Fly Fishing With Split Shot - The Beginners Guide

Fly Fishing with Split Shot

A split shot is a small round piece of metal or metallic past that anglers use to add weight to their tippet or leader. Adding a split shot below or above your fly pattern adds weight, which will get sink your pattern faster to get to the optimal feeding zones more quickly. This also allows you to make more extended drops, and paired with the correct amount, can make the fly pattern sink in gradually and attract those elusive fish.

Why Should You Fly Fish With Split Shot?

There are three main types of fly-fishing techniques; dry fly fishing and nymph fly fishing and Streamer fishing.  Dry fly-fishing involves casting your fly pattern on the surface of the water. On the other hand, with nymph fly fishing, your fly pattern is sunk below the surface of the water.  Nymphing, uses sub-surface artificial flies in different life stages to catch fish, especially rainbow trout. You can fly fish in both fresh and saltwater.

When you decide to opt for the nymph fly fishing approach, you should use it for fish in a particular section of the water called the “strike zone.” This zone changes based on several reasons and patterns, such as the weather and what food the fish are currently feeding on. For example, in some water bodies during the late spring season, the fish tend to swim in the middle of the water column chasing down emerging stages of flies. 

Flies in the Water Column

That’s where using the split shot method comes in because it allows you to add weight to your rig, making your fly pattern sink faster in the strike zone. That way, you will be able to catch more fish. Still, that doesn’t mean you can attach your weights and fly patterns and start fishing. No, it would be best if you were strategic.

Where To Place Your Split Shot when Fly Fishing

You can place your split shot on either moving water (rivers and streams) or still water. However, you will notice that you have to make adjustments to your leader to help you get the best results. If you have more questions on how long should your leader be, check out this article here. The size of your leader and tippet can determine what type of fish you can catch. The various requirements are shown in the table below.

Leader and Tippet Size Chart

Here’s How To Set Up A Two Fly Split Shot Rig: 

  1. Start with a leader the same size as your fly rod.  If you are using a 9ft rod, use a 9ft leader.  Check out the graph below to determine what X factor tippet you need for the fish you are targeting. 
  2. Next, attached 24 inches of 5x Tippet using and double surgeon's knot to the end of your leader.  Attach your first fly using an improved clinch knot.
  3. Next, off the hook bend of your first fly, attach another 12 to 14 inches of 5x or 6x tippet with an improved clinch knot.
  4. Tie your second fly to this with a non-slip loop knot.
  5.  Above your first fly the same distance away from your second fly, attach 2 or 3 split shots size No 2 or No 0 to your tippet.

Split Shot on Nymph Rig Fly Fishing

The number of shots to use depends on the type of water you want to fish on. If you are fishing in a deeper pool, for example, you will need more shots. The same goes for stronger currents where you need to get your fly down fast to reach the feeding zone. Anglers, however, typically use fewer shots or no shots at all in shallow freshwater.


Other Fly-Fishing Rig Techniques using Split Shot

Here are some examples of other fly-fishing rig techniques:

Drop Shot Rig

A Drop Shot rig is excellent when fishing in deep runs, dirty water, or ponds where you can have several flies at different water levels. This technique is quite deadly for fish, and you can catch as many as you want. But before you get too excited, make sure you check in with local laws so you would not be found wanting. 

How To Set Up A Drop Shot Rig

  1. You will need a leader that is about the right foot.
  2. You will also need a clear indicator that you will tie up to your leader.
  3. Next, you will tie your weight at the bottom in an Overhand Knot.
  4. Add wight as needed.
  5. Ensure that you keep your flies 8 to 12 inches apart.

This setup does not need to be fully immersed in water. Instead, make sure you have a tight connection from the tip of your rod to the weight at the end. You will be able to feel the strikes or takes from these fish much easier. Remember also to use brightly colored ones for the top ones.

Drop Shot RIg

Split Shot Products On The Market

There are many split shot products available to choose from. Some tote their product is more environmentally friendly than others and others swear by their elusive designs that fish cannot see them.  Find the one that is easiest for you to use and start there. Here are a handful of products on the market to choose from.

Anglers Accessories Lead Split Shot Weights

This product is a top-quality accessory for fly-fishing. It comes in a handy container that stores different sizes of split shot sinkers or weights, so you have a wide range of weights to use when fishing.

Angler Tins

 JP’s Grey Nymphing Mud

This product is made out of tungsten, which is denser than lead and is non-toxic and environmentally-friendly. It also comes in a number of weights, thus allowing fly fishermen to select the right weight to control the depth it goes. JP’s Grey Nymphing Mud is also great to use in cold waters.

JP Mud

Dinsmores 5 Shot Selection Soft Lead

Dinsmores soft lead comes in 5 sizes. Its container is designed in such a way that it's easy to shift or adjust the amount of weight you will need when you are going fly fishing. This feature makes it easier to fish at the depth you prefer.

