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Single Hand Skagit :
Sink Tips

Skagit heads are designed to be cast with sink tips, which for practical purposes can be divided into heavy and light tips. As a rough rule, light tips are around 20% - 30% of the weight of the Skagit head, and heavy tips are 30% - 50% of head weight.

As short Skagit heads can cast more weight than longer heads of the same grain weight, it is more accurate to consider light and heavy tips in terms of the formula for calculating the optimum weight of heavy tips (presented in the previous link ‘Skagit Head Design’), as it takes length into account.

Given that the formula provides the optimum weight for heavy tips for a specific Skagit head, light tips are around 50-75% of the OTW.

Light Sink Tips

Light sink tips are usually used for lightly weighted flies in situations where presentation is important. They are most appropriate for Skagit hea3s <210 grains, as heavier heads make too much splash for this purpose, at least in my experience. For single-hand outfits heavier than 5 wt it may be better to switch to a compact Scandi style head for this application, e.g. Rio Trout Spey or Scientific Anglers Scandi Lite.



Coated leaders make excellent light tips. Airfo Polyleaders, Rio Versileaders and Scientific Anglers Sonar leaders consist of a level monofilament nylon core with a tapered polyurethane coating ranging in sink rates from floating through intermediate to 6 ips.



Although coated leaders come in a range of weights and breaking strains, the thicker/heavier versions are usually recommended for micro-Skagit applications, because they have sufficient ‘line stick’ for water-loaded casts and are less likely to be overpowered by the grunty head. Ten foot coated leaders in the 50-60 grain range are usually best for 5 wt 9 ft rods.



Ten foot Rio Scandi and Spey Versileaders weigh 35 and 75 grains respectively, and SA Sonar leaders are 50 grains, regardless of sink rate. Airflo Polyleaders increase in weight with sink rate and the Extra Strong Salmon leaders weigh about twice as much as the standard Salmon/Stealhead leaders. Ten foot Extra Strong intermediate Polyleaders weigh close to 50 grains, which is great for 5 wt single-hand Skagit applications.



The advantage of a tapered tip is that it will turn over lighter flies resulting in better presentation. Presentation is further improved with floating and intermediate Polyleaders, because they are transparent.



The disadvantages of coated leaders are: 1) tapers collapse under the load of heavy flies, and 2) tips of the faster sinking versions sink at less than a third of the rate of the butt section, for which the sink rate is given. They are therefore not great for heavy flies or getting down deep.



Intermediate coated leaders have the widest application for micro-Skagit. For sink rates greater than 3 ips, it may be best to switch to a Rio Replacement Tip (see more below) for streamers with light to moderate weight and to a level sink tip for heavy streamers.

Rio Replacement Tips


Rio Replacement Tips span the gap between coated leaders and level sink tips, as they are built on low stretch braided cores (instead of monofilament), have welded loops at both ends, and an approximately 3 ft front taper.



The 10 ft Replacement Tips come in line rating 5-9 and grain weights 55-95 grains, and within each line weight there are four sink rates – floating, 1.5-2 ips, 3-4 ips and 6-7 ips. All sink rates for a particular line weight have the same grain weight, e.g. the # 5 tips all weigh around 55 grains.



A unique feature of the two faster sinking Replacement Tips (i.e. 3 ips and 6 ips) is they are density compensated, so the tapered tips do not sink slower than the thicker butt sections, which is an issue for faster sinking coated leaders.



The 61 grain #5 Sink 6 Replacement Tip (6 grains heavier than advertised) has a sink rate of 6-7 ips - the same as T-8 - but being lighter and with a 3-4 ft front taper, has much less line stick than 10 ft of T-8. It therefore casted easily on longer heads that could not comfortably manage 10 ft compound tips or 9 ft of T-8, e.g. Skagit Scout 180 or Skagit Trout Spey 200.


I found the #6 Sink 6 Replacement tips to be a better match for shorter heads of similar weight, e.g. Skagit Lite 180, as they produced a smoother transition with additional grunt, and also handled heavier flies.



Presentation with the #5 and #6 Sink 6 Replacement Tips was very much better than level T-8, when using smaller ( #12 to #6) moderately weighted (3.5mm tungsten to 4mm brass bead) streamers. The thinner, lighter sink-tip made less splash and the tapered front section turned over modest weight.



The #5 S6 Replacement Tip on the Trout Max 175, Skagit Lite 150 and the Scout 180 were excellent combinations for presentation in clear flowing water when some depth is required. The Scout 180 offers greater distance but cannot be stripped as close, so it’s ideal for bigger rivers and for swinging flies when less stripping is required. The S3 tip is great for riffles, shallow tail-outs, and lakes.


