Published Oct 13th 2006

Steelheader's answer to split shot


One of the most effective methods of drifting a fly through deep pools in Great Lakes steelhead rivers is to use a "slinky rig". One of the key ingredients, of course, is the slinky. You can buy slinkies from most steelhead shops, but you will pay a premium for them. On the other hand, the components are pretty cheap and they are very easy to make at home. You also have total control over the weight inside the slinkies, so you can make them as light or as heavy as you like. Indeed, you can make a variety of sizes to match whatever conditions you might find.

You don't need much in the way of special tools or components. The only specialty stuff is the round shot and parachute cord. The shot I use is steel and is probably ball bearings of some sort (I bought it in a kit), but any round shot will do. Removable shot doesn't work as well 'cause the little tabs you use to open the shot tend to get caught in the cord as you're trying to load it. They will work in a pinch, though.

In a half-an-hour or so, you can make a season's worth of slinkies.

You don't need many tools to make slinkies. A candle, a pair of needle nose pliers, a needle, a pair of scissors, some parachute cord, and some round shot of some sort. That's it.

First, you gotta seal one end of the cord, so the shot won't fall out when you're loading it. Just hold it next to the flame until the ends begin to melt.

The edge of the cord gets molten, like this...

... and then you just crimp it shut with a pair of pliers ...

... and this is what the end looks like after it has been crimped.

Now you cut the slinkie cord to length, Make it a little long, 'cause the edges tend to fray when you're putting in the shot.

Load the shot in the open end. Notice how it frays a little bit?

This slinkie has three shot inside. There's room for another, or you can just trim it now.

Trim some of the frayed ends ...

... melt the end in the flame ...

... crimp it shut ...

... and you're done. Well, almost. You still have to put a hole in one end for the snap swivel.

Since you're going to be heating the needle to melt a hole in the slinkie, you will need some sort of heat proof handle. Don't try to heat the needle while you're holding the needle itself. Mine is epoxied in a cork bottle stopper.

Heat the needle over the flame ...

... and push the needle through the melted end of the slinkie. The needle has to be really hot to melt the hole, so it sometimes takes a couple tries before you get the needle hot enough to melt the hole.

You'll get a nice permanent hole in your slinkie like this, which will make changing slinkies much easier than if you just tried to punch the swivel through the cord itself.

That's it. I made this handful in about 15 minutes.

User comments
From: The Tuna · saupere·at·AOL.COM  Link
Submitted February 5th 2010

I have a bunch of slinkies prepared to use up in the Lake Erie tribs in PA and Ohio. They appear to be the same size shot that appears in the photos above. I made some up with just 2pc of shot, some with 3pc and some with 4pc. Any recommendations on the number of shot/slinky that would work best in the Erie tribs? Elk Creek, Walnut Creek, etc. More than 4? Is it best to rig them "in line" or "in series" .....that is to attach a swivel at both ends, or as some guys choose to do, just hang them from one end with a swivel such they bottom out on another swivel and can't reach the hook or the lure?

From: james · canadaj·at·  Link
Submitted November 29th 2009

surgical tubing is the way to go, doesnt mess up your tippet or line by sliding since the weight we have now is junk, when u have to use weight it stays where u place it...surgical tubing is one of the best things i have discovered for fly fishing steelies otherthan this last fly pattern i got tipped off on that works great in most water...especially water that WNY has been having in the small are line spooked, and not taking but this fly is the reason is its a very small pattern, i found much more success when they r so spooked that using a size 12, 14, or even 16 hook is the remedy...size 14 seems best...surgical tubing :-)...BTW...what is this slinky all about? does it work? whats the purpose otherthan the obvious? any other recommendations on flies that are working in small tribs in WNY, in both very clear water and green...what hot? thanks


From: Fred the Flyfisherman  Link
Submitted August 6th 2009

Slinkies are not part of a real flyfisherman's arsenal, but rather something that guides use so they don't have to actually teach people how to flyfish.

From: James · sirfunkeybut223·at·  Link
Submitted October 28th 2008

I just use some lead rope and surgical tubing. Just slide the lead in the tubing and hook to a swivel and when you get snagged just give it a quick couple snaps and it should come out.

From: Tommy · metrauma·at·  Link
Submitted June 18th 2008

What size parachute cord should I use?

From: Bill · wewing13905·at·  Link
Submitted May 10th 2008

Hate to sound foolish, but, new steelheader! How are slinkies rigged for steelhead? I fish in NY on Salmon River.

From: Ryan · ryan·at·  Link
Submitted October 17th 2007

what size parachute cord is the best to use? I tried Type III (rated 550lb/test) that i bought at an Army/Navy surplus store. I think the Type III is a little bit slim.....I'm not sure if im using the right size???

From: Paul Kalbrener · PHKalbrener·at·  Link
Submitted October 7th 2007

You can find parachute cord in any Army surplus shop, either through the internet, or the one nearest you.

