So this year I devoted myself to learning more about casting and fishing with medium to long belly lines. I have been a die hard short belly caster and I strongly believed that skagit and Scandinavian heads were the best and most versatile lines for steelhead and salmon anglers. To me this had seemed so obvious that I was surprised at what I had perceived to be a vast number of anglers that stuck with the longer belly lines, so I decided to learn about that which I did not fully understand. This is what I learned.
Long Bellies cast far: Duh! when you start with 65-90' of line out of the guides you already have a huge advantage, distance wise, on a Skagit line that is 36' with the tip. Take the 65' head, if I am shooting 30' of running line that puts me at 95' out of the guides, and 30' is not too tough shoot with the right setup, and then you add a 10-15' leader and there is alot of water being covered. This really helps on rivers like the Snake, Thompson, Clearwater, and the Miramichi where there is water that fish hold in that is a long way out.
Long bellies are good in freezing weather: Since the heads are long you can often fish runs with only the head and you are not icing up your guides stripping in and shooting line.
Fewer running line tangles: see above and replace I with running line tangles.
It's Fun: casting well with a long head is really cool and it adds alot to the experience. It is a challenge and I enjoy that.
Long Can Take a Toll on the Body: Casting a long belly seems to require more motion throughout the Body and requires more top hand. I have found that doing it alittle wrong can lead to sore elbows, which I did not have with Scandis and Skagits.
Not so great a short distances: at 20-30' the long line is not so great. They fish better out past forty, in close they seem awkward.
Long bellies + sink tips= not awesome: I may be wrong on this one but I am having trouble find a long line that fishes a sink tip as well as a Windcutter or delta, let alone a skagit which is designed for that kind of work. I am going to try a grand spey next with tip maybe that will be better. I have put short polyleaders on a Rio power spey 9/10 with some reasonable results.
Long bellies apparently mend better: But I don't like mending, for line and fly control I take the shooting head.
I am sure there are more pros and cons that I am not thinking of now, but this is a start. now for an anecdote:
Last week I fish a big slow run on my home river. The Air temperatures were in the mid to high twenties, so it was cold. To reach the real fishy water it took any where from a 60-100 foot cast, as the run grows wider as you step down. I was able to fish this run without my guides freeing up and that really helped when I hooked a fish. I also was able to keep my hands warmer by not constantly stripping in line. Also, the slow current swung better with the longer thicker line. The long line really made this run easier.
As soon as I moved down river to the next run however, where I would be fishing a faster narrow slot, I put that setup up away and switched to a skagit rig.
So I guess the point is that there is a time and a place for every thing, and if I can find applications for long bellies in Wisconsin, they must not be a total mistake. Heck, if it catches me one extra fish and it is fun I'll keep on trying to learn more.Once my arm quit aching.