Feature Article - Summer 1996
by Jerry LaBella




It was the worst nightmare that any angler could experience--seeing fish but unable to catch any. There they were, under the lighted area of the rig, taunting us in the night as they methodically surfaced and descended all about the boat. Hefty specks, the kind that you dream about, with a bad case of lockjaw beyond your wildest imagination.

We helplessly threw every lure in our tackle boxes at them, only to be further disgraced. But that wasn't the worst of it. Things really got a bit out of control when my fishing buddy, Leroy, face beading of sweat and countenance like that of a raving lunatic, desperately picked up the landing net and recklessly started taking swipes at them as they surfaced just out of reach.

In a last ditch effort I proceeded to try something of a less cynical nature, before calling it a night. Meanwhile, Leroy, panting from exhaustion and grumbling in an undertone, skeptically looked on as I reentered my tackle box and emerged with a clear\silver flick sparkle beetle and a #2 thin-gauge perch hook and placed it on the gunnel.

"What in the world are you gonna do with that?" Leroy kept asking while I continued to work.

"Just watch and see," I confidently countered, not really knowing whether or not the scheme would only add to our humiliation.

Leroy continued chuckling as I picked up my ultralight spinning combo and fed several feet of the 6 lb. mono line through the rod tip. Using a straightened 2/0 hook for a sewing needle, I threaded 6 inches of the line through the hook eyelet and pushed the point of the hook, starting at the front section of the sparkle beetle, until it passed completely through and between the split-tail section (rear). At this point, the perch hook was tied to the line. Then, while holding the sparkle beetle in the other hand, the line was pulled from the front of it so that the hook shank entered the body, bottoming out at the hook's curve between the split tail. This affixed the sparkle beetle directly to the line with no jig head, swivel or weight in front.

To confirm my experiment, I dangled the lure over the side of the boat and opened the reel bail, allowing the lure to contact the water. Would the sparkle beetle float on the surface without sinking, and would it appear natural looking?

Surprisingly, it did!

Leroy put his final approval on it--more sarcastic chuckles from the peanut gallery.

The moment was tense as I whipped back the featherweight lure, casting it toward the gang of dauntless, speckled antagonists. Slowly retrieving the lure in a steady fashion, it glided across the calm, green Gulf water, producing a tantalizing miniature wake streaming out from behind it. It closely resembled a silverside minnow frolicking on the surface. Leroy's mouth hung open, amazed by the contraption and its performance. Unfortunately I couldn't say the same about the specks, for they seemed less amused than before.

After the second cast, frustration was at an all-time high; but to my utter amazement that abruptly changed, when a speck shattered the surface and inhaled the lure right along side of the boat. Leroy gasped in astonishment as the ultralight line fled from the spool. After coming to his senses and realizing that my hands were tied up in a vicious battle, he seized the opportunity and began digging in my tackle box trying find the hooks that I used.

"Those hooks are going to cost you at least $5.00 a piece out here, and I don't know if I'm going to let you buy them anyway," I sarcastically bellowed in retaliation while still fighting the fish. After landing and placing the 4 lb. speck in the ice chest, I quickly made another cast.

"Now how did ya get that hook through the beetle," Leroy timidly inquired.

"You gonna have to wait until I get this other speck in the boat," I roared over the sound of the reel drag while fighting another fat speck.

The scene repeated itself for the next 30 minutes, while Leroy persisted in figuring out how to make his sparkle beetle float. Disturbingly enough, before he managed to do so, the specks disappeared from the surface.

In retrospect, the lesson learned that night only underscored what both of us had already known: when all else fails, switch to ultralight tackle. In fact, many anglers are discovering that lighter and smaller baits can be most effective in prompting specks to strike when larger baits fail. Those who regularly resort to ultralight tackle can attest to the fact that frequently even bigger fish find such lures irresistible, possibly because of the lifelike action unduplicated by larger baits.

The fascination for going lighter has no doubt been prompted by freshwater anglers fishing areas that also produce saltwater species. Thus, while saltwater anglers are just catching on to the advantages of ultralight tackle, this has been commonplace among freshwater anglers for many years. Naturally, this has made believers out of saltwater anglers. A good example of this is the growing popularity of such places like Venice, La., where both salt and freshwater anglers congregate and fish.

