Chad Ferguson on Catfish Edge has figured out the best sinker style for each of the techniques he regularly employs. For drifting and dragging, he uses homemade snagless sinkers. Photo by Chad Ferguson
Sinker options are seemingly endless. The challenge is to determine the best weights for different techniques and situations.
by Jeff Samsel
It seems simple enough. A “weight” or “sinker,” as the common names suggest, adds weight to a rig to make the bait sink to the level of the fish.
That said, sinkers come in a huge range of sizes, shapes and configurations, making the selection process anything but elementary, and there is no “one size (or style) fits all” solution. Understanding the primary ways sinkers vary and considering the pros and cons of each attribute can help you pick the best style of sinker for each situation.
Starting with size, the amount of weight needed for catfishing can be as little as a small fraction of an ounce for shallow, calm water, float fishing, light-tackle tight-lining or dead drifting bait. At the opposite end of the spectrum, several ounces are needed for various combinations of deep water, big baits, fast drifting and strong current, with current being especially significant. Weights ranging from ½ ounce to 3 ounces are the most common.
Sinkers also come in many shapes. Rounded sinkers, including egg sinkers, split shot and rubber-core weights, slide more easily along craggy bottoms than most other shapes and are not apt to spin when suspended. They are also inexpensive to make and lend themselves well to in-line or crimp-on designs. A downfall of rounded weights is that they tend to roll and are therefore hard to keep in place on the bottom in current or on slopes. Flat no-roll sinkers, disc weights and bell or bank sinkers stay in place more readily, but are sometimes more awkward to cast or to work with in current. Pyramid weights hold their place very well for still-fishing, but are more apt to get hung than other weights.
Attachment systems also distinguish different style of sinkers. Egg sinkers and some no-roll weights have a hole through the middle and are strung on the line. This allows them to slide, which is important for some techniques. However, changing the amount of weight or adding or removing a sinker requires retying. Split shot or rubber-core weights can be added to the line at any time. Other weights have an eye at the top, which might be wire or part of the molded sinker shape. These can be rigged in-line or tied to the end of a line, with the latter being handy for tight-lining or three-way rigs.
Of course, some specialized weights don’t fit neatly into any category, with a fine example of these being the snagless drifting weights that are commonly used on South Carolina’s Santee Cooper lakes. Tubes filled with lead shot, with an eye at one end, these sinkers drag easily across the bottom without hanging, and the amount of weight can be easily altered by adding or removing internal shot.
Chad Ferguson, a veteran Texas catfish guide and owner of Catfish Edge, has developed his sinker system through years of trial and error and keeps things pretty basic. He has learned the specific style and size or range of sizes that works best for each technique he uses, so those are the only weights he carries. His selections, while not the end-all for every angler and situation, illustrate the unique functionality of specific weights.
“For blue catfish and flathead catfish, I use 3-ounce no-roll sinkers when fishing on anchor,” Ferguson said. “I carry a few larger sizes, just in case, but rarely use them because I’m fishing lakes and reservoirs with no current.”
Ferguson also keeps a handful of 5- and 6-ounce egg sinkers on hand for suspended drifting because the no-roll sinkers twist the line badly with that technique.
When Ferguson drifts, he uses “snagless sinkers,” which he makes himself in 1.5-, 3- and 4-ounce sizes. “I use 1.5-ounce size with planers, 3 ounces when dragging with the wind and 4 ounces in heavy wind conditions, if needed,” he said.
Ferguson has tried various commercially produced snagless sinkers but has not found any that work better than his homemade versions and are cost-effective for the volume of sinkers he uses.
“I use nylon rope and buy reclaimed lead shot 50 pounds at a time and usually pay $30 to $40 for 50 pounds. A section of nylon rope and a few ounces of reclaimed lead shot is cheap, and I can build a bunch of them really fast,” he said.
Most of the year, Ferguson uses Whisker Seeker Tackle sinker slides to attach sinkers. He will commonly switch tactics during a day, with the only necessary change in the rigging being the sinker style.
“The Whisker Seeker Tackle sinker slides and the weights I use allow me to swap quickly, removing the drifting sinkers and swapping to the no-rolls and disc sinkers with eyes so I can change tactics quickly and not have to rig rods and waste time,” Ferguson said.
During the summer, when Ferguson fishes for channel catfish and it becomes a numbers game, his sinker needs get extra simple. “I primarily bobber fish with prepared bait for channel catfish,” he said. “I use split shot weights for that. Nothing fancy, I buy 1000 1/8-ounce split shots at a time and double or triple them up if I need to add more weight.”
Whatever the style, Ferguson’s sinkers all stay close at hand in a big storage box that he keeps under the dash of his boat.
Sinker related, some veteran catfishermen are major advocates of adding no weight for certain applications. However, that is another story for another time!