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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Skagit Heads versus Scandi Heads

This article has been updated from when it was originally published on October 22nd, 2001 

Note:"This article pertains to "Shooting Heads" that are attached to a "Running Line" not "Integrated, full length lines.

When the subject of Spey or Switch Rods comes up  the conversation often turns to whether to what the heck is the difference between a Skagit and a Scandi head. I think it would be good to clear up some of this confusion and go through when, why and where you would choose a "Skagit Head" or a "Scandi Head". These two lines are "Shooting Heads".

Running Lines and Rigging 

These "Shooting Heads" are typically short heads that are added to a "Running Line" with loop to loop connections. A "Running Line" is a level (all the same diameter) thin diameter line that is attached to the backing on your reel. You cannot cast a "Running Line". The business end has a loop on it to connect a shorter "Shooting Head". 

So the rigging goes like this.
(1) "Backing" on the reel, about 125 to 150 yards
(2) "Running Line" about 100 to 120 feet long.
(3) Either a (a) "Skagit Head" about 18' to 24' long or (b) a "Scandi Head" about 24' to 28' long

Note: The length of the "Skagit Head" or the "Scandi Head" will change based upon the grain weight that matches a given rod or by the specifications of the line manufacturer.

Skagit Heads

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 "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 "Shooting 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 Heads" were designed for this job. This is a heavy handed way of delivering flies but it gets the job done.

What is the secret to this design; the "Skagit Heads" have a very short rear taper of about 5% of the total head length, followed by a level body of 80 % and then the front taper in the remaining 15 % of the head. When you add a sinking tip section in front of this powerful head the fly and the head has no choice but to straighten out. A "Skagit Head" can handle T-8, T-11, and T-14 heads with little problem. Of course the size of your rod will affect how heavy a tip you can throw. You can also add floating “Cheaters” to balance the transition between the "Skagit Head" and the tips. Rio has now come up with a "MOW Tip" system to make this transition much easier with tips that integrated a floating section with a sinking section.

So in summary the "Skagit Heads" are a working man’s pick out a big fly, get it out there, and get it down.

Scandi Lines and Heads

Now on to "Scand Heads". Scandi is short for “Scandinavian”, which describes a style of line and casting stroke. Scandinavian or "Scandi Lines" have evolved to be a slightly  longer "Shooting Head" with a long front taper to turn over longer leaders and small to medium sized flies with delicacy and precision.

Recently modern line manufactures are offering "Scandi Heads" as well as fully integrated Scandi full length integrated 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 longer leaders such as mono or poly/versileaders from 9 to 14 feet depending on the rod length. Airflo Polyleaders and Rio 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 Heads". 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 Head" is like driving a big 4 wheel drive diesel truck and a "Scandi Head" is like driving a Porsche.

Skagit and Scandi Tactics

Now that we have an understanding of the design and theory of the "Skagit Heads" and Scandi Heads" , 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 Heads" 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 Heads" are 20 to 25 percent heavier than "Scandi Heads". Either of the heads 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 Heads" and "Scandi Heads" excel in different situations and selecting the right line can make a difference in you fishing success. Since the "Skagit Heads" 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 Heads" 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 Heads" excel with floating and poly/versi leaders. Both heads 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 Heads" are a better choice. When going deep with a "Skagit Head" it is just easier to cast and with less fatigue.

When casting a "Skagit Head" or "Scandi Head" there are a few points to remember. With a "Skagit Head" 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 Head" 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 Head" 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 Head" 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 MOW Tips and 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.

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Have any Questions or Comments? Let me know, Clay.