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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
The Backing Barrel has become one of the most handy and useful tools in my system. It’s a problem solver.
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.
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.
T R O U T B I T T E N