Let’s start with the Skagit Heads. Skagit heads were developed while fishing on the Skagit River by a dedicated group of Spey Fishermen like Ed Ward, Mike McCune, Mike Kinney, and Scott O’Donnell. These lines were developed to fish large flies on heavy sink tips to be casted at medium to long distances. These lines were made from cutting up Windcutter lines. They would add sink tips to create heads that were about 23’ to 28’ long. The Snap T, the Snap Z and the Perry Poke casts were developed to cast these new heads.
These heads are typically shooting heads that are added to a running line. These Skagit heads are designed to throw big flies and sink tips with little or no room behind you. There are many occasions when fishing steelhead waters like the Trinity or the Klamath here in Northern California where you can only wade out a short distance from the bank. If you take one step more you may be taking a swim. Many times distance isn’t the real goal it’s just to get the fly or flies out there far enough to “swing it” into a bucket or slot. Trying to do this with a longer head is just plain hard. This is especially true if you intend to throw large flies of 4 inches or more. Steelhead sometime like to go for these larger flies. It may be territorial or it may be that it looks like a big meal but many die hard steelhead anglers use these large flies. So the Skagit Lines were designed for this job. This is a heavy handed way of delivering flies but it gets the job done.
So in summary the Skagit heads are a working man’s pick out a big fly, get it out there, and get it down.
Recently modern line manufactures are offering scandi heads as well as fully integrated scandi lines. The Scandi heads vary in length from about 27 to 44 feet. A typical scandi head will have a short rear taper of roughly 5% of the total head length, followed by a flat section taking up 35% of the total head length and then the remaining 60% of the head going to the front taper. This design is radically different than a Skagit head.
These lines are designed to be used with long leaders such as mono or poly/versileaders from 9 to 14 feet depending on the rod length. Poly and Versi Leaders have very little grain weight, which allows for quick touch and go anchors to achieve high line speeds and tight loops when casting these Scandi type lines. This allows you to present small to medium sized flies with longer lighter leaders for delicate presentations for steelhead and trout. This line design doesn’t have the power and mass to throw the larger flies that are over 4 inches long. They are designed for flies 2 inches and smaller.
Using a Skagit is like driving a big 4 wheel drive diesel truck and the Scandi heads are like driving a Porsche.
Skagit and Scandi Tactics
Now that we have an understanding of the design and theory of the Skagit and Scandi Lines let’s talk about how you would choose to use one versus the other in actual fishing situations, when and how to use them.
While the Skagit and Scandi heads can be of similar length and both can be used year round in a variety of situations, they have their unique traits. In most cases they both can be used on most two handed rods, switch or spey. As a general rule the Skagit Lines are 20 to 25 percent heavier than Scandi lines. Either of the lines can be balanced with different grain weights to cast perfectly. For example if you were throwing a 450 grain Skagit head you may be throwing a 390 Scandi head. This of course depends on the size of your rod. This difference in grain weight works because the tapers, tips and leaders vary in length to balance each rigg correctly. This takes some experimentation to get it balanced right and can also be affected by whether you like your rod to load deeper or less deep.
The Skagit and Scandi Lines excel in different situations and selecting the right line can make a difference in you fishing success. Since the Skagit lines are designed to turn over heavy sink tips and large flies, these lines excel when you are fishing heavy flows and dirty water and when you need to keep your flies down in the zone to get to the fish. Scandi Lines are often used in the summer and fall when you are using smaller to medium sized flies on floating leaders with clear and low water conditions. Scandi lines excel with floating and poly/versi leaders. Both lines can handle can handle sub surface work when using sink tips or sinking poly/versi leaders but when you need to go deep the Skagit line is a better choice. When going deep with a Skagit line it is just easier to cast and with less fatigue.
When casting a Skagit or Scandi line there are a few points to remember. With a Skagit Line when casting sinking tips, using weighted tips like T-8, T-11, and T-14 will help you sustain your anchor and help you form a proper D-Loop. One the other hand when using a Scandi line using mono leaders, poly/versi leaders will allow you to form a proper "touch and go" anchor and D-Loop. If you throw a Skagit line with a mono poly/versi leader you will tend to pull your anchor and not form a good D-Loop. Conversely if you throw a Scandi Line with a T-14 tip your anchor will stick and be hard to pull off on your forward cast. It’s all about balancing your riggs and knowing how to get the job done.
Purchase a running line, a Skagit Head, a Scandi head, some poly/versi leaders, some weighted heads for your favorite two handed rod and you can fish anywhere and in any condition. Balance your system properly and the casts will furl out beautifully and you’ll soon have a steelhead or large trout dancing on your line.