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Freshwater / Streams & Rivers

The Wide World of Weight

It is said and repeated, The difference between a good fisherman and a great fisherman is one split-shop.” I would, and have, staked my career on the truth of this adage. You might also hear, Go deep or go home, but rarely do people expand their advice to include how. While developing the skill to drop a fly at exactly the right depth at precisely the right time may take years to perfect, some of the mystery to this skill can be reveal by just understanding the different tools used to drown a fly.

Weighted Flies

The simplest way to control the depth of a fly is the fly itself. The materials the fly is made of and its size will naturally dictate how far and how quickly it will sink. A large, lead wrapped fly can act as a weight for an entire rig. A good number of fisherman don’t use any other method of weight beyond simply adding a heavy “point” fly to the front of rigs. These setups are typically easier to cast then those which use a separate type of weight. The draw back to this method is that in order to get your flies to the bottom you have to have a large fly at the front of the rig. In areas where the fish are actively eating larger fare this isn’t an issue, but if the fish are not this can frighten a fish off a rig.

Fly Treatments

Occasionally, a fisherman wants to drop a very small, lightweight fly just below the surface of the water. This can pose a challenge as many of these flies are made of feather and fur and tend to float. To overcome this obstacle products have been made to decrease the buoyancy of the flies. These are found in gels and sprays. They will get the flies below the surface, but don’t actually add weight to the fly, so do not expect them to help a fly all the way to the bottom of a moving river.  

The “Old School” Lead Split shot (also known as Sinkers)

Old School, commonly referred to as Lead Split Shot, has been used by fly fishermen for a very long time. They are round or oblong pieces of lead. Their finish is often shiny and usually has tabs to open them. They come in a variety of sizes and can be found in handy variety packs. They are also the least expensive option in most cases. You can find it in most big box sporting goods stores and in many fly shops as well.


The traditional way to rig with Lead Split is to place it on the leader above the knot which connects the leader to the tippet. Placing the weight in this spot keeps it from sliding down to the flies. By adjusting either the size of the weight or the length of tippet tied below it you can control the depth at which the flies move through the water. Hence, the closer to the bottom you desire the flies the more weight and shorter the distance between weight and fly.


Lead Split shot is made of lead and in some states is illegal to use, and for these reasons many chose not to use it. The other consideration to be made when using Lead Split Shot is its shiny finish. A shiny silver ball bouncing down the river is not a typical sight for a trout and can induce fear or avoidance from them.  In areas where fish are not overly picky, Lead Split Shot can be effective.

Egg shot / Tin Shot / Weight Stones and Sticks

What it is? What are the benefits?

Split shot made of tin comes in a vast variety. With different colors and different shapes Tin Spilt is often designed with the view that camouflaging to a trout’s environment is paramount. They are sold in many sizes. Being made of tin gives a great alternative to their counterpart which is made of lead.


Tin Split is fished in the same way as Lead Split Shot. (See Above)


Tin is less dense than lead, and therefore to achieve the same weight the tin split shot has to be larger in size. Being a specialty product, they are not as widely or as easily found for purchase, though more and more fly shops are expanding their selection. The Tin Split Shot is generally more expensive than lead.  

Soft Weight / Putties

Soft Weight is ideal for the depth fanatic as it gives the most control over exactly how much weight is on a rig. Soft Weight comes in two main types, those made of tungsten and those made of lead. The putty is malleable and comes in a different colors.


Gauging the precise amount of putty to pull off the block and attach to your rig takes a bit of trial and error. It will depend on what type of putty it is and how much weight you want to add. After you determine the amount you want to use, you have options about how to add it to the rig. If you want to solely use putty with no other weight you can roll it on to the leader. The other option is to form it into a ball on your line and have it sit over the top of a knot, which helps secure it. If you wish to use it as a method of fine adjustment, it can be rubbed directly onto a split shot. This is the method I personally prefer as the putty stays better over a small split shot. Regardless of which of these you employ, it is extremely important to dunk and hold the putty in the cold water of the river or lake before casting. Many a piece of putty has flown off a rig because this step was skipped. The cold cures the putty and helps prevent it from coming off. It is also important to re-dunk the putty if the rig has been out of the water for an extended period.


The putties are designed to allow the warmth of your hands to soften them. This same principle also keeps them soft on very warm days. The largest complaint about this method is that the putty will not stay on the rigs. This is bothersome especially since some of the putties are on the expensive side. If this is a method you would like to use, the key is to place the putty over a knot or split shot and to dunk it before casting, but dunking only works if the water is cooler than about sixty degrees.

Lead Strips/ Match book/ Lace

Breaking from the round tradition this variety of weight is comprised of flat strips of lead. They tend to be the same shiny or tarnished silver found in the Lead Spilt Shot. The lead strips are malleable and in most cases can be broken into smaller pieces to adjust the amount used. They can sometimes be a little lofty in the air and a bit more difficult to cast.


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