Heavy sink tips

New Zealand rivers are not large by international standards but tend to be short with relatively high gradients, making them quick and powerful. When fishing streamers near the bottom on the larger New Zealand rivers, a weighted streamer on a level sink tip is often the best option. The advantage of level sink tips is that they sink much faster than tapered tips and are also better able to turn over large or heavy flies.


I find that a level sink tip fishes much better with a heavily weighted fly because the fly helps straighten the tip during the cast, and it also sinks with the tip, getting down quicker and ensuring the angler remains in contact throughout the drift, before the flies begin to swing.



An important consideration when selecting the weight and length of a heavy sink tip is that a shorter tip of equivalent weight - say, 7.5 ft of T-11 vs 10 ft of T-8 - sinks more quickly than the longer one, but rises more quickly on the swing. The shorter tip is therefore suited to dropping flies into holes or drop offs, as not only does it sink more quickly, but rises quicker and is therefore less likely to snag when the water shallows.


Although the longer tip sinks slower, it remains at depth for longer, making it better for swinging streamers through riffles or runs of uniform depth, and for stripping streamers up current seams.



A longer tip of the same density - e.g. 10 ft vs 7.5 ft of T-8 – will sink quicker and remain deeper for longer than the shorter one. It also places the fly further from the thick Skagit head, where it is less likely to spook wary fish in clear water.



The following are some heavy sink tips I found to be effective for micro-Skagit:


Custom Cut tips (Level T): Both Airflo and Rio market lengths of level-T material consisting of a non-stretch core with a tungsten impregnated coating from which level custom sink tips can be custom cut. They come in weights T-7 to T-18, the number indicating the weight in grains per foot. Sink rates are around 6.5 inches per second for T-7/8 and 7.5 ips for T-10/11, which are the weights most commonly used on for micro-Skagit heads. Rio Level-T material welds best and has proven to be incredibly durable.



OPST Micro Tips: Since OPST led the single hand and micro-Skagit revolution, it’s not surprising they came out with 5 ft, 7.5 ft and 10 ft micro sink tips. They are designed by Ed Ward – with 5 ft and 7.5 ft lengths specifically for single hand rods - and manufactured by RIO. These single-hand micro sink tips are produced in three sink rates: ‘riffle’ (2 ips), ‘run’ (4 ips) and ‘bucket’ (6 ips).


The 5 ft sink tips all weigh 40 grains and the 7.5 ft tips all weigh 60 grains, regardless of sink rate. The bucket tips have similar dimensions and performance to equivalent lengths of level T-8, except they have more stretch than Airflo and Rio products.



Airflo Flo Tips: Flo Tips are compound tips either 10 ft or 12 ft long and built on a non-stretch 30 lb core with a polyurethane coating. The first 2.5 ft is a thicker intermediate material, followed by a 0.8 ft section of tapered sink material, with the remainder being level-T material in T-7, T-10, T-14, or T-18.


The thick butt and taper smooth the energy transfer during casting, reducing kick, and increasing distance and improving presentation. Since the intermediate butt section sinks, albeit slower than the level-T, it reduces hinging on the water,’digs in’ to slow the swing, and fishes flies deeper than 7.5 ft of Level-T. Ten foot Flo Tips are ideal for single-hand Skagit.



Rio MOW and iMOW Tips: Ten foot MOW tips are produced in three weight-based series: light (T-8), Medium (T-11) and Heavy (T-14).

There are five options in each of these series, depending on the relative proportions of floating and sinking material:


1) full floating,

2) front quarter sinking,

3) front half sinking,

4) front three-quarters sinking, and

5) full sinking.


The iMOW tips are similar, except that the floating portion is exchanged for intermediate. An iMOW tip with the front 7.5 ft sinking is therefore very similar to a 10 ft Airflo Flo tip, although the intermediate section is not as thick and the taper to the T-material is around 0.1 ft as opposed to 0.8 ft.


The iMOW tips are also significantly lighter than the Flo tips of equivalent sink rate, e.g. my iMOW light (T-8) is 90 grains, while my Airflo T-7 Flo tip is 114 grains. Twenty grains in tip weight is a big deal on a 175 grain Skagit head. The full sinking version of the MOW and iMOW series is basically a length of level-T material with welded loops at each end, and is therefore identical to a 10 ft custom-cut tip in equivalent weight (i.e. T-designation).



