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  Tackle Talk  Rods & Reels

Sinkers & Swivels


Since man first learned that by tying a rock onto his line, he could get his bait to the bottom, the sinker has been evolving. Lead has been the material of choice for a number of reasons. It is heavy, soft and doesn't chemically react with water to form other compounds. It can be melted and molded into any shape. It also doesn't oxidize other metals during electrolysis like other heavy metals. This fact is important because most weights have eyes, rings or swivels on or in them that are made up of other metals. Another factor is it's relatively cheap.

The purpose of sinkers is to provide a casting weight for baitfishing rigs, and to help position and present the bait where the fish will find it. There are dozens of different sinker styles, each one designed to suit a particular condition and each style comes in different sizes. As a basic rule, you should use as little sinker weight as you can get away with, as this will usually mean your bait is presented attractively to a fish without being anchored so firmly, that a shy fish wont pick it up. Many anglers use far too much sinker weight. For example, a 45gm spring sinker for mullet is an overkill in the surf, where as a 15 to 30gm sinker will drift around enough to let the baits move freely with the current flow and appear more natural to the fish.

Even though there are numerous styles of sinkers available today, there are only two basic types, those being ones which the fishing line passes through, and those which the line runs to. Sinkers rigged with the line running through them are called running sinkers, and these include ball sinkers, beans, barrels, bugs and channel sinkers. Other sinker types, like the spoon, pyramid, ring and snapper leads are designed to have the line attached to them and their position in the rig rarely changes.

Ball Sinkers are commonly used to run down the line to a stopper above a trace, or sometimes to run right down to the eye of the hook. Beans, Bugs and Barrels are usually rigged above a swivel or ring, so that a long trace can swing about in the current while the sinker remains in a confined area. Barrel sinkers are used for two common purposes. Firstly, they can be used as slender weights on a running float rig for Mullet, or as a body of an effective but inexpensive high speed lure, made by passing the line through the sinker and attaching a treble hook to it.

There are heavy surf situations where say for example, an Aussie Salmon angler needs a star or grapnel sinker to hold the bottom better, although many surf beaches can be comfortably fished with a snapper sinker, which again moves around more and covers ground. It also means having to make more casts than with a better bottom-holding sinker, but the catch results can far outweigh this minor inconvenience.

Deep water boating situations can also call for heavy weights, to get the bait down quickly to the fish and to hold against the current and tide. On other occasions though, a drifting bait or one sinking slowly with just enough weight on (usually a ball or bean sinker above the swivel and trace) can be deadly on snook, Trevally, snapper and mackerel, when the tide starts to run. Sinker weight can be altered according to the changing strength of the tide, so as to keep baits in the strike zone without sinking too quickly below it, or being whisked up to the surface with too little weight on.

A classic example of using heavy weights is boat fishing in Backstairs Passage off Kangaroo Island. This channel of water can be up to 100 metres in depth, and the monstrous tidal currents call for the use of heavy sinkers, up to 500gm, just to reach the bottom. Retrieving your rig with a fish on the end of it from these depths effectively equates to using your reel as a winch - heavy duty work on the reel and fisherman !

There are various sinker types available and each has its place and time. It pays not only to have a variety in your sinker collection, but also a range of different sizes for each sinker type, and to stock an adequate supply to avoid being caught out having to switch to the wrong sinker weight and/or style, when you have lost your last "correct" rig to a snag or a line-busting fish.

The smallest weights available are split shots. They look like a tiny metal ball with a slice thru the middle of it. You place your line into the slice and clamp down on the lead. Unfortunately, unclamping a split shot without damaging your line is like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube. In other words, you have to be prepared to cut and retie your line when you need to alter the position of split shot.

These small weights, only fractions of an ounce, are handy when you only need a small amount of weight attached to a line. Depending on the strength of water currents and tides, they are ideal for drift-bait fishing. They can also be used as stoppers for floats, preventing the floats from running up your line when surface fishing. Split shot comes in a wide variety of sizes. Originally, there was a system of grading into sizes similar to that used for shotgun pellets. Now the weights are so varied there doesn't seem to be any effective standard of grading.

