Fly Fishing with Doug Macnair:
Revisiting The Shooters
Part Two

Doug Macnair

For several weeks, it has been, "Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It's off to Work I Go." Throw one line, change it out for another, switch out the heads, switch rods, and then start all over again with a different combination. (Secretly, I kept hoping that Snow White would show up … she never did.) If it wasn't so damned hot, doing this article would be a fly fisher's delight. Despite the heat, I've learned a few things, some new and some that I had forgotten about. Learning, of course, is the fun part. Remember that this article is not a competition, as such, between shooters and running lines. It is about: (1) ease of handling, (2) control, (3) comfort, and (4) distance.

Now comes the time to take a look at the array of lines included in this effort -- lines that constitute all or in part (1) shooting heads, (2) running lines, (3) composites, and (4) derivatives. Check them out.

• Running Lines.
(Note: To minimize time while maximizing combinations, more than one running line by the same maker was spooled: specifically, 2 by Dai Riki & 2 by Rio.)

1. Amnesia (Sunset), Shooting Line (mono), .021 dia., 25 lb. test, 200 ft. in length.
2. Dai Riki, Running Line, (mono), .022 dia, 19 lb. test, 100 ft. in length.
3. Cortland, 444 Lazerline, Deep Nymph Floating Running Line (coated), .022 dia., 12.5 lb. test, 100 ft. in length
4. Cortland, 444 Lazerline, Floating Running Line (coated), .031 dia., 20 lb. test, 100 ft. in length.
5. Cortland, 444 SL, Floating Running Line (coated), .031 dia., 20 lb. test, 100 ft. in length.
6. Rio, High Float Shooting Line (braided), .027 dia., 24 lb. test, 100 ft. in length.
7. Scientific Anglers Mastery AST (freshwater) Floating Shooting Line (coated), .031 dia., 20 lb. test, and 100 ft. in length.
8. Scientific Anglers Mastery AST (saltwater) Floating Shooting Line (coated), .035 dia., 30 lb. test, and 100 ft. in length.

• Shooting Heads.
(Note: To permit rapid change out, two (2) homemade heads were constructed from each DT line.)

1. DGM (Homemade) ST-7-F, from a new Fenwick DT-7-F, 38-ft. head.
2. DGM (Homemade) ST-8-F, from a new Cortland DT-8-F, 38-ft. head.
3. DGM (Homemade) ST-8-F, from a Scientific Anglers Bonefish, WF-8-F, 40-ft. head.
4. Scientific Anglers Wet Cell, ST-8-S, Type I (Intermediate), 30-ft. head.
5. Scientific Anglers Wet Cell, ST-8-S, Type III, 30-ft. head.

• Integrated Lines (Composites).

1. Cortland, 444SL XRL, WF-9-S (Intermediate), 105 ft. overall length: 38-ft. head (approximate), running line exposed core (braided mono).
2. Cortland, 444SL XRL, WF-11-F, and 105-ft. overall length: 38-ft. head (approximate), running line exposed core (braided mono).
3. Scientific Anglers Mastery Striper, WF-9-S (Intermediate), 120-ft. overall length: 40-ft. head (approximate), running lightly coated braided mono.

• The New Shooters (Derivatives).

1. Airflo, Multi-Head System . For this exercise, I selected the Trout running line in both floating and intermediate flavors. Both are 100 feet in length. For the heads, I stayed with the Trout Standard 35 with one head in each of the four available flavors in 8-weight.

(Note: Aiflo also offers a Multi-Tip fly line similar in sizes and weights to Scientific Anglers Quad Tip as featured in this article.)

2. Scientific Anglers Quad Tip System. To round out this assortment of runners and heads, I added two Quad Tip systems: a freshwater 6-weight and a saltwater 10-weight. The "6" is 90-feet in length and the "10" 100-feet with tips included.

Before I go about making my subjective comments about the many "computations and permutations" possible with this mess of lines, there are several points that warrant a bit of amplification, clarification and discussion.

• First, a bevy of rods was used in this exercise including G. Loomis, Sage, Fish Creek, Orvis, Winston, and several custom models. All rods featured a fast to moderately fast action. At least four rods were used to throw each of the combinations attempted. To account for rod variability in construction and performance, casting sequences included rods equal to and/or one weight above and below the line's rating.

• Second, I consider the running line of as much importance as the head. I contend that if the running line fails to perform, the head will not fly worth a damn. And if the head flies as it should, it is the running line that should get the praise and, after the cast, the most handling.

• Third, in an attempt to minimize the attendant problems of overhang, braided loop connectors were installed on all homemade head-to-running line connections.

• Fourth, since I consider the backcast far more important than the forward cast, it follows that I do most of my shooting on the final backcast, especially when confronted by the wind.

• Fifth, there is bit of mystique about shooting heads that needs to be openly discussed and, if nothing else, clarified. Some seasoned veterans advocate that the head needs to be two (2) weights heavier than the line weight the rod is rated for. Unless you recently traded two of your custom flies for Manhattan Island, don't accept this "overlining" proposition as a statement of fact.

I sort of think the notion of overlining originated back when Cro-Magnon Man first discovered the wind. Being a thoughtful type, Cro concluded that when throwing a rock against the wind, throw a heavier rock. The heavier the rock, the better it would penetrate the wind. Of course, Cro didn't think it necessary to add if the rock was too heavy to throw, a lighter rock might be better. Unfortunately, Cro has a lot of descendants running around to this very day who didn't get the word about the "too" heavy rock. Pity!

The truth is fly lines, shooting heads and running lines included, are not rocks. The weight of a fly line is not found in a "chunk" at the end of the line; instead, the weight is distributed over a length of line usually measured in feet, thirty feet to be exact. Of course, the AFTMA standards do not account for the line's weight beyond the first thirty feet. I imagine that Cro would quickly deduce that 40, 50 or 60-feet of line weight on top of the AFTMA rating of the first 30-feet makes for a heavier line.

