This article was first published in 2011 when LRF was very much still in its infancy. Though times have moved on and we've learnt a lot since then, the basics ring true. It's a little rough around the edges (there was a certain amount of reluctance from some anglers to accept the concept of LRF at the time) and I've had to modernise one or two product links, but things like my thoughts on rod lengths haven't changed and the info is still sound today. However, please look out for an updated version over the next couple of months. There's a lot to add about things like species hunting and the rigs that are most popular today.
This is just a quick article to explain to a friend the bits and bobs that come in useful when you first consider setting yourself up for a spot of Ultra light fishing. I will expand on it much more later. I've been reading more and more lately about people wanting to give light tackle and lures a try, but some of the recommendations coming from guys who haven't tried it are just taking one or two people off track.
Moreso than with standard (bass) lure fishing, LRF equipment really needs to be quite specific if you want to get the best from it. That's certainly not to say it's complicated though! Far from it, it just needs a little thought and once you're set up it is very, very easy.
- Light lure rod (around 7 feet and ideally with a maximum casting weight of less than 10g).
- Small reel (1000 - 2500 size).
- Mainline (braid or fluorocarbon. Braided mainline will require the addition of a short fluorocarbon leader. Fluoro straight through: 3lb. Braid: 6lb (leader 2-6lb))
- Small selection of jigheads and lures (jigheads from 1-3g with hook sizes between about a size #4 and #10. Lures from 1"-3").
- Drop or landing net.
- An easy-access place to fish.
- Preferably a fishing buddy or two.
Checklist in detail
The rod: Through experience, we've settled on rods that are around 7 feet in length but on occasion have found that longer and shorter rods can be useful. Just over 7 feet seems to be a very comfortable starting length though. Most of this type of fishing is easily done from harbours, pontoons and easy access rock marks where casting distance is not necessary and there are very few snags to complicate things. In reality, the shorter the rod you can get away with using, the more direct your line to the light lures will be. Ultra light rods sometimes come with solid tips for super sensitivity, but to get you started and in to a few fish, either a solid or standard hollow tip will be fine. Fast action (soft-tipped) rods certainly reign supreme, but just to get you out there, and light action spinning rod will suffice. With experience you will start to appreciate the differences and find your own way and personal preferences.
Recommended starter rod: HTO Rockfish UL
Reel: Go for a small, front drag reel. It surprises many the things that you can do with a tiny reel, but I can assure you that small (quality) reels are more than capable of landing even 10lb+ fish! Small reels are better balanced with very light rods, and since you aren't generally trying to cast a long way with LRF, even the smallest reel is likely to hold more than enough braid or fluorocarbon line.
Recommended starter/novice reel: Daiwa Crossfire LT 2000
Mainline: If you ask me, your mainline (braid or fluorocarbon ideally) is perhaps your most important aspect of your setup. A fine mainline will ensure that your contact with lightweight jigheads (0.5g-5g) is much more direct. When I'm in the shop and talking to LRF newbies about their setup, the common concern that people have is with using lines that seem stupidly light. "What will happen if I hook a big fish?" is a very common concern. As sea anglers we're often pretty inexperienced when it comes to actually 'playing' fish. Of the guys I know, it's generally the ones with a little coarse or fly fishing experience that most quickly become confident in actually letting a fish take line - they're used to landing 20lb fish on 5lb lines. In reality it's often not too much different at sea. Naturally it all depends on the conditions and ground that you are fishing over but assuming you are basing your first LRF attacks around harbours with clean ground and not too many snags, you will be amazed at how much pressure you can put on 3lb line! Set the drag on your reel and you will find yourself landing some very nice fish. I promise! Not every fish will be big enough to take line (don't be a complete wimp when setting your drag!), but occasionally one will. Be prepared and take your time. The soft actioned rod will cushion your line against all of the fishes head shakes and you will be fine.
You have two options when it comes to choosing your mainline:
Braid: Slightly more costly, braid is thin and strong and is a great starter option if your budget allows. It's thin diameter makes casting very light jigs infinitely easier and contact between your rod tip and your lure much more direct. I highly recommend not using braid above 6lb breaking strain for LRF. There is still a big difference between budget and quality 6lb braids, but whichever you choose, but not going above 6lb you should have the fine diameter essential for casting. I'm often questioned about this in the shop when customers think "well, if 6 is ok, can't I just use 10? I might hook a big one...". the absolute truth is that there is a BIG difference between 6 and 10lb braids (cheaper ones), so 'yes', it does matter. You'll still be able to fish, but I want you to catch fish and you WILL catch more with 6lb than 10lb. A 4lb difference when we're talking about general plugging equipment would be almost zero but the lighter you fish in terms of jigheads and lure size, the bigger that difference becomes.