In the .5 to 3.0 ounce range, there are the barrel sinkers. All these sinkers, with the exception of the snapper leads and pyramid/star droppers, are running varieties. Once threaded onto your line they are free to slide as they like. The advantage is, fish can take the bait without feeling any weight. Large baits fished in current will negate this feature unless your reflexes are sharp. Water pressure on the bait will keep it moving, dragging the line after it.

For shy fish you will need to hold the line until a bite is detected, then allow the fish to run until you judge the moment right to strike. Fishermen who become proficient at this technique catch a lot of bream. The two options with a running sinker are to thread it onto your line allowing it to run up and down unimpeded, or to set sinker stops or a swivel on your line. The first method is easy and leaves the line free of excess encumbrances. Some anglers worry that their sinker will run down the line and rest against the bait. They believe such a situation will stop shy fish biting. Whether this in fact does deter the fish is hard to say.

Another sinker that is widely used in this weight range is the egg sinker or teardrop sinker. These are used mainly when bottom fishing, like drifting for Flathead. They are meant to skim the bottom without getting hung up. If you are fishing from shore or an anchored boat, they will drift along the bottom at a slow pace.

The snapper lead is shaped so as to drop easily through the water and will get your bait to the bottom quickly. They are excellent casting weights and makes them suitable for reef fishing from boats. When used as a reef rig, they are usually rigged Paternoster style, with the sinker in a fixed position below the hook. When rigged for casting from rocks, they can be attached to a short trace and allowed to run down the main line on a brass ring or swivel.

The spoon sinker is designed to plane as you retrieve so taking itself and your hook quickly up clear of rocks or coral. It also planes and flutters on the way down and, as a result, will not drop as quickly as most other sinkers.

When fishing in heavy surf or heavy current, large bank sinkers or pyramid sinkers in the three to eight ounce range are of great use. Pyramids, or Star Droppers are just as the names imply, and the sharp corners of the weights bury themselves into the bottom to keep the line from drifting. The down side to these type of weights is a fish must pull against the dug in weight to get the bait.

On a final note about sinkers, there seems to be some debate within various fishing newsgroups and forums about environmental trends towards banning the use of Lead Sinkers. The issue of using lead for sinker weight is considered to be an extremely sensitive and argued topic. Countries such as Canada, USA and Britain are taking extreme measures to ban the use of lead as weights, and promoting "Bismuth" sinkers. As Australia has a relatively low population compared to say the USA, and its beaches and coastline is immense, the use of lead in sinkers has been generally deemed as having little if any impact on the environment. One day, however, this may change.


Swivels are just one kind of connecting device used in fishing rigs. Most swivels will reduce line twist to some degree and they come in various types, those being ball-bearing, barrel, crane, roller, plain brass, and plain brass 3-way swivels. Three way swivels provide an easy way of assembling dropper rigs or making fixed Paternoster rigs. barrel, crane and roller swivels provide slim, efficient connectors for float rigs, running sinker rigs and joining lines of disimiliar diametre. Snap Swivels allow rigs and lures to be changed easily and quickly without retying knots.

The kind of swivel which works most efficiently to minimise line twist is the ball-bearing type. Ball bearing swivels are the ultimate in strength and efficiency. At a cost of $5 to $8 each, depending on breaking strain they would need to be good. However even with ball bearing swivels it is important to match then to line size They spin much more freely when under load than ordinary swivels and so are best suited to serious trolling work or when using rigs that are prone to cause line twists.

Blackened swivels are preferred by anglers who believe them to be less conspicuous to fish, especially Tailor and Mackerel, which are inclined to slash at bright fittings in rigs. Those fishermen who are worried about swivels attracting unwanted interest, should try soaking them in vinegar for a week or so. This will reduce the swivel to a uniform grungy colour which will not reflect much light.

Brass barrel swivels are the least expensive and the least effective. For light tackle (under 6 kg) they perform satisfactorily but heavy pressure restricts their ability to spin. Even when tied to your line as a sinker stop or to allow convenient joining in of a trace they should not be trusted for serious work.

Metal rings are used for various purposes in fishing rigs. The most common types are stainless steel split rings, plain brass solid rings and blackened brass solid rings. Split rings are used to enable hooks, usually trebles, to be fixed or exchanged as required on lures. Solid rings serve as strong and simple connectors for joining line to line, or line to wire trace in various rigs.



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