Do You Use Weights For Fly Fishing?
When I’m guiding and fishing, I use weights for fly fishing because it’s a proven way to get my clients fly down to the fish fast and the weights keep the fly there. But I’ll be honest with you, there are some weights for fly fishing that are better and some that are crap and will prevent you from catching fish.
You can use weights for fly fishing for trout, steelhead, and even salmon in the river. If you use the right weights for fly fishing and set them up properly you will catch more fish. River guides use certain types of weights for a reason.
I tell my clients that the goal of fishing dead drifted flies and baits effectively is to: Get your flies down and into the strike zone as fast as possible, keep them moving naturally, and keep them in the strike zone for as long as possible. Remembering this will greatly improve your success.
However, some weights for fly fishing will spook the trout, and it doesn’t matter how well you meet your goal, a spooked fish can’t be caught.
I discuss my favorite leader and the best weights for fly fishing below.
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What Are The Best Weights For Fly Fishing?
Split shots are small round lead or tin weights that have a slit in the middle which allows the weight to be easily pinched onto the line.
Some good split shots can also be egg-shaped. I do not use bell weights or pencil weights when fly fishing.
Split Shot Color: What’s Good and What’s Bad
The best split shots are the ones that are dull and dark in color so that the fish do not see them as a threat. The bright shiny silver split shots are not recommended since these can actually spook weary trout. These shiny split shots are often the really cheap weights you see in the big box stores. Avoid these if you can.
Good split shots are a dark grey in color but you can now get some that are green or brown or even camouflage color, and these are great weights for fly fishing too.
Are Lead Weights The Best?
Old-school weights for fly fishing are made out of lead and these are by far the most common type of weights for fly fishing and other river fishing methods.
For lead split shots, I use the Sure Shot Brand because this is a softer weight that goes on easily and doesn’t damage thin leaders. Sure Shots are my favorite of all the weights I have tried.
Banned Lead Shots: Is Lead Legal?
Some states and provinces have banned the use or the sale of lead split shots because they are toxic to fish, other animals, and to the environment. I’m guessing more and more areas will follow and eventually ban the use of lead weights.
Therefore, make sure you check your fishing regulations before you use lead split shots as weights for fly fishing. And don’t worry, there are other options.
Tin Weights For Fly Fishing
When lead started becoming banned, other weights made out of tin started to become available.
Lead split shots are heavier than tin split shots so I still use lead more often, but when I fish in some states that have banned lead split shots for angling and I use tin split shots and the best ones I have tried are the Orvis Non-Toxic Oval Split Shot and the very popular LOON TIN DROPS SPLIT SHOT instead.
NOTICE: There are also some rivers and some sections of rivers where adding any type of weight on the line is not allowed so check the regulations before you go fish.
Tungsten Split Shots: The Newest Weight For Fly Fishing
Aside from not being banned yet, one of the primary advantages of these tungsten split shots is they are much smaller than lead shots that weigh the same. Smaller weights create less drag in the water and get hung up less.
These tungsten weights are also reusable.
Some of the issues with this weight is quality control and they are hard to find sometimes.
Tungsten Weights For Fly Fishing
Is Tungsten Putty Weights For Fly Fishing Good Or Bad?
For the last five or six years, I’ve drastically cut my use of lead weights down and during the warmer months, it’s rare to use lead or tine split shots when fly fishing. Instead, I use a great alternative to lead which is tungsten putty weight and tungsten split shots.
During the warmer months, I prefer tungsten putty over split shots.
Tungsten is heavier than lead and the putty is the consistency of a new piece of bubble gum.
You simply rip off a small chunk of putty and mold it into a football shape or a round ball onto the line.
The reason why I think tungsten weights for fly fishing is better than split shots is that I can add and remove it easily when I need to.
It’s also reusable so it least a long time and I don’t think it’s as toxic as lead.
Once you add split shots onto the line you can’t really remove them. Cutting the fly off the line and trying to slide the split shots off the line often damages the line.
With the tungsten putty, I can easily add it to the line, then add more putty to make it heavier if need to, or I can remove some if need to, and I can remove it completely without damaging the line.
Making weight adjustments like this allows me to get the perfect weight for each spot that I fish.
The downside to tungsten putty is that if you don’t check it every few drifts it can come off the line. Especially if you rip the flies out of the water on your forward cast.
Tungsten putty can also slide down the line to the fly which is not good, but so can split shots. The putty can also get very soft and sticky like gum in the summer but once you put it onto the line and it hits the cold water it will harden up.
The big problem with tungsten putty weights for fly fishing is that in the winter when it’s very cold out, the putty will get hard as a rock making it very difficult to mold it onto the line and to get off the line. I do not use tungsten putty in the winter for this reason.
I prefer the Loon Deep Soft Weight Tungsten Putty. I have seen the Loon Brand being sold from $10 up to $15 dollars so check the prices.
What Size Split Shots Are Best?
