Stop the Split-Shot-Slide

by | Aug 22, 2016 | 20 comments

Why so much hate for the split shot? Guys grumble about attaching it to the line, bitch about removing it and snarl when it slides. That’s too much hate for such a timeless and effective tool.

Sometimes, using split shot just 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. Shhhh. It’s true.

Usually, I prefer fishing weighted flies rather than split shot for one reason — strike detection is better. That’s the bottom line. And all the other reasons that anglers give for avoiding split shot are bad ones, because those troubles are easily overcome. Loss of strike detection is valid, though, and there’s not much you can do about it. You can keep the shot close to your point fly to keep the loss to a minimum. I like 4-6 inches. (You can also drop-shot, but that’s a topic for another post.)

Here are a two simple tricks for using split shot. Learn them. Then go fishing and love your life.

Troutbitten Brown Trout Slab


Put It On | Take It Off

Let’s start with the easy tip.

Don’t use too much pressure when applying split shot. The shot should not be mashed down onto the line.. Because it causes line damage, and it’s too hard to get it 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, that’s not a bad thing. I’m not using much pressure — that’s the 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, and he said he saw no difference. True story.

With most split shot, it only takes a small amount of pressure to tighten the shot to 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 for nymphs. 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.


See that? The small divot on the top allows for easy removal. It’s not just the crack, but the divot too.


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Using non-removable split shot makes no sense to me. Some popular shot found in fly shops is designed without an easy way to remove it. You can squeeze the sides sometimes, but the effort is tedious. It comes with inconsistent results and mangled split shot. Why go through all that? No wonder some anglers hate split shot! Just choose removable shot. (More on those options below.)

Small shot can be hard to put on and take off with crude, blunt tools. So I use hemostats designed for the job.

These are the kinds of jaws needed.

Buy My Favorite Forceps HERE (and support Troutbitten)


The fine tips and grip pattern make these the perfect tool for grabbing one side of the split shot (next to that divot) and grasping the other side with your thumbnail. The shot opens right up by prying it open. I also like the scissor feature of these clamps.

My other favorite forceps are Dr. Slick Spring Creek Clamps. I carry them for other things, because I love how sturdy they are and the ultra-fine tips. But they have no grip pattern, so they are not a good choice for non-toxic shot, which is harder than lead and hard to grip.

Recap: you need fine-tipped hemostats, not your workbench pliers. And buy the right shot.

Stop the Split Shot Slide

All split shot slides, some more than others. And to some guys, 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, then let the shot slide down to the knot. If that’s you, I envy your cavalier approach to life.

I’m a bit different. I get hung up on the little, inefficient things that rob me of productive fishing time. 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 and material.

— 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 good bit, and too often the line breaks right at that knot.

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.

Orvis Non-Toxic Split Shot

There are a few good shot choices out there that remove easily and don’t slide (much). Currently, I like the Orvis Non-Toxic Shot the best.

Buy Orvis Non-Toxic Removable Shot HERE


I’ve found Loon Black Drops as another good option. The material is a bit stiffer than the Orvis shot, so it’s not as easily crimped to the line. But it stays put just as well. It’s removable, again at the divot

Both of these shot brands are a bit pricey. But remember, you can remove and reuse each shot many times.

Buy Loon Black Drops HERE


Both the Orvis and the Loon shot hold to the line, apply easily, are quickly removed and can be reused a few times. This shot does not slide when pinched on properly. But it will slide down to the fly if you hang up on the bottom and pull hard.

Non-toxic shot is a little larger than lead per weight. That bothers some anglers enough that they stick with lead shot and deal with the slide. If that’s you, or if you want to ensure that no shot slides ever, try a barrel stopper . . .

Barrel Stopper

The Backing Barrel has become one of the most handy and useful tools in my system. It’s a problem solver.

Read about the Backing Barrel, it’s many uses, and how to tie it.



I sometimes use a small, black backing barrel as a slide-able stopper knot for my split shot. A stopper barrel is dead simple and takes just a few seconds to tie.

What’s the advantage? I can slide it 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.

I also use 3X nylon tippet material for the stopper. I tie it on just like the Backing Barrel. Mounted on fluorocarbon, the nylon stopper slides only when you re-position it, and it will not damage the fluorocarbon line. But be warned, mounting a nylon stopper on nylon tippet often tears up the line after a few slides. So only mount a nylon barrel stopper on fluorocarbon.


Troutbitten Backing Barrel stopper for split shot.

3X nylon tippet also makes a great barrel stopper

Tie the Backing Barrel very tight. Tie a nylon stopper knot tight, but don’t use your super-strength on the nylon either. Over-tightening will create too much friction while sliding the nylon.

When you want to change flies, slide the shot and stopper barrel up, then add the fly.

Because Sometimes, Split Shot

Anything to keep the fly in the water is a good thing, and being efficient with split shot really saves time. Having a system for applying and changing split shot pays dividends on the stream.

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. And sometimes it’s the best tool.

Fish hard, friends.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky



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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Domenick,

    Another amazing post, super informative.

    • Thanks, Jimmy. I hope it puts some more trout in your net.

  2. Fly Fisher’s Paradise doesn’t have Dinsmore Soft Split Shot on their website. Do you know of another source that isn’t in the UK or Australia? BTW, thanks for another informative post.

    • Alex, I’m looking. Trouble is, a lot of it is silver now. Boooooo.

