What is light tackle?
For argument's sake, my definition of light tackle is as follows: light tackle is a complete light line delivery system that makes utilizing light baits easier by matching rod, reel, and line size accordingly.
Many people view light tackle fishing with soft wimpy rods and tiny baits on 2-pound test. The truth is that it could be like that, but it doesn't have to be. The equipment I use when going light is by no means wimpy tackle. I prefer to use equipment that can stand up to the rush of a 5-pound largemouth bass surging to get free. For this, you need rods with solid backbones, fast actions, and reels that can hold decent quantities of line. Dependable drags are also a must.
Light tackle does not necessarily mean you have to fish with tiny baits. I have numerous baits in my arsenal that are far from small. Light tackle is a complete system utilizing specific equipment and methods to accomplish a common goal. This goal is catching more and bigger bass. It does not have to be 2- and 4-pound test exclusively. My system is geared for 6- and 8-pound tests. At times I even utilize 10-pound thin diameter lines. I think the diameter of the line is far more critical than the actual test rating. These lines provide me with different delivery options and help make this approach more versatile. My system combines light rods, reels, and lines teamed up with light lures for argument's sake. Once the correct tackle is used, I take it further by applying specialized and polished methods to bring these baits to their highest level of fish catching ability. Add a little bit of general bass knowledge to that, and I round out this system and base it on seasonal movements and lake by lake analysis of bass.
To keep an open mind, the thoughts of whippy trout rods and soft-action rods must fly out the window. There is nothing soft about the methods that will be discussed. There is nothing to be ashamed of, either. Light-line fishing increases the number of fish you catch, but it is fun. If you use it, I guarantee it will make you a more consistent angler whether you fish for fun or in tournaments.
When I first developed this system, my target fish was 5 pounds. I felt that my tackle should be able to conquer a fish of that size without any real trouble regularly. I used this strategy for over 15 years, and it held and helped me land three fish over 9 pounds along with many in the 6- to 8-pound class in NY.
My system has changed more recently due to my move to the Motherland of bass fishing, Florida. Here, I can regularly run into far larger fish because they are far more plentiful than in NY. I have tweaked the system accordingly by utilizing thin diameter lines that are slightly heavier than the steady 4- and 6-pound diet that I relied on for so long.
The secret is to remain in balance with the lures you are trying to throw. Once your rod starts to overload due to the weight of a lure, you need to change things. I'm generally relying on 8-pound line these days for many of my applications, but seeing 15-pound bass swimming around does not intimidate me, nor does it prevent me from using 6-pound line to try to catch them.
Now that I have tweaked this system and filled in the gaps by making baits that were once unavailable to the light-tackle angler, the arsenal features all of the types of baits one would utilize when fishing with conventional gear. Anyone who feels they would be missing out by lightening up, need not worry, since all the bases are covered.
Why light tackle?
I firmly believe that many anglers, including professional ones, use light tackle as a safety net to save the day when traditional methods aren't producing. I took it one step further by realizing that light tackle will make fish bite at other times, not just when they are finicky. By decreasing your line size and baits, you make your offerings appeal to a larger population of the bass group you are targeting. This essentially translates into more strikes and more fish caught. This is ultimately what we all want.
Light tackle is simply fun and sporting to use. I've taken some colossal bass that gave me all I could handle on light gear. It's a blast, and likely once you experience this, you'll become a convert for life. By no means am I suggesting that you should abandon traditional methods altogether. Instead, it preaches versatility in using both and toggling between the two when conditions dictate. Adding light tackle to your arsenal gives you another way to catch fish even when those can't miss conventional tactics fail you.
Does fighting a large bass on light tackle harm a fish?
I firmly believe that an experienced light tackle angler poses no more significant threat to a large fish than an angler using traditional gear. The myth about light-tackle angling is that it takes longer to land a larger fish, thus creating more stress and perhaps fatal stress. When using a light line, whether 4- or 6-pound test, it should not take extraordinary amounts of time to land a large bass compared to a heavier line, say 10- or 12-pound test line. Could it take 10 or 15 seconds longer? Yes, but the amount of time to fatally stress a fish would likely be significantly longer.
The only sure way to harm a fish is to mistreat it somehow. With proper handling, bass can be released alive a high percentage of the time. If you fight a fish until it is exhausted, it will surely build up to deadly lactic acid and die as a direct result of the battle, but this can be accomplished by an angler utilizing any gear, not just light tackle. Generally, the light line will break long before you have the chance to fight a bass into exhaustion.
I suspect most fish mortality can be blamed on improper handling and not light-tackle battles. Do you think using heavy gear to swing a bass over the side of the boat and having it land hard on the deck is healthy? My advice is to handle fish gently, whether you use light tackle or traditional gear.
Please keep in mind that when we discuss light gear, we are not talking about soft-action noodle rods, as many might assume. Instead, we cover fast-action rods with the backbone necessary to land large bass while making even a tiny fish fun and challenging. We are not playing a fish out until it is exhausted. Our goal is to focus on the sport of the fight and release the combatants as quickly as possible with as minor wear as possible.
Please understand I am speaking about catching and releasing bass for fun, not throwing them in a live well, and parading them around a lake for 7 hours. That is a whole different issue concerning fish mortality, and some studies show this can harm fish. If anglers could realize this, there would not be a debate.
Do you recommend light tackle for a specific type of angler, such as a beginner or experienced angler?
If you have a pulse and a desire to catch more fish every time out on the water or just want to have fun, I recommend light tackle to you. Experienced and novice anglers alike will be able to produce better results with light tackle. It is easier to teach a novice angler the ins and out's of light tackle because they have not developed any bad habits. An experienced conventional angler has years of habits that must be broken off. It is kind of like molding a perfect angler. It would be more difficult for the seasoned angler to forget the style used to fishing to pick up light tackle and attempt to master it.
The most important thing here is a desire to learn and, ultimately, the desire to catch more bass. When you couple these two things together and add a little discipline to stick with this method, you will notice improved results. It is hard to pick up anything new and realize immediate results simply. Confidence in any approach out on the water will make you more efficient. Light tackle is one of the few things you will notice results very quickly if you are on the right track.
Can you employ light tackle in all parts of the country, or is it just a clear water tactic?
There is no doubt that the West Coast methods of finesse fishing greatly influenced light-tackle bass fishing as we know it today, but in my opinion, this technique evolved to its current level with portions of knowledge from the East Coast and Southern bass fishing know-how as well. Of course, with its naturally clear waters, the West became the proving grounds for many light tackle theories. I'll let you in on another secret, however. Both the North East and the Deep South are loaded with clear water impoundments that necessitate the use of lighter lines for spooky fish.
That lesson is that light gear can be an exciting way to catch fish and have fun. You can use light tackle tactics anywhere you fish, and they will help you catch more fish than you ever thought possible.
Is there a difference between light tackle and ultra-light tackle?
The answer likely differs depending on whom you direct the question. I'm a pretty experienced light tackle angler, and my answer is yes, there is a definite difference between light tackle and ultra-light tackle. Light tackle encompasses a broader gear range, sometimes including ultra-light tackle or micro-light gear. The spectrum ranges from medium-action rods and gear. Ultralight tackle is a more limited selection. It comprises predominantly soft- or slow-action rods, super small reels, and generally 2- and 4-pound lines. These two approaches have one thing in common: they can utilize the same thin diameter lines and small baits.
I concentrated on fishing with the absolute smallest gear I could find for a while. This was simply fun fishing, as each fish was an adventure. A tiny reel that holds 50 yards of 4-pound test or 80 yards of dreaded 2-pound test and a super light 5-foot spinning rod was the norm. It is enjoyable, but with tackle that is prone to failure, it can become super frustrating in a short time. I'll admit it, early on, I catapulted at least one rod and reel set up into the drink out of frustration. I've broken at least one rod over my knee, snapping it in disgust. Today, much of the newer tackle is higher-end, refined, and more efficient. You will be able to utilize some of the light tackle gear to fill in the void and employ it for actual ultra-light fishing.
Can light line and bass mix?
Light line isn't just for trout and panfish anymore. Despite what the average angler may believe, bass and light line absolutely can mix. The plethora of quality tackle introduced for light line enthusiasts makes this type of fishing more enjoyable. Even before I was fishing tournaments utilizing light tackle methods, I was catching more fish than ever while recreational fishing. I was catching tremendous numbers of big bass on small gear.
I never fished line heavier than the 6-pound test in my first tournament season. I occasionally broke out a flipping stick to throw heavy jigs in my second, but I again relied on the 6-pound test. To me, you can only catch fish that strike your offerings. Knowing that making your line and lures smaller will get you more strikes, my decision to stay with the light line was evident. Despite catching several bass over 5 pounds during competition on light line, the 6-pound test held firm, and I broke off one bass on the light line in two seasons. Considering that most anglers break a fish off every time out, my success on light line has been nothing short of amazing.
