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Notice the difference in the head size of Northland Fishing Tackles 1/16th oz. tungsten Hard Rock Mooska (center) and Fire-Ball jig (right) compared to the lead based jig of the same weight on the left. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

Dock Talk: Tungsten jigs gaining popularity

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Over the past few years, the popularity of tungsten ice fishing jigs has increased dramatically.

It's possible that you may have never heard the term "tungsten". I hadn't until just a few years ago, which is odd since the dense metal, also known as wolfram, was discovered in the late 1700s.

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Tungsten is the same element you've heard about that inhabits the interior of conventional light bulbs. The reason it works so well for lighting is that it has a high melting point In fact, the highest melting point of all pure metals, at a temperature of 6,192 degrees Fahrenheit. Lead, which is the material used to create a majority of ice fishing jigs and spoons, has a melting point of 621.5 degrees Fahrenheit. In contrast to the late discovery of tungsten, lead was found in 7000 B.C.

The relatively young material is only available in select areas around the world. China is the major supplier of tungsten, with countries such as Russia and Canada as secondary resources.

So why is tungsten a worthy material to use for fishing jigs? First, tungsten has a density that is 1.7 times greater than lead. That creates a jig that is smaller in size and profile compared to a lead based jig, but with a comparable weight. In other words, envision your favorite 1/16th ounce jig head that weighs the same, but is much smaller in appearance. In the ice fishing world, that compact appearance often equates to more strikes.

Tungsten jigs have a few additional advantages. When "ice trolling", meaning rapidly moving from hole to hole, cleaning out the icy slush takes time. Personally, I rarely carry an ice scoop. Instead, use the float from your Vexilar Ice-ducer to clear a small channel in the slush and drop the tungsten jig down. The heavy-headed design plummets through slushy holes.

Additionally, tungsten jigs drop down to the active schools of fish quickly. If you've ever fished on the ice, you've experienced times when you catch a big one and can see more nice fish on your Vexilar screen. With a super-light lead jig, the wait is nearly unbearable and sometimes the school departs.

Unhooking the fish and re-baiting takes time, which is why many anglers pair a plastic tail with the fast-fishing tungsten jig. Not to mention, when the pesky smaller fish sit above the bigger fish, the unique jig promptly descends beyond the small fish to reach the big ones.

Tungsten jigs can also dive through weeds and wood, beyond inhibiting structure where the big fish often exist.

There is one downside to tungsten jigs, which is the cost. You'll notice a slightly higher price tag at the checkout counter, primarily due to the availability of the element in conjunction with the added difficulty in manufacturing since it possesses such a high melting point.

Yet don't let the negative aspects dissuade you from trying out the micro-sized, heavy-headed tungsten jigs this season. You may just find yourself a "comfortable element."

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