Do you love big bluegill?
There is Ultralight and ( Zen ) There is Ultralight Fishing
No one reading this has ever fished ultralight. Ultralight would be the ability to hook a single bit of algae or just one hydra to a hook to catch a newly hatched fish, still bearing it’s egg sack.
Yes, this would require microscopic viewing as well as the bioengineered hook with line single cell thick line and a very delicate hook set. While I joke a little, I am serious about the ultra light. You’ve never fished ultralight. Read on and I will prove it.
If you are reading this overseas in the U.K. or France, you may have most other readers beat. You probably hooked a tiny eyelash-sized bait to the tiniest size 20 or size 28 hook and used line of .5 lb. breaking strength. You need not read further, you were close to fishing ultralight as in the second paragraph. For these select few championship caliper anglers have fished with a young blood worm (1st year) gnat larvae called a joker.
Club anglers in the U.K. have fished with a slightly larger, older gnat larvae - the blood worm itself on a size 20, 22 hook and you are also excused with your .75 lb. line. If you have taken the time to place a couple of these chubby eyelash-sized baits on your pant leg and worked one very carefully on a hook - you are good.
The rest of the world’s gear blows our tackle away for precision, accuracy and for delicate, ultralight presentations. In waters where fishing is very tough, some of this equipment is exactly what is needed for angling success.
On one trip up to Canada, fishing was o.k., but the lake we had been to before housed walleyes in the 29 - 33 inch trophy range. In previous trips, we had seen the giants and I was lucky enough to land 6 fish between 24 and 27 inches in 5 days on the lake. It was the trophy class fish which was slow.
I knew of a stream that fed into our two lakes. In this stream one Summer day (late Spring for this Northern location), there was an explosion of river shiners. Billions of them were in the mouth of the stream doing what they do. At the mouth of the stream, there were several hungry pike and other fish there attacking the back end of the mass. The water would explode with shiners during the fish attacks in the shallow stream.
That year, I filled our minnow bucket with a quick dip net in two shots. The large fish attacked these natural minnows much better than the river darter minnows we had fished. We knew success came in the form of those much brighter, metallic shiners. Fish thrashed them quickly when lowered on a jig or bare hook.
This year, the fishing was slow and the shiners had come and gone due to a warmer Spring. Nearly no shiners were in the stream, but I could see an occasional shiner or two. Not billions but maybe 15 of them.
I had prepared by bringing some hooks I used when I fished in Portugal in the World Championships fishing the bloodworm. Instead of getting in the cold water and finding bloodworm, I kept an X-acto blade in my box which I used to slice of a micro strip of night crawler. My hook was a size 22 which I attached to a thin carbon pole with some
.010 mm line. The line will hover below 1 lb. breaking strength, very thin.
To this, I attached a very delicate float - also used in competition overseas and I put two split shot on my line which were the size of two flecks of pepper stuck together. The body of the float is smaller than 1/4 of the nail on your little finger.
The process is dicey to say the least. Clamping shot on line this thin damages it so as I was taught, I pinched it on the tail of the line, moistened it and pushed it up the line carefully. Repeat for the other shot and then trim off the damaged line, connect a looped hook.
Have you figured out my target species? The species I was stalking would be the biggest fish caught on the trip. The essential fishing I must succeed at in order for us to have a better shot at the sluggish, giant females that were not feeding on anything this week. Did you guess it?
My target species was a 3.5 inch shiner minnow on hook & line - ultralight. Since it was our last evening on the water, I wanted to make sure we had this good bait with us.
I would adjust this rig system many times in the next :30 minutes. I had little success but was attracting the attention of these river shiners. If I could only get the slice of crawler thin enough in the right shape, I thought I could hook one. I sliced, adjusted, retried and adjusted. I was getting a couple of strikes but could not get the hook in their mouth. Finally, I learned how to go with the grain in the crawler and was able to slice of this hair-sized piece (after many failures). This went on the very end of the hook, and was hooked without the aid of a magnifying glass or microscope up close and personal.
Then it happened, I set the hook with a dainty hit and landed my prize using a landing net ( I worked so hard to catch it, I wanted to make sure it didn’t come off and drop in ). My net also has a very fine fish-safe mesh which would later catch a couple of falling shiners that did drop off the hook. It took a few casts and hits to hook another. Healthy shiners are one of the fastest fish in the world to hit a bait and spit it out. I would set the hook into air many times in between landing one. Eventually I left the stream with 13 shiners hooked and placed into my minnow bucket.
I knew these were like gold dust. When I got back to camp, my brother and I hit the boat and launched to our favorite walleye spot for that week. When we broke plane in our target bay and bobbed to a halt, the rods were lifted and jigs tipped with some of our limited supply of prized bait.
Success came very quickly as the first couple of minnows were slammed within a minute and decent fish were landed. A couple of fish later, the sun was looking low on the horizon. I put on one of the last shiners as each jig lowered was being hit very quickly. The bites many times faster than the darter minnows from our bait supplier.
The fish really went ga ga over this local species of silvery minnow. This time I lowered my minnow, with only three left in the trolling bucket. The jig reached depth and I clicked the bail shut on my spinning reel. A quick, hard jolt on the watched rod tip and tight line had me aim down at this fish, angling the end of the rod towards it’s toothy bite. I readied my strike and thumped a chunk of fish - a decent one.
From the bend in the rod, and the low, heaving strain on my line, I knew I was on a decent walleye. A few runs beneath the boat and I got a glance, this was big and I let my brother know the fish I had on looked like a submarine, the largest of the trip and one of my largest fish ever around 26” - 27”. A wide, beastie of a female walleye easily the big fish of the trip. This monster crushing our 24” fish from early in the week.
My brother had hooked something on a double-up at the bow of the boat. This was one of the very few double catches on the week. My fish had a few runs left as I readied the net to land the big fish. I then overheard “it’s huge - give me the net”. My brother had the nerve to request the net when I had a trophy on so I laughed him off. “Patrick, I have hooked into a U-boat,” I told him and he nervously said “mine’s huge”. With my fish near the surface and visible as it made a pass below my net, I spotted my brother’s fish. “No, you didn’t”, I said. I couldn’t believe the size of his fish as it passed a few feet away from mine.
The fish at the end of my brother’s line was at least 20% wider and was much longer than my fish and it was a prehistoric-looking walleye, the biggest I have ever seen. We landed both fish and were looking at over 55” of walleye hooked on a double-header. My brother’s fish was photographed, measured and released at 29.75” long. The fish bumped off my fish-of-the week (a title I held for under 1 minute), with his fish of a lifetime.
You could say we fished ultralight for these massive walleyes. We were using 4 lb. line and tiny jigs, but you would be wrong. Fishing ultralight for bait fish by bumping a few river shiners in the mouth with a size 22 hook on 1 lb. line is truly the only way to fish for trophy fish and still call it “ultralight”.
The next time you hear the term ultralight, I hope you recall this and quickly correct that person.