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THAT SINKING FEELING
Sinkers have a two-fold purpose: getting the bait rig where you want and keeping it there. Generally speaking, for pier fishing, where distance is less important than structure and location, the weight of the sinker is more important than its overall shape. Other factors come into play for shoreline fishing, of course, and the angler's needs become more specialized.
There are many different types of sinkers and a variety of shapes and sizes that run from the basic to the bizarre. Here we'll concentrate primarily on the most commonly used sinkers for saltwater fishing.
Ball. As spheres these are ideally shaped for accurate casting, especially against the wind. They don't hold the bottom well, but that's in their favor. Like their larger relations, the 1-12 pound drift balls used for salmon fishing, the ball sinkers are meant move around in the water currents. The bait drifts with the flow and is more likely to be where the fish are feeding. Ball sinkers are also excellent for jigging baits for species like perch.
Coin. Also known as Dollar Sinkers or River Sinkers. These are best for river fishing because they plane up when retrieved and will avoid getting snagged on the way back. They also do not hold the bottom well. These two factors make them a poor choice for sturgeon fishing because the fast water preferable for these fish will also constantly pick up and put down the coin sinkers. Many a sturgeon angler has been tricked into thinking the constant dipping of his rod tip means there is a diamondback on his line, when in fact it's only the sinker bobbing on the current.
Rising. Another sinker mostly used on rivers or where there are many snags. Because of its shape, however, it casts poorly and can be more of a liability than an asset.
Pyramid. An excellent sinker for holding a rig in place in sandy bottoms, or in rough water, the pyramid is probably the best sinker for ocean conditions. It casts well and is a tenacious anchor. The one drawback is that its stubborn feature often gets it securely snagged on the rocks or other submerged matter. So it's not a good choice for rockfish or river angling. But it is a superb sinker for bay and ocean fishing.
Bank. This weird-looking sinker is a relict from the past. It works well enough and its bulbous shape sometimes prevents it from hanging up on the rocks. As a bottom-holder it is average. The lack of steel ring at its end makes security a dubious prospect. Even the strongest leader line can be worn and torn and finally snap in a single day's use. Its price is probably its chief appeal.
Banana. This is used principally on boats for mooching rigs or trolling lures. However, it can work similarly from piers or shore. Often it's a good way to get a lure out farther on windy days, and the extra weight will suspend the lure closer to the bottom when the water is choppy.
Two Eye. Pretty much the same uses as a banana sinker, though more aerodynamic and better casting.
One Eye. Also known as a torpedo, this is a great sinker for windy days, probably the best casting sinker of them all. It holds bottom terribly, however, and can hang up just as badly as the other, less expensive sinkers. But it is a good sinker to use with a sliding sleeve because it lifts the slider off the bottom enough to facilitate the smooth movement of the leader line. For wary fish like sturgeon, and to a certain degree halibut, the less they feel the sinker tugging, the better.
Tear Drop Swivel. A great pier sinker and because it comes in smaller weights than other sinkers. So it's perfect for delicate fishing, such as catching your own bait, because it can hit the water without scaring away the fish.
Sliding. The arrow shaped variety is better than most because the bored hole is usually coated and smooth, preventing line fraying-something egg sinkers don't do well at all. This is a good sinker for live bait like shiner perch or bullheads.
Sliding Sleeves. These are easy to use and have wide-open possibilities in terms of sinker variety and actual weight. It takes some practice casting a sliding rig, but in time can be just as easy and accurate as throwing a fixed rig. These are important items for live bait fishing or when you are up against a very sensitive feeder. Many people prefer them for sturgeon, flounder, perch, and even catfish. The only negative aspect of sliding rigs is the danger of fish swallowing the hook if the angler isn't paying attention to the bite. This presents a problem for undersize or illegal species, or for those interested in Catch & Release.
Other Methods. Some anglers swear by the tobacco bag when it comes to avoiding snags in rocky areas. The bag is filled with small rocks (not sand, because sand is porous and won't last inside the bag) and attached to the leader the same way a normal sinker is. The idea is that the bag, being amorphous, will come to rest on the natural contours of the rocks and reefs, and therefore not get snagged. The problem with this is that all too many hang-ups are caused when the hook gets caught in something. Other fishermen like breakaway sinker systems that are created by fastening the sinker to the rig by way of a lower test line, so that when it snags it can be broken off and the rig saved. This works even less than the tobacco bag because a good snap cast will send the sinker flying all by itself. The truth is, accept the fact that snags and loss tackle are part of fishing and you will be a happier human being. One method that works has less to do with hang-ups than it does with natural drift and flow. You make small clay balls and put a monofilament loop in them and dry them in the sun for a couple days. These will cast well and then dissolve, allowing the rig to drift freely in the waves. Surprisingly, they don't hang-up often and they frequently bring the bait right to the fish.