In this feature, I hope to not only explain the importance of the humble lead sinker as it relates to different rigs and styles of fishing, I’d also like to discuss how various weights affect your game lures, spinners, squid jigs, slow-jigs and soft-plastics – in fact, pretty much all types of fishing.
After all, while the different fishing disciplines see widely varying tackle and techniques deployed, the water’s depth and current strength generally determine the weight of lure/sinker required. If we don’t get the weight right, we’ll struggle to position our offering in front of the targeted species’ noses.
The closer and more naturally we can present something to the fish being targeted, the better our chances of catching it. This is true whether chasing a small trout in a narrow stream or a large blue marlin in the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean: weight plays an important role in our ultimate success or failure.
So, if improving fishing results is what motivates you, read on…
I probably get asked more about stray-lining for snapper than any other technique used to catch them. This method is certainly more popular for anglers chasing reds from the Bay of Plenty to the Far North; most areas further south tend to prefer using ledger or flasher-type rigs because there isn’t as much structure, and they tend to target snapper a little deeper on the sand or mud.
Stray-lining will normally give you the best chance of a larger fish over the ledger or running rig, although the ledger or running rig will usually catch more fish. So it generally depends on what you like to target: a feed or a trophy.
Sinker weight plays a critical role when stray-lining: always try to use the lightest weight possible to get the bait to the bottom; if it’s possible to get away with no weight at all, so much the better – although this is generally only possible in relatively shallow water with little or no current present. Unfortunately, the latter conditions are not usually very productive for fishing, as no current means the berley trail won’t be distributed further afield, which is needed if we are to attract fish.
Conversely, if the current is roaring by, you’ll need to use a heavier weight to present your bait ‘in the zone’. But if you have to deploy anything heavier than 2-3 ounces for stray-lining, it might be better to consider a running rig or ledger rig (dropper rig) instead, because such weights will see any attempts at natural presentation thrown out the window.
Knowing when your bait hits the bottom, is ‘in the bite zone’, and remaining in touch with it at all times, are critical when straylining. So if you can’t detect when your bait hits the bottom, put a little more weight on until you can. However, if your bait plummets straight down, you’re probably using too much weight. And should you be undecided, remember you’re probably better off using a little too much than not enough weight.
Ideally, because you are more than likely berleying up a storm to attract fish from further afield, try to present your bait well out from the stern rather than straight down under the boat (big snapper don’t like the shadow and noise generated by boats) or even ends up heading towards your anchor (wind-against-tide conditions).
When choosing how much weight to use with a ledger or flasher rig, you must think a little differently, especially if using KL, recurve, or circle-style hooks (fish hook themselves on these hooks, so suit this style of fishing perfectly). Instead of using the lightest sinker that will get the bait to the bottom, go heavier. More often than not, if a fish eats your bait and heads up instead of down, the sinker sets the hook for you. If, however, you are using a suicide, beak or KS style of hook, choose the lightest possible weight that will get your ledger rig to the bottom.
Your sinker weight (and shape) is what gets the bait out there.
Choose a 4oz-6oz tournament or break-out sinker, as its aerodynamic shape enables better casting distance. If there is a lot of along-beach current, heavier weight sinkers fitted with grapnels may be needed to hold your bait in position. For similar reasons, KL, recurve or circle hooks are a popular choice for beach fishos; when used in combination with break-out-style sinkers, the sinker often sets the hook for you, as happens with the ledger rig.
Sinker weight when jigging for trout is again determined by the depth you have chosen to fish, plus the amount of drift induced by wind on the lake.
A good rule of thumb here is: 1oz for little or no wind in water 10-20m deep; 1.5oz for 15-25m; and if there is some wind and you’re fishing 20-35m, use 2oz.
Those who do a lot of trout jigging generally use 2oz everywhere they fish, because if the trout heads up after eating the fly, the heavier weight often sets the hook.
The depth of water and swiftness of the current at your spot on the river determine the leader length and weight of the flies to use – and are critical to success.
When fishing big, boisterous water, such as the Tongariro River for example, a heavier weight or bomb fly should be used to get flies down to where the fish are. Split-shot can provide a cheap and effective solution.
A longer leader may also be necessary, but be warned: using a long leader with split-shot or a bomb fly can be dangerous! If there is a side wind and these bombs hit you in the back of the head, or worse still, in the face or strike an eye, they can cause serious injury. So be careful and always wear polarised glasses to protect your eyes.
