The Complete Guide To Using Fishing Sinkers

The most ignored part of your terminal fishing tackle is also the most important

a tackle box full of fishing sinkers
Often disregarded, always underrated, proper sinker choice can greatly increase your catch rate on virtually every species of fish.Phil Duff Outdoors/Alamy

That sinker on your fishing line is much more important than you realize. The type sinker you choose, its weight, shape, and manner in which it's rigged and used can make or break a day of fishing.

In the most basic sense, a sinker is simply a chunk of metal used to take baits and lures to depths where fish are found. In most cases, weights are made of lead. But in recent years some states have made use of small lead weights unlawful because of the potential for lead poisoning in wildlife that may ingest sinkers.

Anglers must check state fishing regulations on lead weight use. Note that California, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York require lead-free weight substitutes, chiefly for small weights under one ounce, or lead weights that may be small enough to be eaten by fish or game.

Federal lands and waters also may require lead substitutes for fishing. Such alternative lead weights (made of steel, tin, tungsten, and alloys) are more expensive than lead. But they've come down in price in recent years and are not cost-prohibitive. They manufactured by many companies, including Eagle Claw and sold by large retailers such as Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops.

While lead weight substitutes such as spark plugs, lug nuts, and pieces of bricks have been used successfully to take baits deep to fish, there's no question that sinkers designed specifically for situational angling are best for that purpose. For practical fishing purposes, treat all lead and non-lead sinkers the same, since physical shape, design, and weight of a sinker are the key issues in their proper use.

Choose Fishing Weights Wisely

For the majority of anglers, buying sinkers is simply a matter of necessity, and usually is done as an after-thought following long decisions over the purchase of more expensive tackle. That's unfortunate, because often the type, size, and weight of a sinker may not be best suited for the fishing job at hand.

There is a wide variety of fishing sinkers available and even greater variation as to how they can be rigged and used. It bears remembering that the correct choice of weights for fishing can be as important to angling success as employing the right lure or bait. Having the wrong type or size weight is among the surest ways of turning off fish; whereas the right weight can bring instant angling success.

Here are some proven fishing weight designs and how they can be used.

1. Split-Shot

split-shot fishing sinker
The diminutive split-shot is undoubtedly the most utilized fishing weight.Bob McNally

The simple little split-shot weight that can be crimped onto an angler's line wherever desired is among the most versatile of all fishing weights. Split-shot weights with ears or wings—for quick opening and closing with pliers—are among the best type, because of the speed at which they can be rigged. They also can be reused with ease.

Split-shot weights should be in every angler's tackle box because of their versatility. They can be crimped singly or in a series to a main fishing line or onto a "dropper line." They can also be pinched onto a swivel, snap, or another sinker above a lure or bait to help get it deep. They even can be fastened to a lure itself, on a hook shank, spinner-blade arm, or wherever desired.

The Water Gremlin and Eagle Claw make a variety of good split-shot assortment boxes. They're in round, easy-to-stow plastic containers measuring about 1-inch thick and several inches across. The containers have dozens of split-shots, of varying weights that are easy to get to and use.

2. Rubber-Core Sinkers

rubber core sinker
Rubber-core sinkers help get bait into fish target zones quickly.Bob McNally

Rubber-core and clasp-on or dog-ear sinkers still are in wide use because they easily can be fitted onto fishing line to get baits and lures deep. Most are for use when weights larger than split shot are needed. But such rubber-core weights can cause monofilament line twist when retrieved fast or trolled, and because of their on-line bulk, they can jam easily in rocky bottoms and on shell bars.

Still, when extra weight is needed in a hurry to get a lure or bait deep, a rubber-core or dog-ear sinker is a good choice.

Savvy anglers carry a good assortment of such sinkers that can quickly be pressed into service when needed to get lures or baits down where fish may lurk.

3. Sliding Sinkers

a metal egg sliding fishing sinker
An egg, sliding sinker puts bait on the bottom, but allows fish to swim off unencumbered—until they’re hooked.Bob McNally

Sliding sinkers having a hole through their centers and are another excellent and extremely versatile type weight for fishing. The egg or barrel sinker and the worm weight are the most common of this type. They are among the most popular sinkers sold in tackle shops today.

The standard rig for an egg or barrel sinker is to run the fishing line through the hole in a weight (size determined by current and depth to be fished), then tie the line to a barrel or barrel-snap swivel. Then tie a leader from the other end of the swivel to a lure or hook. Often a plastic bead is fitted on the line between the weight and swivel to prevent the sinker from fraying a knot during fishing.

Rigged this way, the sliding sinker becomes, in essence, a deadly and simple fish-finder or Carolina rig that resists line twist. Depending on weight used, it can be fished on the bottom in almost any depth of water or current.