From: James · jddcpa·at·  Link
Submitted October 7th 2007

Where can you purchase parachute cord?

From: Anonymous  Link
Submitted May 20th 2007

To Mike...Don't use lead split shot. Use #2 buckshot.

From: Richard Naber · rnaber001·at·  Link
Submitted April 19th 2007

Where is the best place to purchase Slinkies? Went to Bass Pro and Cabelas and they do not have.

From: Anonymous  Link
Submitted February 18th 2007

Here in South Western (lower Rainland) BC, Canada we have been using Slinkies for years. I was making them up when I was a kid growing up, we use to fish local ponds and creeks (back when they actually had fish in them)

From: mike · mturnerdunn·at·  Link
Submitted February 8th 2007

IF anyone can answer for me, trying to make slinkies for next winter, but I live in Utah right now. Having a hard time finding the lead shot needed that isnt the crimping kind you put on lines. Any suggestions, websites, or STS ads to order from? Thanks a lot

From: Bill Parker · Dadeeo66·at·  Link
Submitted November 24th 2006

Just came back from a steelhead trip to Northern NY state. With the rivers running high and fast, slinkies got the fly down quickly and made for better drifts.

From: Paul Gigliotti · sgfffw2·at·  Link
Submitted November 18th 2006

Slinkies are the answer to great lakes steelheading and are used on a running line,and are not cast like a reguler fly line.For those of you who doubt,,try it out.

From: Anonymous  Link
Submitted November 3rd 2006

with the melted hole you attach a snap swivel and run that up the line behind your leader your main line...what stops it from going to the fly is a barrel swivel..these are no used for fly fishing...we use them for noodle roding..or what some call michigan fly fishing..they work great in a lighter size for C&D tho on the fly rod

From: Rybolov · rybolov·at·  Link
Submitted October 28th 2006

The gear guys use slinkies that are much too heavy--7 or 8 of the large split-shot are just too much to cast on fly tackle. But remember that the gear guys are casting the weight and bouncing their rig off the bottom. Out in Idaho, we have a bumper sticker: "Steelheaders feel bottom better". We have a different set of weight needs and line control ability than the gear guys.

Try using 1, 2, or 3 of the small split-shot for your flyfishing slinkies. They'll still be a pain to cast, but no worse than putting the same amount of shot on your leader. The added benefit that you get with flyfishing slinkies is that the weight is adjustable without a pair of pliers--simply detatch one slinky and put on a heavier or lighter one.

From: Anonymous  Link
Submitted October 27th 2006

I have been using slinkies for steelhead in Washington State (US) for years. We use them for drift fishing using gear not fly fishing. To cast these would be between impossible to extremely difficult. I am talking about the size of lead shot we use. I guess if the shot is much smaller, then casting would not be that bad.

From: Bob Petti  Link
Submitted October 19th 2006

I will shortly post a follow-up article about how slinkies are used on the Great Lakes tributaries for salmon and steelhead fishing. Stay tuned.

From: Peter Elks · petere·at·  Link
Submitted October 19th 2006

I would be very interseted as to how the slinkies are attached.

From: Flyman · flyman·at·  Link
Submitted October 14th 2006

Years ago, I've been using almost the same system as your Slinky. I used it for flyfishing for barbel. I fished the system for several days (...weeks). I think that this system is useless in rivers with rocks and stones. "My Slinky" constantly snagged the bottom of the river, no drift was completed. It is also very difficult to cast on a long line.

From: Svend Hansen · svendhansen·at·  Link
Submitted October 14th 2006

I still prefer a small shooting head made of some fast sinking fly line. A heavy slinkie at the end of a long fly line cannot be easy to cast.

From: Les Osuch · pmdemg·at·  Link
Submitted October 14th 2006

I thought that was a very clever idea.
Worth a try.

From: David Cordova · dcord.1962·at·  Link
Submitted October 13th 2006

Great tutorial! Thanks for the pointers!



From: Mike Hogue · mhogue·at·  Link
Submitted October 13th 2006

FYI, Brass has trippled in price this year and swivels are almost 50% more now. I like to use a number 10 black.

From: Bishfish · tony·at·  Link
Submitted October 13th 2006

Just a small suggestion - once you have sealed one end of the cord, push the point of the pliers in the other end and just heat the end of the cord to meld the frayed ends. Dropping the sinkers in is now much easier, then finnish as above.

From: Jason · jason·at·  Link
Submitted October 13th 2006

Slinky? WHat's a slinky? Never heard of such a thing. How is this used to fly fish for stealhead? Naive minds want to know.

From: Paul Kalbrener · PHKalbrener·at·  Link
Submitted October 13th 2006

I've never heard of slinkies before, it must be a very effective way of getting your fly deep. just curious how do you attach them to the line, or leader?

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