Adjusting shooting heads.

I will attempt to provide some good pointers concerning this topic, I have been working in this business for many years and I have often experienced many fishermen being unsure of how to do this. Cut the shooting head to the wrong length/weight, and if will negatively affect both the casting and fishing abilities of the shooting head.

When purchasing your first shooting head I understand very well how you may be unsure of how to adjust it. One can be unsure of many factors, thus there will be many unanswered questions. Some fishing stores offer to help adapting your shooting head, you should take advantage of this service. Try to watch this being done, so that you will learn from the guys in the shop. There are a multitude of shooting head systems out on the market, some are pre-cut, others are supposed to be adjusted, and overall it can be difficult to know for sure what you need, i.e. which shooting head best suits your casting technique and your rod action.

This problem often involves two issues, firstly to figure out how long or heavy the shooting head should be, the second is to find out what types of heads you need in order to experience effective fishing. This article will mainly deal with the first issue. When it comes to choosing shooting heads for fishing, you will find much useful information in my articles on fishing in a variety of conditions.

Are we fishing or casting??!!
This is my motto, and as such my theories about the length and weight of shooting heads are focused on fishing. This is not an article or theory written for casting off the pier.

Beginner or experienced fly fisher?
This will obviously affect the adjustment of the weight/length of the shooting head; if you are a beginner it is easier to learn fly casting using a shorter head. Have you fly fished for a while, becoming a competent fly caster, it is easier to handle a longer shooting head. All fly rods will have a maximum weight which they can handle, are you able to cast/fish using the maximum weight shooting head you will utilise the rod action better, thus casting further.

Man or rod?
By this I mean whether the shooting head should be adjusted to suit the rod or the fisherman. Long-term it is best to adjust the head to suit the rod. In some instances, it is best to adjust the head to the fisherman due to a lack of casting experience, when starting to fly fish it is easier to handle a shorter shooting head for the first few trips. If you choose to cut the shooting head fairly short and use a line weight equal to the recommended rod weight you will often end up with a shooting head that is too light in terms of the weight capacity of the rod. This is a short-term solution, as you soon will increase your casting skills, making the head feel too light, and you will have to buy another new shooting head. A tip with regards to this is to buy a shooting head one weight class heavier than the recommended rod weight, then you will have a shorter head with a weight closer to the maximum weight capacity of the rod, this is a better combination for the beginner. At the same time, you will also be able to use this head when you have become a better caster as well, especially in tight fishing spots with trees behind you or other obstacles making fly casting difficult. I have double up of all my fly lines, one in the same weight as what is recommended for the rod, and one that is one line class heavier, in order to be more efficient in all fishing situations.

Adapting your shooting heads to suit different fishing spots will see you becoming an effective salmon fisher.


Long or short shooting heads?
This is a question often raised by fly fishers, but I feel it is wrong to look for one best answer as I believe both long and short shooting heads can offer advantages during practical fishing. Tight and open fishing spots will always be different, and different shooting head lengths will help you meet the challenges regardless of fishing spot!

Additionally, there is no doubt that factors such as rod action, casting style, and personal preferences play a decisive role when people recommend you using a long or short head. The rod actions used for traditional and modern casting styles are very different. The classical style with longer casting movements and slower rod actions is best performed with long shooting heads or so-called spey lines. If you use the modern casting style, with fast rod actions and shorter arm movements, the shorter heads are more suitable, with lengths from 11,5 to 13,5 meters when using double handed rods in lengths between 12,5 to 15 feet. The reason behind these relatively large variations is that the choice of shooting heads for salmon fishing can range from a floating line to the heaviest grain lines.

One other thing you should consider concerning this section is the different places you fish; you will increase your casting lengths if your shooting heads are adapted to suit the different spots you fish. A good rule is: short heads for the tight and difficult spots, a short head is easier to use during windy days, and during deep wading. Longer shooting heads are better suited for open fishing spots, long heads will see you cast further, given enough space.

Which is more important: the weight in grams or the length of the shooting head?
Most fishermen adjust their shooting heads according to length, not many people gave much thought to the weight in grams over the first few years. You could hear the discussions along the river where people claimed a head of 12,5 meters was better than one of 12,7 meters. Most people did not consider that by being more aware of the shooting head weight their rods could deal with, they would have better lines as you would be able to utilise the power of the rod more effectively. If you weigh your lines you will soon become more aware of the weight your rod can handle, this knowledge can then be used so that you, regardless of any challenges you meet on the river, can adjust your shooting heads to suit your rod and your casting technique perfectly!

Tailor-make your shooting heads.
A modern shooting head concept gives you the same advantages as when everyone went to the tailor to sharpen up their new suit, in order for it to suit all the finest occasions, which in this case is the fishing trip itself. With a bit of experience you can adjust your shooting heads so that you can fish all the different fishing spots facing you throughout a fishing season with confidence. I recommend Guide Line’s Power Taper concept, here you will find complete selection of lines that will get you closer to experiencing memorable fishing trips, regardless of conditions. In the Power Taper range you will find all the most used lines, in addition the more different and extreme ones. If you go for a good selection of Power Taper lines you will be well prepared for any changes in conditions during a fishing trip.

