed for distance and tournament casting. The shooting head system is composed of a 15-30 ft "shooting head" that is attached to 80-100 feet of "running line" that has a low mass. Commercially made shooting heads are usually composed of the same PVC materials that flylines are made of and come in a variety of densities from floating to dredging. Running lines are made of a variety of materials and will be discussed later. Traditionally the angler can regulate fishing depth by simply switching to a head that has a different density while leaving the running line on the reel. Heads are most often attached to the running line using a loop to loop method.

Anyone who has ever cast a standard weight forward flyline knows that once you get the belly of the flyline out of the rod and give it some momentum it will carry out the remaining line almost effortlessly. This is called "shooting line". The shooting head is really similar to a standard weight forward flyline however the running line is much lower in mass. This means that the head's momentum can carry out more running line making your casting distance greater. In my distance casting clinics I use the analogy of spin fishing. When we cast a lure from a spinning rod the lure's mass gives it the momentum necessary to carry out the trailing monofilament. When using a shooting head the principle is the same however you should think of your lure as being about 25ft long!


I use shooting heads for about 50% of my saltwater flyfishing. I especially like the fact that you do not need to make many false casts to get the fly out to the fish. This can be especially important when you do not have much time due to a boat's drift speed. In addition, the versatility of simply changing from one head to another to fish different depths is quick and easy.

Shooting heads are not without their disadvantages. It is difficult to present the fly with any degree of finesse with a shooting head. In addition your accuracy will suffer in the beginning. You need to get accustomed to the time to shoot the line (usually when the last foot of the head is in the rod or slightly out of the rod). Let it go too soon or too late and you ruin the cast. You will need to modify your casting technique due to the fact that you cannot false cast a shooting head once you have more than a few feet of running line out of the rod. The running line's mass is not great enough to transfer the momentum to the shooting head and it will form a "hinge" and fall from the sky..

By far, the most challenging part of working with shooting head systems is managing the running line. For this you almost always need a shooting basket , a container that you wear around your waist, that you may lay the coils of running line in. Most stripping baskets contain some sort of "fingers" that stick up from the bottom to help prevent the running line from tangling. They are easy to make. In addition to using a shooting basket it is helpful if you stretch your running line to eliminate memory or kinks before fishing it. I especially like large arbor salt water reels because I think that they reduce running line memory by winding the line around a larger circumference.


There are many running lines available today. I will mention three of the most popular running lines. It is best to experiment for yourself to find which line works the best for the conditions you fish.

1-4 wt level flyline- this is the running line that will most resemble a standard weight forward running line. Larger in mass than the others.

Round or oval monofilament- a good inexpensive running line of low mass however it can have memory, kink, and change its properties due to variations in temperature.

Braided monofilament-Very low mass, little memory. Can easily blow around even in a stiff breeze causing it to knot up.


A great majority of the people who experience problems with shooting heads do not have heads that are suited to the rods that they are fishing them on. Many heads are not heavy enough to appropriately load the rod so the angler has to work really hard to generate line speeds necessary to make good casts instead of letting the rod do the work. In other cases the rod may be overloaded by the weight of the head making the rod break down and act too limber to generate sufficient line speeds. The majority of the problems I see are with the first case where the head's weight is not sufficient to load the rod appropriately. I would suggest that you purchase a shooting head that is at least one line size above your rod's designated line weight. See how it behaves on your rod. If you feel your rod is overloaded you can shorten the head a foot at a time and test it until you hit that "sweet spot". The rest is easy!

Try a shooting head out this season. Don't be afraid to experiment with different running lines and head weights until you find the one that�s just right for your rod and style of fishing. You may really be impressed with the results.

For any questions or comments regarding this column or fly fishing in general feel free to contact me at Northeast Anglers Inc. 1-800-558-7658 or

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