How to Know What Sink Tip to Use for Winter Steelhead- 5 Best Tricks

how to know what sink tip to use
Knowing what sink tip to use is paramount to winter spey success.

How to Know What Sink Tip to Use for Winter Steelhead

When it comes to winter steelhead fishing it’s imperative that you know what sink tip to use.  I’ve seen many times anglers don’t know what sink tip they have so they throw on what they’ve got and go fish.  This can be a sad waste of time when the water is cold.  Steelhead are cold-blooded and won’t often move for a fly like they do during the summer months when the water is warmer.  That means getting the fly deeper during winter.  To get the fly deeper you’ve got to have the right sink tip!

How to know what the right sink tip is for winter steelhead- first, check the conditions.  You want to be sure that you are in the ballpark for the right sink tip.  The best way to know what sink tip to use for winter steelhead is to use the SINK TIP TEST.  This test will let you know if your at least close!  To do the sink tip test rig your sink tip on your line, tie on a 3′ leader to your fly and wade out waist deep in walking speed water.  Hold the rod tip upstream of you and watch the fly.  See what it does; does it sink to the bottom and slam the rock?  Does it ride just under the surface or even on top?  Does it slowly settle in mid-depth hovering over the rocks?  (Hovering mid-depth, that is what you want it to do!) Watch your fly to get an idea of what it is doing with the selected sink tip and you’ve got a great start!

For most winter steelhead conditions a 10′ T-11 Sink tip will be your best choice.  When the water is low and flows are softer a 10′ T8 might be a better choice.  Also, when the water is high and you are fishing a softer apron where fish are resting in shallower soft water off heavy flows a T8 might be a great choice.  Then again, with heavy winter flows a 10′ T14 might be the best option for you.  Experimenting with different tips and time on the water will help you make the best choice.

One indication you are have the right sink tip is when your fly will hang up at the end of the swing but only when you let it sit a bit too long.  If you are snagging up mid-swing your likely too heavy.  If you never hit bottom even with a long hang down your likely too light.

How to Know What Sink Tip To Use – Sink Rate

Selecting the right sink rate for the fishing conditions you are fishing in is one of the keys to winter steelhead success.  It’s easy to have a sink tip too light for the job and sometimes easy to have one that is too heavy for the job.  With the lighter tip your not getting down anywhere near the targeted half the depth of the water and with the tip that is on the too heavy side your snagging bottom constantly or swinging the fly so fast (so you don’t snag the bottom) that you’re not getting much response from fish in cold water because the fly is moving too fast!

Finding the right tip for the job is very important.  What you want to accomplish is to get the fly half the depth of the water and for the fly to hover over the tallest rocks.  It’s a careful balance and one that takes effort and concentration to achieve.  Start with the sink tip test to get in the ballpark.  (see above).  Then fine-tune your depth with adjusting your fly from weighted to unweighted and the bulk or slim design of the fly also has an impact.  Then you can adjust your fly depth by fine tuning your approach.  Slow down or speed up the swing speed to get the fly deeper.  To get the best presentation from the top of the run to the bottom check out our 5 STEP APPROACH to Winter Spey Strategies on our 1.5 hour video which you can rent for $3.99 on vimeo.  This 5 Step Strategy will help you dial in your fly depth – get the fly deeper earlier in the swing and help you fish more effectively for a much larger percentage of your time on the water!

How to know what sink tip to use- Sink Tip Length

The length of the sink tip is important.  This helps with getting the fly deep as well as impacts your casting.  For many years RIO made a 15′ sink tip.  These were horribly difficult for most anglers to cast.  Try using a sink tip shorter than your fly rod.  I like a 10′ sink tip with a 3′ leader to the fly.  Having a sinktip/leader combination for winter steelhead fishing that matches roughly your rod length makes casting much easier!  Try a 10′ sink tip if you’ve been using a 15′ long tip and you’ll instantly know what we are talking about!

How to Know What Sink Tip to Use – Overview

Selecting the right sink tip can be the difference between success and failure.  Sure, there will occasionally be that fish that rips the fly hard as soon the fly hits the water but that will be the exception rather than the rule.  If you want more consistent results for winter success- select the right sink tip.

How to Know What Sink Tip to Use- Classes and Guide Trips

If you would like additional help dialing in your swung fly presentation visit the classes provided by Water Time Outfitters.  We have a full line up of great classes like the Winter Spey Skagit Mastery Class and the Clackamas River 2 Part Jet Boat Fishing Classs to help you dial in your approach.

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