Rio 3D MOW Tips: Ten foot 3D MOW tips, like the original MOW tips, are produced in three weight options: light (80 grains,) medium (110 grains) and heavy (140 grains). But the similarity ends there. The 3D stands for triple density, as each tip is divided into three parts of increasing density, and within each weight category there are three options:

intermediate / sink3 / sink4 ;

sink3 / sink4 / sink5 ;

and sink5 / sink6 / sink7.


While the purpose of the density compensation is to reduce hinging and sagging during the swing, the progressively increasing density, and corresponding decreasing diameter, results in easier pick-up, a smoother cast and better presentation than with a 9-10 ft length of level-T.

Sink Tip Recommendations

When it comes to heavy sink tips for 9-9.5 ft single hand rods I like fishing with custom cut level-T tips for lengths up to 8ft, but prefer 10 ft compound tips, especially Airflo Flo and Rio 3-D MOW tips, for tips longer than 8 ft. For casting light to moderately weighted streamers, S3 and S6 10 ft Rio Replacement tips are exceptional. And for soft hackles and lightly weighted streamers fished close to the surface, intermediate Airflo Extra Strong Polyleaders, Scientific Anglers Sonar Leaders, and Rio Spey Versileaders are excellent.


Sink tips that worked well for single hand use with the heads used in my tests with 9 ft and 9.5 ft rods are listed in 'Table of Sink Tip Recommendations', toward the end of this series of links.


In 'Table of Lengths and Weights of Sink Tips' below, I give accurate lengths and weights for each of the sink tips mentioned. Accurate lengths and weights are often necessary for fine tuning single-hand micro-Skagit systems.

Tippets for Sink Tips

A level length of tippet material is all that is needed when fishing with sink tips. Weighted streamers need thicker tippets to turn them over, and because the weight of the fly forms part of the anchor, it is necessary to keep the tippet short, i.e. 4-5 ft, so fly and tip work together. I started off using 10-12 lb Maxima as the tippet material for heavy streamers because it is a tough nylon and is cheap.


My experience on the Ruakituri River, NZ, had me switch to 0x (16 lb) and 1x (13 lb) Trout Hunter Fluorocarbon. The river’s soft but abrasive papa slabs and boulders are tough on tippet material and I found myself losing a lot of flies when hooking the bottom. Unlike nylon, the Fluoro did not weaken as quickly and I was able to, most times, pull flies free.



Since thin tippet material cuts into and removes the coating of the welded loop of a sink tip, it is helpful to attach the tippet to the sink tip via a short length of 25 lb Maxima, with a perfection loop at each end (Photo 2). Overall length of the connector should be about 2 inches, and coating the knots with Loon Knot Sense or Storm Sure adds security, aids slipping through head loops and reduces tangles.


Tungsten putty or split shot can also be applied to the connector to increase sink rate, or straighten sink tips, which is especially important when using lightly weighted flies. Positioned close to the sink tip, the extra weight does not make for clunky casting.



Small unweighted streamers and soft hackles provide negligible drag, and because they are used to target fish near the surface, where presentation is important, they are fished on longer (i.e. 7-10 ft), thinner tippets, usually off the end of a tapered coated leader.


4. Stepping down Airflo 40 lb Extra Strong Polyleaders with a foot each of 20 lb and 15 lb Maxima smooths presentation considerably, and attaching a large tippet ring to the 15 lb allows one to easily switch between longer lengths of light tippet for soft hackles and wetflies, to shorter lengths of heavier stuff for bigger streamers.



Photo 2: Tippet to tip connector made from 25 lb Maxima, with perfection loops coated with Loon Knot Sense

Single Hand Skagit - Science behind the magic

+ Where it all began
+ Head design
+ Sink tips
+ Casting heavy sink tips
+ Running lines
+ Reels
+ Rods
+ Intermediate heads
+ Favourite outfits
+ Conclusions
+ Shootout of 12 Skagit Heads I tested
+ Table of Sink Tip Recommendations
+ Table of Lengths and Weights of Sink Tips

Trout Spey

+ How it all began
+ What is Spey casting?
+ Fly lines
+ Sink Tips for Skagit Heads
+ Single versus two handed rods
+ Effective Spey flies for New Zealand Trout and techniques for fishing them
+ Favourite Trout Spey outfits
+ Conclusions

Single hand Trout Spey : Getting started with a 9 ft 5wt rod

+ Getting started
+ Rods and Skagit heads
+ Sink tips for Skagit heads
+ Tippet for Skagit heads

Intermediate Skagit heads

+ Hybrid heads
+ Floating tips for Skagit heads
+ Running lines
+ Cost effective approach
+ Learning to Spey cast
+ A final word

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