Sunday’s Classic / Split-Shot Placement For Tandem Nymph Rigs

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Correct split-shot placement can improve your nymphing success. Photo: Louis Cahill

Have you ever heard the saying, “The difference between a good nymph fisherman and a poor nymph fisherman is knowing when to add one more split-shot to your rig”? If your nymphs aren’t getting down in the strike zone, you’re going to be missing a lot of bites. I know this sounds super obvious, but I see anglers all the time nymphing water with far too little weight on there nymph rig. Its often the only reason they’re not getting bites, so don’t be afraid to pile the weight on if you think your nymphs aren’t running deep enough.

So now that you understand you always need to have enough split-shot on your rig to get your flies down in the strike zone, now let’s talk about split-shot placement? I get asked the question all the time whether anglers should place there split-shot above there tandem nymphs or between them. Both can be the right choice depending on the type of water your fishing and the specific tandem nymph rig (fly patterns) your fishing. Below are a few examples when I place my split-shot in different locations in my tandem nymph rig.

Situations Where I Place Split-Shot Between my Tandem Nymphs

1. Big weighted lead fly with unweighted dropper 20-24″ apart.

When you’re fishing a trough for example with fast moving water and you see your dropper nymph riding up high above your lead fly during your drift, place split-shot in between the nymphs to ensure both of your fly patterns will be getting down in the strike zone. This especially holds true when your dropper nymph is beadless, lightly weighted with lead wraps, or 100% unweighted.

2. Both Nymphs are beadless or Lightly-weighted 18-24″ apart

Believe it or not, I have days where beadless nymphs are the ticket to getting consistent hookups, and when days like this come around, you’ll find me rigging up a tandem beadless nymph rig to increase my success. For ease of my explanation, let’s assume the tandem nymphs are the same size hook and and tied with about the same amount of material (This will have them with similar sink rates). In this situation, I prefer my split-shot to be placed between the nymphs.

Situations Where I Place Split-Shot In Front of My Tandem Nymphs

1. Unweighted lead fly with weighted dropper

When you’re fishing a unweighted or beadless lead fly with a weighted dropper you’ll want to add your split-shot in front of your nymphs to keep your lead fly running deep. A good example of this would be a beadless woolly bugger with a copper john dropper. I use beadless nymphs all the time, particularly when I’m fishing to educated fish. In my opinion they can sometimes be more effective and fooling wily trout.

2. Small nymphs running close together

If you’re running a short dropper I also prefer to place my spit-shot above my lead fly. A good example of this is when I’m fishing two really small nymphs (size 20-24) in fast or dingy water 12-14″ apart. Since the flies are so small I prefer to place them closer together to help the fish pick them up easier in the water column during my drift, but also since they’re closer together placing the split-shot in front will provide you with the best natural drift. One thing I don’t like, is running my split-shot too close to my flies, because it can disrupt your natural drift, cause tangles, and sometimes even tip off educated trout.

Disclaimer: Every fly fisherman has his/her way of doing things, so please don’t take this post as me telling you what’s right and wrong. I’m just expressing my opinions and letting everyone know what works for me on the water, in the hopes it may help you catch a few more fish. Furthermore, this post has just managed to graze the surface on split-shot placement in tandem nymph rigs.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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6 thoughts on “Sunday’s Classic / Split-Shot Placement For Tandem Nymph Rigs

  1. This is impecable timing bud! I had this discussion with a buddy of mine who is new to the fly fishing yesterday. My question to you would be: where would you place the split shot? Closer to your dropper or lead fly when between them? And then when it’s infront?

    • Chester,

      Yeah man, glad you saw the post and it’s ironic you were just talking about this subject with your buddy. I pretty much went over all of your questions in the post. It’s what I use on the water when it comes to split-shot placement, but remember, there are always different strokes for different folks. Experiment yourself and figure out what works best for you. Thanks for the comment. It’s always good to hear from you.


  2. Hi Kent,

    Great post. On a somewhat related topic, how do you tie in your dropper flies? Of the hook bend on the lead fly? Of the eye of the lead fly? Off the tag end of leader?



  3. Kent, you may or may not be psychic. Guess I’ll have to make it out on the water with you to really find that one out! The question of weight was definitely an important one yesterday. I was showing a friend new water (for him) and was quickly into fish with a set-up that I preferred for that spot. I replicated the set-up for my friend but he could not buy a strike despite presenting to a good-sized group of fish. After a few minutes I re-examined his set-up, only to realize that his leader was nylon as compared to my fluoro. An extra piece of split shot to account for the buoyancy of the nylon and the strikes quickly followed!

    In the case of lightly weighted flies, rather than shot just above or between the flies, is there a time when you place shot both above AND between the flies? Did I miss this strategy in my reading of the post?

    • A.J,

      Good question. If getting down is my main priority then Instead of adding shot in both places I will go with a small and slim profiled tungsten nymph for a dropper. This will make sure your dropper gets down deep as well.

      When I use unweighted droppers Its because I’m wanting to get that natural movement and drift. If you put a split-shot above it, it kind of works against this. Only in extremely high water would I consider split-shot in both spots. And if the water is that high, you’ll be wanting to search out fishing locations in the river where the water is the slowest, like close to the banks and in eddies.


  4. These ideas will be getting put to use this afternoon, I’ll likely get a chance to try out these different strategies and see which works best. I regularly use tungsten droppers and today will probably be no different, but today’s particular fishery is both large and high flow so weight will certainly not be limited!

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