The theory is that a larger number of different-sized fish can consume smaller baits. Once you put the theory to work, you are opening yourself up to more strikes from more fish. From the standpoint of recreational fishing, you are getting the most "bang" for your buck by doing this. You are unlocking a very efficient system for catching keeper-sized bass to limit out for the tournament angler.
I've always subscribed to the theory that if you bring in a consistent limit all the time, you will be rewarded in the end. This is how I went about my tournament fishing. Go for a limit first, and any larger fish I come across would be a bonus. Once that limit is achieved, I could change my style and look for one big bite, but I had to have 5 in the well before making the change. That game plan helped me and led me to incredible success.
My system is more involved, and you will learn how, when, and where to use specific baits and techniques to catch more bass. I have never stopped myself from fishing in certain situations because I was told, "you can't do that" or "that won't work here." I thrive when people tell me I can't be successful in a certain way, it is in my being to prove them wrong. Had I listened to people, I would have caught far less fish and never stumbled on to this incredible, consistent, fun way to catch fish. I certainly would never have acquired the knowledge necessary to fill the pages of a book.
Can you employ many different techniques using light lines? Are there specific light line methods?
In my opinion, light line is very versatile. Many exciting and effective light line methods need to be fished on light gear to be appreciated. Call these methods light-line specific. They simply work better when teamed up with lighter gear. I grew up learning the West Coast finesse methods. I combined them with my East Coast experience to form a formidable approach that has provided me with a systematic inside line to consistency. Most of these West Coast methods simply excel when fished on lighter lines, hence the recommendation of their use. Using heavier lines may dampen their effectiveness.
There are a few apparent limitations, but the sky is the limit with light lines in reality. I don't feel limited about what I can do with this approach. There are likely times that other methods would outproduce light-line tactics or be more appropriate. When I recognize those times, light tackle takes a back seat to those other methods. This is the extreme rather than the norm. That is a lesson in versatility. It is essential to become skilled in many presentations. Don't get caught up in being a one-trick pony.
Remember, if nothing else, it is essential to keep an open mind (I've said this at least four times already). This is the beginning of learning how to become a versatile angler. If you are skilled in fishing conventional tackle, adding a light tackle bag of tricks gives you a two-pronged approach. If you prefer to fish with larger baits and gear, at least you have something to fall back on when conditions call for downsizing. Having that parachute will delay those helpless feelings you might get when things are not working, and you have to put fish in the boat.
Are you at a disadvantage using light tackle around heavy cover?
I'm sure some guys who consider themselves power fishermen might disagree with me when I say that you can even be successful with light line in heavy cover. Of course, you need to gain experience in fighting a big bass in this type of cover, but it certainly is not impossible to win some battles, and after you gain experience, most of the battles.
I believe that you have to put baits in front of bass where they live. If they live in nasty places, you must go in after them. Many anglers refuse to put their baits into locations that may break their line. I made a living early on, slinging light tackle jigs into the worst possible snags, and most of the time, I won the battles. I always reasoned that I would have fought and lost a big fish instead of never having that fish bite my lure.
The only disadvantage you may find is that you can't horse a fish on light gear as if you were using 60-pound braid and a 7-6 flipping stick. If you approach your fishing and respect your gear, you will find it possible to handle fish that the average angler may lose even on heavy tackle.
In truth, with experience, you can learn to adapt to heavy cover when fishing light gear. It is possible to hang up or break off if you choose the middle of a submerged tree as your battleground. At the same time, these nasty places are also some areas where you will generate more strikes. So, if you fail to fish around these spots, you may be limiting your action for the day. It is a compromise that you must consider. I would rather have lost a fish in heavy cover than never have hooked it because I failed to throw my bait there. You can't expect to be successful if you go out on the water and fish scared.
I've used light gear for many years. I know that you could have a hard time in heavy cover if you lack experience of fighting bass around it, but I think as you progress, you learn what not to do and what limitations your lighter line may have. You make up for it. You can cheat a little. You may have to put extra pressure on a fish to lead them out of heavy cover. You may pop some line. In the long run, you will be a better-schooled angler.
Experience will be your guide as to how you approach each fish in heavy cover. Each bass is an individual, and contrary to what many others will say, each fish has different habits, characteristics, and fighting abilities. As you gain experience, you will learn to anticipate what each fish is doing or about to do at the end of your line. Take mental notes before you even hook into a fish. What will you do once you hook one? Be prepared and have a battle plan. It will pay off for you in the long run. Take note of your surroundings when you are working in an area. Plan exactly what you want to do if you hook up with a big fish.
