By Jerry LaBella
When the fish don't
bite, try ultralight!
It was the worst nightmare
that any angler could experience--seeing fish but unable to catch
any. There they were, under the lighted area of the rig, taunting us
in the night as they methodically surfaced and descended all about
the boat. Hefty specks, the kind that you dream about, with a bad
case of lockjaw beyond your wildest imagination.
We helplessly threw every lure in our
tackle boxes at them, only to be further disgraced. But that wasn't
the worst of it. Things really got a bit out of control when my
fishing buddy, Leroy, face beading of sweat and countenance like
that of a raving lunatic, desperately picked up the landing net and
recklessly started taking swipes at them as they surfaced just out
In a last ditch effort I proceeded to try
something of a less cynical nature, before calling it a night.
Meanwhile, Leroy, panting from exhaustion and grumbling in an
undertone, skeptically looked on as I reentered my tackle box and
emerged with a clear\silver flick sparkle beetle and a #2 thin-gauge
perch hook and placed it on the gunnel.
"What in the world are you gonna do
with that?" Leroy kept asking while I continued to work.
"Just watch and see," I
confidently countered, not really knowing whether or not the scheme
would only add to our humiliation.
Leroy continued chuckling as I picked up my
ultralight spinning combo and fed several feet of the 6 lb. mono
line through the rod tip. Using a straightened 2/0 hook for a sewing
needle, I threaded 6 inches of the line through the hook eyelet and
pushed the point of the hook, starting at the front section of the
sparkle beetle, until it passed completely through and between the
split-tail section (rear). At this point, the perch hook was tied to
the line. Then, while holding the sparkle beetle in the other hand,
the line was pulled from the front of it so that the hook shank
entered the body, bottoming out at the hook's curve between the
split tail. This affixed the sparkle beetle directly to the line
with no jig head, swivel or weight in front.
To confirm my experiment, I dangled the
lure over the side of the boat and opened the reel bail, allowing
the lure to contact the water. Would the sparkle beetle float on the
surface without sinking, and would it appear natural looking?
Surprisingly, it did!
Leroy put his final approval on it--more
sarcastic chuckles from the peanut gallery.
The moment was tense as I whipped back the
featherweight lure, casting it toward the gang of dauntless,
speckled antagonists. Slowly retrieving the lure in a steady
fashion, it glided across the calm, green Gulf water, producing a
tantalizing miniature wake streaming out from behind it. It closely
resembled a silverside minnow frolicking on the surface. Leroy's
mouth hung open, amazed by the contraption and its performance.
Unfortunately I couldn't say the same about the specks, for they
seemed less amused than before.
After the second cast, frustration was at
an all-time high; but to my utter amazement that abruptly changed,
when a speck shattered the surface and inhaled the lure right along
side of the boat. Leroy gasped in astonishment as the ultralight
line fled from the spool. After coming to his senses and realizing
that my hands were tied up in a vicious battle, he seized the
opportunity and began digging in my tackle box trying find the hooks
that I used.
"Those hooks are going to cost you at
least $5.00 a piece out here, and I don't know if I'm going to let
you buy them anyway," I sarcastically bellowed in retaliation
while still fighting the fish. After landing and placing the 4 lb.
speck in the ice chest, I quickly made another cast.
"Now how did ya get that hook through
the beetle," Leroy timidly inquired.
"You gonna have to wait until I get
this other speck in the boat," I roared over the sound of the
reel drag while fighting another fat speck.
The scene repeated itself for the next 30
minutes, while Leroy persisted in figuring out how to make his
sparkle beetle float. Disturbingly enough, before he managed to do
so, the specks disappeared from the surface.
In retrospect, the lesson learned that
night only underscored what both of us had already known: when all
else fails, switch to ultralight tackle. In fact, many anglers are
discovering that lighter and smaller baits can be most effective in
prompting specks to strike when larger baits fail. Those who
regularly resort to ultralight tackle can attest to the fact that
frequently even bigger fish find such lures irresistible, possibly
because of the lifelike action unduplicated by larger baits.
The fascination for going lighter has no
doubt been prompted by freshwater anglers fishing areas that also
produce saltwater species. Thus, while saltwater anglers are just
catching on to the advantages of ultralight tackle, this has been
commonplace among freshwater anglers for many years. Naturally, this
has made believers out of saltwater anglers. A good example of this
is the growing popularity of such places like Venice, La., where
both salt and freshwater anglers congregate and fish.
