Fishing with Light Tackle

February 2, 2009 by  

Our Outdoors
Nick Simonson


Not only is fishing with light tackle enjoyable, its also extremely effective at certain times of the year.

Not only is fishing with light tackle enjoyable, it's also extremely effective at certain times of the year.

Lighten up! If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been told that I’d be a rich man. However, there is one time no one has to tell me to lighten up and that is when I am angling for panfish, trout and finicky bass.

The allure of light tackle angling is threefold: first, the sensitivity of the rod, thinner line and smaller lures provide anglers with many options; second, the challenge of landing a fish on light tackle is a true rush, and finally, when all else fails, a smaller presentation can help you catch fish.

Gear up

Most light tackle set ups consist of a four- to six-foot light or ultralight rod paired with a small spinning or spin-cast reel and four-pound test line or lighter. These smaller rods are usually very sensitive versions of their standard counterparts and are designed for fishing trout and panfish. The ideal rod depends on the situation. A longer light rod might be fine for fishing openwater bluegills, while a four-footer might be necessary for flipping small spinners in a brush-choked trout stream.

Ultra-light line usually is four pound test or lower. This thinner diameter line fits on the spool easier and is less visible to large-eyed panfish like crappie and bluegill. Many superline brands now offer four-pound test line in one-pound test diameter. These specialized lines provide greater abrasion resistance and low stretch, making them helpful when fishing for panfish in waters where pike or other toothy fish reside. To accidentally hook up with a large predator while panfishing is a rush; set the drag light and hang on!

Finally, the lure selection available to light tackle anglers has grown by leaps and bounds. Many crankbait companies, such as Rapala ( and Yo-Zuri ( offer miniature crankbaits to help catch aggressive panfish. The Rapala Original Floater and Countdown and Yo-Zuri Snap Bean are popular panfish models. Along with Beetle Spins and Road Runner blade jigs the tackle selection for light angling enthusiasts is as broad as that of standard angling.

Fight on

Fishing light for panfish and other smaller fish is our preferred method.

Fishing light for panfish and other smaller fish is our preferred method.

Light tackle makes every fish a challenge. An eight-inch bluegill on an ultralight rod spins and turns as hard as a smallmouth bass on standard tackle. Perhaps the greatest battles on light tackle come from white bass. These hard-fighting fish cut and sprint with incredible line-peeling power. Trout also provide a battle on light tackle, and oftentimes a big trout is possible on a very small offering. All of these fish teach drag management and improve fish-catching skills.

For more excitement, try pursuing bass with the light rod. Smallmouth and largemouth will provide a challenge on ultralight tackle, no matter how big the fish is. Both are well known for their leaping ability and powerful runs which provide anglers with a true test of their angling ability. One caveat when pursuing bigger fish on small tackle: be certain not to over-play the fish to the point of exhaustion.

Only option

It may be that in some instances, light tackle is the only way to take wary fish. On waters that receive a lot of angling pressure, smaller lines and smaller lures will take fish when conventional lures fail. The same is true for crystal clear water. Fish that live in conditions such as these are less likely to take after a lure that they can see attached to a line. The smaller lures look more natural and in clear water while the lighter line is harder for fish to notice.

Focus on deeper water in situations where the water is clear. Pair up a light action rod and reel and locate fish with light lures. Often, this is the best way to find finicky panfish, trout and bass.

Late summer is a great time to chase bluegill and white bass on light tackle, while crappie and trout are better pursued in spring. No matter what you pursue throughout the open water season, you will find some serious fun, when you lighten up…in our outdoors.


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