Once feeding fish are located, the challenge facing all anglers is getting the intended bait down to the exact depth where the targeted fish are holding.
That’s an engineering challenge that can be approached in a number of ways, but almost all of them involve heavy metal. I say heavy metal because lead is quickly becoming a secondary choice because of concerns over toxicity and the fact that newer alloys are heavier with less mass. Since some species of birds are known to feed on the bottom and ingest small items such as lead sinkers, lead is no longer legal to use in some states. Alternatives to lead include bismuth, steel, brass, tin and tungsten.
Although some anglers make the distinction that sinkers being an element of terminal tackle associated with fishing live bait, and weights are tackle used with artificial lures, most anglers use the two terms interchangeably. For the sake of this discussion, I will use the two terms interchangeably, splitting weights, not semantics.
Fishing weights are made by pouring hot metal into molds of various sizes and shapes for different techniques and applications.
Split-shot sinkers are one of the most commonly used sinkers, and most recognizable. They come in a wide variety of sizes and are most handy when purchased and maintained in a box that contains a selection so you can adjust the weight to current and wind conditions as they change throughout the day. The most distinctive aspect of the split shot is the gap that is cut into the weight after it is molded. With the pre-split shot, it is very easy to select the right size and compress it on your line. Innovative clam-shaped split shot makes it easier to remove for a size change. You simply depress the outer edges of the clam lips and the gap opens, ready for reuse.
This style of sinker is used in live-bait presentations, but fly-fishermen also find them very useful for fishing small flies in fast current. Live bait anglers position a split shot a few inches above a hook, far enough not to deter a curious fish, and adjust their bobbers to the right depth. Float fishermen also use a tapered split-shot weight positioned below a float to control the downstream speed of a drifting bait.
These oval- or football-shaped weights are similar to a split shot with a clever twist. Inside their pre-molded slot, rubber inserts feature center grooves to hold line. You simply place the fishing line in the groove and grasp the tabs of both ends and twist twice in the opposite direction, but remember which way you twisted. To remove the sinker, simply twist it opposite to your application and remove the line. A distinct advantage to the rubber core sinker is that it doesn’t have the potential to damage your fishing line as split shot sometimes does when pinched too hard.
Flexibility is a hallmark of rubber-core sinkers. They come in all sizes and can be used in live-bait presentations or as an add-on weight to increase the dive depth of crankbaits. The drawback to rubber core sinkers is a tendency to untwist after numerous casts, and also they tend to snag grass and rocks. However, their advantage is sufficient to warrant their use. Just check them occasionally to make sure they’re not untwisting, and use them carefully or choose another type of weight when fishing around heavy cover.
This is one of the most popular sinkers for walleye fishermen who use them in Lindy rigging live-bait presentations. They’re very similar to a small bank sinker, with a molded eye and slight bend at the end of their widened bottoms. With the heavier, rounded bottom and bend, the weight distribution positions the eye upward and it easily glides over rocks and obstructions when worked carefully.
To create a Lindy rig, slide your line through the eye of the walking sinker with the heavy end pointing toward the tag end of your line. Next, tie on a swivel large enough that it will not pass through the eye of the sinker, then tie on a leader of 2 to 6 feet with a small floating jig, to keep your bait off the bottom, or a simple plain hook. This rig can be fished with minnows, crawlers or a leech. Walking sinkers are also great for using with a worm harness, or you can add spinners to increase eye appeal.
In addition to the advantage of being snag-resistant, a key advantage to the walking sinker is the ability to allow line to pass through the eye when a bite is detected. This is particularly effective when fishing a very light bite. By paying out line, the fish doesn’t feel the weight and is less likely to drop the bait before you set the hook.
Lindy® No-Snagg Sinkers
No-Snagg sinkers are an ingenious combination of wood and metal that is designed to keep the weight vertical so that it can be dragged through vegetation and debris without getting hung up. A balsa wood top section is combined with a lead antimony weight and both are wrapped in a special rubberized coating that keeps the weight upright. The outer coating of epoxy adds a slick finish to increase the weight’s ability to slide through vegetation. The standard No-Snagg balances atop a stainless steel wire. This weight is available in tie-on or slip sinker versions.
If you don’t want your bait to move in swift river currents or while surf fishing, a pyramid sinker is a great choice. With its inverted pyramid shape, and eye positioned in the center of the larger end of the sinker, it sinks fast and its flat sides resist tumbling in heavy current. This weight is particularly effective when fishing over soft sand or mud, because the weight descends with its sharp end down and easily buries itself for a firm hold.
Egg sinkers are the precursor to walking sinkers, and they are still popular for the same reasons. Their round shape makes them somewhat snag-resistant because they roll easily along the bottom. Instead of a molded eye, the line simply slides through the hole that goes through the center of the weight.