Fly rods are a lot like Cro's arm. About the only difference is Cro's arm launched rocks while the fly rod launches fly line. If the rock weighed too much, Cro found he couldn't throw it worth a damn. Basically, the heavy rock overloaded the strength of Cro's arm. The same thing is true about the fly rod: aerialize too much line weight on the final backcast and you can overload the rod's strength or capacity to launch the line effectively & efficiently.

So what is the truth? I wish I knew! If this exercise did anything, it reinforced this thing about overlining. I agree with the experts that a commercial head, 30-feet in length, can be rated one weight, and perhaps two, over the rod's rating and yield better performance over the ordinary line-rod weight match. For example, the two Sci-Anglers 30-foot heads in this exercise consistently outperformed the perfect line-rod weight match when overlining the rod by one weight. In only a single instance did overlining by two weights achieve superior results, and that was with an extremely fast rod.

However, overlining by even one weight achieved lesser results when contrasted against the ordinary line-rod weight match when the homemade heads were thrown. Don't forget that the lengths of these heads ranged from 35 to 40 feet. Sometime ago, Mel Krieger was asked about matching line weights and rod ratings. It was his opinion that every five feet of line added outside the rod tip effectively raises the king weight to the next heavier level. (Buzz Bryson, "What's My Line?" Fly Tackle Dealer, June 1996.)

Just think about that for a moment. How much line do you add, especially when the line is aerialized? To be sure, today's heavier rods will carry a lot more than a mere 30 feet before they are overloaded, but how much more? If you are a "better distance" caster, I advise you not to overline when using heads greater than 30-feet in length.

Tell you what, if you believe those who recommend overlining, you do it your way and I will stick with mine. No one ever said that fly fishing was an exact science!

A Partial Summary. And now, and now, and now, the time has come! No longer must you pace the floor wondering about the pronouncements of Big Moose. At last, here they are. But first, a reminder: this article is all about ease of handling, control, comfort, and distance.

• The Monos. As a running line, forget flat mono. Yes, distance can be achieved, but no more than offered by the braided monos. During one casting bout, a breeze picked up the stripped mono and succeeded in blowing it this way and that. Over one hour later, I was able to untangle the tangle. I concluded that the tangle is not worth the angle of the dangle. Based on the Bull Moose grading scale, it received a "D" in ease of handling, a "C" in control, and a "D" in comfort.

• Braided Mono. As the Wizard once told Dorothy, "This is the horse of a different color." Braided mono works well. In fact, the 40-foot Bonefish head backed by Rio's High Float running line seemed to soar forever. Obviously that achieved an "A" in distance. Give it a "B" in control, an "A-" in ease of handling, and a "B" in comfort. This is one running line that you should not overlook.

As an aside, I had hypothesized that Cortland's Deep Nymph Lazerline would be perfect companion for a conceptual 5-weight shooter. I've always thought there was a niche for a lighter head that would or could extend the reach of a "Five." After advice from those who hob-knob with the Ancient Fish Gods, I selected a Mastery WF-5-F Headstart to butcher. Its head is 35 feet, and that seemed a perfect length. Accordingly, I made the cut at that point. After marrying the new head to the runner, I was unable to achieve greater distance with this head-running line combo than I could with the line before butchering. Disappointed? You bet!

Later, I finally got around to hooking the Headstart head to a Rio Hi Float running line. What happiness this experiment brought! Apparently, Rio's lightly coated braid enables it to achieve an "A" in shootability. I now have a 5-weight head & line combo that really will reach out and touch someone.

• The Coated Lines. It probably is no surprise that the two Scientific Anglers Mastery running lines along with Cortland's 444 SL and 444 LazerLine get high marks across the board in ease of handling, comfort, and control. All the runners in this group are capable of long distance performance; however, I noted variances in the achieved distances when I mixed and matched heads and lines. I have no idea why the Mastery freshwater yielded a slight distance advantage over either of the Cortland runners when I tossed the Fenwick Homemade and the Bonefish. On the other hand, the Cortland Homemade seemed to do better with the Cortland runners. Throwing the two SciAnglers sinkers seemed to equal out depending on the variable of the blowing breeze. Since I have no explanation for these variances, I would suppose they are best attributed to the biggest variable of them all -- Me!

• The Composites. No doubt about it, when you can buy one line that embodies both the best of the head-running line, you inherit fewer problems. It is a good solution -- especially when distance is the goal. Cortland's award winning 444 SL XRL is just such a line. With a head of some 40 feet, the remainder of the line is the exposed braided core, hence the name Xposed Running Line. The Striper differs slightly in that the braided core is coated.

It follows that when the head and running line are contiguous in a single unbroken strand, the problem of overhang is negated. Consequently, it makes little difference whether the head is inside or outside of the tip-top when casting either the XRL or the Striper. I give both lines an "A" in distance with a slight edge going to the XRL. However, the XRL's running line is not as comfortable to work with as the Striper's. In either case, I suggest getting to the reel as quickly as possible. Both lines are easy to handle in the Texas heat, especially in this year of record temperatures. Those of you who are fortunate enough to live in cooler climes can expect a slight memory problem with the XRL that warrants a quick stretch before serious casting.
NOTE: I regret to say that the XRL is no longer in manufacture; the line, however, still available in the UK and the US on a limited source basis.

I will leave the final discussion of Airflo's Multi-Head and Sci-Anglers Quad Tip, along a few observations for Part 3, the last in this series. Stay tuned!

© Copyright: Douglas G. Macnair, 2000-2006