Odds 'n' Sods of Information and Opinion

Fishing Full Sinkers

Fishing the Full Sinker


In most of the typical steelhead water we fish, the angler should select a full sink head based on the sink rate needed for the bottom current speeds, not the top ones. Normally this means selecting a full sink head that seems too slow for the job: for instance, a Type 1 or 2 where the top currents might seem to suggest a Type 3 or 4. The choice of a slower sinking head requires that the angler sets up the cast and the swing, so that there is enough time for the slow sinking Type 1 or 2 to penetrate the top currents. This is generally done by casting more square to the current, using a reach mend as it lands and stopping with a high rod position, to provide a tensionless initial drift (zero lift/drag). Then leading the swing with the rod tip to limit the applied tension to reduce lift/drag until the head is down to the desired depth and fishing.

Using methods like this, we can get out full sink head to swing much deeper and slower, than a sinktip.

equilibrim angles

This diagram illustrates why a Type 3 full sinker will run deeper than a Type 3 tip. It shows why we need to use a less dense full sinking head compared to a sinktip. If we compare these Type 3s, both lines will reach the same equilibrium angle in the same current, but as the full sinker is longer, it can get deeper than the equivalent sinktip. This diagram only shows the difference in depth while both sinking lines butt sections are near the surface. However, unlike the sinktip, the butt section of a full sink shooting head can be well sunk. This means that it reaches its equilibrium angle, not anchored at the surface by a floating belly, but well under. This lets us swing a Type 3 shooting head much deeper than is possible with an equivalent tip. It also means that the farther we cast the head out there, the deeper it will sink.

In some situations, such as pocket water fishing, this sort of set-up for the swing isn't practical, so the reverse approach should be used. To get down quick, cast a fast sinking head at a downstream angle, then once it's through the top currents, line tension and a high rod position is applied to increase the lift/drag to stop the head from sinking farther once it is into the slow bottom currents. Using this sort of technique, I've been able to swing a fly to a fish holding in riffle water about a foot deep while using a fast sink Type 3 head. I was walking the bank, fishing each deep pool in turn, and then when between pools, I saw a fish holding in a shallow riffle. Normally I'd use a floater or an intermediate for a fish in this position, but I didn't want to change heads just for this one spot, especially since I couldn't be sure how long the fish would continue to hold there. So I used a sharp angle cast and a high rod position to skate the Type 3 head on the top of the riffle current, put in a good presentation and hooked the fish.

The nicest thing about the Scandinavian system is the way one can fish anything from the slow, shallow flat of a small river to the raging depths of the Niagara with only one reel, some running line and a wallet stuffed with shooting heads. It takes time to get used to selecting the right head for the situation but that comes with experience. There's always a choice of using a faster sinking head and line management techniques that keep it up vs. a slower sinking head and line management methods that will sink it.

The biggest adjustment a sinktip angler has to make is to stop thinking in terms of managing line according to the top currents and instead manage line according to the bottom currents. This is where the difficulty in fishing full sinkers comes in - we can see the effects of top currents on our floaters, but we can't see the effects of the bottom currents on our sinkers, so it takes a bit of time and experience to develop the judgment necessary to fish full sinkers effectively. Hopefully this section will shorten the learning curve a bit.

The learning curve for effective fishing is definitely longer but the payoff is worth the effort. We assume the casting of a full sinker is the difficult part but in reality, the casting is easy; it's the fishing that's challenging. We can't "fire 'n' forget" them like we can with sinktip systems. But fish them well and they'll get the fly to the fish in places that we’ve always had to pass up before and offer presentation options we’ve never had before. Moreover, we don't have to give up on sinktips, floaters, dump casts, heavy flies or any other of our favourite techniques. By going Scandinavian we’re not giving up anything, rather we’re adding capability - and without the need to add spools or change rods. We’ll be able to fish a broader range of distances, a broader range of depths and a broader range of circumstances than ever before. No need to edit the water, just open up the wallet and pick the right shooting head.