Skagit vs. Scandi: The Age-Old Question

The following was written by Airflo pro-staffer Peter Charles for the benefit of the not-yet-crusty:

Scandinavian or Skagit? What’s right for you?

Once you decide to take the plunge into the world of shooting heads, things can start to get a bit murky.  Should you go with Skagit or Scandinavian-style heads? Too often you find that someone else is making that decision for you, and what works for them may not work for you. So here’s a short checklist that you can use to decide which head system is right for you.

Left: Scandi head. Right: Skagit head. Notice the larger diameter on the Skagit.

Left: Scandi head. Right: Skagit head. Notice the larger diameter on the Skagit.

For a lot of fly fishers out there, how you fish is as important as catching fish. If you’re in that category, then it’s important to match the head system to how you like to fish. How important is finesse to you? As an example, someone arriving from dry fly trout fishing is more likely to have an affinity for Scandi heads thanks to their greater finesse and elegance.  If nymph fishing is your favourite fishing method, then chucking weight and fishing deep is part of your DNA. In that case, Skagit heads will be a more natural fit. You know how you like to fish better than anyone else; if the method is a big part of your enjoyment, consider from which side of the “finesse” fence you like to fish. Making that determination will help you know which system to select.

If the method isn’t the biggest part of your fun, then let’s move on to the next items on the checklist: rods and flies. If the idea of casting large flies with light rods really appeals to you, then Skagit is the default choice. Skagit does a really good job of using light rods to move large, weighted, high-drag flies like big bunny leeches. If this is how you would like to fish, you have your answer. Scandi heads will cast these big, high drag flies, but it takes bigger rods and heavier lines to do so.

A big hen taken on a Skagit head.

If your fly selection features slicker, somewhat smaller flies that are easier to extract and cast, then Scandi enters the picture. Even lighter Scandi heads can handle pretty big flies provided they are slick enough to be extracted easily when cast on the end of a long leader. Most classic spey flies and traditional steelhead wet flies can be cast with either a Scandi or a Skagit head.

If the rod and fly size hasn’t helped with your decision, then let’s take a look at the water and the fish.  You can usually fish deeper with a Skagit head and heavy sinktip compared to a polyleader-equipped Scandi head. If our rivers run clear and feature aggressive fish, you can often get them to rise to a shallow presentation.  You don’t need to run your fly deep and those shallow takes can be awesome. A Scandi head and a few Polyleaders are all you need.

PC Steelhead Net

However, if the river runs deep and murky, plus you need to get the fly in front of the fish to elicit a take, then the deeper-running Skagit system will be needed for the job.  Let the water conditions and the fish tell you what type of shooting head system you should be fishing.

If that still isn’t enough to make up your mind, then take a closer look at your rivers. If they have higher-gradient flows with pockets, buckets, fast seams and slots, then the ability of the Skagit system to get a fly down fast becomes critical. However if your river is lower-gradient with wide, even flowing runs, smooth flats and plenty of time to get the fly down, then a Polyleader-equipped Scandi head will do that job quite well.

The bottom line: it’s about having fun, so choose the system that will fish effectively and get into fish on your terms.

Peter is a Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor and Airflo pro-staff member. He resides in Hagervilee, Ontario. Check out his website at