If there is money on the line, perhaps light line might not be the best way to winch a bass out of a jam if you lack experience with it, but if you utilize heavier lines and lures, you may miss out on strike altogether. If that is the case, I will take my chances on lighter gear any day!
Can you be a serious tournament angler employing light-line methods?
The early days: developing a system in 1999, I began fishing competitively with several B.A.S.S. affiliated clubs. I did very well despite my lack of experience in fishing tournaments and my light-line approach. A few years later, I joined a local club and again set out to employ light-line tactics exclusively in the tournaments we fished. I would be fishing with baits I made this time, and nobody else had. This would be the proving grounds for my light-line success. I wanted to see how my light line system would hold up against the formidable Senko and all of the industry's best products.
Around 2000, I set out to start my own light tackle business based on custom homemade light-tackle lures. I have been pretty busy ever since, considering it was just a hobby. My philosophy is that if I could build baits using the best quality components and make them different from all of the mass-produced baits on the market, I could build up a devastating arsenal of lures that fish have never seen before. This "something different" is the foundation of my whole light tackle philosophy. It has proven itself so many times to so many people. Fishing light tackle was just the first step to my making something "different" approach.
I also decided to try my methods in some tournaments. I fished a local club circuit held on weeknights with a friend. Together we used my light line methods and baits to fish eight tournaments. We never finished below the top two spots in any of the events. Generally, there were 8 to 12 boats fishing in those tournaments. I was impressed by our success. The competition took notice, too. We walked in that first night and were laughed at after "serious" tournament anglers took one look at our light tackle, but that laughter turned into deadpan silence and likely shock when we weighed our fish. Those same anglers began to ask us for our input on how they could become more efficient with lighter gear. Everyone looks for an edge, and many will eat crow to find it!
I decided to ratchet up the pressure and joined a club to test my approach. In 22 events during the first three seasons, my light tackle approach brought me to the winner's circle 16 times. I finished runner-up six times. Light tackle helped me win every major award the club offered, including 3 Angler of the Year and 2 MVP crowns. These achievements were realized due to fishing light line over 90% of the time in the competition. Light tackle whipped up the competitors and led my charge to victory. To say I am a believer in it is an understatement. I honestly feel that all of the chips were stacked against me and that by utilizing this system, I overcame adversity, and the pieces of the puzzle all fell into place for me. I had known for years that this system was sound, but I learned that its potential was more significant than even I expected. I consider myself a very skilled and versatile angler, but my success in competition can't solely be based on that. I genuinely feel that my decision to stick with light tackle through thick and thin was why I had achieved this success. I had a plan and realized my goal by sticking to that plan. Light tackle simply gave me the ability to get more bites, which translated into limiting out in just about every event I fished in. With this consistency, I couldn't go wrong, and it ultimately led to me finishing at the top on a more than regular basis.
In 2004 I left the comforts of my small water club and joined a group of guys who fished more extensive water. This was important because I had never fished most of the waters we were to compete on. To be successful, I would have to rely on my knowledge of seasonal patterning of fish and light tackle. My charge with light tackle led me to 4 out of 5 first-place finishes and many of the coveted awards. Importantly, it proved that light tackle could be an extensive fish system. In these five events, I weighed in over 76 pounds of bass. This was slightly over a 3-pound average. Light tackle helped outdistance the second-place angler by almost 40 pounds of total weight. This was consistent with the results of the previous couple of years with the small water club. Again, I chalked up this to light lines and light baits.
Some hardcore tournament anglers likely think that fishing finesse baits and light tackle only attract small fish. I've often heard these anglers state they could go out and finesse a 6- or 8-pound limit on any given day. Consider this: I charted my tournament standings for 2002, 2003, and 2004. In 2002, I exclusively fished eight events and my club's Classic with light tackle—total weight for the season 89.70 pounds. In 2003, the total weight for eight qualifying events and a Classic was 90.89 pounds, and there were two non-qualifying tournaments where I put up 16.93 pounds and 12.48 pounds, respectively, with my light tackle approach bringing the actual weight up around 120 pounds. In 2004 I fished four qualifiers and the Classic and weighed 76.40 pounds. Basing this fishing on a five-fish limit for every event, the average per tournament was well over 10 pounds. That is not bad for light tackle. I had 11 fish over 4 pounds and four over 5 pounds in the competition. Again, this is during a tournament where most of the time, I worry about a limit, not a big fish for my plan of consistency. I know plenty of hardcore tournament anglers who fish conventional gear who would kill for a 10 to 15-pound bag every time out. Most of these guys travel for hours to get to their tournament locations.
