You’re standing in the river staring at the water with a bag full of tips you bought at your fly shop, but now which one to use? Would you be surprised to hear your tip impacts more than just the presentation of your fly? Let’s break down what the technical stuff means and what a particular tip can do for you and against you. Learn these basics and you’ll not only be a better angler, but a popular guest at the next fly shop happy hour.
First, what are Tips?
Basically, tips are sections of fly lines that are looped on the front of Skagit heads to control the depth of your swung fly presentation from the surface to the bottom of the river water column. Tips generally have no taper or just a slight front taper and come in a wide selection ranging from floating to 10” per second sink T – 17 and everything in between. Typical tips span from 8’ to 15’. You can purchase tips at your fly shop ready to use with factory welded loops at each end or if you are a do-it yourselfer, you can get tip material without loops, allowing you to create custom lengths.
One of the most confused issues around tips for swung fly anglers is how they fit within a Skagit system. With a Skagit system you always need to have a tip or sinking leader on the front of your Skagit head to complete the system. A Skagit system will not work with just a standard mono leader to the end. So, tips are an important tool to understand for swung fly around the Great Lakes.
On to the technical stuff
There are many brands of tips, but two of the most popular tip types used are Scientific Anglers TC Tips and Rio MOW Tips. Each work equally well when it comes down to fishing, however there are a few differences when it comes down to rod load and casting. Did we just say rod load and casting? Yes, more on that shortly.
The most important thing to understand with tips is sink ability. Around your fly shop you may hear the terms “sink rate” or “sink” when tips are being talked about. One of the challenges we face is each brand can have different methods of communicating about sink ability for their products, like color code systems and product names. To make it simple, look on the packages for something like this; T- xx. The T stands for tungsten and the number after is the weight grains per foot. For the angler, regardless of brand this is the information we need to start dialing in what we want to use.
Guides & Recommendations
When matching tips to Skagit heads it’s all about the payload. Is the grain weight of the head enough to carry the grain weight of the tip easily? A properly matched tip will provide a balanced Skagit system with an optimal load \ appropriate sink ability ratio.
Below is a chart with a basic guideline of ratios that will match tips and heads, so casting is not so difficult for the average Great Lakes fly angler.
Use Commercial Tips or Make Custom?
For me, personally there are some instances where I make up my own tips from T type material, but my go to are Scientific Anglers TC tips. I find the benefits are the system is a uniform grain weight for the tips across the board. Making each tip weight the same across the board from float through sink 7 makes it easier to transition between tips and maintain consistent casts. They are also textured, so it makes breaking the water tension on the beginning lift portion of the cast easier. The sink rate is based on inches per second.
Around home my waters, my favorite SA TC Tip is the Sink 2/Sink 4, because it easily fishes all types of water and I can adapt by using weighted, unweighted flies, mends and cast angle.
Great Lakes Run-Off Rivers and Tributaries
When choosing T type material tips the simplest way to understand what you would need is to first determine what is needed for average flows. For example, in my home waters, the Lake Erie tributaries, you need 55 – 75 grains of T material in your tip for average flows. From that average flows adjust from there based on CFS and angling application.
Use the recommendation below to give you your baseline starting point and work on tweaking the system, up or down depending on rod action and fly angler skill set, so it works for you.
Recommended SA TC TIPS for Lake Erie Tributaries
Now What About Impacts on Rod Load & Casting?
I hinted several times that your tip can impact rod load and casting and most 2- hand anglers are unaware of the potential problems, but often suffer from them. Looking at casting and payload ratios there are a few bullet points that you need to focus on.
Is the tip the right length for your rod?
Is the head grain weight enough to cast your tip easily?
Is the tip going to affect your D – Loop?
It often comes as a surprise to a budding skagit head when they realize their tip impacts casting. But yes, you need to consider how the tip you will use will affect your D- Loop. The energy in all 2 hand casts is in the D – Loop. Generally, when your casts are failing, it's often a lack of enough energy (power) to turn over and propel your fly to the target. And that's often the fault of not filling the D – Loop properly (too small of a D – loop). This in turn impacts rod load. When using full sinking tips vs. float/sink combination type tips you will feel the difference in how each loads your rod, sometimes for the better or worse. Tip selection can seem like a puzzle between what’s needed for the fishing conditions, your rod, and even your cast. Proficient 2-hand anglers will learn through coaching, practice and engagement how to select a tip and correct/adjust for more constant casts with energized D- Loops.
This can take time and often sifting through all the information to speed the learning can be frustrating. One fact for sure is that if you ask six Spey or Skagit nerds the same question you will get six different opinions and all are right in one way or another depending, making it painful for a beginner trying to comb through it all.
One of the things I’ve come to realize through the years is the most successful 2 hand anglers recognize casting proficiency as a fishing tool and engage in coaching and practice outside of their fishing time to work on the skills. Quite simply, having the system dialed in, the casting dialed in, leads to more successful fishing outcomes. We’ve got a long track record of supporting folks along their two-hand journey and getting them started on the right foot.
Sound like something you’d like to do? Here's some ways we can help:
Beginner Casting lessons for either single or 2-hand rods.
Casting Tune- Ups to evaluate your cast and work with you on any issues and take you to the next level.
Outfit Evaluations – we’ll evaluate your rod, system all within your cast and help you determine if it’s grained correctly for what you need.
Trip prep- a variation on the Casting Tune Up & Outfit Evaluation. We can help you prep for that upcoming destination trip.
- Peace: Jeff