Fishing ultralight


Ultralight tackle makes fishing more fun and challenging. Fishers who use ultralight tackle must use proper casting techniques and avoid making mistakes in areas such as knot tying.

Maybe some people’s idea of fun is casting and reeling, but for most of us, setting the hook and playing a fish are what draws us to sports fishing. Considering the robust tackle used by many anglers, however, it’s evident that all too often these moments of fun come and go pretty quickly. Not so for those who fish with ultralight tackle. For them, every fish is sporty. Every fight is a challenge. Every hookup is a reminder that fishing can really be fun.

Besides being enjoyable, though, ultralight fishing is a genuine challenge, for it gives a hooked fish a little more opportunity to get See, and it hones your skills, calling more for brains than brawn.

With medium to heavy gear, fishermen can make mistakes–like not trying a perfect knot, or having an inconsistent reel drag, or engaging in a tug of war–and most often they’ll still land the fish. An ultralight angler has no such latitude. Mistakes are greatly magnified. And even with perfect knots, good reel drag, and the right moves, the outcome isn’t always in the fisherman’s favor.

What’s more, an ultralight angler can’t afford to make sloppy casts because he doesn’t have the muscle to yank a stuck lure out of a snag. He can’t treat his gear carelessly, either. Ultralight fishing unforgiving of all the mistakes other anglers can take for granted.

When most people think about ultralight, they focus on line and line strength. While that is a major component, so is the relationship between the line and the rod and reel. Rods used for ultralight fishing tend to be on the limber side to provide more of a cushion for the line. Most such rods listed by their makers as the ultralight range from 4 1/2 to 6 feet long, calibrated for lures from 1/16 to 1/4 ounce. But even longer, light-line rods can have a distinct advantage in landing really large fish. Rods as long as 14 feet are used by some anglers, notably, the so-called “noodle” rods favored by some steelhead and salmon fishermen.

These long rods give you more leverage to pressure a fish, putting less strain on your arms and wrists, and they’re very helpful when a hooked fish is near the boat, so you can steer it around obstacles. Reel drag and line capacity are major issues when you’re fishing for large or strong species with light tackle. For salmon, steelhead, trout, and stripers, which are capable of making hearty runs, you need plenty of line and an unhesitating drag, which is obviously set loose. For fish that can be strong but don’t make long runs, line capacity is not a major consideration. But drag is. Bass and pike, for example, make strong sudden runs fairly close to the fisherman, so the drag may be called into play suddenly and briefly.

When there’s little boat traffic or few anglers nearby, it’s not hard to play a big freshwater fish in open water because there’s nothing for it to snag the line on. The deck can be cleared and the boat maneuvered to your advantage. If the drag is set properly, a fish can take plenty of lines and do its stuff. But if there are obstructions beneath the surface (like submerged timber), or if you hook a big fish unexpectedly in a place where there are a lot of snags, then you have to be very aggressive and take the fight to the fish as quickly and as well as you can.

If you use good equipment, including a rod with backbone and quality line with a knot that retains full strength, you can pressure a fish with ultralight tackle. Depending on whether you’re in a boat in the open water or on a riverbank, you’ll probably be unable to land a really big fish by playing tug-of-war. You’ll have to pump and reel whenever possible to gain on the fish, but you’ll almost certainly have to move in some way to change position to work the fish more effectively. You may have to walk the bank or wade downstream after a big river fish because you won’t have the muscle to coerce it back upstream. You may have to get the fish or at least get into a section of river that has less current. On a lake, you may need to move the boat to change the angle of pull on a fish.

In either case, you’ll often have to change the rod angle from vertical to the horizontal right or horizontal left. When the fish runs, let the tackle do its job. When the fish stops running or seems to be resting, you must work on it and work on it. When the fish gets near you, be ready for Sudden movements and don’t try to overpower it unless it seems thoroughly exhausted. When it lunges, let it go, and point the rod directly at the fish to minimize drag. A lot of big fish hooked on light tackle are lost near the boat when the fish makes a sudden surge or the hook pulls out. Unless a fish happens to be solidly hooked in a bony part of its mouth, the longer you have it on, the more chance there is for the hook point to enlarge the hole where it sticks the fish and eventually causes the hook to pull free. With ultralight tackle, there’s no doubt that you can spend an hour on a really large fish, but if you know how to play it properly and use such things as drag, wind, current, and boat position to your advantage, you needn’t take forever to fight Goliath.