Deep wading!


Energy transfer.
Is a key word; the line profile of the shooting head in relation to the rod length is a decisive factor when it comes to casting performance. It is no use to have a fast rod and a shooting head that is too long, or a line with a long tapering and slow turnover, or the opposite! This will lead to large differences in the cooperation between rod and line, and you will not be able to utilise neither the rod nor the line to their full capacity. Unfortunately, many people fail to get this right, it can actually be wrong even if you have approximately the correct shooting head weight, but wrong profile of the shooting head compared to the action of your rod. The feeling you get from this combination is that the shooting head weight feels good, but the line will not shoot very well, it is as if the line is glued to the guides of your rod. If this is the feeling you have when casting you have a difference in rhythm between your rod and your line, slowing the whole cast down.

This is how to adjust shooting heads.
If you are a beginner wanting to cut down your shooting head according to length I recommend you test the shooting head in water, which offers the most precise starting point. If you test the shooting head on your lawn or something similar you will find that the head is too long when you are going fishing with it. This is because casting on the lawn is much easier than casting when wading in a river. Make a temporary loop/connection at the back end (the thickest part) of the line; this will make it easier to adjust the shooting head as you go along. The correct length for your casting technique is when you manage to lift the shooting head directly out of the water, having the shooting head and around 30-40 cm of the shooting line outside the top ring. This applies to when casting a double handed rod. For a single handed rod you will need more of the shooting line outside the top ring due to the double haul. Correct length now would be equal to the length you pull when double-hauling, which normally is around 1 meter.

If you are an experienced salmon fisher and adjust your shooting heads according to weight you basically need two things: firstly a set of scales, and secondly knowledge of what gram weight your rod likes the best. It can be somewhat difficult to find out what weight is best suited for your rod. You can adhere to the recommendations from the rod manufacturer, or you can test it yourself until you have it. Personally I test this myself as this gives the best result over time. This means that I just have to weight the lines after a while as I know how much they should weigh in order to be prefect.

Spey or overhead casting?
Shooting heads should be heavier for spey casting than for overhead casting, due to the fact that the rod is loaded differently when spey casting than when overhead casting. If you fish spots where you only use spey casting you should keep this in mind as it will help you cast longer. Remember that it can be useful to use a shooting head one class heaver than your recommended rod line weight in order to get shorter heads with more weight. The difference in weight can be from 2-4 grams for spey casting.


Special casts.
By this I mean all the Snake Roll variations and the combination casts of all the “water-casts”. The Snake Roll is the core of these combination casts, thus learning the basic Snake Roll technique is important. When mastering this you can then build on it with all its variants and of course the combination casts. The shooting heads for these cats should be short, for a very simple reason. The Snake Roll technique makes the line move fast through the circles created by the rod movement, and in order to avoid differences between the rhythm of the rod and line it is better to use a shorter shooting head. Shooting heads that are too long for this cast will often result in the leader hitting the water in the wrong places with regards to the forward cast. You will not be able to maintain the required precision and control where the “launch pad” on which to place your leader should be in different situations. With a shorter shooting head this will become much easier.

Skilled casters will be able to perform Snake Roll casts using long heads without much difficulty, but it will not be as effective as using short heads when fishing in tight spots. Snake Roll is a technique that utilise modern rod actions to the fullest, the reason for this is that the leader has a very high speed when hitting the water (due to the circle motion of the cast), so when the leader hits the water the loop of line between the water and the tip of the rod will pull backwards with more force, resulting in the rod being loaded with full force even in the tightest fishing spots. If you combine a Snake Roll with an “Air” cast your rod will be maximally loaded and you will achieve long casts even in the most difficult of spots, and also in the worst wind conditions you would not even fish in previously.

My recommendations for a good shooting head for a double handed rod for Snake Roll and combination casts is that it should not exceed 13 meters in length, my favourite length of shooting heads for double handed rods is 12,5 meters. For single hand rods I recommend to not exceed lengths of 10,5 meters, if the shooting heads are longer than this it is difficult to utilise this technique’s advantages when using a fast action, short stroke fly rod.

Combination lengths.
When I fish places where I alternate between overhead casting and spey casting I often adjust the shooting head weight to be in between in order to get a good combination shooting head, for example for an 8 weight 10 feet rod where 22 grams would be the maximum weight for spey casting and 18 grams for overhead casting I would cut the shooting head so it would weigh 20 grams.

Tight spots!