Squid are ambush predators. During the day they are hunkered up around weed beds or structure, trying to keep clear of the predatory fish that love to eat them, but also ready to ambush prey as it swims past. So getting down into the bite zone is important.
Squid jigs come in a variety of sizes and styles. The larger jigs (#3.5-4.0) are also normally heavier and suit deeper water and/ or faster current. Anglers who fish for squid from the rocks also like the heavier, larger jigs as these can be cast further than the smaller 1.5-2.5 models.
At night, squid are attracted to light, so fishing a lighter jig on the edge of the light, where the squid are chasing their food, will improve your chances of success.
There are pros and cons for incorporating weight into game fish trolling lures.
Game lures incorporating weight in their head hold much better in rough seas, rather than bursting out and tumbling when big swells move through. However, if fishing in calm seas, this same lure may barely break the surface, not swimming nearly as well as when the sea is rough and confused. It therefore pays to have weighted and unweighted lures.
However, when assembling your lure collection, also ask yourself how often is it flat calm when out wide chasing elusive game fish – it’s not that often. So the ratio of weighted to unweighted trolling lures in your gear bag should reflect this.
Lure-head keel weighting: If the sea is calm, anglers often use the more active angle- or cut-faced lures to attract marlin into the gear and tease them into biting more aggressively.
The better lure manufacturers often keel-weight their angleor cut-faced lures to help tame the action a little when the sea is rough, as well as run a little straighter in the various sea conditions, making them an easier target for marlin or tuna to pounce on.
Every fishing method has its idiosyncrasies and spinning for trout or salmon is no exception to this rule.
In rivers, once again, the depth of water and speed of the current dictate what you can and can’t get away with concerning the weight of your lure.
Ninety per cent of the time trout or salmon are feeding on nymphs, bugs or small fish close to the bottom, so getting lures down into this zone will improve your chances of success. However, the smallest, lightest lures you can get away tend to work best: as long as the lure is bouncing along the bottom or very close to it, it will be effective.
When trout are rising to mayflies, cicadas or whatever on the surface, catching them on spinners can be quite a challenge. That’s because they are focused on prey on the surface rather than food on the bottom or in mid water.
This semi-recent, glorified form of jigging for snapper is very effective, but upon walking into your local tackle shop, you’ll see a plethora of different styles and weights. Which ones to choose?
Once again, the smaller, lighter slow-jigs are better for shallower water with little current, with the weights getting correspondingly heavier to cope with deeper water and stronger currents (or lots of wind). However, there will be times when the snapper being targeted are up off the bottom (especially spawning fish, earlier in the season); at such times a lighter slow-jig wafting and weaving down through the depths will catch better than a heavier jig plummeting quickly down to the bottom, past those mid-water snapper.
Salt water: Remaining in touch with your soft-plastic, wherever it is in the water column, is key to success. More often than not, you want your soft-plastic bouncing along the seafloor towards you because, as mentioned earlier in the article, most snapper get caught near there – certainly more so than in mid-water. An inability to detect when a soft-bait hits the bottom can indicate your jig head is too light or that you have cast in the wrong direction to get down in the prevailing current. Increase your jighead weight and/or change your cast direction until you see the line suddenly slacken as the soft-bait touches down.
Freshwater: Soft-bait fishing for trout and salmon in the canals of the Mackenzie Country down south requires exactly the right jighead weight for consistent results, especially when fishing around the spillways, where the current continually changes throughout the day and night.
I find a 1/4oz or 1/6oz jig-head works best when the current is cranking, while changing down to a 1/8oz or 1/12oz jig-head as the current slows, keeps me in the zone. When the current stops, then heads in the opposite direction, 1/16oz sees me still catching.
If you stick with the 1/6oz or 1/8oz, even in the slow current, you will still catch fish, but the presentation does suffer. Keeping it as natural as possible (using the lightest weight to get to the bottom) provides more consistent results.
Fish are more instinctive than intelligent. Most are opportunists when it comes to food, so the easier you make it for them to eat your lure or bait, the more inclined they will be to do so.
Using the lightest amount of weight will see your bait or lure presented more naturally to your targeted species, so if you’ve also managed to get it right in front of their noses, you may well in for a memorable session.
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