Finally, it’s important to remember that “ultralight” is not the same for all species of fish. The line of 2-pound-test would be considered ultralight for bluegills but ultra dumb for muskies, which grow much larger, inhabit some mean places, have hard toothy mouths and are difficult to hook and land even with the standard tackle.

There’s no glory or sportsmanship to fishing with the lightest possible tackle and having a good fish break off with hardware in its mouth. And there’s no glory or sportsmanship to stressing a fish so much that it may not recuperate when released because the tackle was too light or the angler too inexperienced to land it in a reasonable amount of time. If you’re going ultralight, know the limitations of your tackle, yourself, and the situation.

I’ve used light and ultralight tackle for much freshwater fish over the years and even set a few 2-pound line-class world records when ultralight categories were first instituted by the International Game Fish Association. So I know that sometimes this fishing can border on being a stunt, like hooking a big fish on the 2-pound line and then running it down with the boat to scoop it up. The ultralight can also be a hindrance to other fishermen. An angler using the 2-pound line on a silvery 30-pound chinook in a boat full of people can tie up everyone’s fishing for an hour while the fish is worn down or the boat is used to chase it all over the lake. But used within reason, the ultralight tackle can make a star out of even ordinary fish, and that will add a lot to your fishing fun.


  • “Feathering” the line during the cast allows for more accurate presentations. In order to do this correctly, you need to tickle the spool gently with your right index finger to slightly retard the outgoing line. This is easily done because the index finger of your casting hand can easily reach the spool of a micro outfit.

Practice makes perfect. That means practicing over open, snag-free water until you start to get the hang of it. You’ll quickly find that abrupt finger pressure halts the lure in mid-flight while a gentle tickle merely slows it down. In actual fishing, you’ll then be stopping the lure before it stitches through the shoreline brush, or feathering its flight to a soft blip dead-center in a trout-stream pocket.


  • The biggest tackle problem in ultralight spinning is line stretch; hairline monofilaments of 1-, 2-, or 4-pound-test are incredible rubberbands that make hooksets difficult. The only answer is ultrasharp hooks, but that’s a problem, too. The careful honing required to sharpen–and I mean really sharpen–every treble or double hook in your light-lure box could take a week or more of nonstop boring work.

When you really get serious about ultralight spinning, you’ll replace the factory hooks on your lures with premium trebles. Specialized hooks from companies such as Nakamatsu, Mustard, or Eagle Claw feature exceptionally sharp points. This performance, however, comes at a cost; premium trebles can run as high as fifty cents each. But that investment will turn bumps into fish more often.


  • Casting distance with ultralight tackle can be a problem, even with the best of reels and with ultrafine monofilament–especially when using lures that weigh 1/16 ounce or less. Here are a few tricks that can help.
  • Use more overhang. If you customarily bring a spinning lure to within 6 inches or so of the rod tip when setting up for your next cast, try increasing that distance to a foot or more when using midget lures. The increased overhang increases lure velocity during the casting stroke, thereby adding distance. On the downside, it’s also less accurate, so be careful.
  • Add weight while keeping your small lure. How you do that is critical. One solution is to use a dropper. To cast a 1/32-ounce crappie jig, for example, tie a 1/16-ounce jig to the end of your line and fish the smaller jig about 30 inches above it on a dropper rig. A conventional blood-knot dropper will work, but knotting to a very small barrel swivel to make the three-way connection will be stronger. Tying a bluegill proper ahead of a small surface plug is another example, but omit the sinking swivel. Just remember to follow the basic dropper rule of always putting the heaviest of your two lures on the line point and the lighter one above it.
  • You can also add split shot to work a small lure deep. Just make sure to double up the shot. The common one-shot solution spins like an Argentina bolo when cast, creating tangles. For best results, use two or three smaller shot spaced about a foot apart along the line above the lure.
  • As a last resort, use a clear-plastic spinning bubble. This traditional solution is cumbersome. Many are too heavy for true ultralight use and, unlike a dropper rig, you’ll never catch anything with the bubble itself. But if you want to fish dry files with your ultralight spinning gear on a mountain lake, a bubble works best. Remember the dropper rule given above: first the bubble, then the fly.

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