There are all sorts of sinkers available on the market. The simplest split-shots work in some circumstances, while pyramid-shaped sinkers are perfect for other approaches. It will take you time to decide what will work for your needs, though I have put together this article to help make sense of the different types and when to use them. Split shots are perfect for tossing a worm in a creek or when you need a little weight for fly fishing, though they would be outmatched when casting a croaker into the surf shark fishing.
I’ve used all sorts of sinkers when fishing. Flat sinkers, eggs, bullet sinkers, even weird little novelty sinkers a friend made for a bachelor party (Yes, we went fishing for a bachelor party, and no, I won’t divulge what shape the sinkers were. Let’s just say they got snagged pretty easily.). I’ve tossed 1/4oz sinkers when targeting lake trout and 5oz sinkers going after grouper in the ocean, along with several sizes in between. If you were to ask me which I used the most, I’d have to say it depends on which one would catch the most fish that day; then I’d go with that one.
Before we get too deep into sinkers, let’s talk about how they help. Sinkers serve multiple purposes. First, they get the bait down below the surface. Depending on the sinker, they might sit flat on the bottom or blend into the weed bed on the lake or river floor. Others might sit in the water column with just enough weight to get the bait to stay down a few feet.
Some sinkers are designed to be bounced or rolled along the bottom while the bait moves above, attached to a few feet of leader. Others are made to hold the bait in place, inviting fish from far and wide to come to investigate and have some free lunch.
Here are a few of the more common types of sinkers on the market, along with the best places to use them. I’ll go into some common rig types for them and the best bait setups.
- Split-shots – Very common, easy to use
- Egg Sinkers – Second most common
- Bullet Sinker – Great for bait in weeds or cover
- Sputnik Sinker – Awesome Surf Sinker
- Pyramid Sinker – Great for bank and shore angling
- Disk or Coin Weight – Solid sinker to hold bait stationary
- Pencil Sinker/Slinky – Steelhead and salmon fishing
- Walking Sinker – The Lindy
- Drop-Shot Sinker – Rigging the drop-shot
The split shot is by far the easiest sinker out there. There are two main varieties, one looking like Pac-Man and the other looking like Pac-Man with little handles on the back of his head. I like the ones with handles. Rigging a split shot is a snap. Take the mouth and put it over the line. With your fishing pliers, pinch the mouth shut over the line. Don’t pinch too hard. Once you add enough weight to the line, you’re all set.
The reason I like the handles is for easy removal. Squeeze the handles together, and the Pac-Man opens his mouth, releasing the line. You can then reuse the split shot if you’d like. It’s better to reuse than to discard. This is particularly true if using lead split shots. Check your states’ regulations regarding lead sinkers. They are illegal in certain states, so you must use alternative metals like tin, steel, or tungsten.
One of the simplest rigs in fishing is the worm and bobber. To rig this, tie a barrel swivel to your main line, add two feet or so of leader and a bait hook. Connect a bobber six to eight inches above the swivel. About a third of the way below the swivel, add one or two split shots to pull the bait below the surface. Power bait floats, ensuring it gets beneath the water surface.
Eggs are very common and very easy to use. The sinker has a hole in the center, which you feed the main line through. Once the line is through, attach it to the swivel. Rig it up how you’d like, and you’re ready to fish.
Egg sinkers are suitable for the classic cast and wait method, along with bottom bouncing while trolling or drifting. There are several ways to rig this sinker, though I prefer to tie it above a barrel swivel, followed by two to three feet of leader. I’ll then tie a bait hook or jig onto the end of the leader. If trolling, I like to use a jig. If still fishing, I use a weightless bait hook.
Add a plastic bead at the top of the swivel to stop the sinker from destroying the knot by the weight running into the swivel. Use the correct sinker size to stay on the bottom but not too heavy, as too much weight will make it challenging to feel bites.
You can pick up a pack of egg weights from $3 to around $20
Bullet sinkers are typically cone-shaped weights with a hole in the middle. They’re usually associated with soft plastics, though I love using them when fishing for trout in vegetation. If you’re fishing with the younger generation, reach for the power bait and bullet weights. They don’t snag up often and are pretty user-friendly. Kids don’t have the attention span for snags and having to rig up again and again.
Bullet weights are typically around $4 to $15, depending on how they’re made.
The Sputnik Sinker is an excellent sinker for surf fishing. These crazy-looking things have wires sticking out the sides to help them grasp the sandy bottom and hold tight while the surf pounds away. A heavy sputnik will stick in place, while a lighter weight will slowly “walk” your bait toward the shoreline.
