Nothing can take a big streamer fly for a long-distance ride like a shooting head fly line.
Shooting lines can help you to get a quick cast off to that cruising bonefish or blitzing striper. Whether you are doing the chuck-n-duck with big clouser minnows, or spey casting a fish taco, shooting heads will reach out like no other fly line can.
Shooting head fly lines can be a little confusing. They are quite different than other fly lines. So how can you know which shooting head fly line will perform the best for your needs?
Which type of Shooting fly line will perform for your needs will depend on what type of water and which species of fish you are after.
We explain how shooting fly lines work and offer our top choices and explore their strengths and weaknesses.
In Hurry? This Is Our Top Pick!
RIO Tropical Saltwater Fishing Line
Why is it better?
5 Best Shooting Head Fly Lines
With that in mind, let’s now take a closer look at our top picks.
Let’s dive into the specifics and review each shooting head fly line individually. You can use the list below to jump and review specific models, or you can read along and go through all the information.
Best Overall: RIO Tropical Saltwater Fishing Line
The Rio Tropical Saltwater Fishing Line is a hardcore line that has been created for the hardcore GT angler.
It features a front taper to help you cast further and drop deeper. The short, heavy head on the Rio Tropical will load easily on even the most powerful of fishing rods.
This tough line is built from a very strong core that exceeds 50 lbs.
That provides you with the ultimate level of confidence that you’ll win the battle with even the most sizeable, ornery fish.
This line is also strong enough to withstand sharp coral and rock formations.
And, as if the previous version wasn’t strong enough, in 2016, Rio increased the core strength of the 550gr GT line to 70 lbs.
RIO Fly Fishing InTouch Striper
The Rio Tropical Mainstream intermediate fishing line has been created for the novice and intermediate fisherman.
This compares to the previously reviewed Rio line, which is more suited to advanced anglers.
It gives you a slightly heavier and a slightly shorter head length.
As with all of Rio’s saltwater fishing lines, the Rio Tropical mainstream is built with aa hardcore saltwater coating.
The Rio Tropical Mainstream fishing line is an 80-foot line. The first 36 feet of line comprise the head, with the first 5 feet being the front taper.
You then get 31 feet of taper leading into a 44-foot running line.
RIO Products Fly Line Outbound Short
The Rio Products Outbound Short line is designed to allow you to cast very long distances.
It provides you with a front-loaded weight system to give your rod the ideal weighting for a superior cast.
At the back of the line, the unique step-down taper delivers longer flight time and greater distance.
The heads on this line are built two sizes above the AFTM standard. This ensures that your rod will get the ideal loading.
That means that you don’t have to worry about stepping up a line size to get the ideal rod match – this weighting has all been done for you, so all you have to do is cast your line and hook your fish!
The head of the Rio Products Outbound Short line comes with an EASYID loop at the back end.
Royal Wulff Ambush Shooting Head
The Royal Wulff Ambush Shooting Head fly line has recently been added to the very popular Royal Wulff Triangle Taper line of fly lines.
This line has been specifically designed for single handed casting, as well as single Spey, Skagit, scandi, switch, and double Spey.
The Royal Wulff Ambush Shooting Head fly line is available in heavier weights up to 600 grains.
Shooting head fly lines were originally designed for close quarter roll casting, but have come to be seen as ideal for quick loading, especially the 20-29 inch heads.
The Royal Wulff Ambush Shooting Head fly line comes with a J3 coating and welded loop to make it easier to rig the line to your rod.
The fly line options range from 195 to 600 grains.
Airflo Rage Compact Floating Shooting Head
The Airflo Compact Floating Shooting Head fly line is the result of ongoing efforts by the technical experts at Airflo to provide anglers with a line that has the ability to cast like a Skagit Compact while also fishing like a straight floater.
The Rage Compact is hardy enough to keep your line floating and under control in even the most trying wind conditions and tight water casting situations.
The Airflo Compact Floating Shooting Head fly line provides you with an aggressive front taper.
This gives you the velocity and drive to achieve the cast length you’re aiming for despite the wind conditions.
