Why so much hate for the split shot? Guys grumble about putting it on; they have trouble taking it off, and they snarl when it slides. There’s too much hate for such a timeless and effective tool.
Here are a few simple tricks about split shot. Learn them. Then go fishing and love your life.
I prefer fishing weighted flies rather than split shot for one reason — strike detection is better. That’s the bottom line. All the other reasons anglers avoid using split shot are bad ones, because the troubles are easily overcome. Loss of strike detection is valid, though, and there’s not much you can do about it other than keeping the split shot close to the point fly. I like 4-6 inches. (You can drop-shot to improve strike detection, but that’s a topic for another post.)
With that said, sometimes using split shot makes the most sense. In a variety of situations, I use shot for both nymph rigs and streamer rigs. What’s the main reason? Some patterns really fish better when they’re unweighted. Shhhhhh. It’s true.
Split shot is an outstanding tool, and I have two main tips for using shot: one to stop the split-shot-slide and another for applying and removing it. Let’s start with the simpler one.
Put it on | Take it off
Don’t use too much pressure when applying split shot. Just don’t. The shot shouldn’t be mashed down onto the line because it causes line damage, and it’s too hard to get back off. All it takes is enough pressure to close the crack … and then a little more.
I use my teeth. Yes, I do. And no, it’s not a bad thing. I’m not using much pressure — that’s my point. I’ve been using the same two teeth to close split shot for about thirty years. They look the same as the other teeth. I once asked my dentist if I was damaging those teeth. He said he saw no difference. True story.
Recap: it only takes a small amount of pressure to tighten the shot on your line.
Split shot marketed for fly fishing is way smaller than the Gremlin lead shot commonly used with spinning tackle. When the rest of your rig and presentation are dialed, you don’t need much weight to get a pair of nymphs down. I carry #1, #4, #6 and #8. Quickly and easily changing split shot weights is very important to me, so I choose split shot that have a small divot in the top to aid in removal.
Small shot can be hard to take on and off with crude, blunt tools. So I use these:
These are the antithesis of crude and blunt. They are Spring Creek Clamps from Dr. Slick. You can find them of similar design from other manufacturers as well. The fine tips are what make these the perfect tool for grabbing one side of the split shot (next to that divot) and grabbing the other side with your thumbnail. The shot opens right up by prying it open (if you haven’t distorted the shape by squeezing it on too hard). I also like the sturdy arms, secure lock, and wide finger holes of these clamps.
There’s another popular processs for removing split shot: squeeze the sides and the middle will open. That sucks. It never works easily for me, and the shot gets distorted while removing. Done the other way (by prying it open) the shot can be reused a few times before it gets bent out of shape.
Recap: you need fine-tipped hemostats, not your workbench pliers.
Stop the Split-Shot-Slide
To some, the split-shot-slide isn’t a big deal. They simply tie a knot in the leader where they want the shot to stay put and let the shot slide down to there. If that’s you, I envy your cavalier approach to life.
I’m a little different. I tend to get hung up on the little, inefficient things that rob me of productive fishing time and cost me fish. So I fix them.
Using a split shot knot works. But there are some problems.
— First, the knot catches up to the fly after a few changes. Meaning, after changing the nymph, the split shot is too close to the fly. I usually want my shot about five inches from the nymph — not three and not seven. After a couple fly changes, my nymph is way too close to the shot. Then I have to start tying more knots and adding more tippet. It wastes time.
— Second, the knot weakens the line. Yeah you can wet it, (and you should wet every knot). I’ve used a split shot knot a lot, and too often the line breaks at the knot. I can’t tell you why it breaks. I can just tell you that I don’t like it.
These troubles would be acceptable if they had to be. Making concessions and handling imperfections is part of fishing — and part of life. But there’s a better way. Here are two alternatives for stopping the split-shot-slide.
Dinsmore Round Shot — The Best Split Shot in the World ™ (OK, I’m adding the phrase and the trademark myself.)
This is it. The savior split shot. It’s tin shot that holds to the line, applies easily, is quickly removed, and can be reused a few times. This shot does not slide when pinched on properly. (If you reposition or reuse it, the shot will occasionally slide a bit, but still not very much.)
Dinsmore makes a number of different options. This is the red container round shot. It’s not the egg shot. The egg shaped shot in the blue tub is much harder to remove in the smaller sizes and doesn’t stay put as well (I don’t know why). The egg shaped shot in the green container holds very well, but it’s much harder material and doesn’t open up as easily.
The red container round shot is hard to find. That’s too bad because it is, in fact, The Best Split Shot in the World ™. I’ll give a shout-out here to the round Boss Tin shot also. It holds the line well, but it’s a little too shiny for my preference.
I’m pretty convinced that shiny split shot is a problem. I think it spooks fish sometimes. Conversely, I think trout are often attracted to shiny split shot rather than spooked by it; they try to eat the shot instead of the fly. I swear I’ve seen this happen at least a dozen times. So I want my split shot very dull, or I want it black.
In the last year, some of the red container Dinsmore has been bright and silvery. Nooooooo! Why? If anyone out there knows Johnathon J. Dinsmore (I’m making that up), please ask him to keep all the split shot black; the silver stuff screws with my confidence.
Seriously, the red container shot can be very hard to find. Please ask your local fly shop to carry these split shot. Fly Fisher’s Paradise sells them. If you do see them elsewhere, please drop me a line.
Oh, and should you use tin or lead? You decide. I don’t want to. I use both. I like Anchor split shot for lead — the ones with the divot on top.
If you are concerned that tin shot is larger than lead, and you want to use lead to keep your shot as small as possible, then use a small Dinsmore shot as a firm placeholder and mount the lead shot above. That way, none of it slides. I do this sometimes. But I prefer to just use all Dinsmore shot.
Recap: use round Dinsmore shot. Stop the split-shot-slide and love your life.
Another use for the Backing Barrel
The Backing Barrel has become one of the most handy and useful tools in my system. It’s a problem solver. You can read about other uses, and how to tie it here.
I sometimes use a small, black backing barrel as a slide-able stopper knot for my split shot. The backing barrel only takes a few seconds more to tie than the overhand knot that most guys use for stopping the split-shot-slide. The advantage? I only have to tie it once, and I can move it to wherever I want on the tippet. When I want to change flies, I slide the shot and stopper barrel up; then I add the fly. With that, I can easily maintain my preferred five-inch distance.
Last thing. I’ve also used 3X nylon tippet for a backing barrel. It works when mounted on fluorocarbon. But be warned, if mounted on nylon monofilament a nylon barrel will tear up the tippet after a few slides. When you want to change flies, slide the shot and stopper barrel up, then add the fly.
Recap: use a slideable stopper knot (Backing Barrel) to hold the split shot.
Anything to keep the fly in the water is a good thing, and being efficient with split shot can really save time. Developing a system for applying and changing split shot pays dividends on the stream. Just work on it for a bit.
If you fish flies under the water, the weight to carry them beneath the surface has to come from somewhere. Split shot can be a great tool. Sometimes it’s the best tool.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N
More Troutbitten articles on nymphs:
The Mono Rig and Why Fly Line Sucks
Tight Line Nymph Rig
Sighters: Seven Separate Tools
Learn the Nymph
Tags and Trailers
The Backing Barrel
The Add-On Line
One Great Nymphing Trick
The Trouble With Tenkara — And Why You Don’t Need It
It’s a Suspender — Not Just and Indicator