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The Split-Shot Rig—Worth a Second Look

The split-shot rig has been a spring-time mainstay on Table Rock because of how the bait was presented to fish, but it has been surpassed by the shaky-head, the Ned-head and even the new pee-wee jig. Are Table Rock anglers who troll the mixed gravel and pea gravel banks for pre-spawn and spawning bass missing an opportunity at a tried and true method of fish catching?

The Basics: Rod, Line and Hooks

The split-shot rig is simple to use, but slight nuances to this tactic yield a difference between fish in the livewell or not at the end of the day.

  • The Rod and Line: A 6’6”-7’6” medium to medium-heavy spinning rod with a mid-sized spinning reel spooled with either six-pound or eight-pound fluorocarbon test line is most effective.
  • The Hooks: The hooks matter the most when it comes to split-shotting. In addition, the 1/0 Gamakatsu worm offset shank hook with the O’Shaughnessy bend is the hook of choice for split-shotting while using less bulky baits—finesse worms or French-fry style baits. This hook has a superior bend and enough gap to clear worm-type plastics, which also allows the bait to “ride” properly over the rocks. The second hook type that could be used is the 1/0 Gamakatsu offset shank worm EWG. This hook is used for baby brush hogs, the smallie beaver and a small lizard.
  • The Weight: On Table Rock, there are no split-shot weights in the split-shot rig, so keep key characteristics in mind when it comes to the weights. The smaller the weight the better, but the critical tactic is keeping the weight pinned to the bottom. A 3/16- ounce or ¼-ounce tungsten finesse weight works on most spring days, the 5/16-ounce weight is a great option if fishing deeper or in high winds or if going with the upgraded package (keep reading). The tungsten is the preferred option over straight lead because it is smaller in size for the same weight, which helps it slip through the rocks. While some locals swear by a toothpick to keep the weight pegged in place, standard t-stops provide greater flexibility and are more common. The weight should be pegged at roughly 18” from the hook.

The split shot rig will catch fish from 2-35 feet deep, but the critical zone is 6-12 feet deep. Navigate the boat to 18-22 feet of water and cast toward the shore. Keep the rod tip low so when a fish bites, a long, sweeping hookset can be applied. Pea-to pebble-sized rock on flats or points are some of the best areas to work the split-shot rig, especially as waves of fish move up to spawn. As fish move up and down banks based on conditions, the split-shot will cover any area the fish are positioned.

Advanced: Casts and Banks

Other areas to cast the split-shot are mixed-rock banks. While the split-shot can be thrown on 45-degree mixed rock banks, it excels in spawning pockets that have mixed rock because a fish uses the spawning pocket to adjust to conditions, swimming up and down using the gut. This tactic provides the angler the ability to cover many water depths quickly and efficiently, adding confidence to find the fish.

The Split-Shot Tournament Advantage

Use the split-shot to your advantage in a tournament. For a team event, the person in the back of boat can use this tactic as an ideal way to pick up less aggressive fish that the angler up front may miss. Key strategies to this method: 1) Keep the bait on the bottom and 2) keep the bait wet.

For the co-angler fishing the back deck, the split-shot rig allows you to scour banks and catch fish coming from and going to spawning areas. This strategy works well if the angler on the front deck is sight-fishing or fishing large expanses of water. As the co-angler, position your back to the front of the boat and let the split-shot hunt.

Fill the Livewell

The basics work when it comes to the split-shot rig. They will produce fish. The keys are using the right components in setting the split-shot rig for success on Table Rock. This rig will begin to catch fish as early as February and still be effective well into May. If you have not used the split-shot rig, it may very well be time to dust it off and tear up Table Rock smallmouth. If you have never used the split-shot rig, this is the spring to cast it.

The Upgrade

An added tip is to upgrade the split-shot rig. To this switch to a baitcaster that is medium heavy with a fast tip and use 10 pound test fluorocarbon. When using the upgraded set up going with the 5/16 ounce weight makes it easier to cast.

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