Are Fishing Weights Made of Lead?

Fishing weights increase the sinking rate of a fishing hook or lure. Also called fishing sinkers, weights are made from different materials and come in various styles and sizes, ranging from a tenth of an ounce to a pound.

But are fishing weights made of lead? Yes, fishing weights are made of lead. Lead is the material of choice for fishing sinkers due to its low cost, density, and ease of production. But lead is known to cause lead poisoning, affecting people, animals, and the environment. Lead fishing weights under 1 oz are banned in some countries. 

Keep reading to learn about the risks of using lead fishing sinkers and eco-friendly alternatives for lead weights. 

What Are Fishing Weights Made of?

What Are Fishing Weights Made of

In ancient times, fishing weights were made from materials found in the natural environment, such as rocks, stones, or bones. Later, lead became the go-to material for fishing sinkers because of its low cost, casting, resistance to corrosion, density, and ease of production. 

Lead’s adverse effects on the environment and health have become well-known in recent years. Lead is known to cause lead poisoning in people and animals. 

Birds, including swans, loons, cranes, and waterfowl, seem to be the most affected by the increased levels of lead in the water. 

Since the ill effects of lead-based fishing sinkers have been discovered, their usage has steadily decreased. A fishing sinker can be made from other, environmentally friendlier materials, including:

Steel and Tin

Steel fishing weights are relatively heavy and don’t have an adverse effect on health and the environment as a lead. Steel is also relatively cheap compared to some other eco-friendly lead alternatives. 

Using steel is a good choice for a slip slinker or a dropper weight that doesn’t need to be crimpled on a line. Steel isn’t a good material for a split shot or any other weight that needs to be pinched.

Lighter than steel but softer, tin is another non-toxic option. Tin makes a great material for split shot weights because of its softness. 

Both steel and tin are used to make jig heads, although they are on the larger side compared to lead-based jig heads. 


Tungsten is the most popular, non-toxic lead alternative for anglers. Tungsten has a similar weight and density as lead, and most tungsten fishing weights are smaller and more compact than lead weights of a similar size.

The downside of tungsten is that it’s more brittle than lead, leading to broken split shots when pinched. Tungsten is also several times costlier than lead, and its environmental effects are still unknown. 


Bismuth is another environmentally friendly alternative for lead fishing weights. This material is often found in shot form. The shot is placed in a parachute cord and transformed into a slinky.

The slinky is attached to the main fishing line with a small steel clasp and swivel. Fly fishermen and steelhead fishermen commonly use this type of weight.

Bismuth is used to make other fishing products, including jigs. Like tungsten, bismuth fishing weights are also more expensive than lead-based sinkers.


Bass anglers have been using brass fishing lures for some time. Coupled with brass rattlers, brass sinkers make loud sounds that attract fish from areas with thick weeds. 

Brass is used for making jigs and some larger fishing weights, such as walking sinkers and bottom bouncers. The biggest disadvantages of using brass are its hardness and price. 


Clay weights have been marketed for some time, but anglers haven’t really adapted to using pottery-based sinkers. Clay fishing weights are much larger than lead weights, and they also need to be made with something to tie them off to. 

Certain brands of clay fishing weights are marketed as eco-friendly because they’ll break down eventually if lost in the water. 

How Do I Know If My Fishing Weight Is Lead?

Freshly cut lead is silvery blue, but it tarnishes to a dull grey color when exposed to air. Lead is a very soft and highly malleable material and a relatively poor conductor of electricity.

The best way to tell whether a fishing sinker contains lead is to test for lead. There are several EPA-approved lead testing kits that you can use to test for the presence of this toxic material. 

Use Lead swabs to quickly test fishing weights and other tackle for the presence of lead. Test swabs are considered the fastest and most reliable way to tell if a surface or an object contains lead. 

Rub the tip of the swab over the fishing weights and wait for 30 seconds. If the weights contain lead, the tip of the swab will turn red or pink. The darker the color, the higher the lead content is in the fishing sinker. 

Risks of Using Fishing Weights Made of Lead

The health effects of lead are the same whether a person swallows, breathes, or absorbs leather particles. The body absorbs higher levels of lead when breathed in, making melting lead to cast sinkers extremely dangerous. 

Once absorbed by the body, lead is stored in the bones, blood, and tissues and remains a continuous source of exposure. 

Short-term over-exposure to leads to:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Memory loss
  • Tiredness
  • Pain or tingling in hands and feet

Prolonged exposure to lead puts people at higher risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and reduced fertility.


Lead fishing weights come in all shapes and sizes, but they adversely affect the environment and human health. Lead found in fishing sinkers can cause lead poisoning, especially in children.

Although lead is convenient, other safer and environmentally friendlier materials are used to make fishing sinkers. Tin, bismuth, steel, ceramic, and tungsten are some of the materials used to create safer fishing weights that don’t harm people and animals.