De-mystifying shooting heads & lines, if we’re lucky

This is a terminology review for Shooting lines, Running lines, shooting heads, and shooting Tapers.

On Nov 10, 2012, at 7:08 AM, Chris Daughters wrote: …. “one source of confusion among customers and shop staff is our shooting line section.  We sell floating and sinking shooting lines right? Could you help sort this out?”

Thanks so much for asking, Chris. There are shooting/running lines and there are shooting heads.  The former are not the same as the latter.  There are also shooting tapers, but we’ll leave those for closing remarks.

Brace yourself, I hope this helps.

Shooting Line:  This is a level fly line (as compared to a tapered line), and its purpose is to allow the shooting head to fly out over the water great distances where giant fish lurk.  Shooting lines are of relatively small diameter and may be actual fly lines, monofilament, or braided floating hybrids that aren’t quite flylines, mono, or backing.  The shooting line also provides a link between shooting head and backing.

Note the box label, this is a shooting line, this is not a head.

Note the level profile of the shooting line: no taper here.  Sorry that the image is so microscopic, it is the best I have.

Rio Slickshooter is a monofilament shooting line by Rio, very popular with our customers who fish shooting heads.

Airflo Miracle Braid is a floating braided line that is unlike both fly-line and monofilament shooting lines. This Airflo product is also a popular item typically limited to Spey anglers.

Desirable properties of shooting/running lines: These are supposed to remain relatively supple, tangle free, and slide through guides effortlessly.  In my experience, every brand and type of shooting/running line offers moments of joy and frustration.  All are capable of tangling, all perform very well most of the time, and all have their admirers and detractors.

Same – Same: The Rio Coldwater Shooting line is identical to their Rio Powerflex Spey Shooting Line, in the box pictured immediately above.  The Spey shooting line is offered in a different box, to please the Spey consumer, and in floating version only – because fishing Spey Heads with a sinking shooting line would preclude line mending in rivers.

Running Line:  This is the terminology used by Airflo for their Airflo Ridge Running Line (the #30 Lb floating version is shown above). This Airflo product is equivalent to what Rio classifies as a shooting line.  Oh please, can’t we get our terminology straight?

Floating and sinking shooting/running lines:  Both Rio and Airflo produce shooting running lines that float or sink.  The floating shooting/running lines are usually offered in core strengths in the #20 to #35 Lb range, but Airflo offers a #50 Lb option too.  The #50 Lb shooting line is referred to as an Extreme Tropical line, but it fishes well in temperate waters as well, and we know many Spey anglers who like this beefy shooting line.

Shooting Heads: The shooting Head is a relatively heavy, short fly line that loads the rod.  The proper means of casting the shooting head is to get the head and maybe a foot or two of shooting/running line out of the rod tip, make the perfect back-cast, and let ‘er rip.  The weight of the shooting head carries the light shooting/running line out of the guides.  This only occurs if one has many feet of shooting/running line laying in a shooting basket, laundry basket, bottom of the boat, on the gravel bar, or so forth.

Note: the shooting head will not fly out over the water if one stands on the loose coils of shooting/running line, or if these loose coils of line tangle in grass, anchor ropes, sticks, or boot laces.

Rio offers shooting heads, but Airflo does not (at present)  The number of fly anglers who fish shooting heads is relatively small, so is considered a niche market, even though I and many traditional salmon anglers fish shooting heads extensively;  shooting heads are also popular with striper anglers on both East and West Coast waters.

Again, please note the box label, this is a shooting head, not a line.

This short, tapered head has an aggressive front loaded taper is capable of pushing weighted flies out into wind and rain.

Shooting Taper: To spice things up, Scientific Anglers refers to their shooting head fly line as a shooting taper.

Why fish shooting heads? An integrated shooting ine like the Rio Outbound or the Airflo 40 + provides the agressive front head taper smoothly integrated with a shooting/running line, thus avoiding the loop-to-loop connection between traditional shooting head and shooting/running line.  The loop-to-loop connection can thunppety-thump as it goes through the guides; some anglers find this an irritation, while others find it a comforting fact of life.

The traditional shooting head allows anglers to carry spare heads and switch them out without carrying spare fly lines with different sink rates. Spare lines and/or spools or fly reels can be carried, but the leanest way to change sink rates on a hour-to-hour basis is to fish a shooting head system.   If you can tolerate the loop-to-loop connection inconvenience, the traditional shooting head is your best way to be prepared for changing fishing conditions.

That’s all I got. Feel better now?  Worse?  Same?

Jay Nicholas, November 2012

This entry was posted in Fly Fishing Gear Review, Fly Fishing Glossary. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to De-mystifying shooting heads & lines, if we’re lucky

  1. Jamison says:

    Very helpful and much appreciated. Next topic could discuss sink rates in a similarly easy to understand way.


  2. Fishkamp says:

    Hey Jamison,
    For all the info you want on sink rates check out this link:

  3. Geraldo Vidergar says:

    An example of a shooting head and running line combo for a 7wt or 8wt spey rod of 13′ would be very helpful.

  4. Paul Willis says:

    Thanks. That was the clearest and most informative rundown of what sinking tips are all about. I was referred to sinking heads from one of the old timers, Mel Krieger. Your piece really helped and I’m off to get a shooting head, which is not easy in San Francisco. Thanks again. Paul Willis

  5. Paul Kerfoot says:

    What criteria is used to select the correct diameter running/shooting line for say a 7 weight switch/spey rod?


  6. Mark Christopher says:

    Are shooting lines for spey rods only or can the be used on one hand rods also

  7. Pascal says:

    Quite useful. I was wondering what to do to fish large rivers or even lakes…Now I know what’s what.
    Thank you

  8. John says:

    I used to live in Medford, Oregon but left just before the spey craze got started. Due to a balance disorder I can no longer wade when fishing. I now own a 6wt 11′ Cabela switch rod. No one seems to know the true grain range of this rod, however my research estimates the rod to be a med-fast action with a grain window about 185 gr. for a shore bound fisher what would be a good setup for Walleye and smallish pike in Saskatuwan, Canada.

  9. Jay says:

    Or check out the AFTTA standards for spey and switch rods.

  10. Les Maynard says:

    Good info…………….

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