If you’re like most anglers, tungsten was probably just a faint blip on the outer edge of your radar screen until fairly recently. Sure, Jeopardy fans and techno geeks probably knew that tungsten is used to make filaments for electric lamps and vacuum tubes — and waterfowlers discovered it to be an alternative to lead and steel in shotgun shells several years back. Anglers have been late to the party but we are catching on quickly!
As it turns out, tungsten is really useful!
Before we get too far along here, let’s take a look at exactly what this mystery substance is. Simply put, tungsten is a hard metal that has a high tensile strength. It’s extremely dense for its size — more so than even lead — and is quite resistant to rust and oxidation. It can be forged, extruded and spun into many different forms such as foil, powder, rod, mesh and wire, which makes it highly versatile. So multipurpose is tungsten, in fact, that it is being hailed by some as “the new lead.”
At roughly 20 times the price of lead, tungsten’s largest drawback is cost. That aside, however, there are many attributes that make it extremely attractive to anglers.
Quite possibly tungsten’s greatest quality is the fact that it is non-toxic. We’ve been using lead sinkers for so long now that nobody really thinks twice about it, but the simple fact is lead is extremely poisonous to humans and can be lethal to water birds and other critters. To that end, there’s a large movement towards getting lead out of our lakes and streams. Great Britain banned the use of all lead sinkers in 1987 and since 1997, it’s been illegal to use sinkers and jigs weighing less than 50 grams in Canadian national parks and national wildlife areas.
On the home front, New Hampshire became the first New England state to outlaw lead weights in fishing tackle in 2001 and Maine has since banned the sale of lead sinkers weighing a half-ounce or less. In May of 2004, New York State followed suit. Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently discussing the ban of lead sinkers and jigs on National Wildlife Refuges where birds such as loons and trumpeter swans breed.
Weights and lures made from tungsten are non-toxic, which is a good thing for the environment — and anglers who handle them. From a lure manufacturer’s standpoint, tungsten products are a lot safer than lead to produce.
Tungsten is also attractive because it is more dense than lead. That means anglers can use smaller weights to get down. Bass pro and past Bassmaster Classic Champion, Skeet Reese, of Auburn, CA, is a big fan.
“Tungsten weights are cool because they are much more compact than lead,” he says. “When practicing a technique like flippin’, the smaller sinker will more easily penetrate the cover and get you where you need to be. You also get a quicker fall rate when your offering hits the water. From a cosmetic standpoint, I like that I can use a tungsten sinker that is a lot smaller than a lead sinker of the same weight. A smaller sinker gives you a more natural presentation.”
Tungsten is also starting to replace lead in lure body design. Terminator has a tungsten spinnerbait which has a small body profile without compromising the lure’s weight. Lucky Craft has puts tungsten bearings into some of its rattling plugs and several other lure manufacturers have plans for tungsten as well.
Sensitivity and Sound
Reese says that one of the largest advantages of using tungsten weights is that they are much more sensitive than lead.
“Tungsten sinkers are hard and that helps to transmit a lot more of the action through the line,” he says. “Tungsten really allows you to feel what your doing down there. And when you’re drop-shotting, shakin’, Carolina rigging or fishing a Texas-rigged worm, these sinkers will create a lot of noise when they tick the rocks.”
While bass fishing is a hotbed of tungsten use now, there are many other arenas in the world of fishing where it’s being employed. Tungsten beadheads have become quite popular for tying natural-looking nymphs that need to get down deep and its even found its way into fly lines.
“All of our sinking lines are made with tungsten now,” says Simon Gawesworth of Rio Fly Lines. “We use the powdered form in the lines. Being more dense than lead, we can make a thinner diameter line that sinks quicker with it. Steelhead fishermen, in particular, have really taken to the stuff. Tungsten is also environmentally friendly and safe to produce at our factory.”