Have you ever tried casting a nightcrawler while at the lake with wind blowing in your face? Chances are you used a weight of some sort. If not, that worm either cast about three feet, or it blew straight back at you.
If you fell into the second camp and had that nightcrawler smack you in the face, this article is for you. If you chose wisely and used a weight, keep reading. There’s sure to be something in here you can use on your next trip out.
I started out throwing nightcrawlers at greedy little rainbows when I was a little kid and have been hooked ever since. I’ve made a living fishing and writing about fishing for most of my adult life, and as such, I have been lucky enough to travel and fish in some pretty unique places with some truly incredible people. One of the things I’ve picked up along the way is that it’s essential to understand what type of weight to use in what scenario. There are a lot of sinkers on the market, each designed for a specific purpose.
Before you pick up the first package of split-shot weights you come across, think about what style of fishing you are planning on doing. Let’s break down the different types of fishing weights and look at the best use cases for each one:
- Materials – What are they made of/regulations
- Split-shots – The most commonly used
- Egg Sinkers – Also known as sliding sinkers
- Bullet Weight – Sometimes referred to as a worm weight
- Rubber Core Sinker – aka clasp on or dog-ear sinker
- Bank or Pyramid Weight – Shore angler weight
- Flat or Coin Weight – Holds bait stationary
- Pencil Weights – Good for keeping the line in specified depth range for steelhead and salmon
- Walking Sinker – Most common is the Lindy sinker
- Drop-Shot Sinker – Perfect for the drop-shot technique
- Hook Weight – Apply directly to hook
- Insert Weight – Use with soft plastics
While that might look like a daunting list, they fall into three main categories. There are the standard weights for casting and retrieving, bigger weights for casting and holding the bait stationary, and weights that need to be more flexible for trolling. Depending on your fishing style, you may only use a portion of this list.
Fishing weights have traditionally been made of lead. Over the last several years, multiple states have banned the use of lead weights due to lead poisoning in wildlife. Due to the new regulations, several companies have started mass producing different types of weights made of steel, tungsten, and other types of metal. The best part of this is that these newer styles have become much more competitive in price and are very high quality.
Make sure you check for any changes to your local regulations before you head out, so you stay within the law. It’s never fun to get a fine while out enjoying the great outdoors.
Split-shot weights have been a staple in every tackle box I’ve ever opened. The ease of use is a big reason why I take them on almost every trip I go on. I have a specific pocket on my fly fishing chest pack that I keep a pack of small split-shots to help get my nymphs down to the right depth.
“The little weight that could” should be the catchphrase of the split-shot. It’s incredibly versatile, easy to use, and reusable. These little guys can be placed on the line above or below the swivel, on the swivel, on the hook, lure, or even on a spinner-blade arm to sink it fast. Keep in mind that the weight will significantly impair the way the lure moves through the water.
All it takes to equip one is to place the “jaws” around the line and crimp it tightly with fishing pliers (or your teeth – not recommended if using lead.) If you have small split-shots and want to get deep quickly, put a few on in a row.
The best part about split-shots is the price. You can get a package from $3 up to $20, depending on materials and quality. If you’re okay fishing with lead, they are cheap, readily available, and come in packages that have over 200 weights. That should last you a while.
2. Egg Weights
Egg weights are great for letting the bait sit on the bottom without being held up by the weight. The weight has a hole through it, which allows the line to move freely without getting caught up. That freedom allows the fish to snag the bait, swim off, and basically set the hook on its own.
The typical setup for a sliding, or egg, sinker, is to thread the line through the weight, then connect to either a barrel snap-swivel or a ball-bearing snap-swivel, followed by a few feet of leader to the hook or lure. Place a plastic bead above the swivel to keep the weight from fraying the knot and keep the line clean of nicks caused by the weight smacking into the swivel. Use the appropriate weight size to keep your bait on the bottom, but don’t go too heavy. Too much weight will keep you from feeling bites and will make the bait respond in an unnatural manner.
A good technique with this type of weight is to feel the bite then allow the fish to take line freely for a moment. I might even leave my bail open when fishing for catfish. I put an indicator on my rod and wait for the line to start moving away. After a moment (I count to 3 Mississippi), I pick up the rod and give the reel a quick turn with a little pole jerk. That tends to set the hook.
Lighter weights work well in rivers as they roll along the bottom to cover more ground in a single cast. If you want to remain stationary, add a bigger weight.
Egg weights tend to be pretty inexpensive. They start around $3 and can run into the mid $20 range.
3. Bullet Weights
A bullet weight is generally an elongated cone-shaped weight with a hole through the middle. It’s most commonly associated with bass fishing with soft plastics, though I love using it when fishing for trout when vegetation is an issue. If out with the little anglers and powerbait is in play, I always reach for the bullet weights. They don’t get snagged easily and are very user-friendly. Little ones don’t have the patience for problematic fishing.
They’re very easy to set up, which makes them a go-to favorite of mine. I prefer to use them over egg sinkers unless fishing rocky areas. If you want to stick them in place on the line, stick a toothpick in the top hole and snap the tip off. Now you have a fixed position bullet weight.
