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Secrets for Catching Big Trout on Ultralight Tackle

To catch the biggest trout this spring, scale down your tackle to ultralight

Ultralight spinning for trout has long been touted as a way of getting more sport from smaller fish by using scaled-down gear. What’s not so evident is that Lilliputian lures, gossamer lines, and midget reels can help you catch not only more trout but larger ones.

Rip Collins of Arkansas provided a great example. His 40-pound 4-ounce all-tackle, world-record brown trout was taken in 1992 from the Little Red River tailwater on ultralight spinning tackle—specifically, 4-pound line and a tiny olive-marabou jig. Although an even larger brown caught last year on heavier gear might displace Collins’s record, this Arkansas giant established the potential of ultralight beyond all argument.

As to numbers of fish, consider this: Most natural food items in a trout stream are small, say 2 inches long and often much smaller. That’s what trout are accustomed to seeing and feeding on, which broadens the fishy appeal of the 1⁄32- to 1⁄8-ounce lures best fished with ultralight gear. That tackle doesn’t fish itself, of course. The right presentation is essential.

Make It Quick

Cast upstream to minimize spooking trout, most of which will likely be facing into the current. The trick here is reeling your lure back downstream just slightly faster than the moving water. That speed provides enough water resistance to keep your lure working properly above the bottom. Trout are used to snatching food items from the current all day long. Your lure in its downstream travel is gaining the most natural presentation possible.

In the fast-moving pocket water common to mountain creeks, you can accomplish this by casting a 1⁄12-ounce Mepps spinner, for example, upstream of a large rock. Reel quickly to keep the lure’s blade spinning while moving your rod tip to steer the spinner along the rock’s edge and through the quieter water below it.

Get the Drift

The second half of the ultralight equation involves drifting tiny lures deep through larger runs and rapids. Cast upstream and across the current while fishing this bigger water. When the lure lands at the end of your cast, don’t reel immediately. Give the lure time to sink as the current pushes it downstream; at the same time, follow its drift with the rod held high to keep the current from tugging on your line and pulling the lure upward.

In deeper runs, cast at a greater upstream angle to gain depth accordingly. In any case, by the time the lure has been carried down to roughly straight across the current from your position, you should be starting a retrieve. That retrieve will depend on the lure. For a spinner, you might twitch the rod tip slightly to start the blade spinning but then not reel at all if the current is strong enough to swing the lure in a deep arc across the flow. Intermittent twitches and pauses will work best with small spoons like Phoebes or Little Cleos, making the lure dart, flash, and then stop briefly like an injured baitfish.

My favorite lure in this scenario is a small marabou jig. (A great many midget jigs designed for crappies make excellent and inexpensive ultralight trout lures.) I let the jig drift and sink until I feel it start to tick the bottom rocks. As the jig starts to swing across the stream, I twitch the rod tip gently to move the drifting jig up and down slightly. I am not reeling at all—just following the drift with my rod tip—because reeling in line during this presentation will move the lure off the bottom and away from the fish.

The real challenge in ultralight spinning for trout lies not just in using hair-thin lines. As with all fishing, refining your tackle means refining your skills to match. What you’ll find is that tiny tackle is not only more sporting than common midsize trout gear, but it’s also more deadly.

Comments (14)

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from fasted wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Great article, wish I had this information 40 years ago.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from brucepatryn wrote 3 years 46 weeks ago

awesome article

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shot-n-caught wrote 3 years 45 weeks ago

if i could catch something 15 lbs i would be happy i like how people can use little gear and still pull in a big fish I mean sometimes you see guys out there with gear thats like a metal pipe with a winch on it and thats the true fun like i was watching a video on this girl who was like 4 and was using a barbie pole hooked a bluegill and prompted a pike to bite and it was 20lbs it was huge and what was funny is she thought she caught a shark

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from zrock365@yahoo.com wrote 3 years 31 weeks ago

I just want to catch a trout!!!!!!I've been fishing in big bear lake for a while now.All I've caught was bluegill,crappie and this 2inch long weird little fish.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tcubakovic wrote 3 years 31 weeks ago

i can't wait till fall trout arrives so i can finally do some stream fishin

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bass2Buck wrote 3 years 28 weeks ago

Ultralight is great bu fly fishing works way better on trout.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jaredrobbins wrote 3 years 26 weeks ago

Good article. I've been using these tactics all spring and fall with good luck up here in Maine. I find that small size 2 panther martin spinners work great for me in this application.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from themadflyfisher wrote 3 years 17 weeks ago

when the fly rod isn't in my hand it's definetly an ultralight rod ! one thing i would like to add is on an ultralight i find it easier to fish spinners downstream with a reel that has a good spin ratio so your not reeling like a frantic idiot in somewhat faster water.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from The Antique wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

Excellent advise. I've been using these tactics for close to 50 years. Other than changes in tackle sizes, as they came, and changes in lures to accomidate the finicky trout, I've been pulling them in from Alaska to the east coast and Germany. Small line, tiny lures and an ultra-lite (or micro-lite) rod will put trout in your creel.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brett Rogers wrote 3 years 3 weeks ago

8 days till trout season in NY.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from allseasonsangler wrote 3 years 2 weeks ago

Great article. I read it today and was inspired to hit the local river after work to fish for some nice browns; the tips in the article did the trick :)

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from m.anderson.20 wrote 3 years 5 days ago

Great article. I fly fish but when I have my kids with me or my shoulder starts to bug me I pull out my ultra light rod, love to catch trout this way. Great tips I will pass them on to my daughter who is my favorite fishing partner.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from kcperry wrote 3 years 1 day ago

This is a great article i tried the tips out and i got my limit with some nice browns.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from badsmerf wrote 2 years 51 weeks ago

Small jigs can be used with the fly rod too. As long as it I'd light enough to cast.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from fasted wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Great article, wish I had this information 40 years ago.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from shot-n-caught wrote 3 years 45 weeks ago

if i could catch something 15 lbs i would be happy i like how people can use little gear and still pull in a big fish I mean sometimes you see guys out there with gear thats like a metal pipe with a winch on it and thats the true fun like i was watching a video on this girl who was like 4 and was using a barbie pole hooked a bluegill and prompted a pike to bite and it was 20lbs it was huge and what was funny is she thought she caught a shark

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brett Rogers wrote 3 years 3 weeks ago

8 days till trout season in NY.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from allseasonsangler wrote 3 years 2 weeks ago

Great article. I read it today and was inspired to hit the local river after work to fish for some nice browns; the tips in the article did the trick :)

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from brucepatryn wrote 3 years 46 weeks ago

awesome article

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from zrock365@yahoo.com wrote 3 years 31 weeks ago

I just want to catch a trout!!!!!!I've been fishing in big bear lake for a while now.All I've caught was bluegill,crappie and this 2inch long weird little fish.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tcubakovic wrote 3 years 31 weeks ago

i can't wait till fall trout arrives so i can finally do some stream fishin

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jaredrobbins wrote 3 years 26 weeks ago

Good article. I've been using these tactics all spring and fall with good luck up here in Maine. I find that small size 2 panther martin spinners work great for me in this application.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from themadflyfisher wrote 3 years 17 weeks ago

when the fly rod isn't in my hand it's definetly an ultralight rod ! one thing i would like to add is on an ultralight i find it easier to fish spinners downstream with a reel that has a good spin ratio so your not reeling like a frantic idiot in somewhat faster water.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from The Antique wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

Excellent advise. I've been using these tactics for close to 50 years. Other than changes in tackle sizes, as they came, and changes in lures to accomidate the finicky trout, I've been pulling them in from Alaska to the east coast and Germany. Small line, tiny lures and an ultra-lite (or micro-lite) rod will put trout in your creel.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from m.anderson.20 wrote 3 years 5 days ago

Great article. I fly fish but when I have my kids with me or my shoulder starts to bug me I pull out my ultra light rod, love to catch trout this way. Great tips I will pass them on to my daughter who is my favorite fishing partner.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from kcperry wrote 3 years 1 day ago

This is a great article i tried the tips out and i got my limit with some nice browns.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from badsmerf wrote 2 years 51 weeks ago

Small jigs can be used with the fly rod too. As long as it I'd light enough to cast.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bass2Buck wrote 3 years 28 weeks ago

Ultralight is great bu fly fishing works way better on trout.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment