Thursday 17 April 2014

Sinking Feeling

Through the extraordinary generosity of Michael at AM Angling I took two sinking shooting heads to test on the Dee last week.  Venturing into the submarine world of sinking lines was a new experience for me, as followers of Just One Week will have spotted that I've got by until now by adding a variety of sinking polyleaders or tips to floating lines.  Without the challenges of especially deep or heavy water I hadn't felt the need to acquire a sinking line.  However, with the Dee running at +18", it was an ideal opportunity to do some learning and testing.  You will note the order of those words: this post is as much about me learning how to get the best out of a sinking line as it is an evaluation of the two lines that Michael had kindly provided.

The Contenders

Guideline is the ubiquitous brand in sinking shooting heads and possibly the market leader.  You don't achieve that status with bad products, so the PT Scandi would provide a reliable reference baseline for the evaluation.

When you take it out of the box for the first time you are immediately aware of the design and production quality.  It just looks right.  There are several features that are clearly born of long experience and intended to make life easy, and these imbue a certain confidence from the outset.

Loop introduced their Graduated Density lines last year, when I did an evaluation of the Low-Float, a thoroughly good piece of kit, but markedly different from the Rio AFS.  The GDC concept really applies to the sinking lines, in that the transition from S1 to S2 is spread over 5 feet rather than just a couple of inches as was previously the case with many multi-rate sinking lines.  The theory is that this causes the line to extend in a single continuum rather than a series of steps.  The physics is certainly true, but I didn't look underwater on this test to verify the effect.

When I first took the line out of the box my reaction was entirely different to the Guideline, in that I was irrationally irked by the fact the GDC is all one colour - olive green - with no simple indication of which end is which once you've removed the tags.  This required quick action with a permanent black marker pen - you can't trust to memory at my age.

Spot the difference!
Which end is which?
You can see the difference here.  Perhaps I'm idle and old, but it's nice to be able to find the right end of a shooting head without having to think too hard.  Another advantage of the Guideline's colour scheme is that even I can see the orange end coming during the retrieve and coordinate its arrival with the management of the running line.

You will also note the use of handy garden plant ties to secure the coils: simple and very effective.

On the Lawn

Profile at 10 feet
The next step was to lay the 2 lines out on the lawn to compare their profiles.  Because the first section of the Guideline is Intermediate it is correspondingly thicker than the Loop at S1, which is visible here.

Profile at 25 feet
However, as you progress onwards through 20 feet to 25, where the Guideline transitions into S2, you'l note that it is still (counter-intuitively) fractionally thicker than the Loop at S1 (normally faster sinking lines are thinner).  I didn't use a micrometer, just eye and image zooming, but started to form the view that Loop had managed something a bit technically novel here.

Profile at 35 feet
At 35 feet you are approaching the end of the Loop: the Guideline is 4 feet longer.  At this point the Loop is S2 and the Guideline is S3.  Again, and equally counter-intuitively, the diameters are similar.

In sum, the Guideline follows an entirely predictable taper pattern, with each stage clearly visible.  There's something different about the Loop.  After a bit of head scratching and reviewing of the Low Float pictures, I concluded that Loop might have done something remarkable.  Instead of achieving higher density by reducing the line's diameter, they appear to have achieved the effect by changing the density of the material.  I may be wrong, but the consequences of this innovation (if it be so) will become apparent shortly.

On the River

Upper Kirk at +18"
The main part of the evaluation took place on the Upper Kirk pool which is usefully concealed from public view.  On Waterside,with a road running along its entire length, you tend to attract spectators, including those with cameras, liable to record your embarrassing efforts whilst learning the intricacies of working with sinking lines.  I had some difficulty persuading the charming tourist from Nigeria with a £2000 Canon EOS 5 and a 300mm lens that I really wasn't a good examplar of Scottish salmon fishing technique.

Beyond privacy, Upper Kirk had everything - cold water, weight of flow, depth and breadth. From the left bank you are working to maximum range from thigh deep wading; from the right you're managing narrow angles from a limited roll-casting space off the grass.  The wind was around 15 mph downstream oblique, rising to 20 mph later in the day, turbulent and gusty.  As a result the majority of the casts were waterborne anchor: Single Spey was out of the question on safety grounds.

The rod was a Loop Cross S1 14' #9.  The running line was a well worn Rio standard.  At the business end I employed a 5' slow sink polyleader (equivalent to S2), 7' of fluorocarbon, and a choice of 1" weighted tubes and #6 doubles.

When reading what comes next, please bear in mind that my name is not Alan Maughan and that I'm not a great caster.


The Guideline was first up to establish the baseline.  As you might expect, the Guideline does exactly 'what it says on the tin', although some helpful hints on the box would have been handy during the first 10-15 minutes of getting the hang of its behaviour.

Like all heavy sinking objects it goes out like a rocket; slices through the wind and turbulence; and picks tubes up out of the water with ease.  The turnover is good.  Above all, it's very forgiving of limitations in casting.  If it can get out there, it will.  The arrival may not be pretty, but the Guideline will have done everything in its power to help.

It's nice to fish with and for the first time I could appreciate the virtue of a sinking line cutting down through the speed and turbulence of the surface flow into the smoother water below. Contact with the fly was direct and continuous.  The brightly coloured Intermediate section helped both visual management and retrieval.

Perversely, that otherwise most useful and helpful orange Intermediate section was the source of my one gripe with this otherwise excellent line.  I was surprised by the effort needed to extract this comparatively short head into the back cast.  There were occasions, especially if the dangle was in slower water, when getting it out was a real chore.  The Intermediate bit just seemed to hug the water in a way that real sinkers do not (based on experience with my old Loop Multi-Tip line which has very long front sections).  Even employing my newly learned Modern Spey lift and swing technique, this limitation got to be very boring after the first half hour, especially with my age and dodgy back.  It was most reluctant to respond to a Snake Roll, so I didn't invest much time in trying to apply that approach to the problem.  Of course, 'rolling up' made life much easier, but that's a bit of a chore and yet more wasted fishing time added to that expended on stripping in the running line.

Perhaps I may have missed something; more probably my technique is rubbish and slick floating lines have made me a softie, but for me the limitation of the back cast took away too much of the joy of the Guideline's excellent delivery.


When I stopped to change the lines over, my morale was not great.  I was a mite tired, a little cold (the water was at 6.5C) and filled with trepidation at the prospect of another 3 hours of demanding back casts.  I was irritated by Loop's all green line.  After a short break; a stiff self-lecture to get a grip and man-up; and some morale boosting chocolate (my weakness), I re-entered the water.

And so,  I fed out the line, rolled it around into a shallow angle and stripped out some running line whilst waiting for it to reach the dangle.  Then lift the rod, push the bottom hand under and out and turn the torso in a movement calibrated an honed and hardened over the previous 3 hours.  Swish! An all-green 36 foot snake with a black blob on its tail shot past me heading directly into the wind.  Splash!  It landed straight upstream, but I failed to observe the turnover.  After a certain amount of self-cursing, thrashing (aka roll casting) and sorting out, I got the snake back to the dangle.  Try again with a bit less effort.  This led to the anchor being about 15 feet upwind.  Unashamedly mixing my animal metaphors, the green snake came out of the water like a jack rabbit set to turbo: certainly more Green Mamba than Green Python.

Once I'd got the hang of the back cast the forward bit was easy.  Like all sinkers the GDC is fundamentally heavy and makes short work of difficult winds.  If it had been more across or frontal I would have increased the length and weight of the polyleader and shortened the fluorocarbon.  The turnover was good and the design continuity with the Low Float I use in windy conditions was self-evident.  In delivery it equalled the excellent Guideline across the board. The GDC had the same directness of contact with the fly, but the near invisibility of the back end of the head was a significant bugbear.

By the end of the day's fishing I hadn't caught a fish, but I'd started to develop a real liking for the green snake and sinking line fishing, which is really surprising for someone with a lifetime aversion to snakes.


So what came out of the day:
  • A sinking line is probably essential if you are going to fish big fast-flowing pools like Kirk and Waterside in spring with cold water.  After this experience I wouldn't wish to be without one for future spring fishing.
  • The Guideline is an excellent product, with outstanding design features and perfect finish, that offers very good forward cast delivery.  But for whatever reason - possibly the Intermediate section or my poor technique - I found the back cast uncomfortably difficult.
  • Michael of AM Angling will need a crowbar to get the Loop Green Snake out of my tackle box: it's great.  Obviously lots of Swedes agree with me, because I'm told it's in short supply.
  • But if you do buy the snake, it will work best when used with a brightly coloured running line, which coincidentally is the subject of my next post.


I close by reiterating my gratitude to Michael of AM Angling for his generous support to this evaluation, and for his help and advice in a multitude of other matters; thank you.  A company of this quality is worthy of anyone's custom, so please use the links or side-tag to pay them a visit.

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