The addition of a rear taper helps you to load quickly. This combination provides you with a superior level of control, even in tight situations.
The Airflo Compact Floating Shooting Head is available in nine sizes, from 360 to 600 grains. Available lengths range from 27 feet to 32 feet.
This allows you to match the size to nearly any two handed rod. The front loop of the line displays the line size to make it easy for you to know which is which.
Shooting Head Fly Line FAQ
HOW TO CONNECT SHOOTING HEAD FLY LINES?
A head fly line has extra weight on the front of the line which allows you to load and flex the rod without putting forth undue effort.
This allows you to cast your line over a greater distance.
A shooting head fly line is around 11 to 13 meters long for salmon fishing and 9 to 10 meters long for trout fishing.
To load the line properly you will need to load the majority of the head outside the tip line.
Attach the head to a running line that has a straight profile. In this way, the head will be able to shoot out over the water without restriction.
If your line comes with pre-made loops, you should attach the shooting head to a running line with a loop to loop connection.
If your line is 8 weight or greater, you should use a 35-pound running line. Lines that are less than 8 weight will need a running line between 20 and 25 pounds.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE HEAD FLY LINE AND A SPEY LINE?
A spey line is used for spey casting.
This is a technique that is used on large rivers to go after salmon and large trout.
In these situations, you need to cast large flies over large distances.
A spey line has a longer than normal head length. Often the head length will be 50 feet or more.
The longer the head length, the harder the line will be to cast.
Long head lengths (5 or 6 times longer than the length of the rod) will also be difficult to work with in confined areas.
Apart from this, a long head spey line is easier to use than a standard line.
There are three types of spey line; Traditional Spey, Scandinavian (or ‘Scandi’) and Skagit.
A head fly line is not as long as a spey line.
It is also designed to allow you to cast longer but to do so through a different mechanism.
Head fly lines provide you with a heavy front taper, which is called the shooting head. This can be as much as 30 feet long.
The balance of the fly line is much thinner. The combination of weight toward the end of the line and lightness at the front of it allows the line to carry further when you are casting it.
HOW TO ATTACH SHOOTING HEAD TO FLOATING FLY LINE?
The first step is to cast your floating fly line to find out the length of line that you easily cast out.
Put a mark on the line at this point. Now add another 8 feet and then cut the line.
Join the running line of the shooting head to the back of the fly line at the point that you cut.
Now test the setup out by casting it. If it feels too heavy, cut back a foot at a time until it feels right.
The last step is to attach a braided loop and leader.
HOW DOES SHOOTING FLY LINE WORK?
Shooting fly line is designed like an extreme weight forward fly line. Typically the heavy front taper, or shooting head is around 30 feet long.
The remaining portion of the fly line, or running line, is a long section of much thinner fly line that is easily carried forward by the heavy head section.
The combination provides for maximum distance casting with large flies.
Historically, anglers made their shooting lines by connecting two separate fly lines. For fast action rods, the shooting head portion would be 2 sizes above the rod weight.
That would mean using an 8 weight shooting head on your 6 weight rod, or a 10 weight shooting head on your 8 weight rod, etc.
For shooting heads designated by grain weight, a 7 weight rod would require the head weigh around 250 grains, an 8-weight fly rod/300 grains, a 9-weight rod/350 grains, etc.
Are Shooting Heads The Same As Shooting Line?
Shooting heads are separate from the running line, whereas a shooting line is a single strand of line from running line straight through the head section.
Shooting heads that are separate from the running line are still commonplace in fly fishing today, particularly in two-hand spey casting.
The good news is that fly line manufacturers have designed full-length shooting lines for a huge variety of applications.
So if you don’t want to mess around with inter-changeable shooting heads, just simply buy a full length shooting line.
If you want to utilize interchangeable shooting heads, like used in spey casting, then you’ll want to purchase separate heads and running line.
Two-hand spey casting is quite a nuanced form for fly fishing.
We won’t get into great detail regarding that niche within the larger sport of fly fishing.