Shot and shotting

There isn’t much to shotting is there – you just stick enough on the line to cock the float and away you go, right? Wrong! Correct shotting is essential to successful angling.

Shot has several jobs to do. It adds weight to your rig so that you can cast. It makes the bait sink through the water at a certain rate. It trims the float down sufficiently to register bites, and last (but not least) it affects what the bait does while it is in the water. Each of these jobs has to be done properly if you are to catch fish.

Split shot and others

Strictly speaking there is only one type of shot — split shot. Other weights – which do a similar job – are Olivettes and Styls. Whatever the type of weight, anglers tend to talk of ‘shotting’ a float. Lead-free shot Originally, lead shot was used exclusively. This was manufactured in un-split form for shot-gun cartridges by dropping molten lead through a riddle from a height of about 30m (100ft) into a vat of water. The solidified spheres were then split by fishing tackle manufacturers and sold to anglers.

This early shot had some drawbacks. It contained antimony (a metal used for hardening the shot) which damaged the line. Often the shot was not spherical and the split cut poorly so that the shot didn’t hang centrally on the line. It was not until the 1970s that new processes were used to make perfectly spherical, centrally cut, pure lead shot.

Unfortunately, lead is poisonous and swans have died as a result of eating lead shot spilled accidentally by anglers on the bankside. In 1987 lead split shot in certain sizes was banned. Various substitutes have been tried but the most popular is a simple tin version of the original — slightly larger (because tin is less dense) and harder than pure lead but still a good alternative. Shot size and quality A typical range of shot in a good angler’s tackle box might be as follows: SSG (the largest), AAA, BB, no.1, no.4, no.6, no.8, no. 10 (one of the smallest). The only sizes in which it is legal to use lead are no.8 and smaller.

Badly cut shot are rare nowadays but sometimes the smaller sizes (particularly if they are lead) may be too deeply cut, cut off-centre or misshapen. Any that are imperfect should be discarded.

Some manufacturers include a second, shallow cut — diametrically opposed to the split itself — making it easier to open and close shot without damaging the line. Olivettes and Styls are used mainly for pole fishing. Styls – cylindrical in shape -are crimped on to the line with a special pair of pincers. Olivettes – tear-drop shaped -are threaded on to the line and held in position by placing very small shot above and below them.


The amount of shot you use is related directly to the size of float – obviously a big float needs more shot to cock it than a small one. Deciding how much shot to use is very much a matter of common sense. Nevertheless it is essential to get it right. Casting If the fish are close in you won’t need to cast so far. This means you can get away with a small float. One taking 2/a-3BBs might be typical for fishing two, three or four rod lengths out – such as the far bank of a canal.

The farther you need to cast, the more shot you need and therefore the bigger the float. For fishing the middle of a medium sized river like the Severn, Trent or Warwickshire Avon you may need a wag-gler of about 2-3AAA. Wagglers of 2-3SSG ‘ allow you to cast even farther – provided that most of the shot is bulked around the bottom of the float, that is.

Weather conditions If the wind is in your face use a bigger float and more shot than if the wind is behind you. A cross-wind makes it necessary to use more shot so the float doesn’t blow off course when casting. Flow The stronger the flow the more shot is needed to keep the bait down near the bottom. In turbulent swims – such as weir pools – it may be necessary to use as much as 5-6AAAs to keep the bait down. As a general rule never use more shot than you need to. It may be tempting to use a very heavy float close in – simply because it is very easy to cast – but a fish that feels the float does not take the bait confidently. Using too little shot presents its own problems – making it awkward to cast with accuracy to the feed area.

Shot positioning

If you rely on trial and error to position your shot it may take you a lifetime to learn what is already known. There are accepted shotting patterns to suit certain types of waters and the feeding habits of certain species of fish. Here are some of the principles behind those traditionally successful patterns. On the drop Many species – such as roach, dace, carp, chub, rudd and perch feed at all depths – from the bottom right up to the -—. surface or just below. You can increase your chances of catching them by presenting a bait which falls slowly and naturally through the water.

On still waters you need hardly any weight down the line to get a slow fall – 2 no.8s is not too little. When fishing rivers for species like dace you can get away with more shot – these fish are very quick to intercept a bait and, in any case, if you give them too long to inspect it they drop it before you have time to strike. A stick float taking half a dozen no.6s or no.4s (depending on the flow and depth) spread at equal intervals down the line should give a slow enough fall.

On the bottom It is no use presenting a slowly falling bait if all the fish in your swim are feeding on the bottom (as is often the case with such species as bream and tench). This is when you want to get the bait down fairly quickly. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need a lot more shot down the line – a no.6 ‘bulk’ shot and a no.8 near the hook may be enough on a shallow still water. The point is that you need to put more of the shot closer to the hook. Use your discretion and shot according to the water – _ if it is deep then you can increase the amount of shot down the line. Armchair angling is all well and good but there is no substitute for experimenting with shotting patterns on the riverbank.

Go down to your local river or lake to try out one of the rigs shown in Four basic shotting patterns. Choose an appropriate pattern and vary the position and size of shot until you start catching fish.