Which gram weight for the rod?
This is a very difficult question to answer as there are so many rod manufacturers and most of them have different theories with regards to rod actions. The old AFTM system does not fit with today’s modern shooting heads and all the various rod actions. It is just impossible to say that similar rod combinations from different manufacturers should have the same shooting head weight. The rod action, rod length, quality of materials, and the recovery rate of the rod will affect this in such as way that the shooting head weights can vary quite a lot between rods of the same AFTM rating. This means that many fly fishers are unsure of which lines to buy for their rods. During my many demonstrations and fly fishing courses all over Norway I have often tested this. I have tried a 17 gram shooting head with a large number of different rods, and found that this head can suit rods in weight classes 6 to 8.

In a way it is unfortunate that there is not a better system, making it easier for inexperienced fly fishers to get familiarised with this. However, for the experienced fisherman this is not really a problem, with a solid knowledge of shooting heads you can make your fishing so efficient that life at the end of the fly rod becomes that much easier. When you have optimised a shooting head for your rod and casting technique you will master all conditions so that you will cast further regardless of the situation. It is important to keep to a minimum of different rod brands; this means that you will get to know the rod action better and in general, get to know your favourite rod brand. Remember that often the rod action and line profile of most manufacturers are made for each other, thus I recommend buying lines that are designed to suit the manufacturer’s own rod actions. This will ensure that you avoid the difference in rhythm between rod and line.

Pre-cut shooting heads or ones that must be adjusted?
There are shooting heads out there that are pre-cut with loops, and there are heads that you have to adjust yourself. The pre-cut shooting heads are great for beginners, you don’t even have to create the loops, and you can just go fishing straight away. Guide Line Power Taper will have such a concept for the 2008 season, the weight of these shooting heads are: double handed rods 8/9 weight = 30 grams, double handed rods 9/10 weight = 35 grams, and double handed rods 10/11 weight = 40 grams. These shooting heads will be great for combining overhead and spey casting.

The shooting heads that you must cut yourself are the best ones for the more experienced fisherman, these heads are slightly heavier than normal weight classes so that you can adjust them yourself to suit your needs perfectly. This is the way to go if you want to adjust shooting heads specially designed to suit your fishing spots and casting combinations on order to get the most out of your fishing.

If you use these leaders, the shooting head must be adjusted a bit lighter as a polyleader weighs quite a bit. A 10 feet salmon leader can weigh between 4-7 grams depending on whether it is a floating or sinking polyleader. This is why you cannot use the maximum weight for your shooting head plus a polyleader, as this is too heavy.

My recommendations:
My recommendations in terms of gram weights is only adjusted to the weight the rod/weight class can work with, the recommended weight below are as such the weight the rod can at a maximum balance for combinations between spey and overhead casting. Remember that for lines only adjusted for spey casting and speciality casts you may use heavier heads, up to 2 grams more for single handed rods and 4 grams more for double handed rods.

The gram weight of the different weight classes:
Single handed rod 6 weight: 14grams.
Single handed rod 7 weight: 17grams.
Single handed rod 8 weight: 20grams.
Single handed rod 9 weight: 23grams.
Double handed rod 8-9 weight, length 12,5 feet: 28grams.
Double handed rod 8-9 weight, length 13 feet: 32grams.
Double handed rod 9-10 weight, length 13feet: 34grams.
Double handed rod 9-10 weight, length 14feet: 38grams.
Double handed rod 10-11 weight, length 15feet: 42grams.

The above weight recommendations are mainly applicable to Guideline and G. Loomis fly rods, but most rods with a modern, fast rod action will be close to these recommendations as well.

Light tackle fishing!

Which line?
Also remember that you can use both a Power Taper 7-8 and 8-9 single handed line for an 8 weight single handed fly rod. This goes for all weight classes – see table below. If your single hand rod is labelled with 2 weight classes, e.g. 7-8, you always follow the heaviest number when choosing a shooting head. This means that for a 7-8 rod you should not have a 6-7 line.

Single handed rod 6 weight: Power Taper 5-6 or 6-7.
Single handed rod 7 weight: Power Taper 6-7 or 7-8.
Single handed rod 8 weight: Power Taper 7-8 or 8-9 single handed.
Single handed rod 9 weight: Power Taper 8-9 single handed or 8-9 double handed.

Double handed rod 8-9 weight: Power taper 8-9 double handed or 9-10.
Double handed rod 9-10 weight: Power Taper 9-10 or 10-11.
Double handed rod 10-11 weight: Power Taper 10-11 or 11-12.

If you use the lighter weight class you will have a slightly longer shooting head, but with the same gram weight as the heavier one, which will of course be slightly shorter. This is something many fishermen do. In my “fly line box” the standard set-up is that I use the lines from floating down to a floating/sink 3 in the lighter weight class as these lines are often used when the river is low. From Stream Dip and down to pure sinking lines I choose the heavier weight class as I would use those lines when the river is higher.


Then you'll see that this will more often be the result of the fishing trip!!


Good luck adjusting your shooting heads!

Jan Erik.

jørem vald namsen

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