Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Running Lines and Dog Days

Author's Note 11th August 2016

I have now updated this post to reflect my experience with the 35lbs BS Rio Connect Core running line in Norway this year.

One of my regular readers recently reminded me that I hadn't published the review of the Rio Connect Core running line that I took on the spring trip to the Dee.  This post seeks to redress that idleness, and also extends into some more general musings on running lines.  

But as usual I'll issue the usual health warnings: first, I'm not a casting guru; and second, I started using detachable shooting heads with pure running lines only 3 or 4 seasons ago, and as I tend to buy things and stick with them, the range of types I've used is limited.  On that basis I would only recommend buying a new running line if the old one clearly needs replacing.  That said, a running line has a much shorter service life than either the shooting head itself or a classic salmon fly line.  This is because the wear applied by the top ring during casting is concentrated in a very short length adjacent to the end loop - perhaps as little as 1-2 feet - even if you do consciously vary the 'overhang' between successive casts.  Furthermore, the PVC or PU coating is much thinner on a running line and correspondingly less durable.  If it breaks down for whatever reason, the wear then bears directly on the more vulnerable inner core of braided thread or monofilament.  Accordingly I suggest that you check the last 3-6 feet of your running line for damage and wear by sight and feel at the end of each fishing day.

The running line needs the same cleaning and lubrication maintenance as other lines and heads, which I described last year in 'D-14 The Countdown'.  If you look after your running lines and use them for, say, 10-20 days per year at most, then barring accidents and damage, they should last for up to 5 years (as compared to the 10+ you can expect from the heads and classic lines).  But there's no hard and fast rules, and you must keep a close eye on issues like cracking of the coating.

Rio Connect Core

It was wear and tear adjacent to the end loop on my oldest Rio running line that caused me to seek a replacement.  I confess to a long term loyalty to Rio: although I do own some other brands of line, I've always been pretty happy with every Rio salmon line I've bought.  But all the major manufacturers and 'branders' share the same problem.  Their products are generally excellent but last so long that it's hard for them to make a good regular profit (it's what killed most English shotgun manufacturers).  Consequently they have to keep introducing minor improvements, changing the names and advertising furiously to move enough volume to make a living.  By such means did Rio's Windcutter become the Short Spey, and the AFS the Scandi.  There's not great differences between them (apart from new colours) but the angler rapidly becomes boggled by the kaleidoscope of changing names, slogans, categories and ad-verbiage.  In my book the greatest villain is Airflo - the only British manufacturer of salmon fly lines, and uniquely in PU (polyurethane) - because I just can't make head nor tail of their range, which doesn't seem to be fully represented on their own website.  There are lines that are on the Glasgow Angling Mega-Store list, but not on Airflo's, and vice versa.

Rio introduced 2 new running lines for the 2014 season, both with thicker gripping sections, so I duly consulted the dealer and received the following advice:

  • The Grip Shooter, which has a monofil core, is best suited to experts for whom absolute distance is paramount.
  • The Connect Core, with a braided core, was the better choice for normal mortals and lesser incompetents like me.

Here you can see the extra thickness of the orange gripping section compared to the pale blue body.  It extends to some 15'/5m of additional PVC coating material.

The key question is whether it's useful.  In the first instance I found it quite helpful, especially when wearing gloves in cold spring conditions.  I could get a good firm grip of it against the cork rod handle, and feel it was there (something that isn't always easy with finer and softer products).  On those grounds I suspect that it would be helpful for anyone new to shooting head fishing who was yet to develop the knacks of running line feel, release and control.  For more experienced users it will probably be useful, but it's not transformative.

However, the best thing the fat orange bit did for me was provide much better situational awareness whilst recovering line.   It is a real boon when fishing in low light levels and semi-darkness.  When fishing with a shooting head, after a little bit of 'diddle at the dangle' you tend to strip in the rest of the running line quickly in order to get the fly out and fishing again with minimum delay.  If you're using blandly toned lines with no marked colour differentiation (like the Loop sinking 'green mamba') it's all too easy to overshoot and pull the end loop into the rings, especially if you are using the down-time to think about other things.  The arrival of the thick orange section in your hands sends an immediate signal to slow up: with a 14' rod there's about another 2' 6"/75 cm or one full left-handed strip left to go before the loop arrives at the top ring.  Thus I could position the line consistently in the optimum casting position with minimum thought whilst applying my mind to other things like positioning my feet for the next cast and so forth.  Within an hour I became convinced that this was a thoroughly good thing and well worth having.  My subsequent experience in Norway strongly confirmed this view.

I was, however, less convinced and enamored by the thin blue stuff that comprises the 20lbs BS running line.  My running line management isn't good at the best of times (you can get away with a lot on smaller rivers). This season I've been making a real effort to make orderly loops of about 6-10 feet (i.e. 12-20' of running line) on the fingers of my lower hand, although their sequential release remains somewhat erratic (my excuse is that various bits of my left side don't obey orders reliably).  But despite all my efforts I've had more blue tangles at the bottom rod ring than with other running lines I use regularly.  It's not that frequent, but it is annoying.  Although I suspect my line release may be the villain, that wouldn't explain why it happens more often with this blue line, thereby degrading the advantages of the thick orange bit.

