Running lines, also known as shooting lines, have a considerable effect on the performance a Skagit head system, both in the air and on the water.
Monofilament Running Lines
1. Of all the running lines available, monofilament is the slickest, thinnest and shoots best. For these reasons it is generally recommended for single-hand casting - lighter head systems have less momentum than heavy ones. Mono running lines are, however, not all made equal and there is great variation in durability, tendency to coil and the amount of stretching required.
2. OPST Lazar line is an exceptional mono running line that has little memory after the first stretch or two, it is amazingly slick and durable, very thin for a given breaking strain, and shoots incredibly well. Lazar line is more or less round in cross section and I have had no problem holding onto 35 lb Lazar line while casting, stripping or holding fish (even at night).
The 35 lb was great for the lighter (150-220 grain) heads and 4-5 wt single hand rods. As it’s opaque, the bright colours – pink, orange or chartreuse – are easy to see on the water. A disadvantage of 35 lb Lazar line is that it twists with casting, although to easily solve this annoying problem one can spin the rod in the opposite direction to the twists, with running line out on the water.
3. In 2019 Scientific Anglers released a flat mono running line called Absolute Shooting Line, which is rectangular in cross section as opposed to being oval like Rio Slick Shooter and Airflo Impact, or round like Lazar Line. Absolute Shooting Line is available in 25 lb, 35 lb, 42 lb and 50 lb, and stiffness increases with breaking strain.
The 25 lb option is marginally stiffer than the 35 lb Lazar line, it does not twist during casting, and it shoots extremely well. 25 lb ASL is excellent for single-hand use with Skagit heads up to 200 grains, and is my favourite for 150 grain heads. A larger surface area means the 25 lb ASL floats better than other mono shooting lines I’ve tested - although greater surface area does not translate to lower shootability, as only the corners come into contact with the guides.
The 35 lb Absolute Shooting Line is wider, thicker and considerably stiffer than the 25 lb, and it worked exceptionally well with Skagit heads 240 to 330 grains. Absolute shooting line has surprisingly little stretch for nylon monofilament - even less than Lazar line. After a quick stretch, when pulling the line off the reel at the start of a session, it has no memory at all, regardless of temperature, including situations cold enough for the guides to ice up.
The 25 lb ASL is bright yellow, and the 35 lb is orange, both being very easy to track on the water. Care should be taken when making surgeon’s loops in ASL to ensure the double strands lie parallel and flat, i.e. not twisted or crossing over, to ensure a neat knot.
4. Loops on mono running lines should be kept as short as possible for single-hand Skagit - about an inch and a half - so knots don’t enter or catch on the rod tip when executing a haul. A two-turn surgeon’s loop, slimmed down with serious pressure, is the strongest and neatest option - three turn surgeons knots tend to pop when when applying the necessary tension.
The trick to tying a good running line knot is to increase pressure very gradually, and there are several You-Tube videos demonstrating ways to achieve this. Coating the knot with a flexible cement, like Stormsure, protects it and ensures a slightly smoother connection - harder light cured resins tend to chip off with use.
Braided Running Lines
Braided mono running lines are thicker than monofilament running lines but thinner than coated running lines.
Airflo’s Miracle Braid consists of braided nylon with a single strand polypropylene core for stiffness and floatation. I like using it on my 7wt outfit for the following reasons:
a. I enjoy the extra grip, provided by additional thickness and texture, when handling the heavier head and tips - whether casting, stripping streamers across the current, or strip striking - especially in winter when I tend to use the heavier outfit.
b. Since it floats, Miracle Braid does not tangle with my boots, and nor do I find myself stepping on it in slow water, including back eddies.
c. With almost no stretch, it aides strike detection when dead drifting streamers.
d. It has no memory and, although thicker than mono, shoots surprisingly well at regular fishing distances, particularly with the heavier heads and sink tips.
e. Being light and buoyant, it is easily lifted off strong currents without disturbing the head and sink tip drifting downstream through slower water.
f. Blind spliced loops, made possible by this material, make a very smooth connection between running line and head. As there is no knot, large loops do not interfere with the hauls used with single hand Spey casts.
Scientific Anglers produce a polyethylene (PE) braided running line that performs similarly to Miracle Braid. Because PE is less dense than water this running line floats without the need for a core, so is hollow. Polyethylene is, however, less abrasion resistant than nylon.
Integrated Head systems
Integrated systems consist of a Skagit head permanently connected to a coated running line - in other words a continuous fly line.
The first integrated micro-Skagit head was the Trout Spey Lite Integrated Skagit produced by Scientific Anglers in 2017, which was followed by the OPST Commando Smooth and Rio Skagit Trout Spey in mid-2018.
The advantage of an integrated fly line is that one doesn’t feel the click of loop-to-loop connections passing through the rod guides when stripping close, and the running line is easier for new users to handle. Short casts made without the head completely out of the tip eye are also a little less clunky.
Disadvantages of integrated systems are: 1) they do not cast as far as Skagit heads on mono or braided running lines; 2) one cannot lift 20-30 feet of running off the water to avoid drag without disturbing the head, so have limitations for line management; 3) one cannot change heads without changing spools/reels; and 4) they are almost twice the price.
I seldom need to strip the head into the guides and usually avoid doing so because it requires an additional casting stroke to get it out before executing my Spey cast. Stripping the head into the guides is, nonetheless, no problem on those occasions when I need to, with the clickety-click diminishing over time as the running line beds into the head loop.
Integrated Skagit systems appear to be best suited for smaller waters, where casting distance is not an issue and stripping really close is often necessary.
Single Hand Skagit - Science behind the magic
|+||Where it all began|
|+||Casting heavy sink tips|
|+||Shootout of 12 Skagit Heads I tested|
|+||Table of Sink Tip Recommendations|
|+||Table of Lengths and Weights of Sink Tips|
|+||How it all began|
|+||What is Spey casting?|
|+||Single versus two handed rods|
|+||Favourite Trout Spey outfits|