Moving away from conventional gear can bring anglers more bites
It’s a cliche to say I learn something every time I go fishing, but for me, it’s absolutely the truth. I’ve been fishing for nearly 50 years (gulp), and sometimes I feel like a kindergartner who just learned how to spell S-P-E-C-K-L-E-D T-R-O-U-T.
One of the most profound revelations in years occurred to me in the most-recent autumn, but it actually had its genesis much earlier than that.
As part of my Marsh Man Masson YouTube channel, my son Joel and I used to do competitions (before Joel graduated college, got a big-boy job and essentially stopped fishing). One of our favorites involved having to use an ultralight rod with super light line as a punishment for failure to catch a fish before your opponent.
Whippy little rod
Joel and I always cursed when the time came to put down our conventional gear and pick up the whippy little rod more suitable for bream than redfish. You always felt waaaay outgunned with the ultralight in your hands.
But the rules would never require you to fish with the ultralight the rest of the day. That would be cruel and unusual punishment, we reasoned. You merely had to fish the tiny rod until you caught a fish.
Fair enough. But over time, we noticed something interesting: Nobody ever had to fish the ultralight very long. Invariably, whoever picked up the undersized gear would soon put it back down after hoisting a fish, usually with aid of a landing net, over the gunwale.
It happened far too many times to be coincidence, and it got me to thinking a lot about line size and visibility, especially in clean to clear water.
So during the fall of 2022, when rivers were low, rain was nonexistent and water throughout Louisiana’s marshes had roughly the turbidity of a bottle of Kentwood Springs’ finest, I decided to tote the ultralight along, and it turned out to be an eye-opening experience.
Uptick in bites
I started the day with conventional gear, and had moderate success, but once I picked up the ultralight, the fish literally wouldn’t leave me alone. The uptick in bites was profound and undeniable.
I continued to employ the ultralight the rest of the fall, and I got to where I hated to put it down to pick up my heavier gear. The only time I would was when I came across areas that were too grassy to fish effectively with an exposed hook.
And that leads me to one of the drawbacks of fishing with an ultralight — and to be sure, there are several.
The first is that you’re limited in what tackle you can throw. Because the line is so light — I opt for 4-pound monofilament — Texas rigs aren’t really an option. You just can’t set the hook through all that plastic and into the tough mouth of a redfish or bass with line that has more stretch than a 300-pound woman’s yoga pants.
So exposed hooks are a must.
Another negative is in bite perception. My standard rig is a medium or medium-heavy rod with 30-pound braid and a 15-pound fluorocarbon leader, and when anything hits the bait on the other end, a jolt of energy transfers immediately from the lure to the rod tip, causing me to instinctively set the hook.
But you seldom feel a fish bite with an ultralight. The rod is too unresponsive, and the line is too thin to carry the shock to it anyway.
What happens mostly is you intend to hop your lure, and it feels spongy, so you set the hook. Sometimes it’s grass, but more times than not, it’s a fish.
What is it?
What that fish is depends on where you’re fishing, but for me, it’s as likely to be a speckled trout as a redfish as a largemouth bass.
One of those is not like the others when it comes to fighting ability, and the largest red that’s fallen for a lure on the end of my ultralight was a 15-pounder. The fight took 45 minutes, and absolutely wore me out.
Fortunately, most reds have been considerably smaller than that, but even an 18-incher will have you walking around the boat multiple times, and will definitely require the aid of a landing net.
Overall, I’ve been surprised at how well the line stands up to abuse from marsh fish it wasn’t designed to catch, but if you employ my ultralight strategy, you will certainly have break-offs. It’s just part of the deal.
To console my hurt feelings after a fish swims off with my lure and part of my line, I just remind myself that I probably wouldn’t have gotten a bite from that fish without the use of the ultralight, so it’s a small price to pay.
I’m certainly an old dog, but the relatively new revelation regarding the use of ultralights shows I’m still able to learn new tricks.
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