Walleye and smallmouth bass anglers commonly use such rigs for slowly working live baits along bottom. When a fish hits, they give slack line, and the fish swims off pulling line through the sinker. After waiting a few seconds for a fish to take the bait well, they set the hook. The sliding sinker works better than any other weight because the sinker remains stationary on bottom while a fish swims off unencumbered pulling line through the weight, with the fish unaware of the danger.

Barrel and egg sinkers should be selected so they have just enough weight to get to the bottom, but not so much weight that they act like a heavy anchor. An egg sinker that tumbles and rolls along bottom can even be desirable for river and tidewater anglers who wish to "cover" a lot of water with a single cast.

However, if it is desired that a bait remain stationary, a slightly heavier egg or barrel sinker should be employed to "hold" more securely in one spot.

4. Worm Weights

A worm-weight or bullet sinker is typically a cone-shaped piece of lead with a hole through its center. It's used primarily for freshwater bass fishing with soft plastic lures. They're available in a wide variety of weights, and are superb for working plastic worms, grubs, and even natural baits through weeds, as the cone-shape of the weight bores and slides well through obstructions without easily fouling.

They're simple to rig and use, and they can be fished as a sliding weight similar to egg or barrel sinkers. They can also be pegged to one spot on a fishing line with a toothpick, which makes them work much like a jig.

Some styles of worm weights are made with a wire screw that bores into a soft plastic lure’s nose. This anchors the weight to the lure, which can help make it more weedless (especially in brush and stumps), and in detecting light strikes from fish.

5. Walking Sinkers

a walking worm sinker
Walking sinkers are designed to climb over structure without getting snagged.Bob McNally

This style of sliding sinker was popularized many years ago in the upper Midwest by Al and Ron Linder with their innovative Lindy sinker for the Lindy Tackle Company. Shaped somewhat like a bank sinker, though bent near the line hole and more square sides, the sinker is made to walk along the bottom during slow trolling or drifting.

It can be used with lures, but it's original use was for very slow, precise trolling with natural baits—for walleyes, bass, smallmouths, and other species. The weights are sold by a number of companies, including Northland, and often are called "Walleye Sinkers."

In use, line is threaded through the sinker hole, a barrel swivel is tied on, and a leader is run from the swivel to a hook for bait or a lure.

Its practical use is much like an egg sinker in a Carolina rig, but it's shape and design make it more suitable for slow, precise, deep trolling.

Stationary Sinkers

This type of sinker is designed to take a lure or bait deep, and anchor it in a chosen spot to draw fish. The shape of the sinker is important, because when used correctly, its design makes it stationary.

This is critical because the heavier the weight, the more difficult it is to detect strikes from fish. The balancing act of selecting a proper stationary weight that allows the lightest possible sinker, often increases the number of strikes and the quantity of fish caught.

6. Flat, Coin, Disk, No-Roll Sinkers

disk sink fishing sinkers
Disk sinkers are best used for stationary fishing.Bob McNally

Flat, coin-shaped, disk or "no roll" sinkers are available with holes through them, and they are excellent for stationary fishing. They lay completely horizontal or flat on bottom, and thus resist rolling or tumbling in current. River and tidewater anglers especially like such sinkers for stationary fishing.

Most are rigged with a swivel and leader, like a Carolina egg-sinker rig or a walking sinker set up. But this style is best for stationary fishing, usually with natural baits.

7. Pyramid, Dipsey, Bank Sinkers

pyramind triangle sinkers
Pyramid sinkers are the time-tested standbys for fishing bait on the bottom.Bob McNally

The old standby pyramid, Dipsey, and bank sinkers are useful for much of the same stationary bait-soaking purposes. Many of these are commonly used by shore-bound anglers chasing catfish, and also for holding live baits in proven fish areas for species such as bass, stripers, trout, pike, and walleye.

Pyramid sinkers are four-sided, shaped like a pyramid with a point at one end, and resist tumbling in current.

Dipsey sinkers are more rounded, with a wire inserted into the weight. It features a twisted wire loop at its end for attaching line. Some such sinkers have a rubber-type locking loop that can be used to attach the sinker to line quickly without having to cut and retie lures or baits. Water Gremlin "Snap Loc" Dispsey sinkers are one type. They allow for a quick change of weight when current or water depth change demands it.

A bank sinker is a simple piece of lead with a tapered end having a hole through it, for threading line or leader.

Many anglers employ these types of sinkers with a sinker slide, which fits on the fishing line with a small plastic sleeve that allows for quickly changing weight or shape of the sinker.