  3. Of course, there’s an alternative. I like your idea of using a backing barrel knot to stop shot from slipping. You can go a step further and replace the shot with tungsten beads. The advantages: smaller size / weight, lots of sizes so it’s possible to fine tune weight, and they don’t mess up the leader. Disadvantage: you need to cut and retie the tippet if you want to change weight (which may be just as fast as using forceps to remove shot).

    • Right. I can’t bring myself to cut the line and knot it just to apply weight. It makes adjustments far to time consuming (for me).

  4. Domenick: You’ve revolutionized my nymphing with your mono rig and related ideas. Thanks for the truly informative and helpful blog! I just got my order of Bonnie Braid yarn for Dorsey indicators – amazing stuff, I prefer it to the New Zealand wool system I’ve been using. Keep up the great work and know that it is really appreciated by lots of fellow fly fisherman.

    • Ahhh. Very nice! Thanks for sharing the success, John. Keep in touch.

  5. Thanks Domenick for your continued updates!
    I surely would like to hear your thoughts on drop-shot leader of unweighted flies, versus one of weighted flies in a future article. Caught fish on both this season but how to judge which is better? Fly animation versus strike detection seems to be a big consideration…think you mention this with your unweighted trailer fly.

  6. Dom, You said it, but I will add my 2 cents…. Do not tie an overhand knot in your tippet! A simple overhand knot in fluorocarbon or nylon, will reduce breaking strength by half or more! A great way to loose flies and fish.
    Another use for the backing barrel knot is to use high vis yellow or chartreuse fly line instead of backing for making a movable sight indicator several feet up your nymphing leader. It can also be removed with nippers (if you are very careful).or just slide it up to the nail knot on the tapered leader to quickly convert back to dry flies.

    • Thanks, Bill.

      Yeah, I hate the overhand knot for that purpose too.

      You mentioned using a piece of fly line, but I still like to use orange backing for a visible barrel because it’s significantly lighter, and I find it easier to tie on quickly.

      Different ideas for different purposes, though, right?

      Good stuff, Bill.

  7. Here’s another use for the mono backing barrel. Like Dom, when I’m using droppers in-line, I like to tie the dropper tag around the tippet leading to the first fly. I use a Double Davy to attach the fly and the same knot to attach the dropper tag. I also like to pull the knot up a little, so that it creates a little dropper tag for the first nymph. I you tie a small mono backing barrel between the first nymph and where you tie in the dropper tag, and then pull it up a bit, the dropper stays in place very well. It allows you to effectively fish in-line and with a dropper tag at the same time.

  8. A double whammy! Dimpled split shot and that uni-type stopper knot. Both were new to me. Dealing with split shot has always been the only truly annoying aspect of fishing for me, starting with those rotating wheel dispensers that won’t rotate or dispense – unless you count scattering an entire compartment’s shot everywhere with one sudden jolt as dispensing.

    Do you think that stopper knot would hold up a sliding dropper loop – with a fish on – if you really cranked it down to the point where you could barely move it? It doesn’t seem like it would if it was still loose enough to be adjustable. It might cause some heat friction damage too, I guess…too bad I can’t just go out and try it yet.

    Again, thanks for the great site! DW

  9. Hello Domenick.Was reading some of your stuff again.Came across an older post about split shot.Anyway thought i would let you know.The Dinsmore shot in the red tub changed back to black again.Guess they had loads of complaints about the shiny stuff.Good shot i use it all the time in the UK drop shot nymphing.Cheers

  10. Domenick,
    After years of stubbornly chasing prey with that ‘dries only’ and ‘nymphing isn’t fishing’ attitude, I decided acceptance is a good thing and spent a lot of my season defiantly using the wets that have been accumulating in those boxes that have their own storage spot in the truck. I live 4 minutes from local access to the Colorado River where most pros take their clients through on the dory. Me? Heck no – down and dirty from the banks and out to prove the know-it-alls we can catch em’ all day and all ways. So, I have had moderate to great success and actually found myself coming around to the dark side.
    The small details make such a huge difference and your posts are well crafted and worth the read – and re-read. Split Shot slide post a game changer for me. Cured that disease.

  11. I have been following your posts recently (converted last spring) and going through older ones like this and I finally have to comment after this backing barrel, you freakin rock man! You have a wonderful gift and you are selfless to share and ALL of your stuff is topical, expert, and helpful. Good on you Don and a great 2020 and beyond!
    Scott Miller

    • Thanks Scott. I like sharing the stuff. I’ve never been secretive about tactics. Spots, I can be secretive about. I never understood hiding information about tactics.

      Cheers. I hope it all works out for you.


  12. I’ve always struggled with split shot. First it was the Gremlin shot, in all it’s shining glory scaring off fish. Then I switched to the round tub of lead shot that worked – but wasn’t good for the river, the fish or my leader. Last week I discovered this article! I purchased the Dr Slick Spring Creek Clamp and the tin shot. Also tied a barrel knot 5″ above my lead nymph. Granted, this was a lot to tackle on the water, but honestly, I couldn’t have been more impressed with using the removable shot combo! I was able to change my weight by 1g on each section of the tailwater I was fishing and caught more fish in 1 day than normally in a month!! This system is simply a game changer if you can be patient with yourself and use this article for reference… Have Fun and Keep Fishing!
    Thanks Domenick!!!

  13. Are the above linked hemostats still your favorite for removing non-toxic shot?


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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