This past April, I relearned a lesson that should, by now, be second nature—the importance of sinker selection.
I wasn’t fishing the surf, although I was using a surf rod. I’d staked out a spot on the bank of the Schuylkill River, a tributary of the Delaware that begins in the Appalachian Mountains and ends in Philadelphia. I was following directions that only a fishing buddy can provide, the kind that ends with, “…and if you can’t find the spot, just about anywhere could give up a fish.”
I was pretty sure I’d found it. The river widened just a bit below a set of riffles into the type of lazy eddy that collects logjams, shopping carts, and plenty of other fluvial debris where I could easily picture a catfish, specifically a flathead catfish, taking up residence.
The flatheads aren’t native to the Schuylkill, but are a member of the ever-growing list of so-called “invasive” species that live there. They are aggressive predators and are just as likely to strike an artificial lure or live bait as they are a chunk of cut fish.
My bait was a sucker I snagged in Darby Creek the night before. I took a 1-inch-wide piece from just behind the pectoral fins and worked it onto an 8/0 circle hook. My rig consisted of a short length of 80-pound leader below a barrel swivel tied to the 50-pound shock leader. On the shock leader was a 2-ounce egg sinker. I learned on my very first cast why that was a bad choice.
Even in the slow currents of the eddy, my sinker and rig rolled right into a logjam. Two rigs later, I learned why cat-fishers use flattened inline weights called “no-roll sinkers.”
Sinker selection is just as important in the surf. There are several sinker styles available, and choosing the right one can determine whether you hook snags and seaweed or stripers and blues.
6 Types of Sinkers
The most commonly used sinker in the surf is okay, but it’s not your best choice when tossing larger baits into big surf or strong currents. The pyramid-style sinker digs into the sand after the cast, but easily pops out, at which point its flat sides will slide or roll over the bottom. Use this sinker in quiet backwaters or with small baits like seaworms.
The flat, “coin” sinker is my favorite choice for targeting kingfish. While this sinker does stay in place, it can easily be dragged across the bottom, kicking up sand like a small calico crab digging in to avoid danger. Dragging a kingfish rig with a coin sinker will almost always outfish a rod placed in a sand spike and anchored in place by a pyramid sinker.
The wedge or “frog tongue” sinker is the top choice for big baits in strong surf. This style of sinker digs deep into a sandy bottom and its concave top resists being pulled free. The downside is that it can be a bear to retrieve, with the top catching the bottom on the entire way in.
The Hatteras-style or storm sinker holds better than a pyramid, but not as well as a wedge sinker. It’s a popular choice in muddy back bays, and many fishermen believe that, ounce-for-ounce, it casts better than a pyramid sinker.
This teardrop-shaped sinker is molded around several wires that dig into the sand or mud bottom, providing a firm hold. The wires will “trip” on the retrieve, making it much easier to reel in than the wedge-style sinker.
While I wouldn’t recommend it for the surf, if you ever find yourself soaking bait for catfish in a lazy river, the no-roll sinker is the way to go. It looks like a flattened egg sinker and lies flush to the river bottom, where it won’t get moved by the current.
I did catch my flathead, a “small” one at about 26 inches, and I lost another, larger one that must have gotten some tips from the stripers running up the Delaware. It took the bait, made a few powerful headshakes, and wrapped my line hopelessly around the logjam. I broke off that fish, along with my last piece of sucker, and made a mental note to be more selective about my sinkers on future trips.