I would hardly call myself a serious tournament angler, but my success with light line in competition speaks volumes. I've fished three full seasons in a club circuit and used 6-pound line almost exclusively. Out of 22 tournaments, my partner and I won 16 and finished second in the remaining six. We finished, on average, 35 to 40 pounds better in total weight each season ahead of the second-place team. Can you imagine having 35 pounds separate the first and second-place teams in a regimented tournament schedule? Is that effective? I think so. Add two Classic victories, two Team Angler of the Year Titles, two Club MVP titles, an overall Angler of the Year title, and two Mr. Bass Titles, and you can see how efficient light tackle can be when given a serious chance.
Now I will be the first to tell you that these were club tournaments, not Pro events, and in the grand scheme of things, they mean very little. This performance marks success against anglers throwing the industry's best baits on the best gear as far as light tackle is concerned. It was a tremendous accomplishment. It put to rest any thought that light line could not consistently provide successful results in competition. It also showed other anglers who previously dismissed it as a bit of fish tactic that it could not only provide them with consistency but also with a few larger fish. I specifically fished competitively to test out my fishing system and prove that light tackle can be consistent in competition. I got more than I ever bargained for, so did the guys I fished against.
No doubt scaling down bait size appeals to a broader pool of the fish population. For this reason, it makes sense to consider a light approach. Add to that the tremendous pressure these fish receive during a tournament, and it is logical and almost necessary to succeed. To be a successful tournament angler, you need to be consistent, and what better way to be consistent than to catch more fish using a technique that can put you on to those fish.
I think light tackle is an approach many pro anglers use when the going gets tough. They just don't readily admit that this way of fishing puts food on their tables when all else fails. Maybe they are afraid of the sissy image some anglers associate light tackle fishing with. One thing I always remembered as I was learning to fish this way when asked about what baits they use under the most challenging conditions, most pro anglers said the light tackle was the way to go. I took it a step further and used these baits in everyday situations. Why not catch more fish more often? It makes sense.
The pros aren't using light tackle in tournaments. Why shouldn't I?
Remember when I said to keep an open mind? You can't rely on the material and information of what a paid and sponsored pro tells you 100% of the time. His motivation is to tell you about certain baits from the companies that sponsor him, and he is even less motivated to give you his winning pattern, the same one that feeds his family. Take it to the bank that many pros rely on light tackle during tournaments, far more than you hear about. I think that there is a reason not too many guys defend the "sissy" fishing techniques when the "bubba" guys speak negatively about it. This is likely because they do not want to give up their secrets. Some anglers simply write light tackle off for tournament fishing. This is a mistake as there are so many times light tackle is an advantage.
The pros have discovered the importance of keeping light-line options in their arsenal on a national level. Did you ever hear of a guy named Guido Hibdon? He won a Bass Masters Classic with a light-line approach. His son Dion did as well. Rick Clunn is another guy who uses light tackle at times on the pro tour to be successful. He's been to 23 consecutive Bass Master Classics. The guys out West have a different approach to their gin-clear waters, and it involves four and 6-pound lines for so many techniques. Those light lines are used out of necessity. Out of that necessity evolved a whole new approach to fishing.
These days, you can read the magazines that talk about pro events, and you will likely find that many more tournament anglers are resorting to lighter tackle to entice bites from educated fish. If nothing else, using light line can help you become more consistent at catching keeper-sized bass. I would guess that there are a ton of anglers out there who would give anything to bring in a limit each time out or at least have the knowledge that might help them achieve that limit. In tournaments, you don't always need a big fish to win. If you remain consistent, you will often be rewarded with solid performances.
If that has not convinced you, keep this in mind - anytime an angler is faced with challenging conditions, light tackle is almost always the response recommended by pros and anglers in the know. There has to be something to it.
Consider this as well. I have done many speaking engagements. At one particular event, I met and had a lengthy conversation with Larry Nixon, who is, in my opinion, one of the top 5 professional bass anglers in the world. I asked him about the use of light tackle on the professional tour. He readily responded that plenty of guys regularly uses this tackle to finesse fish limits under challenging conditions. Essentially, all of the pros use it despite not admitting to it. He used my Kistler Helium medium-light spinning rods for his seminars and spoke about light tackle worm fishing that he uses to find limits. To me, that is proof in the pudding.
