Shots and shotting

Split shot is one of the principal forms of lead weight used in freshwater fishing. The correct choice and use of shot will make a great contribution to the success of your angling.

Shot or split-shot: what does it mean to the average angler? Probably not very much. But these humble pieces of lead do so many things: they help in casting and presenting the bait correctly, they carry the main responsibility for bite-detection and can on many occasions act as a substitute for a float.

Let us first consider the shot itself: what you need, how to care for it and its basic uses. Many years ago, shot was kept in sacks behind tackle shop counters.

Quality of shot

No matter what its size, or how packed, it is the quality of the shot that counts. The lead must be soft enough to open and close easily to make alteration of terminal tackle a quick and simple operation. Shot should be soft enough to be pinched onto the line, with emphasis on the word ‘pinched’! If you have to squeeze it very hard or even bite on it with your teeth or use pliers then it is too hard. Having to force the halves together can – and very often does – damage the line as the edges of the shot are closed. Also, shot that is too hard cannot be prised open again without breaking it. Ideally it should open so easily that it can be moved on the line when necessary and just pinched tight again by hand in the new position.

Never slide shot in its ‘pinched’ state up and down the line. Sliding tight shot creates tremendous heat. Try putting, say, a swan shot on a length of 6lb b.s. Line – run it up and down very quickly and you will literally feel the heat that has been generated. Open the shot, move it and pinch it shut again.

You can improve on the basic split-shot which you buy. For example, chamfer the edges of the split to take away any sharp edges that may damage the line, and to make it easier to insert the thumb-nail to open the shot when removing it at the end of a day’s fishing.

Shotting patterns vary with methods, and this feature is designed to show how the proper use of shot can help your fishing. At a fishing match in Northern Ireland, for example, a pole float was used which carried three No. 4 shot. This proved to be too light for the existing conditions; a float with a cork ‘collar’ mounted on it was chosen in-stead, converting it to a three-AA-carrying float. With the three No. 4 shot the bait was probably taking six seconds to reach the bottom. Not a significant change you might think, but in fact that shotting change resulted in 800 fish being caught, creating a new world match record.

Allowing for the fact that fish were not caught on every cast, it can be said that there was a saving of two seconds per fish. That works out at a total saving of 1,600 seconds, or 26.6 minutes. No one can afford to lose 26 minutes in a match, yet thousands of anglers must do so every week by not realizing the full value of a lead shot.

If the shotting is too light it just cannot do the vital job of emphasizing bites. Irish anglers fishing the Newry Canal and using sliding-floats with dust shot as a ‘tell-tale’ were getting their baits mangled without seeing the bite. The solution was not to fine down, but to use heavier shotting.

Get the bait down quickly

The explanation is simple. Fishing in deep water requires quite a bit of lead to get the bait down reasonably quickly. This is the job of the bulk shot which, on a slider, can be anything up to three or even four swan shot. So the float has to be bulky. With a light weight the float will not react either as quickly or as positively as with a heavy one. The effect of the fish lifting that dust shot was too small to be detectable by the anglers. When they hit upon the answer to the problem they put a BB near the hook as a tell-tale. This gave obvious unmissable ‘lift’ bites, with the float rising as the fish takes the weight of the shot with the bait.

Casters thrown in as feed must all be ‘sinkers’, that is, taken and stored soon after they cast. Those we use on the hook are the darker ‘floaters’. The art is to copy, perfectly if possible, the falling rate and action of the loose-fed caster. This is something you can try out and prove in the bathroom at home. Throw in a few casters and watch them sink; now try putting a fine wire hook, size 20, in one of the sinkers. You will notice the difference in rate of descent. This is also somehow recognized by the fish. Now repeat the test with a floating caster on the hook. Again, you will see a difference, but by balancing your terminal tackle with micro-micro dust you should be able to achieve a rate of descent of your bait so similar that it will be accepted by 90 per cent of the fish.