Stop the Split-Shot-Slide (UPDATED)

August 22, 2016

Fishing keeps me problem solving, innovating, and guessing. It’s one of things I love most about tramping around in the valleys with a long rod. And oftentimes, my ideas grow into something newer, something better and something more efficient.

My friend Chris Cutler, of Living Fly Legacy, once pointed out how difficult it can be to write something down for everyone to read. When you come up with a better idea, what do you do with the old one?

Many of these tactical Troutbitten articles present developing designs, because I’m rarely satisfied. Even the fly patterns here are changing and becoming something else while I’m testing, and I think that’s a good thing. For Troutbitten, I write about things that work, but sometimes, in the process of getting older, and perhaps wiser, new ideas evolve from more experience (more fishing).

So here’s the Stop the Spit-Shot-Slide article in full. It all works. But you’ll see below that after a few tweaks, I now prefer the simplest method.

** The major change is at the bottom of the article. I use a sliding stopper knot, of 3X nylon tippet, to hold the split shot in place. **

— — — — — —

Why so much hate for the split shot? Guys grumble about attaching it to the line; they bitch about removing it, and they 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. Shhhhhh. It’s true.

I usually prefer fishing weighted flies rather than split shot for one reason — strike detection is better. That’s the bottom line. All the other reasons that anglers avoid using 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 split shot close to the point fly to improve strike detection. 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


Let’s start with the easy tip.

Don’t use too much pressure when applying split shot. The shot shouldn’t be mashed down onto the line. That 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 — and 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, 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. 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.

Using non-removable split shot makes no sense to me. Some popular shot that’s 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.

Small shot can be hard to put on and take 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 grasping the other side with your thumbnail. The shot opens right up by prying it open. I also like the sturdy arms, secure lock and wide finger holes of these clamps.

Recap: you need fine-tipped hemostats, not your workbench pliers.


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.



*** UPDATE (SEPTEMBER 2017) ***
The shot contained in the Red Tub Dinsmores changed. It’s now much harder and no longer black. The Dinsmores distributor told me the Red Tub shot in the US is different than the Red Tub shot sold in the UK. I guess I could order from the UK and pay those shipping charges, but come on man.  I now use whatever shot I like, but I use the stopper-knot method described in the next section. ***

Dinsmores Super Soft is 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.

Dinsmores 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 harder to remove in the smaller sizes, and it slides a bit. The egg shaped shot in the green container holds very well, but it’s much harder material and doesn’t open up as easily.

When I can’t find Dinsmores shot, I sometimes use Boss or Orvis Tin Shot. It holds the line pretty well.

Oh, and should you use tin or lead? You decide. 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 that sometimes,but I’ve found that using a stopper barrel is easier …


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.

*** UPDATE (SEPTEMBER 2017) ***
I now use 3X nylon tippet material for the stopper. I tie it on just like the Backing Barrel. Mounted on fluorocarbon, the nylon stopper will slide only when you re-position it, and it will not damage the fluorocarbon line. More details below … ***


Troutbitten Backing Barrel stopper for split shot.

I now prefer to use 3X NYLON TIPPET for the barrel stopper. It’s smaller and more convenient.

The same nylon monofilament that you have on the tippet holder of your pack or vest makes a great barrel stopper. I like 3X, and it works perfectly when mounted on fluorocarbon. But be warned, mounting a nylon stopper on nylon tippet often tears up the line after a few slides. So only mount it on fluorocarbon.

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

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


Anything to keep the fly in the water is a good thing, and being efficient with split shot can really save time. Having 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.

Fish hard, friends.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


More Troutbitten articles on nymphing

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
Take Five
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 an Indicator
Stop the Split Shot Slide
Trail This — Don’t Trail That
For Tight Line Nymphing and the Mono Rig, What’s a Good Fly Rod?
Depth, Angle, Drop: Three Elements of a Nymphing Rig
Over or Under? Your best bet on weight
Modern Nymphing, the Mono Rig, and Euro Nymphing
Resources for Tight Line and Euro Nymphing
Split Shot vs Weighted Flies
Tight Line Nymphing With an Indicator — A Mono Rig Variant
Bill Dance and Jimmy Houston go fly fishing — The Mono Rig for streamers
Get me back to my fly line — Connecting and disconnecting the Mono Rig
The Dorsey Yarn Indicator — Everything you need to know and a little more
Finding bite windows, fishing through them and fishing around them
Troutbitten Flybox: The Bread-n-Butter Nymph
Tight Line Nymphing — Where Should the Sighter Be?
A Slidable Dry Dropper System

  1. Reply


    August 23, 2016


    Another amazing post, super informative.

    • Reply

      Domenick Swentosky

      August 23, 2016

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

  2. Reply

    Alex Argyros

    January 24, 2017

    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.

    • Reply

      Domenick Swentosky

      January 25, 2017

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

  3. Reply

    Alex Argyros

    January 24, 2017

    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).

    • Reply

      Domenick Swentosky

      January 25, 2017

      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. Reply

    John Sanders

    April 19, 2017

    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.

    • Reply

      Domenick Swentosky

      April 19, 2017

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

  5. Reply


    September 6, 2017

    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. Reply

    Bill Anderson

    September 7, 2017

    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.

    • Reply

      Domenick Swentosky

      September 7, 2017

      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. Reply

    Alex Argyros

    September 7, 2017

    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.

    • Reply

      Domenick Swentosky

      September 8, 2017

      Good stuff.

What do you think?

Domenick Swentosky

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, writer, musician and fisherman. I fly 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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