Dinsem Egg Shots

Boss Tin 4-Way Round Split Shot Fly Fishing Sink Weights

The Boss Tin 4-way round split shots for fly fishing are easy to install and affordable. It is environmentally-friendly, as its products are lead-free. They also come in different sizes, so it is suitable for many anglers.

Boss Tin


The Best Flies For Fly-Fishing with Split Shot

Before going fishing, you need to ensure that your fly box has the best flies for fly-fishing. Your choice of flies to use must depend on the season, weather, depth of the water body, fish type, and many more. Here are some of the best flies to use for fly-fishing.

Drifthook Fly Fishing Pro Guide Nymphs

Mercury Midge

The Mercury Midge is an excellent fly pattern that has successfully tricked many choosy trout for over two decades. Its design is made up of clear glass beads that look like a trapped gas bubble. This fly pattern got its name because its head closely resembles a tube that has been filled with mercury. It is a great fly pattern to use in tandem nymphing rigs.

Murcery Midge

Zebra Midge

It is a largely known midge pattern that many fly fishers use. It closely resembles the larva of a midge. It is excellent for fishing for trout since midges are essential to trout form about 80% of their meals. Therefore, you might have a higher chance of catching trout with this fly pattern.

Prince Nymph

The Prince Nymph is an excellent fly-fishing choice because you can use it regardless of the weather. It imitates mayflies and stoneflies. Others say it imitates caddis as well. Its wire-ribbed design also helps attract the curious trout.

Prince Nymph

Rainbow Warrior

Rainbow Warriors imitate midges or mayflies that are emerging out of water. However, it’s usually its flashy colors that attract fish to it. It has tungsten beading attached to it, so it's an excellent droppers.

Rainbow Warrior

Disco Midge

This fly pattern works best when used to fish in clear streams, and you can land a big trout when fishing with the disco midge. Some anglers swear by using two of these little fly patterns to land big catches.

Muddler Minnow 

Muddler minnows are best used in the fall season when fishing for trout. It also has the ability to imitate other prey types. You can use a floatant to grease it up so that it can float on water just like a grasshopper. In a deep pool, it often mimics the appearance of a sculpin. When used during night fishing, it can even resemble a mouse. These characteristics make it perfect for fishing in dark waters.

Lightning Bug 

The Lightning Bug Pearl is good to use in low light conditions, deep runs, and even dirty water. It is very flashy, and some say it even glows in the dark. This feature is great for attracting fish and can be used all year round.

Flashback Pheasant Tail

The Flashback Pheasant Tail remains popular among many anglers because it continuously proves itself over and over again, especially when used in streams. It was one of the most effective fly patterns that has ever been created. This fly pattern strongly imitates a nymph.

Flash Back Hairs Ear

Hare’s Ear

This artificial fly imitates a wide range of aquatic food sources that are used in fly fishing. They often mimic caddis, midges, stoneflies, and small minnows. It is also one of, if not, the most popular flies to anglers.

Its design allows it to catch fish even when there is no hatch on. For more catches, it would be best to use Hare’s Ear in still waters or riffles.

Sparkle Worm Fly

The sparkle worm fly mimics mayfly nymphs and various aquatic worms. Its bright colors attract freshwater fish such as salmon and trout throughout every season.

Sparkle Worm

San Juan Worm

These are small fly patterns that look like aquatic worms. It has a simple design that many anglers have taken a liking to, and they prefer to use it during heavy rains in the springtime. Since trout like to prey on worms, these fly patterns tend to make significant and multiple catches.

The San Juan worm is best used in muddy areas where trout are most likely to hunt for worms. Try them around muddy areas like riverbanks.

San Juan Worm

 Copper John

The Copper John is good for attracting fish. It draws attention to another dropper that has been tied below it. It usually mimics mayflies and stoneflies. This fly pattern is also a good sinker.

Copper John

Fly-fishing is a fun activity, but you should definitely try fishing with a split shot if you are looking for a legendary catch. Hopefully, this article has provided you with all the information that you need to get started.


Large Stealhead

About the Author

Matthew Bernhardt, a third-generation Coloradan, grew up at the forefront of the state’s fly-fishing revolution, enjoying time on the water, side by side with experienced guides and lifelong anglers.

By combining his passion for fly-fishing with input from other experienced fly-fishers and guides and his fine arts degree from Colorado State University, Matthew spent five years carefully developing the Drifthook Fly Fishing System, built to help every angler catch more trout.

When he’s not spending time with his wonderful family, you’ll find him out on the water catching MONSTER trout, and he anxiously looks forward to the day when his kids are old enough to join him there. 

1 comment

  • Paul LaGraff

    do you have a recommendation for split shot that is less likely to slide? I use a lot of No 3 split shot. Seems my biggest problem with using a split shot is keeping it at the proper distance from my fly during casting.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published