Lead fishing weights have been used by anglers for hundreds of years and continue to staple in any angler’s tackle box. They are very versatile and can be shaped in so many ways to achieve various actions that will help you out in any fishing scenario. You can find them in nearly any tackle shop for a reasonable price, and they offer much better quality than plastic or tungsten weights.
However, other weights can perform the same function of sinking, often better. Because of their different profiles, they offer different actions that are valuable in certain types of fishing. As with everything when it comes to fishing, you need to use the weight that works best for your situation, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
What is a Sinker?
Weights are designed to sink as soon as they touch the water. However, if you want your weight to stay on the fishing line, it must be held on by a quick-release or frictionless device called a stopper. These devices are usually attached to the line above the weight. The basic types of stoppers are listed below.
The Cone Fishing Sinker
Simply put, cone sinkers have a flat bottom. Because they are flat on the bottom, People can use them in shallow water where lead weights might plow through the bottom and cause damage. Their flat-bottomed design also allows them to roll over, letting you fish without worrying about the weight swinging around and tangling your line. They’re a bit more challenging to get out of the water, though. You need to have enough line on your fishing reel for that style of fishing and usually have a spring-line attached to them. Make sure to check their ratings to be sure they aren’t getting hung up on everything in the water column.
Barrel Sinkers (Egg Sinkers)
These are the most common type of sinker found in tackle stores and are a good choice for just about any fishing application. Egg sinkers feature a large, oval head, with the blunt end of the weight extending out and to the side from the head. The idea is that when you drop your bait down into the water, the pointy end of an egg sinker will stick out beyond your lure, making it easier to find when you reel in your catch.
Divers sink very rapidly when dropped into the water due to their smaller diameter. Therefore, they are often used as drop shot weights, especially fishing with crankbaits in deeper water. Diver sinkers are easily recognizable for their large heads that feature a rounded point at the bottom of the head. They are also known as cannonball sinkers because of their round heads and small diameters. Weights of this kind require a swivel because of their nature.
A bottom sinker is designed to work as a weight when it comes to sinking. It features a large diameter and, in many cases, a blunt end. Bottom sinkers are mostly made of lead but may also be made of steel or tungsten. They will be, therefore, heavier than egg sinkers.
Dredge sinkers are similar to divers in that they feature a large diameter head. The difference is that dredges have no cone-shaped head and instead feature a flat profile like an egg sinker. Dredges tend to be more of a natural bait type of weight due to their shape but will work great for any application that calls for them. They are not very popular with anglers but can be very functional in the right situations.
Cooldowns are similar to flat weights, but they feature a smaller diameter. The smaller diameter and shallower cone angle mean they will sink slightly slower than the equivalent-sized balanced weight. They are designed for fishing applications where you need a reasonably quick sink rate with just a gentle drop, like fishing presentations with small crankbaits or spinnerbaits.
Split shots are designed to be used with planer boards and other topwater presentations in shallow water. Split shots feature a chain attachment point that allows the angler to adjust the depth of their weight very quickly. A single split shot weighs a little less than an equal-sized balanced weight, but because they hang below your lure instead of sitting above it as a drop shot weight does, they do not affect the action of your bait or lure as much as other weights.
Domed & Flat Floats
There are no common names for the differences between domed and flat floats. The words “flatted” and “domed” seem to come up all over the place when describing what type of float is best for what type of application. So we’re going to ignore these terms and call them by their most common names – domed and flat floats.
Flat Flats (Plate Floats)
Flat floats feature a completely flat profile in the center of the weight, so they appear like thin, flat pieces of metal. Flat floats are designed to keep your rig above the surface rather than be pulled under it. Flat floats can be placed under the belly of a crankbait or used as a jig trailer to create an enticing swimming action. Flat floats are also called plate weights or planer board weights because they are used in conjunction with topwater fishing presentations.
Domed Floats (Bubble Floats)
Domed floats feature a curved or domed shape on one side, creating a slower action than flat floats. They can also be shaped like a bubble float, which has a regularly spaced series of cutouts around the center point of the weight. Bubbles are used on live bait to create a diving action that resembles a fish swimming on the bottom.
Pyramid sinkers are a particular type of weight best suited to lures that feature a pointy or bent-over shape. Because pyramid sinkers sit flat on their base, they help maintain high angles when used with these types of lures, which can sometimes be challenging with traditional lead weights. People can also use pyramid sinkers in shallow water with topwater fishing presentations.