I would recommend uncoated braids in light breaking strains for this fishing, just because stiffer braids leave the spool in coils, and this will really reduce casting distance with light jigs. I'd also suggest using a bright colour like yellow, orange or bright green so that you can see more clearly where your line (and lure) are going. As you go up the quality scale with fine braids the line becomes smoother, more supple and thinner - these features result in overall brilliant fishing efficiency. Starting with something like #0.6PE Tailwalk PeeWee though is a nice step. I'd highly recommend starting with a strict budget to just get yourself out there giving it a go. Experience alone will guide your future tackle choices.
I would select a braided mainline if I were fishing a small jighead on or near to the bottom, or if I am hoping to provide some sort of specific action to the lure - with twitches of the rod tip for example. The lack of stretch in braid means that I (or you) should be able to feel through the braid when your lure bumps in to the bottom, or a fish picks up the lure!
With a braided mainline you will need to use a fluorocarbon 'leader'. Unlike a 'shock' leader used for casting, this form of leader is much shorter. It's function is two-fold. 1) Fluorocarbon is almost invisible in water so the addition of a short length between your braid and your hook will ensure that fish are not put off by the high visibility of your braid. 2) Braid can be easily broken if rubbed continuously over rocks. The fluorocarbon leader has a very hard surface so will protect a delicate braid from taking too much abuse. An 18" - 3' leader will be enough to keep your braid out of harms way. If you get more in to the technical side then there are other features of fluorocarbon that will come in to play and you may want to lengthen your leader, but start short so that your leader knot (I find an Albright knot best) is below your rod's tip ring and you should minimise problems with it choking in the small guides. On a 6lb braid for example, you would select a leader strength to suit what you are trying to do. If you want to fish slightly bigger lures and target 2lb+ fish, then a 5 or 6lb leader will be suitable. If you find that you are catching mostly small fish, or conditions are hard and clear, then even a 2 or 3lb leader will suit. By using braided mainline you can swap your leaders to suit. This leads us on in a second to your other option in a second - fluorocarbon.
Other tips for using braided mainlines: 1) Slightly under-fill your spool (3mm-5mm from the spool's lip). 2) After casting, close the reel's bail arm manually (with your fingers) - rather than winding it down. 3) After casting, sweep the rod backwards to pick up as much slack line as possible before you start retrieving. If you are to have trouble when using braid, it will 99% be due to slack line having found it's way back on to your reel!
Recommended starter braid: Tailwalk PeeWee X4 150m - #0.6PE. Recommended starter leader: Tict Light Game Compact Shock Leader 6.2lb.
Fluorocarbon: Why fluorocarbon and not simple mono on my reel? Fluorocarbons have come a long, long way in the past 10 years. Originally they were stiff, hard to tie and practically impossible to load on a reel. They've always had their advantages though. Like I've said, fluorocarbon is almost invisible in water. It is also a very hard material so has great abrasion resistance for when you are fishing around rocks. There are a few issues with monofilament lines, and fluorocarbon gets around and improves on most of them (the list is long so I won't go in to it fully). Mono; even though we've used it for years has less good abrasion resistance, generally more stretch and is also more visible in water. None of these are features that we require - if you are looking for better 'presentation'. Modern fluorocarbons however are being designed now to be softer (so they don't spring off of your reel), easier to tie and cheaper than they used to be. Fluorocarbon is still a few pounds more expensive than a cheap mono, but the benefits are many. Fluorocarbon also sinks! Mono floats. This may seem a tiny characteristic to worry about, but when fishing a 1g jighead and a 2" lure, this can make a big difference to your potential catches. The fact that fluorocarbon is 'heavy' also makes it a good option when fishing on windy days. This is where it can excel over braid. Light braids are easily blown in the wind, whereas fluorocarbon will generally be better behaved. There's also no need for a leader when fishing fluorocarbon 'straight-through'.
