One of the fastest growing “sub categories” of fly fishing is the use of ultralight tackle known as ultralight fly fishing. It has grown so much in popularity over the last several years, that its own culture has begun to form around it.
Light tackle has been around for decades and was built to provide sensitive and delicate fishing in small and tight waters, but it’s beginning to find its way into larger bodies of water.
There is not a lot of literature in the sport, and with this article, we hope to provide several tips for using ultralight tackle in various fishing situations you might find yourself.
5 Tips for Ultralight Fly Fishing
There is a pretty big discussion going on in the fly fishing world at the moment regarding ultralight tackle. The debate is whether or not ultralight tackle should be used for larger fish.
We are not here to argue one side or the other. Whether you are going for small brookies, panfish, larger trout or even bass these tips will make you a better lightweight angler.
Match your Rod with the Fishing Situation
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Having the correct action rod turns good fishing trips into great ones. The right action all depends on the type of fishing you plan to do with your ultralight.
For small watersheds that are in tight locations a medium to slow action rod is best. The reason for this is because these action rods are easier to get delicate and precise casts at short ranges. These rods are still light enough that you don’t lose much sensitivity either with going with a medium to slow action.
If you need distance to be able to fish a body of water effectively, you need to go with a faster action rod that is going to be able to pick up extra line off the water and load it quickly. The drawback to fast action rods is they are usually stiffer around the tip. This stiffness paired with light leaders and tippet make break offs common if you are not well versed in your drag management.
A safe and more versatile choice would be to go with a medium action rod. These rods handle well in tight conditions but still provide some distance casting if you find yourself needing it.
Match your Reel with the Fishing Situation
Picking out a reel for ultralight fly fishing is equally important as the rod choice. Your biggest concern is going to be weight. Some of your ultralight rods are only 0.2-3oz in weight, and a larger reel is going to throw the balance off.
In tight streams and fishing for small species, weight is the most important aspect of the reel. While a decent drag system and arbor size are important, they are secondary to having a balanced reel/rod combo.
If you are taking your talents to the big water looking for browns and bass, there are a few considerations to take into account besides having a lightweight reel.
You are going to need a top of the line drag system. Anything less and you are going to have a difficult time landing these fish. Not only do you need a max drag of at least 5lbs you need a reel with great detents, meaning you need to have tight control on the amount of drag increase per click.
You also need minimal to no start-up inertia. If there is any jerkiness in the reel’s drag and you hook a larger fish on light tippet, it’s going to break the majority of the time.
Be Proficient with your Drag
If you plan on hitting the water with your ultralight gear to chase larger fish, it is important that you understand how drag works and how to adjust the drag to land fish effectively.
Ultralight gear means delicate tippet and leaders. You should always have the drag set at its lowest settings and then adjust as needed after a fish is on the line.
If you have your drag set high when the fish hits, the stiff tip needed for casting to larger fish means a lot of pressure is put on the tippet, and this often leads to breaks.
When a fish begins its run, keep the rod tip high with constant pressure on the fish. Give the drag a smooth increase in resistance and continue until you feel the run taper off.
If the fish runs back towards you, strip and keep pressure, but be sure to lower the drag setting a few clicks to prepare for another run and engagement of the drag.
Master New Casts
Ultralight fly fishing gear was designed to cast short distances and in tight cover. In most situations where this gear is often used, the standard back and forward cast will get hung up in vegetation.
Two important casts to learn when fishing ultralight and when in tight casting conditions is the roll cast and the bow and arrow cast. Both of these do not require a backcast to load the rod and deliver the fly.
You might hear that these casts do not have the accuracy of standard casting, but a few hours of practice before heading to the water and you can catch fish all day with these two casts.
The bow and arrow cast involves you holding the fly and pulling back to load the rod before releasing. You become limited with the amount of line you can have out, but you get a lot of control over angles and can come in handy when trying to get into a tight fishing hole.
Understand Ultralight Limitations
If you’re a decent fisherman and take the time to study and prepare for ultralight fly fishing trips, you can handle fish from brookies to medium-sized trout and bass.
Regardless of what some anglers say there are definitive limitations to using ultralight gear.
Regardless of your rod, you just can’t cast at the distances higher weight rods and lines can or with the same presentation and accuracy. It’s just physics.
Along with that same thought, the line is just not heavy enough, and the rods are not powerful enough to deal with high winds. In tight, small stream conditions it not as much a factor because of the type of casting and the wind is usually blocked, but in open water your going to have problems with wind over 15mph.
Finally, you are limited to fly selection. These rods are great for light, delicate drys. You’re just not going to be able to launch huge weighted streamers or nymphs. Make no mistake; you can catch any fish with light flies, just be aware that some flies you have in mind just won’t work.
Very few fishing scenarios can relate to the feeling you get when landing fish on ultralight tackle.
Whether you are trekking small mountain streams or larger tailwaters, by using proper techniques, careful gear selection, and understanding the limitations of your gear you can get out there and catch more fish.