While using these works well in the surf, they aren’t great in rivers or areas with thick vegetation. The wires tend to get hung up on the vegetation. Rocky areas are either great or terrible, depending on the type of rock. Rocks with pits and tiny shell holes will hang the sputnik up, while smooth rocky surfaces are great.
A go-to rig for sputnik sinkers is to run a heavy mono leader to the weight, then a mono leader to wire leader to the bait from the sinker. I use two or three feet of mono off the weight, then the last 18” or so of wire for shark fishing, as sharks will bite through mono or braid, as will most surf fish.
Sputnik sinkers are on the more expensive side, though they are worth the investment. They typically start around $7 for a lower-end model, though spending more for a decent sinker in the $15 to $25 range is not a bad idea.
Pyramid sinkers are another go-to for surf fishing and work great in rivers and for shore anglers. These sinkers are heavy and work great at getting your bait to hold on the bottom. The line moves freely through the metal loop connected to the top of the weight, allowing the bait to suspend naturally in the water.
An excellent rig for pyramid sinkers to use a heavy ball-bearing swivel and tie the weight to a few feet of leader. Attach a bait hook halfway up the leader with a Palomar knot, then connect to the swivel. Add some cut bait or whatever you’re in the mood for, and chuck that rig as far out as you can. If there’s a current, the bait will stay suspended. If fishing still-water, it will fall to the bottom. Sit and wait for the bite.
Another option is to attach the pyramid sinker above the ball-bearing swivel, then run a few feet of leader from the swivel to a bait hook or jig. Rig your bait as usual, and when casting, remember that you’re casting the weight, not the bait.
Pyramid weights range in price from $7 up to around $25.
Disk or Coin Sinkers
Disk or coin sinkers do their job by holding the bait on the bottom without rolling in the current. Coin sinkers are just about perfect for those that like to sit and wait. You just need to tie one above your barrel swivel or ball-bearing swivel. Add a bead below the weight to keep it from fraying the knot on the swivel. Tie a few feet of leader with a bait hook or two and some stinky bait for catfish, and you’re bound to bring in a few whiskered friends. Use an indicator on your rod so you can leave your bail open.
These sinkers hold the bottom well in current, so going after catfish and toothy predator fish in rivers is an excellent place to start.
The price for disk or coin sinkers ranges from $3 to $20.
Pencil Sinkers are sort of like using a split shot, but in a much larger version for targeting steelhead and salmon. You clip them on the line with a small wire loop on top of the weight that clips to the wire. Crimp the wire on and add or remove sinkers as needed.
The main setup for pencil sinkers is to attach a slip bobber above a barrel swivel. Add a plastic bead, then below the bead and above the swivel, add the pencil weights. Use enough to get your bait into the proper depth. Tie one to two feet of leader to the swivel followed by a bait hook or jig and add your preferred bait. Now you’re ready to target salmon and steelhead.
Slinky weights have become incredibly popular and have started to replace the pencil sinker for this rig. I’ve used both, and I like the simplicity of the slinky. The nylon bag is reusable, and they are significantly cheaper.
Pencil sinkers typically range from $5 up to $30. Slinky weights are around $3 to $6.
Walking sinkers are great for keeping baits moving while trolling. They move well without getting snagged on the bottom. The most common is the Lindy No-Snagg, which does a great job of avoiding bottom structure.
Run your main line through the hole on top to rig the sinker, then connect to your barrel swivel. Add a couple feet of leader to the swivel and tie your bait or lure.
Head out on the lake and troll this setup at a reasonably slow speed.
The price ranges from $7 to $20.
The drop-shot sinker is one of the best rigs out there for targeting structure. The sinker attaches below the bait, letting you drop the bait into structures like branches, trees, rocks, or whatever else you want to explore. There are different shapes of sinkers, so if a round ball isn’t ideal, try the elongated version.
Rigging the drop-shot is simple. In most cases, you can even buy a pre-tied setup. With a preset rig, you just need to tie on the swivel and add bait. The cost isn’t that much higher than tying the rig yourself.
If you would rather do it yourself, I tie a barrel swivel to the main line. Tie a hook halfway down two feet of the leader using a Palomar knot, then attach the weight to the bottom of the leader. Tie the other end to the swivel. Bait the hook with your favorite soft plastic or nightcrawler. You’re ready to go.
The price for the drop-shot sinkers ranges from $5 to $25. The pre-rigged sets are typically between $10 and $20.
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