Does light tackle have any limitations?
I'll be the first to tell you that the light line does have its limitations. Although those limitations apply to my fishing are few and far between, you have to realize that no system is bulletproof like everything in life. I feel that this one is as close to perfection as possible in bass fishing. My fishing system is not simply putting light baits on the end of your line. However, even if you do only that, you should increase your catch by at least double. If you think about it, anglers are breaking all-tackle world records for giant tuna and marlin on lighter lines such as 20-pound test. Those fish can be hundreds of pounds in weight. Why would landing a five or 6-pound bass on 4-pound or 6-pound line seem unattainable? Perhaps it is only intimidating to guys who have never done it. You are only limited by what you think you can't accomplish.
I have experienced success with light tackle in just about all fishing conditions. I'm not sure there are any fundamental limitations as far as bass fishing is concerned. Perhaps you would be limited in the overall size and weight of the baits you might want to throw, but I can assure you that throwing smaller versions of those larger baits will likely put you onto fish even more readily than with those larger baits. These days enough bait companies are making light tackle lures to prevent anglers from scrambling to make their own as I did in the early days.
Some anglers might argue that light tackle is not suited for deepwater presentations, but I disagree. Light small diameter line is essential to probe the depths. There are guys out West drop shot fishing in 80 feet of water with 4- and 6-pound line. They fish darter heads on 40 feet of water and routinely doodle in the depths proving that the light line approach can be used in deeper water. It makes sense, too. Deeper, clear water with no obstructions is perfect for a thin diameter line that you can use without worrying too much about abrasions to scuff up your line. The thicker the line diameter, the more drag the line creates in the water. This is important for allowing baits to run true. Without drag, baits will normally track to their potential. If they are hampered by thick diameter lines, the action, running depths, and retrieves will be affected.
My light tackle bass system is very versatile. It covers fishing situations, lures, gear, and conditions. The only drawback to the system may be utilizing some heavier baits in extremely deep water situations. Flipping large baits into thick weed growth is another area where you would be better suited using heavier gear. Although not a significant problem for me, you have to know when to utilize another method or different gear simply.
I always preach about being careful to avoid being a one-trick pony. This usually is directed towards anglers who dismiss light tackle as sissy tackle. It is important not to get locked up in any method or technique. This could cloud your judgment and affect you negatively on the water. Versatility is the key to angling success on any level.
The bottom line here is this. I'm undoubtedly comfortable enough in my ability to recognize any time where I may feel that light tackle is not the way to go for a given situation. I'll readily switch up to heavier gear when I see this as fact. I'm not a prisoner of my system. I'll do what I have to do to catch fish.
Can I be as accurate with light gear as with baitcasting gear?
With some practice, you can easily thread the needle and skip baits into tiny little openings under bushes and stickups. I learned how to become a very accurate caster over the years. It was based more on necessity if I wanted to be successful. The lighter lines you will be utilizing will aid in your casting accuracy. With light gear, you tend not to be concentrating on casting distance. Instead, you should be more interested in accuracy for close combat. You can't expect to pick it up and perform like a champ simply. You need to work at it, but I feel you can be super-efficient with it.
One of my fishing buddies gave me the nickname "The Surgeon." He was impressed at the small places I could put a bait with relative ease. The delivery system I used helped me become a very accurate caster.
I was once challenged by an angler to a fish off. I would rely on skipping my light tackle baits to visible cover while that angler flipped and pitched any bait in his arsenal. He told me he could reach any spot I skipped and be more effective doing it. The fact that he boasted publicly that he was so sure he would prevail made his undoing even more satisfying to me. He would get a public flogging if he failed, and fail he did, miserably. As the day unfolded, he realized that his accuracy with a flipping stick was not even in the same universe as the deadly accuracy of skipping. He could only muster flips to the outside edges of the shoreline cover we worked as I penetrated deep under the snags and tangles. He had a single fish to his credit when all was said and done. I had waxed 22. In retrospect, you can be highly accurate with light tackle, provided you practice with it. Of course, I heard every excuse in the book as to why he was unsuccessful, but he learned a valuable lesson that day that should have opened the doorway for him to improve upon his technique and keep his mouth shut.
An important rule in bass fishing, make sure your mouth doesn't write checks that your body can't cash.
Can you catch big bass on light line?
I could answer this with just one word. There is no doubt that big bass can be taken on light line. I have pursued big bass with light lines for many years. The sheer numbers of large fish I've taken on light line are staggering. It is simply a fun and challenging way to fish. I don't think I'd attempt to catch the all-tackle world record with 6-pound gear, but if I were hunting for the record, my choice for that would only be 10-pound test.