As saltwater anglers started seeing the
obvious benefits of lighter lures, a chain reaction of product in
demand came in to play with manufacturers yielding to the demands.
Gradually more and more manufacturers of big baits started producing
down-sized lures of the same type. For this reason, many tackle
stores are now beginning to offer a full line of ultralight lures as
small as 1/32 oz.
Moreover, there seems to be no end to how
small of tackle anglers will resort to as manufacturers compete for
producing the smallest baits, thinnest lines, and lightest rods and
reels. The scenario works something like this: every time an angler
enters a tackle store to replace his favorite lure, he notices a
smaller version hanging beside it. So he tries it and becomes
impressed. The next time he returns and finds an even smaller
version, experience dictates not to hesitate in trying it.
Other factors, besides just productivity,
prompt saltwater anglers to go lighter. Ask any ultralight zealot
why he likes fishing with ultralight tackle, and somewhere in the
answer he'll mention "action" and "challenge",
two things synonymous with ultralight angling. This has been the
trend especially with saltwater anglers where stricter limits have
been imposed. The simple truth is anglers are becoming more
conservation minded and less quantity oriented.
Ultralight tackle can also give an angler
an edge over factors he otherwise can't control. For instance, the
combination of fishing artificial lures in clear water with a weak
or dead tide can obviously work to your disadvantage. Under these
conditions specks are notorious for becoming more critical of the
bait being presented and line visibility. Consequently, anglers need
to be more cognizant of factors like heavy line, bulky leaders, and
unnatural-looking lures that can hinder your presentation. This is
where, with little investment and know-how, going to lighter tackle
can make a noticeable difference.
While expensive tackle is not necessary to
ultralight success, there are some important basic principles to
keep in mind--like matching the line, rod and reel with the correct
Understandably, most see the futility in
using ultralight lures on rods and reels not design for ultralight
fishing. If you have ever experienced trying to cast an ultralight
lure on medium to heavy tackle, you know that it won't throw very
far nor perform in the way that it was intended. The frivolity would
be comparable to swimming with heavy lead weights tied to your legs.
Likewise, to avoid conflicts in ultralight
tackle performance, follow these seven simple tips:
(1) Spinning reels are best suited for
casting ultralight lures, though closed-faced models work well, too.
Make sure that the reel is rated for *8 lb. test and under. *Note,
some prefer reels rated for 10 lb. test and under for added line
capacity when using lighter test line. You can find the rating of
the reel by looking on the side of the spool; most indicate line
test weight with corresponding capacity and/or diameter.
(2) The rod should be rated for light to
ultralight. This can be verified by looking at the rating on the rod
located ahead of the front grip, which should designate both the
recommended lure weight and line test weight. It should fall within
the same rating as the reel, though certain light rods with good
rated for 6-15 lb. test and lures up to 3/4
oz. work well. Be careful, though, not to choose a rod that is too
stiff or the lure won't provide enough weight for the rod to load
(flex), hence hindering casting ability.
(3) Lure choices very with preference. For
ultralight fishing the key is to use small, lightweight lures less
than 1/4 oz. that best imitate the real thing in the waters you're
(4) Tie direct. Avoid swivels and snaps at
the lure connection; to do otherwise may dramatically impede the
action of the lure and take away from the lure's natural-looking
(5) Consider a good quality line of the
thinnest diameter, while not sacrificing durability and strength.
The new braided lines work excellent; they have little or no stretch
and less water drag. In either case, lines have to be inspected
routinely for damage during fishing to assure that line breakage at
the lure doesn't occur. In braided lines this is not as critical,
but the sharp teeth of specks can easily warrant having to retie
lures after catching a fish if mono is used. Also make sure reel
drag is set to 1/3 of line rating: mono according to test rating;
braided line according to diameter rating. The latter is a
precaution to prevent braided lines from working a hardship on
ultralight rods and reels. In some cases special rod eyelets are
required for certain type braided lines, i.e., Spiderwire.
(6) Check hooks often. Many small lures are
designed with light gauge hooks that bend easily. This is very
critical if using braided lines that test way beyond ultralight
ratings. Logically, hooks are more apt to bend if this is not
considered when setting drag systems as previously mentioned. Some
resort to changing the hooks to heavier gauge, but this must be done
judiciously for this could defeat the purpose for which the lure was
designed, especially top-water and slow-sink type.
(7) Delight in ultralight!