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Do You Need a Sinker for Fishing? If So, When and Why?

Lead sinkers for fishing with different sizes.

When I was growing up and I went out fishing with my dad or Papaw (my mom’s dad), we did a lot of hook and bobber fishing. With my dad, we would cast out from the shore of a lake, and with Papaw, we went out on his boat. With this type of fishing, having a sinker on the line was what we did.

I learned how to cinch a sinker onto the line, although I never got very good at it, and I learned how to position the sinker for best effect.

But, there are types of fishing in which a sinker is not something you will need or want. If you are looking to learn about when it is appropriate to use a sinker, and how best to use one, read on.

What Is a Sinker?

Lead fishing sinkers on a wooden box.

A sinker is a lead weight that weighs down the line. There are various types, from tear drop shaped sinkers that have an eyelet at the top to string onto the line, such as the one below, or small pieces of lead that you clamp onto your line using a pair of pliers.

A lead fish sinker on a white background.

The smaller ones usually come in a container that has various sizes of weights, and you can mix and match, adding more sinkers of varying sizes as needed. The whole idea is to weight the line down, forcing it to go under the water. Fishing line is lightweight, and will naturally want to float on the surface of the water. In most cases, the bait at the end of the line is not heavy enough to actually pull the line down.

Another type of sinker is a lead weight with a hook (or hooks) in it. This way, the weight is at the end of the line, which makes things easier overall.

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When To Use a Sinker

A fishing hook with built in sinkers.

In addition to weighing the line down to make it go under the water, adding weight to the line – in the form of a sinker (or sinkers) – enables you to actually cast further. Granted, there is some limitation to this. If you put too much weight on the line, you aren’t going to be able to cast it at all, but the chances of that are pretty slim. The added weight translates into additional momentum when you cast, which becomes more speed and distance.

A third reason for the added weight is to cause the line to go straight down. By pulling the line under the water, the sinker will keep the line between itself and the reel in a pretty straight line. Of course, any slack in the line will translate into the line moving around, but if you keep tension on the line, it will stay straight.

If you have the kind of sinker that is at the end of your line (like the one above), it will do a good job of keeping your line pretty straight all the way from hook to reel. However, this type of sinker puts a big ball of lead right up against the bait. That means that the fish may take note of it and shy away from the bait. For this reason, I prefer to keep the sinkers away from the bait, as I discuss below.

How To Use a Sinker

With the kind of sinker that you can position along the line, you can set the depth of the bait. If you are using the kind with an eyelet that slides onto the line, you are going to need some way of keeping it in place. There are things you can clamp onto the line, or you can tie it in place. However, it is much easier to just use the small balls you crimp onto the line.

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Determining How Much Weight You Need

The first thing you are going to want to do is try and gauge how much weight you want to add to your line. Keep in mind that you don’t need a whole lot of weight to be able to cast further, and if you put so much weight on that you cannot cast at all, it does you no good. If you are an experienced fisherman, you probably have some sort of an idea about how far you can cast and how much weight to add. If you have little or no experience, take your pole to an open space (it doesn’t have to be a wet place, your backyard will do fine), put some weight on the line, and practice casting.

Once you have figured out how much weight is a good amount for the line, make note of this. Again, by using the small lead balls, you can add or remove weight as needed to get to that “sweet spot” that will let you get a good distance with your cast, without actually hindering how far you cast.

Depth

As mentioned, the sinker is going to pull the line under the water. The distance between the sinker and the bait is going to be a factor in the depth that you are fishing at. Of course, if you are bobber fishing (meaning you have a float of some kind sitting on the surface), the distance between the bobber and the bait is the actual depth you are going to be fishing.

However, the distance between the sinker and the bait plays a role in that, as the bait on the hook is going to kind of float along in the water, moving about because it is not heavy enough to be pulled straight down.

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For this reason, you do not want to put the sinker too high above the hook. If the hook ends up dragging on the bottom of the lake, you are going to get it tangled and not catch anything. Chances are you don’t actually know the depth of the water, but you can get an idea by looking at how the water depth increases from the shoreline and plan according to how far you are casting. With moveable sinkers, you can always adjust the depth for various areas and casts along the shore or into deeper water.

To Use a Sinker or Not?

A fish biting a bait with sinkers.

There are times when you do not want to use a sinker. Fly fishing is usually a time you do not want to use a sinker (although, I have heard of small weights being used). Basically, you will want to use a sinker when you want to make sure that the fishing line actually goes under the water. That is the primary reason for the sinker.

Adjusting the position of the sinker for depth and the amount of weight that you add will help you to fish different parts of the lake (or river) from the same place along the shore by changing how deep the bait is and how far you can cast.

Using a sinker is not necessary for all types of fishing, but using sinkers is important when you do not have enough weight on the line to allow you to cast far and get the line to go under the water. It does you no good to be fishing six inches from where you are standing with the bait just under the surface.

Take advantage of using a sinker (or sinkers) to weigh down your fishing line and position the weight in the right place to maximize your fish catching potential.