Q&A: Split Shot Tangling Issues?

by | Nov 30, 2023 | 11 comments

I field questions from Troutbitten readers, listeners and watchers every day. And there are common themes within the questions. The same things give people trouble on all trout streams, all around the world. This Q&A series is a chance to answer some of those questions.

Here’s the latest . . .


Hey now . . . from New Mexico. Stefan here.

I have been experimenting a lot with different tight line leader formulas for some time and feel pretty confident with a diversity of fly-only tight line techniques.

My questions pertain to issues that arise when it’s time to fish much smaller flies with the addition of split shot, either with or without a bobber in the tight line system.

The problem, plain and simple – I tangle up more – A LOT MORE – both in casting and landing fish when trying to implement tiny, light flies with shot and/or bobber.

It might help to know that my setup is more or less a fly on a dropper followed by a shot or two, and then a point fly. When I add a bobber it’s usually a small Oros or more delicate Palsa pinch on.

The flies are often 18 – 26 either with minimal or no tied in weight. I’ve tried this both with and without a bobber and often the results are more or less the same — birds nest — at least eventually.

Here are my questions:

— Does split shot size and distance from tag and point fly matter a great deal?

— Should I tie inline instead of off droppers?

— Is it just a casting issue — as so often, tangled rigs are?

— Should I  commit to a weight-last setup, like using a heavy point fly or drop shot to keep it all straight and tidy?

Should I consider using a different type of bobber?


Hi Stefan,

Thanks for your question. This is a common problem, and it’s one of the reasons anglers avoid split shot. That’s a mistake, because split shot is a critical tool for any fly fisher going under the surface. Certainly, we can fish with only weighted flies, but employing split shot opens up options that expand versatility and, at times, is more effective.

Not too long ago, I fielded a similar question, but this is a chance to put more meat on those bones.

READ: Troutbitten | Q&A: Why Do Multi-Nymph Rigs Tangle and How Can You Avoid It?
VIDEO: Troutbitten | Don’t Hate Split Shot — Have a System

There is no doubt that more things on the line tangle more often. The rig you described has four things attached to the line. It will tangle more often than a rig with two things attached. So we surrender to that fact. But how can we avoid tangling so much that the additional gear becomes a frustrating hindrance?

In an eight hour day, I might expect to tangle that rig twice. On my best day, maybe none. On my worst day, too many, and would simplify my approach.

I use the rig you describe a fair amount. However, there are a few keys and slight differences that should help . . .

No Airborne Trout

Split shot rigs tangle most when they’re out of the water. I see this all the time.

It’s the small fish that we hook and bring in quickly that cause the most frequent tangles. Small, jumping rainbow trout that eat the top nymph are the worst, as the split shot and lower fly helicopter around in the air. Nothing causes more tangling problems.

So fight the urge to bring small fish in quickly, out of the water. Instead, keep the rod tip low, with the fish and the flies in the water, all the way to the net.

This one tip will likely eliminate half of your tangles.

Keep Speed in the Cast

The most common advice for these rigs is to open up the casting loop. But better advice is to open up the casting oval . We still want good, strong loops.

Do not slow down the cast. In fact, more speed works better here. This advice runs counter to the instincts of most anglers. But more speed in the cast creates better turnover and more defined loops. Cast with more intention. Be deliberate. Feel the weight turn over, and make it happen. Be in contact with your contact nymphing rig. Lazy loops lag. So the flies, shot and bobber all tend to collapse on each other — tangle city.

Fight the urge to baby things around. Do not lob. Keep your good casting form, and aim for accurate, crisp turnover. It might be a harder road, but it’s the safest route.

READ: Troubitten | Put More Juice in the Cast

Indy Type

I use indys a good bit. And I strongly prefer lighter indicators.

Dorsey Yarn Indys are my favorite. When I want a little more weight and buoyancy in the indy, I still choose the Thingamabobber. It weighs far less than the AirLock or the Oros, and that matters in this situation.

A bobber that weighs more than your flies hinges badly. Put those new style of bobbers on a gram scale, compare them to your flies or split shot, and your eyes will be wide open.

Choose lighter indicators.

Riggin’ ‘Em

Lastly, let’s consider the rig itself.

I prefer one large shot over two small ones. If I do need two shot, I keep them together instead of spacing them out. This greatly reduces tangles.

Instead of placing the split shot in the middle of two flies, I place the shot just five inches above the point fly. This keeps more weight toward the end of the line, avoiding more tangles.

I do like the upper fly on a tag. Small flies have no ability to move freely when two lines are tied to them. Tag dropper catch more fish. But yes, they can tangle more. So keep the tag length to four inches, and use the stiffest tippet you can get away with.

Likewise, I don’t fish split shot on anything smaller than 5X. I promise, 6X is not necessary on this rig, even with the smallest nymphs. That one point might be the most valuable one. Lose the 6X and lighter tippets.

Keep At It

Don’t give up on split shot. Learn the nuances, develop a system and minimize tangles. It’s an invaluable tool to an angler’s arsenal. And with some attention to the key details mentioned above, along with stubborn practice, tangles will barely be an issue.

Fish hard, friends.


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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. Good stuff about keeping the trout in the water. I abandoned the dropper rig for a bit in favor of inline because of all the tangling. When I catch a smaller trout I try to practice long distance release too.

  2. I fish shot and multi flys forever, and very occasionally would get tangled usually when fishing in freekin Nevada hurricane. But recently after buying new spool of Rio 5X seems to tangle almost regardless. It’s like it’s cursed. Have you ever run into pre tangled tippet material??

    • YES. For me, really soft tippets are a bad match for split shot.

      • Great, comprehensive advice. Thanks, Dom.

  3. I used weight at the end, drop shot style, for years, and still consider it the most logical/effective way to cast and hook set. But I gave it up after dealing with too many tangles from hooked fish, especially the little jumpers like you said.
    I also now for years tie flies in line, not on tags, just to lessen tangles casting and fish fighting.
    And I use stiffish tippet: 5X 4lb InvizX.
    You summed up the tradeoffs nicely: the more things you have going on, the more troubles you can expect.

  4. Hi
    I have had similar issues even in lakes were I use an Indy over a balanced leach.

    I agree you must keep loops wide and you need to keep pressure on to move the whole line, weight and bobber moving in unison.

    I also found I cast a long distance either. I have to keep within a range of what my rod can handle.

    Good stuff Thanks again. Happy holidays to you and your family

  5. Dom, another great article! One thing I would add to your article is the hook set. Keep the hookset quick but short. Don’t get your flies, shot, and Indy out of the water and up in the air because bad things will happen. Your rigging can come back and wrap around your rod not to mention weighted nymphs with shot can break your rod. If you do get them up in the air let them fall in the water behind you keeping your rigging straight. When teaching anglers I have a ten-inch rule. Don’t pull your flies towards you more than ten inches on a hookset. If there are no fish let your flies quickly descend to to the bottom of the water column and you are back in the strike zone. This is all part of what it takes to be a good nymphing angler. Isn’t nymphing fun?

  6. I do a lot of drop shot nymphing when possible. I like the idea that the shot is located on the terminal end of the leader. I recently purchased a bag of split shot that was really shiny and couldn’t figure out a way to reduce its shine. Do you think it has “spook” value as a result? Any suggestions as to how to dull the shine? Thanks

    • fritz. Soaking the shot in lemon juice or other mild acid will darken it

      • Thanks a bunch Joe! I can soak shot and have my salad too


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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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