Sink tips for Steelhead… What kind of leader should I use?

Figuring out how to a line your Spey rod with sink tips for Steelhead or Trout can be very confusing.  It’s not.  

A common question I see on the internet is what kind of leader do I need to put on my sink tip for Steelhead, or something like that.  Its very easy.  It can be summed up in just a few words. Three feet of straight mono… 

Nothing fancy.   12 lb tesst Maxima Ultragreen is popular but any good strong mono will work.

Here is the the short answer.  For all sink tips for Steelhead 3 feet of Maxima Ultragreen is a great starting point.  Especially if your just starting out. For a floating tip 9′ of 12 lb test Maxima Ultragreen will work.

What if the water is cold and murky and my fly is huge what then on my sink-tip for Steelhead?  Try 2 feet of straight mono.

What if the water is low and cold and clear and I’m using a sink-tip for Steelhead?  Good luck.  But maybe try a longer hunk of straight mono leader, say 5 feet or 7 feet. Use 10 lb test or 8 lb test if the fish aren’t monsters.  

Just remember the longer your leader with a sink tip the less effective the tip will become because the fly will probably ride higher in the water column unless it sinks like a stone. ie. sparcely dressed and, or heavily weighted.

What if the water is clear and above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and I don’t need a sink tip for Steelhead or Trout so I’m fishing my floater, and the fish are very leader shy?  Ok, instead of using 10′ of 12 lb test Maxima Ultragreen, try a longer leader, say 12′ or longer if you feel you really need to.  Go with the lightest lb test you think you can get away with, especially for trout.  

Steelhead aren’t normally too leader shy so don’t get crazy with light weight mono.  Remember though, if your leader is super long you may feel a little out of touch with your fly way out there.

Can I use a factory tapered mono leader on my floating line? Like 9 to 12 feet long?  Absolutely.  Those are great.  I just stick to the straight mono because its simple. One spool for all of my floating tips or sink tips for Steelhead.

A lighter spool or two and some tippet material may be necessary for Trout. But I generally try to use just one weight if I can at all get away with it if I’m swinging flies for Trout.


Question:  I just picked up my first Spey outfit. Do I put on the mow tip before the Polyleader and then add a rod length of mono leader?  And a tippet?  And whats a versa-leader?  Answer: ummmmmm?

So I’m writing this to help you decide which sink tip to use for Steelhead and what kind of leader will work.

First, know this:  Do not get all caught up in sink tip confusion.  Pick one and go. If you dragging your fly in the stones go with a lighter sink tip or fly or both.  

Heavily weighted Skagit heads are known to turn over big sink tips and flys but there is a point of critical mass when to fat of a line is not the answer.  Any Skagit head will turn over any sink tip and weighted fly within reason so don’t be obsessed about getting the perfect match.  A bigger head will turn over heavier tips easier than a smaller Skagit head but don’t get hung up on all that.  I’f your a beginner and you want to know which sink tips to get with your new Skagit head I think the Rio MOW tip video gives you a good ball park guestimation on which size Skagit heads work best with various sized Mow tips, which basically are T8, T11 and T14.  

Really great casters can cast pretty heavy tips on pretty long skinny lines.  But that takes a lot of practice and technique and frankly, for me, its kind of a pain in the fanny.  So I don’t try to be a super hero to often.  All things in moderation I say.

First you need a shooting head.  Skagit heads are popular to lets pretend you have just purchased one.

Popular sink tip for Steelhead and trout, options:  

10′ or 12′ of  t8, for weighted flies, unless you don’t have weighted flies

10′ or 12′ of t11,  for weighted flies, medium to large

10-12′ of T14 for heavy weighted flies, 

any size Rio Mow Tip

type 8 15′ sink tip for light to medium weighted or non weighted flies

type 6 15′ sink tip for  non weighted or light to medium weighted flies

type 3 15′ sink tip non weighted or light to medium weighted flies

The above sink tips in the 10′ length

Airflo Custom Cut tips in t7  for smaller flies fished deep enough

Airflo Custom Cut tips in t10 

Airflo Custom Cut tips in t14

Airflo Custom Cut tips in t18 for bigger flies fished, maybe deeper if they are heavy enough.

Spey works Steve Godshall zink tips in z7, z10, or whatever else.

For all of the above sinktips 3′ of 12 lb test Maximu Ultragreen straight mono leader is a great starting point.  If your fishing situation dictates you can go longer or shorter or lighter, (or heavier)

Do I need a Polyleader, or a versileader?  No.  You do not.  

Do I need a floating Polyleader on my floating tip?  No, you do not.  You just need 9-12′ of straight mono leader.  But some people love them!  The feel super cool when they zip off the water and cast really smoothly and are pretty neat.  But for simplicity sake you don’t need one.  If you want one, get one and fish 3-4 feet of straight mono leader off of that.


Should I use a weighted Polyleader or Versileader on my floating Scandi head?  You can, but if you are inexperienced at casting I don’t recommend it, unless you try a fairly light one, such as an intermediate, or the affable kinda, sorta, fairly fast but not really all that fast sinking polyleader.  It will get your fly down there a little deeper in the water column.

I remember the days of looping all this crap together in an effort to create casting nirvana and finally gave up and went with the minimalist approach.

The tip of a floating Scandi line is pretty skinny so the Polyleaders pull it under pretty easily and they sink fairly well, especially the Super fast sinking ones, but they may be tough to cast for beginners.

My preference is to chop the Scandi head back a little bit to handle heavier sink tips, or buy the Rio Scandi short versitip system.  

Can I use a Polyleader or Versileader on my Skagit head?  Yes, The super fast sinking ones work pretty good.

Can I use a polyleader on the end of a sink tip for Steelhead? Knock yourself out. You can do anything that feels good to you but its much easier to loop mono on the sink tip and go.

After you’ve done this stuff a while you get tired of spending a lot of time messing around with all of these acutraments and wind up just looping something on that works decent and learn to adjust to it.  

I remember the days of looping all this crap together in an effort to create nirvana and finally gave up and went with the minimalist approach.  You don’t need an elaborate system to catch Steelhead or Trout!  But this Spey fishing gig is supposed to be fun and if you like experimenting and reinventing the wheel and engineering that perfect feel for your own satisfaction, I say go for it. Its all about that feel and the fun.  Speaking of fun, Peter Charles at just put out this cool video…


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