Ultralight Spinning Tackle Comes of Age

This affordable, high-performance tackel takes finesse fishing to the next level.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Ultralight fishing combines much of the finesse of flyfishing with the high-tech innovations available in spinning tackle. It is also a far less expensive sport to get into: You can purchase a very serviceable ultralight rod and reel combination for less than $100. (A comparably equipped flyfishing outfit will cost a lot more.)

The basic idea is to catch fish on a short, lightweight rod, using a tiny open-face reel, 2- to 6-pound-test line, and a minuscule lure, which often weighs less than 1¿¿8 ounce. There almost isn't a species of gamefish that cannot be taken on an ultralight rig, provided you set out mentally prepared -- and heed the following guidelines.

1. Don't let the task at hand daunt you. It may seem ludicrous to cast to 3-foot-long northern pike, barracuda, or striped bass with equipment that somehow seems better suited to pursuing guppies. It also appears virtually impossible that such a small rig will ever cast far enough to get you to feeding fish. But the truth of the matter is that ultralight rods and reels are built for high performance. If you let the technology you have purchased do its job, you can concentrate on spotting the fish, presenting the lure, and fighting your catch.

2. Use the light weight of your lure to sneak up on the fish. A 1¿¿12-ounce spoon makes a tiny splash as it hits the water; often fish will not even notice that something foreign has fallen from the sky. This is the principle behind flyfishing -- the artificial fly lights on the water so delicately that the fish below see nothing unnatural in its arrival. If your quarry has no reason to fear that something is amiss, it will be more apt to make a mistake and attack your lure instead of a live baitfish.

3. Be observant. Before casting, take a careful look at your environment. The riffling water upstream from u will likely hold healthy trout and bass while the rumbling of the water over the rocks will do a great deal to mask any noise you may make on your approach. On lakes and other still water, keep an eye out for disturbances near the surface. The sight of small minnows flipping about in the shallows may be the result of larger fish (bass or pike, for example) corralling and feeding on them. Your cast in both of these instances should be placed over the target area and a good 10 to 15 feet beyond the action. As you bring the lure through the turbulent activity of the riffle or the panicking minnows, the larger fish will only see what appears to be one more baitfish trying to escape them.

4. When you hook into a fish, be patient. Even a 1-pound smallmouth bass is going to be a challenge on ultralight gear. Remember to make use of the high technology you have at hand. Don't try to horse the fish in; it won't work. You will only succeed in snapping your line. Let the reel and rod do the heavy work. If you use the drag, make sure it is set light enough so that a big fish will be able to run without overly straining the line. Don't be afraid to experiment.

While fishing for bass in my home state of Vermont one spring, the fish seemed determined to thwart us. We had unsuccessfully worked the shoreline of a small 40-acre pond with Jitterbugs, jigs, spoons, shallow-diving crankbaits, and spinners for almost three hours. Although fish did chase our lures and would even occasionally swipe angrily at them, none would commit to attack.

In utter frustration, I removed the jig I had been working and attached a weedless plastic frog. I tossed the lure up against the bank and worked it steadily through the weeds. Still no action. I cast into a maze of tree branches from a fallen maple and twitched it through. There was a follower, but it refused to hit. Finally, I cast the plastic frog out into an open area of extremely shallow water near a weedbed that emerged about 20 feet from shore. I slowed my retrieve down to a crawl and was rewarded when a 13-inch bass struck. The fish had been lying in the weedbed and the tentative movements of my frog had lured it out of hiding in hopes of an easy meal.

The bass tore out into the open, creating a wide wake in the 6- to 8-inch-deep water. The light rod bent sharply as the fish began to run back toward the protection of the weeds, but the reel's drag slowed it down considerably and the bass turned back toward the shallows. With nowhere to go, the bass zigzagged through the shallows, churning up mud and splattering the air with droplets of water. The fish finally turned onto one side, completely spent. Although far from trophy size, this little bass proved to be a terrific match on ultralight gear. I cast the plastic frog out into an open area of extremely shallow water near a weedbed that emerged about 20 feet from shore. I slowed my retrieve down to a crawl and was rewarded when a 13-inch bass struck. The fish had been lying in the weedbed and the tentative movements of my frog had lured it out of hiding in hopes of an easy meal.

The bass tore out into the open, creating a wide wake in the 6- to 8-inch-deep water. The light rod bent sharply as the fish began to run back toward the protection of the weeds, but the reel's drag slowed it down considerably and the bass turned back toward the shallows. With nowhere to go, the bass zigzagged through the shallows, churning up mud and splattering the air with droplets of water. The fish finally turned onto one side, completely spent. Although far from trophy size, this little bass proved to be a terrific match on ultralight gear.