Published Jan 23. 2006 - 17 years ago
Updated or edited Feb 7. 2019


One of the most effective methods of drifting a fly through deep pools in Great Lakes steelhead rivers is to use a slinky. You can buy slinkies from a shop, but you will pay a premium. The components are pretty cheap and they are very easy to make at home.

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.

The tools needed
The tools needed
Bob Petti

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.

Melting the end
Melting one end
Bob Petti

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

Melting the end
It's melted
Bob Petti

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

Crimp one end
Crimp one end
Bob Petti

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

First end finished
First end finished
Bob Petti

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.

Cut to length
Cut to length
Bob Petti

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

Ball in the tube
Ball in the tube
Bob Petti

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

Bob Petti

Trim some of the frayed ends...

Trim the frayed part
Trim the frayed part
Bob Petti

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

Melt one end
Melt the other end
Bob Petti

...crimp it shut...

Crimping the end
Crimping the other end
Bob Petti

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

Finished slinkie
Finished slinkie
Bob Petti

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.

The needle
The needle
Bob Petti

Heat the needle over the flame...

Heating the needle
Heating the needle
Bob Petti

...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.

Melting the hole
Melting the hole
Bob Petti

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.

Hole done
Hole done
Bob Petti

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

A handful
A handful
Bob Petti


I have a bunch of sl...

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?

surgical tubing is t...

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


Slinkies are not par...

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.

I just use some lead...

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.

What size parachute ...

What size parachute cord should I use?

Hate to sound fooli...

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

Ryan's picture

what size parachute ...

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???

Kalby64's picture

James, You can fin...

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

Where can you purcha...

Where can you purchase parachute cord?

To Mike...Don't use ...

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

Where is the best pl...

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

Here in South Wester...

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)

IF anyone can answer...

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

Just came back from ...

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.

Slinkies are the ans...

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.

with the melted hole...

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

rybolov's picture

The gear guys use sl...

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.

I have been using sl...

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.

I will shortly post ...

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.

I would be very inte...

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

Years ago, I've been...

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.

Svend's picture

I still prefer a sma...

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.

I thought that was a...

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

Great tutorial! Than...

Great tutorial! Thanks for the pointers!



FYI, Brass has tripp...

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

Just a small suggest...

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.

Slinky? WHat's a sl...

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.

Kalby64's picture

I've never heard of ...

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?


I made slinkies on the commercial level back in the late 80s and early 90s. I produced tens of thousands over the years; here are some tips I learned through trial and error:

Steel BB shot can be bought at Walmart (Daisy Premium Plated) in the ammo department. I stopped using lead for environmental reasons and actually prefer the drift rate in my home river (Salmon River, NY) using steel.

BB Shot Counts:
Steel: 5 shot = 1/16 oz.
Lead: 3 shot = 1/16 oz.

Cut and seal nylon paracute cord in one step with a soldering iron.
Cut/seal double lengths of cord, then a single scissor cut gets you two finished lengths.
Use a brass feeder tube and brass rod plunger to insert shot.
Melted attachment hole with needle type soldering iron tip.
You can skip the hole and just pierce the nylon coed with snap.
Attached slinky to leader using small micro-snap.
For low-flow nymphing for trout, micro-slinkies using 1, 2, 0r 3 shot work well.

Any other questions just email me at


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