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Complete Guide to Using Sputnik Sinkers for Successful Fishing

Updated: Apr 10

The most under-rated weight for tackling moving water - rivers, estuaries, beaches, piers etc - when doing any kind of bait fishing is the sputnik sinker. In my opinion, if you're fishing anywhere with significant currents or waves, you could be missing out on a lot of fish by using any other style of weight.


To help fix that, this guide covers all the tips and tricks I use to catch lots of fish using these versatile weights - also called spider weights, breakout sinkers or grapnel leads. Plus I'll share some insights into why using this type of sinker will improve your hook-up rate wherever you fish with bait in moving water; pier and surf fishing, for example.

sputnik sinker

Complete Guide to Sputnik Sinkers Page Index


 

What is a Sputnik Sinker?


Sputnik sinkers are anchor-like lead fishing weights that have four long metal arms extending out from an elongated missile-shaped body, hence the name - they look like the old sputnik satellites from the 1950s and 60s.


Your line or rig is attached to the metal loop at the top of the weight's stem, and they're designed to hold a fresh bait in position in strong currents for longer than a standard sinker would do. This has several crucial advantages for the angler fishing the surf, pier or river, which we'll discuss in-depth in the next section.


sputnik sinkers
A sputnik sinker's arms dig into the bottom, enabling them to hold their position in strong currents

The long arms dislodge and fold back behind the sinker when a fish picks up the bait and tries to swim off, making sputniks easy to retrieve after casting or with a fish attached. The photo below shows the arms in the disengaged position after retrieving, ready to be folded back upright into the groves on the main body for a recast.


sputnik sinkers
The four arms on sputnik sinkers are designed to disengage under a certain amount of pressure - when a fish hooks itself, or you retrieve the rig, for example

Three reasons Sputnik Sinkers will catch you more fish


1 - Your Rig and Bait Stays in Position Longer: Sputniks are an essential part of my guided shark and surf fishing sessions for several reasons, some of which may not be immediately obvious. I'm surprised at just how many beach casters persist with pyramid or bank designs in heavy currents and big swells when it just isn't holding bottom at all. The rig rapidly washes downstream, gets hung up on someone's line or some weed, and it's time to rebait and recast for the umpteenth time that day.


It's fine to bounce the bait slowly downstream like a natural piece of forage for certain species and styles of surf fishing - light line fishing with a small grub or sandworm, for example. But, if you're casting fresh baits like bloodworms, mussel, clams, shrimp, squid, mackerel, cut bait or Fishbites - the rig needs to stay relatively static once it hits the bottom with the tight line out of the water as much as possible and rod tips in the air for maximum effectiveness and efficient hook-ups.

surf fishing sputnik sinker
A surf fishing rod set up with a sputnik sinker - you can see the bend in the pole from the constant tension that's maintained between rod tip and sputnik sinker

The main reason for this is that a lot of fish will find your fresh bait by scent as it washes around the surf zone and along with the current. They will follow the scent trail to its source - a trait exhibited by catfish, croaker (drum) and predatory species like sharks and rays, in particular - but if your bait has washed downstream and far away from where it originally put out a nice trail of fresh scent, the fish is a lot less likely to find your bait. This equals fewer hook-ups and fish on the sand.


In a nutshell, your sinker choice really matters when it comes to tipping the scales in your favor.


2 - The Fish Hooks Itself: The anchor-like qualities of the sputnik sinker means that a lot of fish hook themselves against the resistance of the weight when they eat the bait and try to swim off. Set up with a wire or fluorocarbon circle hook rig, this has proven to be a highly effective self-hooking combination for multi-fish days on a number of species.


Catfish, croaker, sharks, rays, pompano, redfish, drum, bass and whiting are all highly susceptible to this sinker and rig combination. You can see the circle hook in the bottom lip of the yellowfin croaker below, and the 3oz sputnik that helped put it there.


sputnik sinker beach fishing
A perfectly-hooked croaker caught on a circle hook and 3oz sputnik sinker

3 - Enables Use of Lighter Tackle and Rigs: With the superior anchoring qualities of the sputniks, it's possible to use a smaller sinker than if you were relying on something like a pyramid, storm or bank design.


For example, when I'm casting a dropper loop rig for small to medium-size surf species on a standard Medium-rated 10-12-foot combo, I use a 2oz or 3oz sputnik sinker 90% of the time. This is perfect for a 30-60m cast into a nice trough or hole and will stay put in all but the most severe of swells and currents.


By contrast, the angler next to me is often relying on 4oz, 5oz and even 6oz pyramid or bank sinkers and fishing in the same style. But they're having to use much heavier tackle, leader and main line to handle the extra weight, making for a less than optimal presentation for the type of fish often targeted in the surf zone.


The ability to step down a line size (20lb vs 30-40lb, for example) and fish lighter tackle means everything is a degree easier, plus that subtlety and finesse is often the key to tripping up the bigger fish.

 

Sputnik Sinker size guide - what weight to use and when


The chart below gives you an idea of the sputnik sinker sizes that work best across a variety of situations, tackle combos and target species.


When using big sinkers like this, it's important to match your line strength to the sinker weight to avoid potentially-dangerous breakages when casting (known as "crack-offs"). The rule is that you need about ten pounds of breaking strain in your main line or leader for every ounce you want to cast.