In truth, I've landed more than 1000 bass over 5 pounds in my exploits, and most of those were on light tackle. I'd estimate 70% were caught on line testing 6 pounds or less. This includes a good share of 34 fish over 7 pounds in NY. I've taken four fish over 9 pounds on line, testing 6 pounds 99.9% of these fish came from NY. One bass was a 13.9-pound Florida giant. If you think landing a 5-pound largemouth is a hairy experience on light tackle, you can only imagine what fighting that beast was like. With scaled-down presentations, you might be surprised at just how much big fish you can catch. I will guarantee you that once you fight a big fish on a small tackle, it will change your outlook on the sport and be hooked in the pursuit of light tackle bass fishing.
Catching larger bass on light tackle is a system in itself. We will highlight what steps you need to make to be a successful big bass light tackle angler in the following areas.
Why should I fish with a light tackle when I can catch fish with a conventional tackle?
This is a good question. Suppose they are hitting 3/8oz. spinnerbaits with reckless abandon or big 4" crankbaits. I'll be throwing those baits alongside you. There are times when I get tired of being extra-meticulous and retying and checking my gear. I love to put on 20-pound braid and catch a mess of fish without worrying about the state of my gear. I am also a sucker for flipping and pitching 3/8oz jig n pigs on 15-pound line with a 7-foot medium-heavy or heavy action flipping stick.
You have to know when to recognize and switch to a better plan. It is called versatility. Unfortunately, with today's fishing pressure, light line is often the key to getting those lock-jawed fish to bite. If you think about it, each time you read about specific factors that lead to the fish becoming inactive or lure shy, just about every response is to scale down your tackle to get more bites. Cold fronts, bright sunny days, low-pressure zones, and drastic weather changes can all be combated by lighting up. I feel this is a natural way to fish. Why not employ light tackle all the time, not just to combat specific situations. There is no doubt that you will catch more fish if you use light tackle. Light tackle is also at its best when fishing behind a boat or in heavily pressured waters. I can't even begin to explain the success I've had fishing used water. The fish that get bombarded by the commonly thrown baits tend to be more receptive to smaller baits and a less invasive approach.
As I stated already, you need to learn to be versatile and not get locked into catching bass a certain way. At times anglers simply want to catch them a certain way, whether the fish are receptive to that presentation. I call this force-feeding the fish, and you might get lucky and force-feed one bass to bite, but it is more likely that you will simply be wasting your time. By catching bass or not throughout a day of fishing, you should learn to take the information the fish are relaying to you to form a plan of attack. Aggressive bass should have you selecting larger tackle since light gear isn't necessary to coax bites. On the other side of the coin, sluggish or light-biting fish should dictate a change to light gear.
What type of increase can I expect regarding the number of fish caught using light tackle?
In all honesty, this depends on you and how serious you are about improving your fishing. First, you have to make a concentrated effort to use light tackle and stick with it for some time. This was easy because I experienced ultra-light success before I even considered changing my habits. I was pre-motivated. This success led me to change how I looked at my fishing and see that I could do better. Next, you have to become a sponge. During the period that I would classify as my growth period with light tackle, I craved to learn about it to the point that it was almost a sickness. I couldn't digest information fast enough to get on with learning more.
If you just go through the motions half-heartedly, I feel you can catch at least double the amount of fish you are used to catching with traditional gear. Doubling your output is respectable. I think that this statement is highly conservative, though. In truth, I think an angler who is serious about this fishing and develops confidence in these tactics, and dedicates himself to it can catch 3 or 4 times what he might have caught under traditional angling. To give you some idea what I mean by this, under normal circumstances on my home waters, my journals regularly show me catching between 12 and 15 fish on almost all of the trips I took before I employed light tackle. Under a few circumstances, the number could be lower or higher, but the average is 12 to 15 fish per trip. Those numbers are not too bad, but once I switched to light tackle, I saw a jump in my overall numbers and the frequency I took bigger fish. Those 12 bass days turned into 35 and 45 bass days. I have had several outstanding outings where more than 100 fish fell to my light tackle tactics. I've taken other anglers out, and together we've landed over 200 fish in a day. I'm not so sure that this could have been duplicated with conventional tackle.
Should I concentrate on learning light tackle methods or standard methods?