However, in preparation for Norway I bought the heavier straw coloured 30lbs running line.  Its tangle-resistance performance is orders of magnitude better than the blue runner.  Over the course of a week, much of it casting at maximum range with a lot of loops, I had only two tangles.  In that respect it easily trumped my previously favoured Loop red runner, which I was using on my other rod.  As a result of all that, I can come off the fence to state that in my opinion the yellow Connect Core is top dog amongst the running lines I've used in the past 5 years.  But don't buy the 20lbs blue version.

Running Lines - Slick versus Balance

A lot of the promotional language used in relation to running lines focuses on 'slickness' or friction reducing designs such as 'ridging'.  Taking that to its limits, would a zero friction running line be desirable?  I discussed this with Alan Maughan during my last lesson, who staged a small demonstration of the realities.  It involved wrapping the running line around the lower blank between the cork and the stripper ring in order to deliberately add restraining friction to the shooting process.  This produced no discernible impact on distance or loop integrity.  Nor did a second wrap.  The point Alan was making is that for a shooting head to work efficiently there needs to be an appropriate balance between the running line and the head.  I pondered this further during my day on the Tweed at Rutherford where the size of the river required me to work closer to my maximum range than the Ure.  The diagram below helps my understanding of the issues.

Rio Scandi & Connect Core running line in flight
(with acknowledgement to Henrik Mortensen)
What you are aiming to achieve in the later stages of the cast is a slightly higher forward speed in the line in the top half of the loop than in the bottom, which progresses towards a smooth and complete turnover.  That condition requires the restraining drag on the bottom- predominantly made up of the running line - to be slightly greater than the air resistance of the line and fly above.  With a big fluffy fly or tube that resistance can be substantial.  If the resistance is not balanced by tension on the low side, then the unwinding effect of the loop will slow, possibly stall, or worse still go into reverse, leading to turnover failure, with the leader pointing back towards you.  If the lower side tension is excessive, the rotation of the 'wheel' will accelerate, consuming the top side more quickly and thus turning the line over before the full casting distance has been achieved.  The ultimate version of that case is the 'hard stop', when the running line comes to an abrupt halt, leading to a chaotic high-speed turnover or 'bounce-back' with the fly jerked back toward the caster.

Success requires the right balance between the top and bottom of the flying loop, which depends on active control of the running line as it goes out between your fingers and the cork during the final phases of the head's flight.  All too often, when we're starting out, amidst the effort-induced mental blur of the cast, we tend to let everything go at once, which leads to random results at the far end, across the spectrum from stall to hard stop.  A degree of control is essential if we are to achieve optimum presentation and respectable distance (note the order of those two things!).

So what do I draw from that?

  • Within limits, for the average caster, slickness is an over-stated feature.
  • 'Control-ability' is vital.  Indeed, your ability to do useful things with the running line in the later stages of the cast is as important and gripping it at the beginning.  This is more easily achieved with a thicker running line than a thin one, so consider going up another step on the thickness/breaking strain ladder.  It won't cost you distance and the greater stiffness of the thicker line should reduce the tangling risk.
  • Colour differentiation between the running line and the head is very helpful.  Note that pale green is potentially problematic in low light levels, especially if you are using yellow or orange tinted glasses.
  • The thicker orange bit on the Rio Connect Core line is generally good news.
  • I need more disciplined practice of my running line management.

Dog Days

We're having a strange start to summer in Yorkshire.  It poured with rain through May and into the first week of June, but for the past 3 weeks we've had a cool dry northerly airstream.  Many days have been cloudy and grey, with the temperature only nudging the 20C threshold.  It's had a marked effect on fly hatches on the Rye, which tailed off as it set in.  I can't recall spending 3 hours looking at a beautiful bit of trout water in mid-June without seeing a single olive hatch.  Nature can be strange at times, but its unpredictability is part of its charm and wonder, including the dog days.

I tend to leave the Ure salmon in peace at this time of year and especially under these low water conditions.  The spring fish that ran up into the upper reaches of the river during the May spate are now comfortably ensconced in residential lies, and will only become active in the early morning and late evening, if at all.  The very large hen fish which I've used as the tab for the Ure salmon fishing site was a late evening taker of a very small fly.  More generally, if I've got a beat booked and the water turns out to be low, so be it, and I'll fish.  You'll find some thoughts on low water fishing in an earlier post - Calm Reflections.  But if I know the water's low, as it is now, I won't book a beat and will leave them alone.  After all, I'm still in full time work and the garden's pretty demanding at this time of year, so I must save the rain dances until late July when the harvest's complete (so my farming friends don't lynch me).   Until then, be patient, and tight lines if you do go out.

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