Sinker Size (ounces & grams)

Casting Leader / Main Line Minimum (lb pounds)

Fishing Style, Combo & Target Species

2oz (55g)

20lb

Catfishing & Surf fishing with bait (croaker etc) with Light to Medium-rated combos for small species using dropper loop rigs and C-rigs

3oz (85g)

30lb

Catfishing, Surf and pier fishing with bait (croaker etc) with Medium-rated combos for small species (pompano, perch etc) using dropper loop rigs and C-rigs

4oz (110g)

40lb

Pier and surf fishing with Medium to Heavy-rated combos for larger surf species and small predators (drum, redfish, bass) or catfish in fast-moving rivers

5oz (140g)

50lb

Pier and surf fishing with Medium-Heavy to Heavy-rated combos for larger surf species and predators (drum, redfish, bass) or big catfish in deep rivers with lots of current

6oz (170g)

60lb

Pier and surf fishing with Heavy-rated combos for larger surf species and predators (drum, redfish, bass) Distance casting for any species from the beach

7oz (200g)

70lb

Pier and surf shark fishing with pulley rigs and big cut baits; Chunking for striped bass in rough conditions; Sturgeon fishing in fast flows

8oz (250g)

80lb

Surf shark fishing with pulley rigs and big cut baits; land-based shark fishing, drone fishing; Chunking for striped bass in rough conditions with Heavy-rated combos

sputnik sinkers size guide
Sputnik sinkers usually come in 3oz to 8oz sizes

When to use a Sputnik Sinker


  • When you want to hold a bait in one place in the surf or just beyond - maybe in a deeper hole or gully - for surf fishing species like croaker, perch, pompano, drum, corbina and bass

  • Anytime you're using scented baits like Fishbites and / or most circle hook bait rigs

  • When you're fishing for rays and surf sharks by casting from the beach or pier and want a big sinker to hold fresh cut bait in place until the fish hooks itself

  • When you're using a non-return slider whilst fishing from a pier or structure and sliding cut or live baits down the line for sharks

  • When you're sturgeon, catfish or bass fishing in fast-flowing estuaries and rivers from a boat or shore, and need a bait to stay in one place until the fish finds it

  • When fishing into softer structural pockets like sand bars between rocks or reef, a sputnik sinker will stay in one place and not wash into the nearby snags. If it does get snagged on the arms, they will disengage and you'll likely get your rig back, which you won't do if a pyramid sinker gets wedged into the same crevice

  • When fishing with lots of weed, kelp or trash in the water; the sputnik sinker will stay in position longer and be less affected by debris building up on the line

 

When not to use a Sputnik Sinker


  • When you want a presentation that involves the bait naturally washing down the current

  • When you're using any sort of lure or artificial bait like a swimbait, jerkbait or fluke

  • When you're fishing in a lake, harbor or any body of water with little or no movement

  • When your rod and reel combo isn't rated for sinkers above 1-2oz (most sputnik sinkers are 2oz-plus)

 

Best setups and rigs for using with a Sputnik Sinker


The great aerodynamic qualities of this style of sinker lends itself well to setups that are cast with the weight positioned at the bottom of the rig; a dropper loop or pulley-style rig, for example. This achieves maximum distance with the stable flight of the sinker leading and the rig behind it.


Setups with the sinker running freely on the line above the rig like Carolina rigs and Fish Finder rigs work fine and will cast OK, but not as well as the pulley or dropper loop style, which are the two most effective rigs for surf fishing for lots of species on many coastlines.


pulley rig for surf shark fishing and sputnik sinker
A pulley rig for surf shark fishng with a large sputnik sinker
 

Guide's tips for using Sputnik Sinkers

Tighten wire arms for more grip: Another handy aspect of the sputnik design is that most will allow you to adjust the tension at which the arms disengage from the sinker body. The four wire arms are usually made from a pair of U-shaped wires, and to make the arms stay in the enaged position in stronger currents, you simple use a pair of pliers to pinch the bottom of the U shape so it grips the sinker body tighter.


sputnik sinkers
Adjusting the tension on the wires of a sputnik sinker to improve grip

If the arms are too tight and aren't disengaging when you need them to, open up the gape of the wires a little to reduce their grip on the sinker body. The arms should only disengage when you reel in the rig, or a fish picks up the bait.


Carry some small and medium-size cable ties: If you're tackling severe currents, big swells or water carrying lots of debris, even the biggest sputnik can struggle to hold bottom with the arms disengaging under lots of pressure. By cable-tying the arms in the engaged position, you can extend the soak time significantly and keep the bait out further than if the arms disengage under heavy loads (a pile of kelp, for example) every few minutes.


Sputnik sinker surf fishing tips
A sputnik sinker with the arms cable-tied in place for fishing in severe currents and big waves

Best way to carry / transport Sputnik Sinkers: With the wires and awkward shape, these aren't the type of sinker you can just throw in the bottom of your bag and leave. They'll quickly poke through soft tackle bag materials and wear a hole.


The answer is to get hold of the type of large plastic tubs that protein powder or baby formula often comes in. These are tough enough to contain spiky sinkers, lightweight and cheap. I have a tub for 6-8oz sinkers (below) and another for 2-5oz sizes, both are around 9" tall and 6" wide across the top.


sputnik sinker storage
A large plastic tub is great for storing and carrying sputnik sinkers

Thank you for reading this guide to sputnik sinkers - hopefully this information will help you make the most of this under-used style of weight and catch even more fish like this awesome surf shark below!


sputnik sinkers shark fishing
The author with a soupfin shark caught surf fishing with an 8oz sputnik sinker and pulley rig


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