I believe that an angler is much better off being well-rounded than a one-trick pony. One of the themes that I always stress is that versatility is the key to success. After becoming proficient at conventional bass fishing, I took my fishing up a level. I had learned the meat and potatoes tactics. I was a very adept jig and worm fisherman. These were my strength areas, but I also had experience with spinnerbaits and crankbaits. My decision to switch over to light tackle can be compared to opening a notebook and writing on both the front and the back instead of just the front. On the front page is traditional bass fishing gear and tactics. On the back is light tackle. These pages are almost mirror images of one another in content, yet they differ in how they describe the story. I think it was easy to learn in the manner I did. It is even easier for the angler who is almost totally new to fishing. Here there are no bad habits to erase or break. You don't have to unlearn everything you spent years learning, and you are less likely to be stubborn. Even if you have no intention of becoming an angler who relies on light tackle for most of your fishing, at least become acquainted with it to compliment your current style. There will be times when you will have to fall back on something when your bread and butter methods are not working.
Does the size of your baits matter?
For light tackle fishing, size does matter. Remember earlier we defined light tackle as a complete system, not just a decrease in the size of your baits. With this said, smaller baits are essential to keep your system balanced and working to its potential. You can't chuck 1 ounce spinnerbaits on 6-pound line with a medium-light rod. It just isn't going to work for you. You have to match the gear, and because you are using light lines and rods, you have to match your baits up accordingly. Smaller baits are not the disadvantage some anglers might lead you to believe. I think they are an advantage as they increase the interest of a larger population of fish overall.
There have been debates over it, possibly a little blood drawn over it, and maybe wars started over what size baits a bass prefers. I always hear anglers state that big baits catch big bass, which is sometimes true in my experience. On the other side of the coin, the light tackle angler who targets bigger fish on his smaller gear usually throws 4" or smaller baits. I've taken tons of big bass on tiny jigs and worms. That might dispel some of the big bait/big bass theory, but is either better than the other?
Is there scientific proof that shows that bass has a preference? We will never see Barbara Walters interview a bass on Sunday night and ask that question, so how do we conclude? The answer may have been inadvertently revealed during the stomach analysis of bass all around the country. This shows us what our bass are foraging on, but it also gives us the size of their preferred snack.
Several studies have indicated that crawfish and minnow samples recovered from both largemouth and smallmouth bass suggest that a specimen of 2- to 2.5-inch is the size of choice for adult bass. This is exciting news considering that bass can engulf objects much larger than that. This shows two important things. The first is that a bass definitely can have a preference. The next is that the bass is highly adaptable to forage on creatures out of the preferred size range. This may not be groundbreaking news, but it gives you something to ponder next time you select what you will tie on the business end of your line.
These studies reveal that the preferred size of forage is likely much smaller than the standard bait that most guys regularly throw, reinforcing the notion that those anglers who fish with light tackle and smaller baits are setting themselves up for success. This is done by offering bass the preferred size baits consistently. It is understandable why light tackle anglers can catch large numbers of fish because they employ baits of the most desirable size. The size of these baits is simply preferred by a broader range of the bass population. This is advantageous to know.
Consider that all of the information will steer you toward baits 4-inch and under for your bass fishing. You will quickly see why this has come to be once you start utilizing the light gear and catching more fish than you ever have.
Where I live in Florida, a 6- to 9-inch shiner is the preferred bait for trophy bass in the 10-pound+ class. However, it certainly doesn't mean that only large baits will catch them. Guides use larger shiners to discourage smaller bass from biting. They are, after all, out for trophies. I've experienced bass that bust a large shiner but won't commit to it. Switching to smaller bait seals the deal. I've taken an enormous amount of trophy class bass on tiny baits. A 1/16 ounce jig 'n pig was my weapon of choice for a long while, which helped me catch hundreds of NY largemouth exceeding five pounds. The Slider worm has helped me catch three bass over nine pounds, including one over thirteen. I know guys who have been fishing a lifetime with larger baits that haven't come close to catching large fish regularly.
My experience has provided information and experience that has qualified me to disprove all of these myths. I feel that most of these falsehoods were initiated by anglers who never even fished with light tackle, never truly understood the concept of light tackle or those who were downright intimidated by it. Think about it this way. I have no real reason to be loyal to an unproven technique. With that said, I took a chance by immersing myself in a system that has improved my fishing success to an extremely high level. Had it not worked for me, there would be no reason for me to give it accolades. My fondness for the light tackle approach and the countless hours I have spent perfecting and tweaking that approach is based solely on its fish-catching capabilities. This system is that good.