Bullet sinkers are a traditional type of sinker that is made from lead. Bullet weights offer the same sinking power as lead, but they do not feature a cone-shaped profile like most other weights. Bullets are used with topwater fishing presentations, especially spinnerbaits and crankbaits, to create a rimmed or sunken bait that looks like it has been shot out of a gun.
Alternative Styles to Lead Fishing Weights
Because many anglers are concerned with the harmful effect of fishing weights on water, they have been looking for other options that provide the same or a better sinking action. These alternative sinkers are made from plastic and tungsten, have a cylindrical shape instead of the traditional cone-shaped profile. Steel and tin weights are also popular, as well as weights made from lead-free alloys. Some of these weights can offer a better sinking action, but they do not feature the same profile or shape as traditional lead weights, resulting in complex rigging.
Steel and Tin Fishing Weights
Tin and steel fishing sinkers have been around for many years, but they have seen a revival of use due to their low manufacturing cost and durability. In addition, they are relatively lightweight when compared to other materials. There are various sizes and shapes to fit jigs, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, doggin’ lures, and topwater lures.
Because lead-free alloys are not made from lead, they are allowed by federal law to carry the same amount of lead as traditional weights; however, they have a lower density than lead. That means that they sink faster than lead weights of the same volume. Additionally, they are lighter in weight than traditional lead sinkers, which is advantageous when casting or retrieving lures at long distances.
Plastic weights are one of the most popular alternatives to lead weights. They are much lighter than lead, but they sink just as quickly. Because they are denser than lead, they are less damaging when casting distances and line loading (ease of casting). However, they can still adversely affect the environment if you are casting far enough into the water to have them sink below the point of no return.
Bismuth weights are made from a metallic alloy of bismuth. They have a high weight-to-volume ratio and resemble steel or tin weights in weight, shape, and use. Furthermore, they are generally less expensive than steel and tin weights. In some cases, they are more effective than conventional lead sinkers. In addition, they have a unique finish that makes them more attractive to bass.
Brass weights are made from a unique metal that offers many of the same attributes as tungsten weights. They are very dense and will stay on hooks much better than any other weight. Brass is also more expensive than most other materials, but it lasts far longer than any other material. However, brass can be more difficult to cast than lead because it is so heavy.
Clay weights are made from a clay material that is molded into a flat shape. Clay weights are very inexpensive, durable, and come in many different sizes and shapes. However, because the weights of this material are not very dense, they require a great deal of force to sink. Additionally, these weights are more likely to slide around on the hook than other weights.
A concrete sinker is just like it sounds – it is made from concrete. Concrete sinkers tend to be cheaper than most other materials but also heavier and less durable. In addition, they are made with a variety of coatings to help them resist the elements.
Metal Brace Weight
A metal brace weight is used for fishing deep waters (greater than 20 feet) where a conventional sinker will not sink. The metal brace weight can then be weighed down with lead, tungsten, or other weights to give the bait more depth and weight. This type of rig has also become popular in rivers and lakes, where strong winds can cause conventional sinkers to blow out of the water.
Tungsten weights are a synthetic alternative that is heavier than plastic but lighter than lead. They offer a similar sinking power as lead but do not negatively affect your fishing line as much as plastic weights. Tungsten weights are made from a tungsten alloy (and some stainless steel) mixed with a binder and coated in plastic. Different shapes are available, including round, oval, diamond, tube, and heart.
Tungsten Fishing Weights Compared to Lead Fishing Weights
Lead is the most common alternative weight used for fishing. It is heavier than plastic but lighter than tungsten and sinks at the same rate as the lead. Lead can also be corrosive to the fishing line and can break down your fishing knot over time. This breakdown is due to the chemistry of lead, not a characteristic of using lead versus plastic or tungsten.
Tungsten weights are denser than plastic or lead, so they sink and stay on the bottom better than any other fishing weight. And because tungsten is denser than steel or brass, it won’t corrode in the water as those other metals do. However, while tungsten won’t rust, some environmental issues are related to manufacturing tungsten fishing weights, so consider that when making your choice.
Deciding on the best weight for your application can be a challenge. Choosing non-lead sinkers is one of the best ways to improve the environment, health impact, and save money at the same time. However, sinking your bait too deep or using a lead weight that is too heavy for your application can adversely affect fishing success and the environment.
Lead-free fishing weights can solve those problems. They offer the same weight in a less dense material than lead, so it doesn’t sink as fast. As a result, it reduces the environmental impact and allows you to cast farther than lead weights. You can also get creative with your weights and put the right amount of weight on each hook for the particular presentation you are trying to achieve.