June 23, 2014 Share

Light Gear, Big Fish

Many years ago, after cutting neighbors’ lawns for several weeks, I had enough money in my pocket to buy my dream reel—a Mitchell 308.

I don’t know where the desire to go “ultra light” came from, but I do remember that anglers of the day (mid ‘70s) were in the midst of a massive revolution. Fishing knowledge was exploding as affordable sonar and fishing tournaments opened whole new worlds for anglers. And what was learned was shared through angling publications, seminars and books. Whatever the reason, my fascination with light gear was born.

My buddy Spence Petros, then an editor at Fishing Facts magazine, was in the thick of things and helped popularize many of the techniques anglers use today.

Going “ultra light” was one of the many directions anglers headed. A generation before, anglers who had been fishing black Dacron lines testing 20 pounds or more for species like walleye, were not only switching to clear mono, then were downsizing greatly in pound tests—many going to lines as light as 4-pound test. Meanwhile panfish anglers were experimenting with even lighter lines. Two-pound mono was not uncommon, and some freaks (me included) even played with lines as light as ½-pound test (sewing thread, really). At least for me, that experiment didn’t last long—I hated losing fish!

Along with the Mitchell 308 I purchased a whippy 5-foot “ultra-light” rod and a spool of 4-pound mono, which I spooled the minute I got home from my local K-Mart.

A day later, I was so disappointed with the combo I considered bringing it back to the store. For one, it didn’t cast worth a darn. Two, the rod was so soft I couldn’t set the hook. Finally, to move the bait at any speed other than ultra slow I had to reel like a madman. But I did land a 5-pound walleye that first weekend on the gear and it was a major accomplishment in my mind because I caught it on “ultra-light tackle.”

Let’s fast forward 35 years.

We are on the tail end of another revolution in tackle, this one made possible by the launch of super line, super strong, super braids like SpiderWire and new technology like Berkley’s new Nanofil. Suddenly, anglers can go much lighter with their tackle, but unlike the ultra-light movement of the ‘70s, have gear that performs at the highest levels.

From my experience, saltwater anglers have enjoyed the option of downsizing most, both offshore and inshore. I still get a kick out of rigging a rod I used for smallmouth bass the week before and setting it up for bull redfish.

But there is also a chance to downsize in freshwater. I find myself now selecting reels that are a size or two smaller than one I used to buy 10 years ago. And I am going lighter with rods, though I will not make the mistake of spending hard-earned money on a short, whippy, “ultra-light“ rod again. I won’t go into details other than to say a medium action 6-footer does everything better than a five-footer, and gives me a fighting chance to land the occasional giant that comes along.