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The first mention of fly fishing comes from early bronze age China. It appears later in Eastern Mediterranean documentation, and then first in English in 1496. It's likely all the first fly fishing lines sunk because they were made from materials that soaked up water, and the construction materials available were slightly heavier than water.
Finally in the early 1900's, some creative Brit finally treated a fly fishing line with animal fat to make it float. Floating lines were considered to be revolutionary, and became extremely popular because they were much easier to use. In 1954, Leon Martuch, under the banner of Scientific Anglers, produced a polymer coated fly line that floated because it was actually lighter than water. Dry fly fishing became the vogue. Floating lines were used by most all fly fishers.
In 1960, Scientific Anglers again shocked the fly fishing world by introducing the Wet Cell fly line, which incorporated metal powder in the polymer coating to make a line that was much heavier than water; a true sinking line. It caught on for fly fishing in lakes, but the idea spread much more slowly than floating fly lines. Sinking, and sinking-tip lines were still considered revolutionary in the 1970's. But they added a third dimension to fly presentation: depth. Sinking lines were more difficult to cast than floating lines until the advent of the Skagit line revolution of the mid-1990's. Two-hand fly rods made casting sinking tip lines comparatively easy, and they became exceedingly popular with Pacific Northwest steelhead and salmon anglers.
Sinking tips have been delivered to fish by all kinds of fly lines, but Skagit lines have pretty much taken over in trout, steelhead and salmon fisheries. If you probe rivers that drain the north Pacific Rim for anadromous fish of most kinds, you should consider a Skagit shooting head with a selection of sinking tips as your first option for much of the season on most rivers. The line tip you choose will be as important to your success as the equipment with which you propel it. A fly's weight will have an effect on how deep it will fish. But in most cases, a sinking tip will also have a huge influence how deep, and how well any sunk fly can be presented to a fish.
Lightweight flies usually have more action than heavy flies. Lightweight flies also are easier to cast than heavy ones. But sometimes, very heavy flies are still required to be delivered to the fish. Heavy line tips cast heavy flies easier than lightweight line tips. Matching your line tip to the size of the fly makes casting easier. For instance a standard lead-eye Pick 'yer Pocket or Intruder is easier to turn over with a T-14 tip than with a T-11 tip. An even heavier Guide Intruder is easier to cast with T-17 than with T-14, etc.
Each sinking tip will change the casting properties of any Skagit head. And certain weights of sinking tips have distinct properties that provide windows of opportunity. T-8 lands on the water more softly than T-20. But T-20 will turn over much heavier or much bulkier flies. Heavier tips also sink slightly faster than lighter weight tips if coated with the same material, because the core is often neutral density, and a thicker coating of sinking material changes the core to coating ratio.
The company that ultimately revolutionized sinking tip Spey lines was RIO. They didn't invent the idea, but they produced changeable sinking tip Spey lines on an industrial scale. Their first popular line, the WindCutter, featured different densities of sinking tips in 15' lengths. For a while, 15' density compensated sinking tips became the standard. But, there were a few disciples of the "Skagit style" that realized that lighter/shorter rods were more fun to fish with and that long sinking tips were unneeded and often hindered, rather than helped, present the fly properly. Three of these astute anglers were Mike McCune, Scott O'Donnell, and Ed Ward. They invented the M.O.W. Tip concept.
Spey-Jedi Ed Ward was one of the first of a group of hardcore anglers that began utilizing such tips in the late 1990’s/early 2000 period. Mike McCune and Scott O’Donnell had been using custom-made cheaters as length compensators for short T-14 tips on both the Oregon coast as well as their Grande Ronde fall guide season. Over the course of the last 10 years, other folks have gotten onto this concept via the 3 Amigos allowing the Secret Society to build their own “chop-shop” product. This concept was needed to overcome the boomerang effect of fishing 2.5’ to 7.5’ sink tips that were attached directly to a Skagit or even a WindCutter type head. The integrated floating portion provides a buffer of smoothness making casting such short tips feasible, smooth and effective.
