Regardless of the type of fishing you are doing, having your flies at the right depth is one of the most important factors in convincing a fish to eat. When fishing streamers, the two most common ways to control the sink rate of your flies are with a sink tip or a weighted fly. Each one has its own benefits and scenarios where they should be used. How you plan to fish your streamer should influence where you put your weight. Allow me to explain..
When to use a Weighted Fly: When you are fishing streamers from a boat or actively stripping/moving your fly, you want to make sure you have a weighted streamer. A sink tip takes time to get down in the water column. If you are pounding the banks from a drift boat or working some pocket water, you want that fly to quickly get down. A sink tip will not help here. Instead I tie my flies heavy or even will put a large 3/0 split shot in front of my fly. This gives me more control in where my flies are in the water column, I can use my rod tip or stripping speed to determine their depth. Even when I tie my flies heavy, I have found it productive to add a split shot in front of my fly. I can then almost jig the streamer through pockets or right off the bank, all with the fly immediately sinking when the cast hits the water. I like to fish this set up with a floating line, and a longer leader (7-9 ft). The floating line allows for easier quick casts as you wont have to lift the line up through the water column like you would with a sinking or intermediate line. I also will use a line with an aggressive front taper to help turn the heavy fly over. Lines designed to cast large Bass flies are a personal favorite for this situation.
When to use a Sink Tip: Sink tips are perfect for swinging flies. When you want your flies to slowly move through the current at a relatively consistent depth. This type of fishing is ideal for a switch or 2 handed rod but can still be done on a single hander. If you are actively stripping streamers in, a sink tip will be much more difficult to pick up and recast as the line will be further down in the water column. That is why a spey rod is the perfect tool to cast a sink tip. When using a sink tip, you want a short leader. That is because we are using just the sink tip to control the depth of the fly, very rarely are the flies weighted much. So a shorter leader tied off of the tip (just a couple feet is fine) will keep your flies in the zone with the sink tip. If you have too long of a leader, the sink tip may be at the perfect depth but your fly could still be just below the surface waiting for the sink tip to pull it down. As you get more experienced with this style of fishing, you will start to use a mend or plan how far downstream you land your cast to further control the sink rate of the fly.
These are a few of my favorite ways to fly fish. Different scenarios or target species usually influence which set up I will use. Just remember, how you plan to fish your streamer should manipulate where you put your weight (ie weighted/sinking line vs weighted fly.) Good luck out there and as always, leave us a comment with any questions!
More Timeless Tips: