Big Water and Light Line
I’m always looking for the next bite by either trying to duplicate what worked the last time under similar conditions or I’m working to refine a given presentation or technique to get things started. With that in mind, I feel there’s one thing that’s seldom discussed in most angler’s conversations and that’s line. It seems 90% of the time the first thing folks ask is, where you’d catch the fish and what were you using.
So what I’d like to review in this writing is line, but more importantly light line fishing. Some call it ultra light, while others call it whacked to even try, but in my assessment if you haven’t spent at least a couple trips on your favorite water fishing 4 or 6 lb. test line you owe it to yourself to see what it’s all about.
My first exposure to light line fishing was in 1987 when I purchased a Shimano 4’6” spinning outfit rated for 2-6 lb. test. I loaded it with 4 lb. test and went after spring steelhead in Stony Creek just south of Henderson. I missed a bunch of fish to break offs on those early trips and little by little I learned to trust the drag and the little whippy rod until I started landing fish on just about every trip. And back then to find a 7’, 7’6” or 8’ spinning rod rated for 4-8 lb test was unheard.
Thankfully times have changed and so has the fishing industry; nowadays many rod manufacturers offer light power fast action rods (spinning & casting) in the 6 - 7’ range and a few offer rods in the 7’6” - 8’ range. For my light line fishing I use rods by Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO); they have many models to choose from and I like their GTS DSSS693-1 (6’9” spinning) and the C733-1 (7’3” casting) both of these rods are medium light (ML) power, fast action rods rated for 4-10 lb. test. When I’m fishing in gin clear open water conditions I opt for the TFO Professional Series PSS 763-1 (7’6” spinning), ML power, fast action rod rated for 4-10 lb. test
When fishing light line you need three things, a good quality rod and reel with a smooth drag to protect the line and last but not least you better be tying knots correctly. We’ve already discussed what to look for in a rod so we’ll move on to knots and leaders. After almost four years of testing I’ve settled on the Uni knot as my preferred knot for light line fishing. It’s easy to tie, seems to hold up well for me, and it’s also the knot I use when attaching a leader to my light line. I mostly fish with artificial lures and connect directly to the lure’s line tie or eye.
Whenever I’m fishing in known pickerel or pike waters I also carry a spool of leader material in 8 or 12 lb. test. Some people still think you can’t catch fish with teeth unless you use a steel or wire leader and that isn’t true. I’ve fished for these toothy critters for over 35 years and the one thing I’ve learned is this; with the right equipment you can land some real big fish on very light line using a mono or fluorocarbon leader, but you have to trust your equipment and have is set up right.
I’ve found when fishing 4 lb. test pickerel or pike that an 8 lb. leader works pretty well and there’s a couple of reason for this. First off while these rods are medium light, don’t let that fool you because their fast action gives them plenty of power to drive the hook points home, provided you’re using the right hooks and secondly their parabolic action in conjunction with a quality drag does a great job of protecting the 4 lb. mainline.
I look at it this way, if my chosen leader material is twice or three times the break strength of my mainline the odds are that I’ll land the fish before it can successfully chew through the leader. Is it 100% fool proof, not always, but using a good leader when fishing with light line around toothy critters at least puts the odds in your favor versus donating lures all day long.
I’ve enjoyed my best success with a mix of old and new lures. For horizontal baits the size one or two Mepps in-line spinner is hard to beat as is the traditional 1/8 oz. beetle spin. I’ve also had good success with Lucky Craft minnow baits in the 3 – 4” range and boot tail swimbaits 2.8 – 3.3” rigged on a 1/8 or ¼ oz. leadhead jig or a 4” grub on a 1/8 – ¼ oz. leadhead jig depending on how deep I’m fishing. For vertical presentations I’ll use 3 - 3.5” tubes on 1/8 to 3/16 oz. leadhead jigs, 4” worms on a 1/0 hook with a 1/16 – 1/8 oz. weight and wacky rigged stick worms in 3-5” sizes. There are certainly many more lures to try, but the ones I’ve listed above have worked for me on Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain, Oneida Lake and countless waters in between.
This spring why not start off your open water season with some light line fishing. It works great in gin clear waters as well as heavily pressured waters. The challenge of light line fishing is not for everyone, but if want to give the fish a sporting chance and see just how big of a fish you can catch on light line then give it a try you might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
About the Author
Burnie Haney is a Pro Staff member for Temple Fork Rods, Lucky Craft Lures, The Rod Glove, Bass Pro Shops and Nitro Boats, and Keitech Baits. Member of FLW Outdoors, the Bassmasters and the New York Outdoor Writers Association and past Chairman and current Secretary of the Jefferson County Sport Fishing Advisory Board. Haney holds three fly fishing line class world records with the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame (carp, chinook, steelhead) and two IGFA NY Sate line class records (walleye and smallmouth bass).
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