Saline, MI – Fascinating fact about one of the most impressive lure materials in existence: South of the ice fishing belt, rare is the angler who’s discovered the value of fast-sinking tungsten for crappies, walleyes and many other species. It’s a remarkable truth when you consider the beneficial facets of this awesome lead alternative — a non-toxic heavy metal that plummets fast to deep water, penetrates heavy cover to reach big, sheltered bruisers and casts heavy like a lure twice its size.
That’s just scratching the surface of tungsten’s talents.
For all the advantages of this precious metal, you’d think anglers would be all over it — and in the bass arena, they are. Across the U.S.A., bass fans now treasure their tungsten sinkers, spinnerbaits and jigheads.
Dozens of leading tackle companies offer products made with this miraculous material. And yet, other than a few ice fishing jigs, next to no one outside the big bad bass world has taken note of the trend.
An elite exception, Michigan based Your Bobbers Down, Inc. — the first North American company to offer high tech tungsten lures — recently expanded its already impressive line of freshwater Wolfram jigs with the new FISKAS XL Walleye Series. Translated as “heavy stone” in Swedish, Wolfram (tungsten) is a rare earth metal known for its extreme density, conductivity and possession of the highest melting point of all metals. Tungsten is approximately 1.7 times heavier than lead, physical size being equal (weight per cubic foot in pounds: Lead 707.96; Tungsten 1204.41, pure Gold 1206.83).
All these impressive traits translate to a jig or sinker that descends much faster than lead, allowing anglers to fish smaller, stealthier and heavier, simultaneously. Tungsten also yields precise presentations, exceptional lure contact and superior bite detection due to its dense, ultra-hard composition.
Wolfram for Walleyes
Right now, as walleyes assemble in rivers en masse, says Chicago area guide and pro angler Tony Boshold, a tungsten XL Walleye Series jig may be the most deadly secret weapon in anglers’ arsenals. “While swift current sweeps many presentations right past the languid eyeballs of big spring walleyes, a heavy-for-its-size tungsten jig thunks bottom and holds its place, keeping the jig and soft plastic or live minnow right in the strike zone. FISKAS Tungsten is on the verge of a breakthrough in the walleye arena, no question.”
Adds Jamie Olson, co-founder of Your Bobbers Down, U.S. distributor of FISKAS Wolfram Jigs and Little Atom Soft Plastics: “The weight and smaller size of tungsten is a big advantage where fish are not as aggressive in spring and post spawn applications. Tungsten offers a ton of advantages for open water fishing, whether drifting perch, crappies or walleye, or shore fishing a lake or river with current to keep your lure at the right depth. Tungsten bodies have less drag in current than lead of the same weight because there is less surface area. Also helps with casting distance and precision on windy days.”
Boshold, a panfish specialist who’s won gold medals in national and international ice fishing competition, has adapted FISKAS tungsten jigs to his open water fishing, with exceptional results. “In spring, when I go to water shallower than 10 feet, a tungsten jig such as a FISKAS Fry or Epoxy Jig is a fish-seeking missile below a slip float. The jig’s small size lets you present a tiny crappie minnow or a 1-inch Little Atom Nuggie for finicky panfish, while its weight means you don’t need to add split shot to properly balance the float. I match a 4- or 5-mm FISKAS jig to the float so it’s resting at a slight angle on the surface; shows the slightest “up” or rise bites from crappies, which makes the float lay down when a fish lifts it.”
Once panfish finish spawning and move to deeper water, Boshold dips into his ice fishing bag of tricks to “tune up” his bite detection. “We use St. Croix Legend ice rods over the side of the boat, vertically jigging FISKAS Wolfram jigs and Little Atom Nuggies down in 20 to 25 feet of water. No way you could be so precise with a similar size lead jig.
“A flasher lets me sight fish anywhere in the water column, watching fish react to my lure on the sonar screen. The tungsten jigs’ super-hard exterior sends back a constant sharp sonar return, so the lure stays visible on the screen. And the jig’s weight helps me stay vertical and detect the faintest of bites.
“Seriously, it amazes me more crappie and perch anglers aren’t using tungsten. Not just in the Great Lakes region, either. For spider rigging on southern impoundments for those deep crappies, tungsten will eventually be huge. Has to be. Just has too many good things going for it to be ignored by crappie anglers much longer. The bass guys discovered it six or seven years ago, and now, tungsten jigs and worm weights are the real deal.”
Olson adds perspective on the relative expense of tungsten versus lead. “Sure tungsten costs more per jig. But look at the bass circuits where they’ve made a big transition to tungsten weights for flippin’, dragging a Carolina rig or casting. Even though they’re paying $2 or more for a ¾-ounce weight, price is no longer a deterrent. The advantages — such as better bite detection and improved casting precision — have simply changed the way Bassmaster anglers fish.”
While much of the country still has the option to choose whether they fish lead, tungsten or other materials, several Northeastern states, including New York and Vermont, have banned the sale of lead fishing weights one half ounce and less. California now restricts use of lead tackle under 1-ounce. Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire have all banned the use and sale of jigs and sinkers weighing one ounce or less. In all these areas, tungsten has been identified as the best, non-toxic lead alternative.
For now, perhaps it’s useful to view tungsten versus lead the same way we perceive braided superlines versus monofilament. Superline is more expensive and certainly more effective in some situations. But not it’s necessarily a cure-all. Indeed, a lot of anglers still use monofilament lines for much of their fishing. Others prefer fluorocarbon, in the right situation.
A similar statement might apply to tungsten: More expensive than lead due to the cost of the raw material and its intricate production process. But tungsten is an exceptional, non-toxic metal for jigs and sinkers in many scenarios: deep water, heavy current, for long, precise casts and exceptional bite detection.
A little like bobbers and bait, monofilament line and other fishing traditions, lead’s anything but dead. Then again, tungsten makes a pretty convincing case on its own behalf. Whether you’re chasing big bass, walleyes or a limit of crappies, this heavy metal is here to stay and happening now.