The down-side for many saltwater lure anglers wishing to use fluorocarbon mainlines is the realisation that to achieve that fine diameter required for casting such light jigs, fluorocarbon mainline choices should really centre around just 3lb breaking strain! 4lb is ok, as is 2lb for smaller jigs and winter fishing, but it is perhaps the psychological side that must first be overcome. Once you reach 5 or 6lb breaking strain, the thicker diameter brings a real downfall in your potential casting distance. It seems mental, foolhardy and impossible to use and catch fish in the sea on 3lb lines, but as the saying goes; "don't knock it until you've tried it". We catch numerous fish to 4lb+ on 3lb lines and losses are very, very few and far between. I'm not recommending targeting 4lb fish on such light lines (the majority of fish around the harbours we fish average less than 1lb), but they do turn up by accident and 99% of the time they do get landed (quite quickly generally) and returned safely in good health. The theory of using light lines (before you've done it) can be scary. Once you've tried it you will find out exactly how strong 3lb line really is.
So, just to summarise the choice between braid and fluorocarbon mainline... Use braid for working or bouncing lures. Use fluorocarbon for steady retrieves (more than suitable for mackerel, pollack, scad etc) or on windy days when braid is being blown about. If I were to pick one, I would select braid and find myself some shelter on the windy days ;-)
Nets: A dropnet or a landing net - just in case. You'll be able to swing most of your fish in (even on 3lb line), but occasionally you'll hook something bigger. If you can get to water level to guide them in then, great! If not, use a net. A coarse/match style landing net and handle are usually ideal. A 3m+ lightweight handle and 18" net usually suffice. Of course, a dropnet is likely cheaper and bigger. It's your choice.
And that's it...! It really is simple. A small bag is all that's required to carry such few bits in. Or even just use your pockets! Genius!
LRF is such a social side of fishing that I would strongly recommend trying to get a friend or two to fish with. You will catch fish big and small, and having a friend there to laugh at when he or she catches a proper midget is all part of the fun!
A few more tips before I go:
- When playing fish on light rods, try to keep your rod at a 90 degree angle to the fish. This will ensure the rod and line can absorb any of the fishes runs.
- When making the decision as to whether a fish is large enough to net or small enough to swing, if you have doubts immediately just net it. It will save faffing about or potentially making the wrong decision in trying to lift a fish and losing it with a hook in its mouth.
- If swinging a fish in, be aware of the capabilities of your lightweight rod, reel and line. Do not over stress the rod or your reel. When a fish nears the shore and lies on the surface ready for lifting, wind the rod tip down to take up as much line as possible (so that you are standing with the rod almost pointing down at the fish), then lift in one smooth action. Do not try and crank the fish up using the reels handle. If it feels like there is more than a little strain on the reel then you probably should have net it. Ultimately it is your decision whether you should be lifting or netting fish, but I'd just use a little common sense and wise judgement. Look after the fish and karma will treat you well.
Apologies for making this one such a hefty read. Things are developing so quickly with lure fishing in the UK at the moment that there is a very high possibility that if I come back to this article in 12 months time then parts of it will be slightly different. I'm still learning though, like everybody, and only time will tell where things go. It's become apparent though that all of the rules we ran by for decades are quite often incorrect. A few days ago I counted how many saltwater species I have caught on lures this year. The answer was 29! TWENTY NINE!!!! All on lures. I know anglers who have had even more than that, and plenty of species that I didn't catch that I should have done.
Please note: I only recommend light line in conditions and terrain that suit. Light tackle is great fun if used sensibly and at the right times and in the right places. Strong current, severe winds, very rocky ground or the regular presence of larger than average fish (you've got to be hooking/catching them rather than just assuming they're there!) are situations where it would be wise for you to step your tackle up a bit. Whether you go just as far as 6lb or 20lb mainline and leaders is up to you and is a decision best made to suit the day in hand. It's all about using a bit of common sense and actually thinking about what you're doing to enable yourself to have the most fun possible - hopefully with as many fish landed as possible.
One thing light tackle does do is enable you to consider fishing locations that you usually ignore - inside harbours for example (if access is permitted). Lugging a seatbox and multiple long rods around may not be something you want to do in such a situation (people would think you were mad), but a small bag and a light rod enables you to keep moving and really explore different areas. This is one thing that I personally love so much about it. In such locations there are often very few snags (and a surprising number of fish/species - which is why it goes hand in hand. It's a big mistake to think that LRF is all about fishing your current favourite marks with very light tackle. It's about exploring pastures new and then applying what you will learn to other aspects of your fishing!
In conclusion LRF is not the complicated thing it's often made out to be (by guys who haven't tried it). It's not something that needs to be forced on people, nor something that threatens all other forms of fishing with its righteousness. It's just an extra string to your bow and certainly one of the most fun ways of fishing that I've ever tried.