As saltwater anglers started seeing the obvious benefits of lighter lures, a chain reaction of product in demand came in to play with manufacturers yielding to the demands. Gradually more and more manufacturers of big baits started producing down-sized lures of the same type. For this reason, many tackle stores are now beginning to offer a full line of ultralight lures as small as 1/32 oz.

Moreover, there seems to be no end to how small of tackle anglers will resort to as manufacturers compete for producing the smallest baits, thinnest lines, and lightest rods and reels. The scenario works something like this: every time an angler enters a tackle store to replace his favorite lure, he notices a smaller version hanging beside it. So he tries it and becomes impressed. The next time he returns and finds an even smaller version, experience dictates not to hesitate in trying it.

Other factors, besides just productivity, prompt saltwater anglers to go lighter. Ask any ultralight zealot why he likes fishing with ultralight tackle, and somewhere in the answer he'll mention "action" and "challenge", two things synonymous with ultralight angling. This has been the trend especially with saltwater anglers where stricter limits have been imposed. The simple truth is anglers are becoming more conservation minded and less quantity oriented.

Ultralight tackle can also give an angler an edge over factors he otherwise can't control. For instance, the combination of fishing artificial lures in clear water with a weak or dead tide can obviously work to your disadvantage. Under these conditions specks are notorious for becoming more critical of the bait being presented and line visibility. Consequently, anglers need to be more cognizant of factors like heavy line, bulky leaders, and unnatural-looking lures that can hinder your presentation. This is where, with little investment and know-how, going to lighter tackle can make a noticeable difference.

While expensive tackle is not necessary to ultralight success, there are some important basic principles to keep in mind--like matching the line, rod and reel with the correct size lure.

Understandably, most see the futility in using ultralight lures on rods and reels not design for ultralight fishing. If you have ever experienced trying to cast an ultralight lure on medium to heavy tackle, you know that it won't throw very far nor perform in the way that it was intended. The frivolity would be comparable to swimming with heavy lead weights tied to your legs.

Likewise, to avoid conflicts in ultralight tackle performance, follow these seven simple tips:

(1) Spinning reels are best suited for casting ultralight lures, though closed-faced models work well, too. Make sure that the reel is rated for *8 lb. test and under. *Note, some prefer reels rated for 10 lb. test and under for added line capacity when using lighter test line. You can find the rating of the reel by looking on the side of the spool; most indicate line test weight with corresponding capacity and/or diameter.

(2) The rod should be rated for light to ultralight. This can be verified by looking at the rating on the rod located ahead of the front grip, which should designate both the recommended lure weight and line test weight. It should fall within the same rating as the reel, though certain light rods with good limberness

rated for 6-15 lb. test and lures up to 3/4 oz. work well. Be careful, though, not to choose a rod that is too stiff or the lure won't provide enough weight for the rod to load (flex), hence hindering casting ability.

(3) Lure choices very with preference. For ultralight fishing the key is to use small, lightweight lures less than 1/4 oz. that best imitate the real thing in the waters you're fishing.

(4) Tie direct. Avoid swivels and snaps at the lure connection; to do otherwise may dramatically impede the action of the lure and take away from the lure's natural-looking appearance.

(5) Consider a good quality line of the thinnest diameter, while not sacrificing durability and strength. The new braided lines work excellent; they have little or no stretch and less water drag. In either case, lines have to be inspected routinely for damage during fishing to assure that line breakage at the lure doesn't occur. In braided lines this is not as critical, but the sharp teeth of specks can easily warrant having to retie lures after catching a fish if mono is used. Also make sure reel drag is set to 1/3 of line rating: mono according to test rating; braided line according to diameter rating. The latter is a precaution to prevent braided lines from working a hardship on ultralight rods and reels. In some cases special rod eyelets are required for certain type braided lines, i.e., Spiderwire.

(6) Check hooks often. Many small lures are designed with light gauge hooks that bend easily. This is very critical if using braided lines that test way beyond ultralight ratings. Logically, hooks are more apt to bend if this is not considered when setting drag systems as previously mentioned. Some resort to changing the hooks to heavier gauge, but this must be done judiciously for this could defeat the purpose for which the lure was designed, especially top-water and slow-sink type.

(7) Delight in ultralight!

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