Sink tips tend to be one of the most confusing aspects of spey fishing for the steelhead angler. We reached out to our top guides and asked them to give us a rundown of what sink tips they always bring with them to the river and why.
As you read through, notice that there are certain core tips which are found in each of our guide's wallets. These core tips are from 10-13ft in length and of a light to moderate sink rate. The focus of this blog is helping ease the confusion surrounding the range of tips you will find in our shop and throughout the West Coast.
"Choosing your favorite steelhead fly can be easy, but your favorite sink tip is a whole process entirely. Steelhead hold and travel in all depths of water between 2 and a million feet deep, but as fly fisherman we need to focus our efforts in places where we can get a swung fly to them. I prefer to fish water that is between two and ten feet deep. There is not a magic tip that will work the best for all of the runs you may swing so it is important to have a variety of sinking tips. Here are a couple of questions to consider when selecting your sinking tip:
Is the fish likely to hold on the outside or inside of the swing?
What fly are you going to fish? Weighted, unweighted, tube, or a traditional iron?
How swift is the water where you think the fish is holding?
In order to maximize my guest’s success, I carry a barrage of sinking tips. Here is what you will find in my sinking tip wallets.
Integrated tips; Back 2.5 feet of intermediate and front 7.5 feet of T-8 or T-11
12 foot Floating, Intermediate, Type 3 and Type 6 Airflo Polyleaders
"Am I down deep enough? And does it really matter how close to the fish we get? That age-old question for steelheaders. With all the products and systems out there it can be frustrating and overwhelming when deciding on what depth you should be fishing. For steelhead, it is my understanding that they are mid-column dwellers. So when I choose a tip I base my choice on run depth, current speed, and run structure for presenting in the middle of all the goods."
"Each run has a different formula. I tend to fish a shorter tip (10ft.) when fishing a very chunky and bouldery run. The shorter length allows for a greater angle off of the fly line for clean presentations around the rocks. A longer tip lets say 12 1/2 ft. to 15ft. reduces the angle off of your fly line and gives you a slower deeper presentation for even gravel bars that have no major features. The longer tip might not be the best choice for a boulder field where you run the risk of hanging your tip on the structure. So the length of tip for me depends on how much structure is in the run and how deep that structure is. I keep a good stock of tips ranging from 10 ft. of Type 3 through 12.6 ft. of T-14. This allows me to have options in every situation I come across. I wasn't much of a boy scout but the one thing I learned is to be prepared. Cost can be a major factor and these tips can add up quickly. If I had one tip to always fish and to keep it simple, it would be 10ft. of Type 8. It gets you in the middle column of water in most runs and I have built utmost confidence in this tip. It's easy to turn over, you can fish it in practically every situation and size river, and let's face it, we are looking for an aggressive fish when we swing flies. I would be willing to bet that a fish that moved several feet to eat your fly on 12.5 ft. of T-14 would go just a bit farther if you were fishing that 10ft. of Type 8. So if it is all about the technical aspect of fishing for you, then go get that tip wallet packed for every situation. Or, find that one tip that will do it all for you and that you would fish with confidence. Stay open, be confident, and believe. Your time is coming!"
"I personally stick with Dec Hogan’s rule of thumb T-8 for everything. The part about Winter tips that one should know is that you need to read the water first and foremost. The water will tell you how to fish it regardless of the sink tip. Remember that even if you put on T-14 or T-17 that if you are fishing in a fast current and keep a linear presentation your fly will not be getting down as deep as you think. However, if you throw in a big up-river mend, and step after you cast to slow down your presentation, even more, your tip and your fly will have a faster sinking rate. Hence, T-8 with a big mend works great! Now, this being said of course if you do the same presentation (big mend step after you cast) with T-14 in a deeper pool of water I do believe you will be getting down deeper, but again this is due to the style that you are fishing and casting not necessarily the tip. Don't forget you can also fish a lighter tip and throw on a heavier fly and still get down a little deeper. Be it T-8/T-17 read the water and think how you are going to fish it before you set up and step in.
A go-to sink tip for me is T-11. When I fish this tip with a Rio Skagit IFlight shooting head, or a full sinking Scandi shooting head I am getting down just as deep as T-14. Keep an eye on your grain window for your rod as well, remember that you are adding up your shooting head plus your tip and this is giving you your grain fishing weight. To get technical for just a moment the term “T-11” means the number of grains per inch in that sink tip. T-11 for 10’=110 grains. Depending on your grain window and the heavier or lighter your tip the different action your rod will have. This is a great way to “cheat” and fish your rod the way you like it to feel depending on the flux in the butt, middle, or tip of your rod. Try different grain windows with your shooting heads as well as different tips."