Bell sinkers also are called casting sinkers, but to me they should be called tear-drop sinkers because their shape looks more like a tear drop than a bell. They come either with an eye molded with the sinker, or with a brass wire twisted into an eye running through the hole down the middle of the sinker’s body. Line can be tied directly to the eye, for fishing just off the bottom with a three-way swivel, or threaded through the eye and used as a slip weight that allows you to feed line out to position the bait off the bottom, or when a bite is felt and you want to give the fish time before the hookset.
This sinker is a favorite of both shore anglers and those fishing from a boat. Shore anglers like them because they cast and retrieve well, since their round shape resists snagging, but they are also popular with river fishermen for a three-way setup. With this type of approach, anglers tie their main line to one eye and use a lure or snelled hook on 2 to 6 feet of line for live-bait presentations on the second, with the weight attached to the third eye by a piece of monofilament measured to the depth you want to fish. With this setup, shore-bound anglers can cast their line downstream and either let it set near a deep hole or work it back slowly.
Anglers with the advantage of mobility also like the three-way, bell-sinker setup because they can drift or troll while keeping their bait at the desired depth, without having to use a Dipsy® Diver or downrigger. An occasional lowering of the rod tip will give a quick indication of the depth you are fishing relative to your bait. Faster drifts or higher trolling speed dictate a larger, heavier weight. This is also a situation where astute anglers prefer to use a lead substitute weight because they are heavier with a smaller mass, which reduces both their drag in the water and the resulting climb up from the strike zone.
This type of sinker is very similar to a bell sinker, with a molded eye. Although their shape is similar, you’ll notice that they have hexagonal sides instead of a rounded surface. The flat sides help reduce movement or rolling in current. Bank sinkers are available in a wide range of sizes, from ½ ounce up to 8 ounces, for really heavy rigs.
Bullet® weights is a trademarked term for a specific design of weight use for fishing plastic worms. All worm weights are not Bullet® weights, but the term, like Kleenex, has become widely used to identify the entire category of weights. Worm weights are similar in concept to egg sinkers, except their streamlined cone or bullet shape reduces drag and is easier to work in heavy cover without snagging. Worm weights can be used in a similar approach to walking sinkers, where heavy vegetation or rocks snag bulkier weights, but they are most often used when fishing plastic worms. Worm weights are threaded on through the smaller end first, and then a worm can be attached in a Texas or Carolina rig, or using simple weedless hook. Select a worm weight based on the speed you want your worm to drop, current speed and thickness of vegetation where present.
Tungsten Barrel Weights
This is another variation of the worm weight, but with the advantage of increased mass, which makes these weights much smaller compared with other metals. Barrel weights have a plastic insert that minimizes friction against the line. These weights are great for rigging plastic worms and working heavy cover, with less chance of snagging due to the reduced size and round shoulders of the weight.
Drop Shot Weights
These special application weights can be either round or cylindrical tubes with a clip that attaches to the tag end of your line and holds tight. The simplicity of this clip makes for quick on and off access so you can change sizes easily or pull free from a snag without a lengthy re-rigging process. The most popular sizes for drop shotting range from &8539; ounce to ½ ounce.
Magnum Barrel Weights
This is a complete weight system, comprised of environmentally friendly rustproof weights and it’s the fastest and easiest way to change the weight of your presentation, as well as the amount of rattle used as an attractant. All you have to do is unscrew the bottom cap to add or remove the round brass weight to fit your presentation. This system is designed for use as a Carolina rig or while drop shotting, but it can be used in any presentation.
This type of weight is designed for use in walleye presentations while fishing from a boat. The bottom bouncer is tied to your line and then a snell is secured to the trailing arm in a length that is often dictated by bottom conditions and the rig you choose to fish with. The depth of water you are fishing, water current and the speed of the troll or drift determine weight sizes. The advantage of using a bottom bouncer is the ability to troll or drift live bait just above the bottom, and being able to feel the tip of the bouncer dragging along is very useful in maintaining the depth of your bait as you move over undulations. Bottom bouncers can be used with live-bait rigs, single spinners, or a single hook setup for crawlers, minnows or leeches.
From this review of the most common styles of sinkers, you can see that two issues are recurrent: that of shape and the question of how a sinker is used, either sliding or firmly attached. Sinkers allow you to fine-tune your presentation to the conditions you find where fish are active. When you have a selection of each type of sinker you can change and adapt quickly as conditions or the whims of the bite dictate. Just remember that regardless of the laws and prevalent bird populations in your own area, lead sinkers are still toxic and should never be intentionally tossed in the water.