Bullet weights are generally priced from $4 to $15, depending on materials.
4. Rubber-Core Sinkers
Rubber-core sinkers are great for quickly adding a decent amount of weight to sink your bait fast. Think of a time you needed to get down 30 feet quickly because the bite was hot, and all you had were a few sizes of split-shots. Split shots would take forever to get to that depth. That’s where rubber-core sinkers come into play.
You might be thinking, “Why not use these instead of split-shot weights all the time?” Well, that’s a good question. Rubber-core, clasp-on, or dog-ear sinkers have a few drawbacks. First, they cause significant line twist. Since they have quite a bit of weight to them and clamp directly to the line, any spin goes straight to the reel. Second, if you’re going to the bottom, they WILL get hung up on the smallest leaf in the lake. They don’t handle rocks well at all.
For suspended fish in a hurry, they are a great option. Anything else, and you should dig a little deeper in your tackle box. These will typically run you from $4 to $15.
5. Bank or Pyramid Weight
Pyramid sinkers are going to get your bait to the bottom and keep it there. As the name suggests, they are shaped like a pyramid and will sit on the bottom with the line able to slide freely through the metal loop in the top.
Bank anglers are the primary audience for the pyramid weight. I’ve used them while fishing for walleye in lakes and sharks in the Gulf of Mexico. The sizes were a bit different, but the technique was the same. When casting these, you cast the weight, not the bait. Target the water and send the weight where you want it to sit. On the gulf, I waded out and cast as far as I could chuck the thing. I’ll admit it wasn’t as far as I wanted. A 4oz weight is heavy when trying to fling it through the air with a fishing rod.
Bank sinkers are basically a chunk of lead with a tapered end. The tapered end has a hole through it for your line. There’s an add-on you can purchase that’s a little plastic sleeve to make changing the weight much quicker. It’s called a sinker slide.
The pyramid weights can be pricy, with lower weights starting around $7 and higher weights running as high as $35 or more. Bank sinkers are more reasonable, starting around $5 up to $20.
6. Flat or Coin Weight
Flat sinkers are great for sit and wait bank fishing. Chuck your bait out there with one of these on and wait until the fish takes your offering. Flat or coin sinkers typically have a metal hoop on the top that allows the line to move freely, letting you leave the bail open. Don’t forget to use an indicator of some sort.
These types of weights sit flat on the bottom and don’t roll or move about in the current. If they are moving with the tide, use a heavier weight. The primary water type for these is either a river or a tidal zone.
Pricing is generally between $3 to $20.
7. Pencil Sinker
Pencil Sinkers are great for working the current when targeting steelhead. They have a small wire loop on the top to feed the line through and are designed to avoid catching on debris in rivers. Salmon and steelhead hang out at different levels in the water column depending on their mood, so anglers use these weights to adjust the depth of their baits. They are easy to add and take off the line, plus they don’t get hung up easily.
They typically run from $5 up to $30 for high-quality materials.
8. Walking Sinkers
Walking sinkers are a unique item. The most popular by far is the Lindy No-Snagg, which looks a bit like a hot tamale. They claim it looks like a banana. I stick by my hot tamale descriptor.
The main target of these weights is the wily walleye. These are meant to be slowly trolled with natural baits like minnows or nightcrawlers. The unique shape keeps them from getting caught up in rocks, branches, or weeds. You can use it with lures, but the original purpose was for baits.
Thread line through the hole at the top of the sinker, then connect the barrel snap-swivel. From the swivel, you’ll run your leader and attach the hook or lure. If using this while trolling, keep your speed very slow.
9. Drop-Shot Sinker
The drop-shot sinker is a ball-shaped weight that has a wire loop on top. You attach your leader to the loop and tie your hook six or eight inches above it. The line clips into the loop so you can switch out the weight quickly and get the bait to any depth you need fast.
I use drop-shot rigs like this often, and they work well. You can fish it off a dock as easily as off a fishing boat, and since the weight is below the bait, the bait flows naturally in the water. These weights run from $6 to over $30.
10. Hook Weights
Hook weights typically fold around the hook shank to provide an extra bit of balance and natural action to baits. I prefer to purchase the Gamakatsu pre-weighted hook, and I’ll equip it when I need a weighted hook.
Hook weights will get your bait deeper without having to add extra weight to the line. It’s a good way to get a lighter lure down quickly.
The price ranges from $3 to $10.
11. Insert Weights
Insert Weights or nail weights are perfect for soft plastics. If you’re fishing in cover and want to get through to the bottom, nail weights will do the trick.
Nail weights work great in minnows to give them weight and keep them from falling apart. They add super life-like action to plastic baits, which is great for ultra-clear water.
These weights also add to a wacky-style rig to create the Neko Rig. This is a relatively new approach for bass fishing in which you add a nail weight to one end of the plastic, and the worm stands on end when it hits bottom.
Nail weights will cost between $3 and $25.