Winter is coming and that means getting down deep where the fish are. This three-part series helps explain your options for swinging through the bucket.
Different density tips
Sinktips are a great way to stay fishing as waters cool into fall and winter. With just a few sinktips, an angler can dial their fishing depth to find that sweet spot where the fish are holding, but without dragging the fly across the stones. Anadromous fish sometimes hug the bottom when they’re cold, spooked, or stressed, but generally they won’t swim deeper down to take a fly below them – so choose a sinktip that will present the fly at the fish’s level or above them.
The most popular, practical, and economical sinktip systems use interchangeable tips looped onto multi-tip flylines. Imagine chopping off the front 10-20′ of tapered flyline, installing a small loop on the cut end, and then looping on a sinking tip in place of the floating tip. These multi-tip systems work for both single and two-handed rods, and anglers can customize their sinktips for any angling situation. The days of carrying around a bunch of reels or spools with individual sinktip lines are history. And of course, you can even loop on a floating tip for the greatest one-line versatility.
Most anglers are best served to keep things simple and choose one system, then spend time learning to fish it. Each system has subtle advantages and disadvantages. We’ll start with different density sinktips.
Most multi-tip flylines adopt this approach, with tips of different densities that sink at different rates. A full set usually includes 4 sinktips: an intermediate tip that just barely sinks below the surface, then Type 3, Type 6, and Type 8 tips for progressively faster sink rates.
The “type” designations correspond roughly to sink rate in inches per second. By keeping the sinktip length and weight consistent, but varying the sink rate, these give the most consistent casting and fishing feel of all the sinktip systems. With the entire tip sunk, they also swing nice and slow, even in shallow water. These tips are looped at one end and tapered like flyline towards the leader, and cast very smooth. They’re available in 10′ and 15′ lengths from RIO, and 12-13′ lengths from Airflo, but we usually just cut a few feet off the 15’ tips to get 12-13’ lengths.
Though a full set of 4 sinktips is best for the angler who wants to be prepared, many folks do just fine using only 2 of these tips – Type 3 and Type 8 – adjusting their casting angle and fly weight to fill in the gaps.
Different length tungsten tips or T-tips
In the old days, there was only one sink rate of “sinking line” and you’d vary the length to fish at different depths. This approach is still used with lengths of level tungsten sinking line to make T-tips.
Level tungsten line comes in several weights (T-8, T-11, T-14, T-17, etc), with T-8 weighing 8 grains/ foot, T-11 at 11 grains/ foot, etc. All of them sink very fast, similar to the fastest “Type 8″ sinktip described above. Choose the correct T-tip weight to match your rod-line combo, and vary its length to fish at different depths. Longer or heavier T-tips don’t sink much faster, but they do stay down better during the swing to fish deeper. Carry a range of lengths such as 6′, 8′, 10′, 12′ customized to your needs, though two or three lengths can cover most situations.
T-tips are level with no taper, so turnover emphasizes power over finesse. They’re relatively inexpensive, too. However, changing the length of T-tip changes the casting feel, and when it gets too short on spey lines, can result in blown anchors and botched casts. To deal with this, slow down the cast and apply power more gently. Once they’re in the water, T-tips fish great.
Combination floating-sinking tips
Combination floating-sinking tips are a relatively new approach, sold by Rio as “MOW” tips. These are mostly fixed-length (10′) tips that get to different depths by varying the proportion of floating vs sinking line.
Rio’s current configurations are 2.5′ sinking + 7.5′ floating, 5′ sinking + 5′ floating, and 7.5′ sinking + 2.5′ floating, along with full-sink 10′ and 12.5′ lengths. The various 10′ tips maintain a consistent casting feel, and have nice sleek loops at both ends – just loop on a tippet and go fish.
Because a portion of these tips floats, an angler can “steer” the sinking end around boulders and along ledges, which is very handy in many of our rivers. The longer floating portions are affected by surface currents more, which can speed up the swing, so plan to mend a little more if needed.
The sinking portion of the Rio MOW tips is made from level tungsten line in the familiar T-8, T-11, T-14 and T-17 weights, to match various rod-line combos. Anglers interested in learning line-building methods can also make their own customized combination floating-sinking tips to any length they want.
Whatever system you choose, it is critical to get the correct weight sinktip to match your rod-line combo. This is the best way to ensure enjoyable and consistent casting. All of the sinktip systems we’ve described give anglers a choice of line weight, so first get a sinktip balanced for your setup – then, on the water, just choose the tip that fishes at the depth you want. A sinktip that’s too light for your line will give jerky turnover and struggle with big flies, whereas a sinktip that’s too heavy won’t turn over well and can collapse in a pile on the water. The right weight tip makes things smooth and easy.
Also remember that most sinktips are not designed to be cast off the end of a standard flyline, as the fine forward taper of most fly lines doesn’t transmit enough power to get the job done. To cast sinktips, you need either a multi-tip flyline, or a shooting head designed for tips. Many spey and switch shooting heads (especially skagit heads) as well as some Scandinavian heads and full-length spey lines, are designed specifically with a loop for sinktips. With a little bit of thought and experimentation, most sinktip-friendly switch lines also work on single-handed rods, too.