Sinking Tip Tips

Which tip do I fish? Photo credit Marcus Mattioli

Selecting the proper sink tip to maximize your steelhead fishing success is not simple like choosing your favorite fly. There is no magic tip that will work the best for all of the runs you may swing but here are a couple questions to consider when making your selection.

Where is the fish likely to hold? On the outside of the swing, or inside?

  • Inside- fish a shorter (10-12 feet) lighter tip (T-8 or T-11)
  • Outside- fish a longer (12-15 feet) heavier tip (T-11 to T-17)

PRO TIP: When fishing the outside of the swing, keep your mending to a minimum so that you don’t disturb the fly where the fish is holding.

  • What fly are you going to fish? Weighted, unweighted, tube, or a traditional iron?
    • Weighted flies fish best on the outside of the swing and in deep buckets. They have a tendency to hang up on the hang down.
    • Unweighted flies fish best on the inside of the swing where the sinking tip can get down but the unweighted fly stays out of the rocks.
    • Tube flies (unweighted) are slightly buoyant and fish best on the inside of the swing or shallow riffles and runs.
    • Traditional irons have a tendency to sink fast because they are typically tied sparse and the weight of the hook provides sinking ability. I like these flies on the outside of the swing in non-structured runs to prevent hanging up.
Choosing a weighted fly will help get your fly down faster on the outside of the swing. Photo credit Marcus Mattioli
  • How swift is the water where you think the fish is holding?
    • Fast/Heavy water usually requires getting the fly down fast. I recommend longer, heaver tips (12-15 feet of T-11 to T-17) and a weighted fly.
    • Slow water allows the fly and tip to sink fast so go lighter (10-12 feet of T-8 or T-11; or Airflo’s 10 foot flow tips in T-7 or T-10)
  • What is your casting ability like?
    • It is really difficult to convince a picky steelhead to grab if your fly is not being presented well so pick a sinking tip that is within your casting ability.

PRO TIP: Consistency is KEY. There is something about the fly gradually coming closer to the fish as you step down a run that builds up an anxiety in steelhead and elicits those hair-raising grabs.

  • What rod are you fishing?
    • Every spey rod is different. Most steelhead fisherman use 6-8 weights. Remember that a 6 weight rod will not cast a heavy tip as well as an 8 weight. If the tip you put on bogs your rod down, try going shorter, then lighter. PRO TIP: If the tip you have on is causing you to blow your anchor because it is too short, you can make your leader longer or put on a heavier fly.
  • What is the structure like? Are there big boulders? Ledges? Big gravel swales and troughs? Are you targeting a riffle?
    • Big boulders- fish a short, light to medium tip depending on depth so the tip doesn’t get wrapped around the boulder (I love the Airflo 10’ FLO Tips in this situation)
    • Ledges- probably the trickiest structure to swing. Fish have a tendency to hold deep and right up against the ledge. Fish a long, heavy tip (12’ of T-11 or T-14) and situate yourself in a place so that you hang down on the channel side of the run and hold on.
    • Gravel swales and troughs- I prefer short, heavy tips (10 feet of T-11 or T-14) in this situation with lightly weighted flies.
I love fishing gravel troughs. Here I am fishing a weighted fly and a short, heavy tip. The fly barely ticks the bottom on the outside of the swing and drops into the sweet spot in the trough. Photo credit Marcus Mattioli
  • What is the pressure like from other fisherman?
    • Pressure plays a key role in determining where the fish hold. If there is a lot of pressure, fish heavier, longer tips and focus your attention on hard to reach places.
  • Water temperature has a huge influence on where steelhead hold and how they behave. Water temperatures influence the amount of dissolved oxygen within the stream and steelhead’s activity level (AKA how far will they move for a fly).
    • Warm water (52 degrees F and warmer)- fish tend to hold in both shallow riffles and deeper, faster moving water. Riffles and obstructions like boulders aerate the water and will add dissolved oxygen in greater concentrations than places like slow moving tailouts or the inside soft spots in runs. Fish a light sink tip in the riffle (10 foot Airflo FLO tip in T-7) then switch to a longer heavier tip (10-12 feet of T-11 or T-14) for the “gut” of the run.
    • Cold Water (below 52 degrees F)- fish may be lethargic and are typically found in the slower moving, shallower sections of runs. These are places where the fish doesn’t have to work hard to hold and are typically on the shallower side. Fish in water temperatures like these have less of a tendency to move long distances for your fly. I like 10-12 feet of T-11 in these situations.

In order to maximize my guest’s success and cover the large variety of conditions we encounter, I carry a barrage of sinking tips. Here is what you will find in my sinking tip wallets.

  • Airflo FLO tips; 10′ T-7, T-10, and T-14
  • 12 foot Floating, Intermediate, Type 3 and Type 6 Airflo Polyleaders
  • 10 and 12 foot T-8 tips
  • 10, 12, and 15 foot T-11 tips
  • 10, 12, and 15 foot T-14 tips
  • 10 and 13 foot T-17 tips

You can find these tips and more at The Ashland Fly Shop.

PRO TIP: Keep you tip wallet(s) well organized and labeled. Don’t guess what the tip is. I prefer tip wallets that have zip-lock style baggies to keep everything neatly seperated.

Questions? Comments? Send me an email:

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