Is Lead Dead?

Ice anglers have embraced tungsten. A Chekai Tungsten Jig by Custom Jigs & Spins

The fish catching ability of lead-head jigs is legendary. I’ve caught fish in freshwater and salt with lead-heads. I’ve caught fish with lead jigs so small they could be flicked with a fly rod and so heavy they could be classed as a lethal weapon. Many experts opine lead-head jigs to be the numero-uno fishing lure of all time. They are probably right.

So why the title of this column? Is lead dead?

It’s not dead, but it’s supremacy as the “heavy metal” part of a jig or other fishing lure is certainly being challenged by tungsten, a metal is approximately 1.7 times heavier than lead, physical size being equal. This means a jig with a jig head a quarter-inch in diameter will weigh 1.7 times more if it’s tungsten instead of lead or if you commonly use a quarter ounce jig to get down to the mouth level of the fish, using tungsten, your jig head can be much smaller.

Either scenario can be good depending on the fishing situation. 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 like a lure twice its size.

The fascinating fact about tungsten based lures is south of the ice fishing belt, where tungsten ice jigs and spoons are all the rage, anglers who have discovered the value of fast-sinking tungsten for crappies, walleyes and many other species are rare. Dozens of leading tackle companies offer products made with this miraculous material for their ice fishing customers, but other than a few ice fishing jigs, next to no one outside the bass world has taken note of the trend.

One of the few who has noticed and is using tungsten jigs is Chicago area guide and pro angler Tony Boshold. Boshold, a panfish specialist who’s won gold medals in national and international ice fishing competitions, has adapted 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 me present a tiny crappie minnow or a 1-inch Little Atom Nuggie for finicky panfish, while its weight means I don’t need to add split shot to properly balance the float. I match a 4- or 5-mm FISKAS jig to the float to make the float rest at a slight angle on the surface. If the float goes down, it’s fish-on. More important crappies often bite going up to the bait. When this happens, the float lays down when the fish lifts the jig.”

Boshold told me, “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.”

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.

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.

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.

In truth, lead’s anything but dead but 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.

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Mike Schoonveld

Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest.

Mike can be reached through his website www.brother-nature.com or visit Mike’s Outdoor World Blog at www.bronature.com

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