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A Weighty Question

03-11-10 There has been a lot of banter on websites, streamside and here in the shop about the legality of split-shot on your leader.  The answer is split-shot is legal.  Why do I say that? Well because somewhere around the year 2000 the State of Maine changed the wording they used to define fly fishing.

There used to be wording in the definition that expressly banned the use of additional weight on line or leader.  Further there was wording in the definition of a fly that expressly banned the use of additional weight in the construction of a fly.  That’s right – you couldn’t even put a few wraps of lead under the body wraps. But that wording is gone. No announcement – no explanation they just dropped the wording banning weight and opened the door allowing added weight without guidelines.

You might ask what prompted them to to that?  And I’d have to say I’m not sure but my guess is beadhead flies. Beadhead flies got around the “no added weight” rule by incorporating the bead, and hence weight, into the fly.  No longer was the bead or weight added to the fly instead it was part of the fly.  The argument went something like this – that bead just happens to add weight but the reason I put the bead on wasn’t to add weight I put the bead there for its attraction factor, fish love the flash.Double Beaded Stone
So today the definition of a fly reads: FLY (ARTIFICIAL FLY): A single-pointed hook dressed with feathers, hair, thread, tinsel, or any similar material to which no additional hook, spinner, spoon or similar device is added.

And the definition of fly fishing reads: FLY FISHING: Casting upon water and retrieving in a manner in which the weight of the fly line propels the fly. No more than 3 unbaited artificial flies individually attached to a line may be used. (NOTE: It is unlawful to troll a fly in waters restricted to fly fishing only).

Both definitions allow weight if for no other reason than they don’t expressly ban weight as they once did. So the real question isn’t,  or shouldn’t be, is weight allowed.  Rather the question should be how much weight is allowed.

In part that issue is addressed by the definition of fly fishing by the requirement “in a manner in which the weight of the fly line propels the fly” but that is vague at best.  I can easily cast a double-tungsten-beaded stonefly along with two SSG sized split-shot and a Thingamabobber AS LONG AS I’M USING A NINE-WEIGHT FLY ROD AND LINE. But if you put that same rig on my 5-weight – well – I won’t be casting it much.

Instead I’ll be hanging the Thingamabobber, fly and weight downstream in the current (water-loading) and then slinging it upstream and out into the current without a backcast.  Why no backcast – because sooner or later that rig is going to hit me in the back of the head.

So do I think that rig is legal with a nine-weight rod setup? Yes, I think so.  Do I think that rig is legal with a 5-weight rod setup? Yes, I think so. Does casting that amount of weight on a 5-weight meet the intent of the law. I’m not sure – I know that’s the chicken answer but even if I was sure that would just be my opinion and the opinion that counts is the Warden’s.

Split shotAnd the Warden is in a tough spot because while I wouldn’t want to false cast that rig all day long on my 5-weight I COULD CAST IT for several false casts and meet requirement of the line propelling the fly.

If you add up the weight I’d have on the leader it would go something like this: 2 SSG split shot weigh 3.2 grams – plus – another 3 grams for the tungsten double beaded stonefly for a total weight of around six grams in the fly and split-shot rig.  My 5-weight fly line is rated at 140 grains which converts to around nine grams so my fly line does outweigh my split-shot and flies and so my fly line would indeed be pulling the rig – tough spot like I said.

So do I have an answer – yep I do and here it is.  Two SSG split-shot and a double tungsten beaded stonefly are legal on fly fishing only waters – IF YOU WANT TO USE THEM.  Me – I’d rather switch my line over from a floating line to a sink tip line and cast rather than water-load and sling the fly I’m presenting.  But that’s just me.