Ying and Yang: Tungsten and Lead Jigs
February 06, 2020
Tungsten ice jigs have revolutionized the way we fish. Tungsten is denser than lead, therefore heavier per specific size, so it allows anglers to fish smaller. Because of its density and weight, tungsten drops faster and fishes heavier. Tungsten also transmits well, meaning it passes on impact-contact events (such as bottom contact, weed contact, fish bites) better. In combination, “fishes heavier and transmits better” means increased angler sensitivity to what’s happening below.
These characteristics are game changers in many regards—sometimes. Other times, not so much or not at all. That’s the way it is with many of the products we use. With tungsten and lead there is a yin-yang relationship at work, which is to say the two products complement each other. It’s nice to be able to choose given the situation. We can look briefly at some of the characteristics that make tungsten shine, as we also make a complementary case for lead. Fishes smaller—Being able to fish smaller can be important, especially for picky bluegills. Then again, for largemouths, smallmouths, crappies, and perch, a bit bigger often is better and lead often serves just as well as tungsten—unless you also want to get deep faster and fish heavier with maximum sensitivity.
Anglers should look at each situation on the ice as an experiment in action. It’s often effective to two-time finicky perch and crappies, using a deadsticked lead lure (one favorite is the Lindy Slick Jig, with its longer profile, which couples well with either a string of Gulp! Euro Larvae or maggots) below a rod with a spring tip setting across the top of a bucket. In a hole close by, to attract fish and often to trigger more aggressive ones, we jig more vigorously with a small spoon or a tungsten jig, tipped with Berkley Gulp! or maggots.
Jigging aggressively with a tungsten jig has a hard edge to it that projects a lively visual picture along with distinct vibrations sent out from the pulsating lure. By comparison, just “fluff” the Slick Jig a time or two with a fish on the screen. This is accomplished by barely touching the spring tip with your finger, pushing it down at inch or so, and letting it rise. You can fluff with lead. With tungsten it’s more like a steady biff, bam, boom.
Drops faster—Tungsten drops faster than lead, but practically speaking, not by much. We have one head-to-head test of drop speed, that conducted by Outer Boundary magazine Editor Steve Krueger for the Winter Issue, 2014. The results appeared in an article by Krueger entitled “The Tungsten Truth.” The tungsten and lead jig bodies were the same size and shape, the tungsten jig weighing 4 grams, the lead jig weighing 3 grams. The jigs were dropped on the same 8-
Krueger found that the tungsten jig dropped .25 seconds faster than lead for 4 feet of water. So, incrementally, the tungsten would drop one second faster for every 16 feet of water; thus, two seconds faster for 32 feet, 3 seconds faster for 48 feet. Of course, in the field, drop speed is amplified or qualified by jig size, shape and hook size, line diameter, trailer size and shape, and more. For sure, tungsten drop speed begins to become a factor, as one might expect, in deeper water.
Of course, the smaller-size-per-heavier-weight of a tungsten jig also often saves drop time by punching more quickly and effectively through the slush in a hole—and it also more effectively drags line down through the slush.
Fishes heavier (and transmits better)—What we’re factoring is sensitivity. Enhanced sensitivity to what’s happening at the end of our line is a factor of rod material and design, including overall rod stiffness—especially tip construction and stiffness—in conjunction with a tight line to what’s hanging below, the better if what’s hanging below also transmits well, which, once again, means it passes on impact-contact events (such as bottom contact, weed contact, fish bites) better.
Basically, we need a light but stiff rod, with a light tip just stiff enough to support the tungsten jig hanging below. If the tip bends much with the weight of the jig, the tip’s too light and rod-tip action starts to become sloppy. Sloppy doesn’t transmit well. Stiff does, because it allows control of the jig and we can stay in contact with it.
Some anglers call that fishing “cleanly.” Ultimately, tips on rods created specifically for enhanced tungsten jig presentation should be “tip rated,” perhaps in increments of 1/16- or at least 1/8-ounce. We doubt that will ever happen, but it gives you an idea what you’re looking for in picking a rod for a situation. Some rods do it better than others, but no one rod can be perfect for a range of tungsten jig weights—or lead jig weights for that matter.
The “fishes heavier” aspect of tungsten helps to keep line tight, which is vital to enhanced sensitivity. Given the short lines we use to fish straight below us on ice, even monofilament transmits well, especially if it’s stretched by hand as it comes off the reel so it hangs straight. No-stretch lines like Berkley FireLine and NanoFil have residual looping in them if a jig isn’t heavy enough to remove that looping. Fishing with a jig heavy enough to remove the looping enhances sensitivity, whether you’re fishing with tungsten or with lead.
For some anglers, extreme sensitivity can be detrimental at times. The “knock” against tungsten by some anglers is that the pounding motion (dancing the jig up and down)—sometime anglers call the downward bounce “knocking”—can in shallow water be so pronounced that it’s harder to tell the difference between a knock and a fish bite. The additional weight of tungsten also means it doesn’t move quite as well when a fish tries to suck it in. Lead pivots more easily than tungsten, another reason it often performs better on a dead rod.
Finally, because lead is so much easier to manufacture, there also are many more hook styles and sizes and jig shapes to choose from than presently available with tungsten. Still, tungsten has revolutionized the way we fish, although it’s important to realize that tungsten and lead jigs often complement each other.