To quote Mike McCune: "One of the primary reasons for our adherence to Skagit principles is its unmatched versatility under a broad range of fishing applications. Not all good steelhead water is of a classic format. Indeed, some of my best water is anything but classic. Basalt ledges punctuated by large boulders defines many of my “go-to” spots. This is where the short tip excels. Having the capability to swing the fly through the zone with proper speed is very difficult if not impossible when using standard length sinking tips. Often, I can consider that I am steering the fly through this type of water as much as swimming it. One of the most difficult aspects confronting the sunken fly angler is developing the ability to see the imaginable third dimension that exists below the water surface. I think that these tips help greatly in regard to learning this. Other examples of the use of short tips would be clear water extreme angle presentations, shallow tail-outs and enhanced depth penetration under summer/fall conditions."
Other uses for the M.O.W. system would be light-stream pocket water, along with boulder patches (Oregon coast/Olympic Peninsula/SE Alaska), deep frog-water steelhead runs that have always proved problematic to the standard sink-tip approach, Alaskan slough-edge king and silver water, along with general high-water soft edges.
M.O.W. tips in all sizes are now standard for fishing in cold water.
Mike goes on to say, "First of all my involvement fishing short tips is somewhat recent, the last seven, eight years or so. I don't know for certain how long Ed has been using them, but I'm reasonably confident in saying that he evolved into the short tip game way before that. Up to that time we (Scott and I) had been using custom made cheaters as length compensators for our short T-14 tips, and while these worked very well, the integrated version looked very clean and cool (can't overlook the cool factor), so I started building them for myself and my clients. Loved 'em.
Fast forward to the Grande Ronde, morning "guide shack b.s. session" where Scott, Ed, and Mike are discussing potential new and unrealized products. What about integrated sink-tips? And why not a shorter floating tip. And you listened.
The criteria that I use to decide on what density of T-material to use is very simple - size and weight of the fly. Large, heavy, and air-resistant flies require T-14 or even T-17. Moderately sized, light to zero-weight flies, I use T-11. Light, diminutive cute ones, T-8. I could, of course use T-14 for all of them but why would I? Rods that cast a belly weight of 275-425 grains are much more fun with the lighter T-tips. The differential in sink rate isn't all that important to me. Why put water in your tires at the drag race?"
Scott O'Donnell says, "I like what Mike has written. I would just add that as far as what grain weight heads to use for which tips (or vice versa) there's going to be a large overlap. For example, I put the 5 and 5 T-11 tip on a 750 and it performed adequately enough. If I had to put together a guide for this right now it would look like this:
T-8 tips: 475 grain heads and under
T-11 tips: 425 to 625 grain headsT-14 tips: 475 grain heads and on upT-17 tips: 550 grain heads and on up
That being said, I agree with Mike that the most important factor is the fly being used. Also, I've been guiding quite a bit and using these tips on my dudes' rods, and I've used caster skill level to determine which tip to use. In other words, if a guy isn't a very good caster and he's using a 550 grain head, I'll go with the T-11 tip over the T-14."
Ed Ward says, "My recommendations on the tips are in-line with everyone else's. It's a combination of fly size and rod designation. As per fly size: T-8 for light, low resistance flies, generally under size 4. T-11 for medium sized, medium resistance flies, generally size 4 to 1/0. T-14 for large, high resistance flies, 1/0 and larger. T-17 for bulky & heavy flies. This, in conjunction with rod ratings: T-8 for rods rated 4, 5, and 6. T-11 for rods rated 6, 7, and 8. T-14 for rods rated 7, 8, 9 and higher. T-17 for 8-weight and larger rods.
That's the "simple" version. Of course it can be overlapped by quite a bit according to the design of the line and ability of the caster. For instance, certain lengths of T-14 CAN be cast on a 4 weight Spey/Switch if the belly being used is of a short enough configuration to create enough "concentration of mass/weight" on a per foot basis to match or exceed that of the T-14."