You do not want huge weights for fly fishing and normally you want to go as light as possible.
I use BB-sized split shots when only a little weight is required or AB shots when I want a slightly bigger weight. I’ll even go up to AAA size split shots when fishing deeper or faster water for steelhead and salmon.
Some brands rate their split shots with a letter system, like BB, AB, AAA, and/or a number system. See the Size chart table for basic sizing.
Weight In Grams
Where Do You Put The Weights On A Fly Line?
The weights never go on the fly line itself, instead, it’s best to put the weight on the leader or on the tippet (Tippet = line at the end of your leader).
Depending on how you set up your fly leader your weights should be close enough to the fly to sink the fly to the bottom of the river where the fish might be feeding.
The standard leader set up as seen in the picture can be used in almost any moving river.
GUIDE TIP – I will often tie in a triple surgeon’s knot into the line just below the weights to prevent them from sliding down to the fly.
For my other 2 fly leader patterns including my favorite leader check out my page 2 Fly SetUp For Nymphs: How to Set It Up And Fish It Better.
How Far Should Split Shot Be From The Fly?
Depending on the situation and the method you are using to fly fish, I will put my weights between 4″ and 20 Inches above the bottom fly.
Weights for fly fishing are useless if they are too far up the line since the whole purpose of the weight is to get the flies down to the fish.
Although many anglers believe that putting the weights 4 inches from the fly will be seen by the fish and that will prevent the fish from biting the fly, I have proven this theory wrong on very large trout many times over.
There are advantages to adding the right weights very close to the fly. I say “right weights” because I would never add a shiny silver split shot 4 inches from my fly because silver and shiny split shots are the wrong weights to use.
One reason I will put a weight 4 inches away from the fly is that the weight will bring the fly deeper.
Another reason is that I don’t have any issues with putting the weight 4 inches from the fly because there is usually lots of debris coming down the river past the trout over and over and over again so a little dark weight on your line is just another piece of debris to the fish and shouldn’t bother them.
The other reason I will put my weights as close as 4 inches from the fly is that a weight this close to the fly prevents slack in the line between the fly and the weight. Slack line is a bad thing because it could prevent the detection of a fish biting your fly. This could be enough time for a fish to grab your fly and spit it out.
Most anglers that use weights for fly fishing put the weights about 12 to 16 inches up the line.
If you believe the split shots might spook the fish and it gives you more confidence to keep the weight that far away from the fish, then place the weights 12 to 18 inches up the line and go fish.
Do Split Shots Weaken The Line?
Some lead and tin split shots are harder than others and I believe that a hard split shot that is pressed on too hard with pliers can dent and weaken the line, especially really thin lines. I like the Sure Shot Brand of split shots because they don’t damage the line.
How Do You Put Split Shot On?
Some of the softer split shots can be squeezed onto the line if you have strong fingers.
Once pressed on the line with my fingers I will then squeeze them tighter with forceps or pliers. Do not squeeze them so tight that they deform or lose shape. They are round or egg-shaped so keep them that way.
Lead split shots will often have lead dust on them that you may not see with your eyes so DO NOT BITE or squeeze the split shots onto the line with your teeth because this lead dust is very toxic.
How Many Splits Shots Should You Use On A Fly Leader?
I only use just enough split shots to get my flies to the bottom in a few seconds. The fewer split shots you use the less you will get hung up on the bottom and the more natural your presentation will be.
Some anglers use a method called chuck and duck which is when you add a lot of weight onto the line. I tell my clients that they call it this because they add so much weight that if it hits you on your forward cast it will hurt, therefore you need to duck to get out of the way.
In most river conditions that you will find on small to medium-sized rivers, there is no need for this type of fishing and I will always catch much more fish using much less weight than the chuck and duck guys do.
Weighted Flies Versus Adding Weights?
It’s not always necessary or best to use weights for fly fishing and a lot of tournament fly anglers and experienced guys like me will try to avoid adding weight on the line.
In fact, most of the Team USA members will tell you it’s best to avoid using weights on the line whenever possible.
I personally prefer to use weighted flies instead of using split shots but sometimes the weighted flies are so small and so light that you still need to add some weight on the line to get the flies down.
Flies with tungsten bead heads or with lead wrapped around the shank before the fly is tied will often work better than adding weight to the line for many reasons which I will cover in the Euro Nymphing Article.
Presentation Is The Key When Using Weights For Fly Fishing
A great book on modern nymphing which I recommend to all my clients is called Dynamic Nymphing by George Daniel who I had the pleasure of fishing with and learning from over a few years.
You can Dynamic Nymphing Book and the sequel book called Nymph Fishing: New Angles, Tactics, and Techniques
If books are not your thing, check out the Modern Nymphing Video produced by two great competition fly anglers.
Got A Question About Using Weights For Fly Fishing
If I missed something and you have a question, comment, or a tip that I missed regarding using weights for fly fishing just let me know in the comments section below.