When swinging flies for salmon and steelhead, a question we get asked a lot is ‘what sink tip should I use?’ or ‘how do I know what sink tip to start with?’ Like all things fly fishing, there is no rule of thumb that pertains to every situation. There are far too many variables from the river to river, run to run, or even fish to fish, but that what’s makes our sport great! It’s putting the pieces of the puzzle together that keeps us coming back for more.
With that said, having a systematic way of selecting the right tackle as quickly as possible is important when prospecting for fish. Fishing your fly at the appropriate depth is everything when swinging for anadromous fish and therefore choosing the right sink tip is key. However, that is easier said than done with the endless combinations of densities and length of tips. Should I fish a long light sink tip or a short heavy sink tip?
Our take on selecting the right sink tip for the water at hand is pretty simple. We like to break down our choice based on two variables, density (how heavy the tip is) and length (how long the tip is) based on the structure of the water we’re fishing, like so:
- Density: How heavy the sink tip is (T-8, T-11, T-14 etc.) determines the deepest depth at which you want your fly to swim. Want to get down deeper? Put a heavier tip on.. duh, right?
- Length: How long the sink tip determines how long your fly will stay at that depth.
So, let’s say you’re fishing a uniform un with very steep banks. You may opt to choose a long light tip (say 15 feet of T-11) in order to allow your fly to ride deep for as long as possible. However, let’s say you’re fishing a run with a deep pocket next to a gradual sloping gravel bar. In this case, you may opt. for a short heavy tip (say 7 feet of T-14) in order to get your fly down quickly into the bucket and rise slowly through the water column as it comes under tension. Make sense?
Sure, other variables still exist such as weight of the fly, current speed, and so on, but choosing your sink tip based on the structure of the river is a great place to start.