Trolling Sinkers

a trolling metal fishing sinker
The streamlined design of trolling sinkers allow them to snake through rocky cover.Bob McNally

These weights are streamlined and designed for use while trolling baits or lures. Most are long and slender, and some have simple wire loops at each end for attaching to line and leader ahead of baits and lures.

Because trolling can lead to line twist, some sinkers are fitted with swivels or a chain of swivels at each end to prevent twist. Swivels of some type are wise for using these sinkers to prevent monofilament lines twisting into a tangled mess, which causes lost fish.

Trolling sinkers help to get lures and baits deep when downriggers or wire lines are unavailable.

9. No-Snag Flexi Weight

billy bay flexing weight drag sinker
The Bill Bay Draggin’ weight is virtually snagless.Bob McNally

This innovative weight design by Billy Bay allows anglers to add a slender series of weights (1/2 to 2 ounces) covered in rubber shrink wrap that can be added to fishing line or leader to get baits or lures deep.

The Billy Bay "Flexi Draggin' Weight" design is almost snagless, and has many applications from bass casting, trolling, and drift fishing for salmon, trout, and stripers.

Such weights can be attached to other sinkers in a rig, or used in series together to get lures and baits deep.

10. Pencil Sinker

pencil sinkers steelhead
Pencil Sinkers are most often used by salmon and steelhead anglers who work current.Bob McNally

Used mostly by salmon and steelhead anglers working current, this straight, pencil-shaped sinker is designed to avoid snags in rivers and streams. The Bass Pro Shops design (https://www.basspro.com/shop/en/bass-pro-shops-pencil-sinker) has a wire ring at one end for attaching line, leader, and other terminal rigging. They can be used two or more at a time for increased depth fishing.

Some pencil sinkers are rigged with a piece of surgical tubing that allows such weights to be pushed into open tubing to take baits and lures deep. If a different weight is desired, the pencil lead can be removed from the tubing, and a different size pushed tightly into the rubber tube.

11. No-Snagg Sinker

Hall of Fame angler Ron Linder devised this improved slip-sinker weight. Its slight bend and bottom-bumper-style wire probe at its end allow it glide over rocks, shells, and other obstructions when taking baits deep during drifting or slow-trolling. This sinker is a design improvement over the original Lindy Walking Sinker.

A similar design is the "VMC Switch-It Slip Sinker", which offers a quick attachment wire for changing weights.

Northland also makes a Rock Runner Sinker (1/4 to 1 1/2 ounce) of similar design that has a quick change weight snap, which allows you to change the sinker weight when needed.

12. Drop-Shot Sinker

lunker city bakudan sinker
The Lunker City Bakudan drop-shot sinker.Bob McNally

This is a simple ball-shaped sinker with a looped wire attachment at its top. The looped wire is used for snugly fitting fishing line in a drop shot rig to take it deep, without need for tying line to lead. This allows for quick change adjustments in the weight for different fishing depths. Most drop-shot sinkers are rounded in shape to resist bottom fouling, and many come in weights from 1/8- to 3/4-ounce.

One innovative drop-shot sinker is the Bakudan design offered by Lunker City. It has a wire line attachment at one end, but it is a long and slender pencil shape, designed to resist deep snags.

13. Insert Weights

insert weights fishing sinkers
Insert Weights are the go-to’s for soft-platics.Bob McNally

Insert or nail weights are designed chiefly for soft plastic finesse bass fishing. But they can be used for many soft lure fishing purposes, and also inserted into natural baits (minnows, leeches, crawfish, etc.) to make them more desirable to gamefish.

Used as a hidden belly weight, these sinkers can give lifelike action to a soft-plastic jerk bait, and can give them a fish-appealing, suspended quality, too, without bulky add-on sinkers. This is especially beneficial in ultra clear-water fishing.

14. Hook Weights

hook weights sinkers
Hook weights help provide natural action to baits.Bob McNally

These are small, slender, pinch-on style weights designed to fit hooks to get baits or lures deep. By weighting a hook, they also can give a lure more balance and offer a more natural action to tempt fish.

The Bass Pro Shops XPS Hook Weights are available in six sizes from 1/16- to 1/2-ounce and can be added to soft plastic worm or jerk bait hooks, spinner-baits, spoons, plugs, and hooks used with natural baits.

Finally, anglers should keep in mind that whenever rigging and employing weights for fishing, the best results are had when only just enough weight is used to get lures or baits in position to catch fish. Too much weight makes baits and lures appear unnatural to gamefish, and difficult for anglers to detect strikes and set hooks.

In this respect, sinkers are a lot like fishing rods. The best ones are tailor-made to the fishing at hand, allowing just enough influence to hook, fight, and land fish, but not so much that it impairs sport.