Whilst I am a big advocate of being an active thinker during your days on the water and using your head in terms of thinking and ideas, I really mean the heads we use for our casting, the weight forward portion of the fly line. It’s something that is taken for granted a lot, with fly fishermen buying lines based off a review in a magazine or someone casting the line to the backing. You need to take a careful look at the waters you are going to be fishing before you choose your next line.
In my opinion head length is one of the key factors you need to consider when you start creating a setup. I touched on this briefly in a previous blog, about how we had to make do with the tackle we had “back in the day” but finally we now have a multitude of head lengths to choose from. For me, this has made fishing so much more efficient and gives endless possibilities of fishing tactics. Most of my fishing is on small spate rivers, we are talking rivers being around 50-60 feet wide. In my opinion, if you turn up to one of these small rivers with a a head length of 30’ or more, you are simply making life difficult for yourself and most importantly, you are not fishing the water as efficiently as you could.
Your lines might seem small on paper or on the packaging, once you arrive on the water it’s a different story. Let’s say we are on the river bank with an 11’ rod, add a 30’ head plus your leader which will be 11’ at least, that is putting you over the 50’ mark, now that dosnt’t give you much fishing time now, does it? Take a step in and start wading, you loose out on even more fishing time. I am a big believer in stripping the fly, one cast might be a figure of eight, the next might be short jerky pulls, another cast might be long slow pulls, yes, sometimes I do let it swing. But this is the point, we need running line outside the rod tip to allow us to ‘fish’ the fly.
Enter the short head, there are many available now days, skagits don’t count! Once you get the head length down into the realms of 20-25’ then you start giving yourself some real fishing time! Let me tell you, 5’ is a lot on a small river, that extra stripping space can be the difference between hooking a fish and having another blank. Every extra foot of fishing time you have is precious.
Even on the bigger rivers I still prefer to fish shorter heads than your average angler, simply because I want to fish the fly more! Shooting heads and running lines get a lot of bad press from the old school, having to strip all that running line in every cast is apparently a waste of time. I love hearing it, especially if your fishing down behind them. Every time you strip in that running line you add life to the fly, you make it stand out from the rest of the debris flowing downstream. You cover more water, you might not be able to cast as far as the guy with the 50’ spey line but the water you do cover, you are fishing properly when you move the fly.