When most people think of baitcasting rods and reels, they think about heavy gear, heavy baits, and heavy fish. After all, the baitcast reel is designed with a spool that responds best to heavy baits. In the US, people use baitcasting gear for fish the size of bass and bigger, such as catfish. However, in Asia, people use baitcasting rods and reels for a different application; fishing ultralight.
Above: Fishing for trout on baitcasting gear. Picture from Chris at finesse-fishing.com
In Japan and other countries, access to fishing waters is heavy limited as a result of urbanization and transportation access. They are forced to compete fiercely to fish in the few public waters available. The fish in those lakes are very wary, easily spooked, and frightened by big, awkward, or unnatural baits. As we discussed in earlier articles, this kind of environment ensures that innovations are made in finesse fishing. The Japanese, being perfectionists, have perfected their finesse baits and equipment to such an extent that Japanese fishing tackle, otherwise known as "JDM" (Japanese domestic market), is heavily coveted in America. Shimano, Daiwa, Okuma are well known rod and reel brands founded in Japan. Jackal, Lucky Craft, Megabass are some popular and high end baits that originate in Japan.
Baitcasting gear has several advantages over spinning tackle, such as increased accuracy. However, the limitations of using baitcasting gear ensure that smaller baits, such as inline spinners and weightless worms, can't be used.
Above: The Kuying Teton is a finesse baitcasting reel commonly offered in Asia. It is usually used for small snakeheads, which are found in city creeks and tiny ditches. Note that the spool is heavily milled, with many holes to reduce weight, allowing for tiny baits to be casted. Note: I do not own this picture.
The Japanese found that by optimizing the number of bearings and gears in the baitcast reel, and creating ultralight spools, they could cast some very small baits. They could cast 1/8th oz baits, and even 1/16oz baits, a feat previously unheard of in the fishing world. They combined the accuracy and efficiency of the bait caster with the ability to cast light weights.
Above: Finesse is often needed for wary river smallmouth. Picture from Chris at finesse-fishing.com
Some Japanese anglers wanted to use baitcasters for trout. In a small trout stream, there are many overhanding trees (which is why you see so much fly fishing line on branches over a creek). These finesse baitcasters had the accuracy to cast into tight spots, unlike spinning reels. They paired up ultralight baitcasters with ultralight action casting rods and used inline spinners, small jigs, and spoons.
Chances are that if you like fishing and regularly fish, you would periodically upgrade your gear. We as anglers always want the flashiest new thing that shows up at iCast, or one of myriad of fishing magazines, whether if it's a rod, reel, lure, or line. I remember the iBobber craze that started among bass fishermen here in the Mid Atlantic after several fishing YouTubers posted videos featuring them. The sheer size and assortment of baits and terminal tackle on sale ensures that you will never leave a tackle shop without buying a few items. Whether or not that new gimmicky catches you fish or not is another story. What's certain is that the costs of buying "just one bait" here and another there, even if they are good baits, adds up, and quickly. Regardless if you binge buy or only buy quality items.
Above: As bass fishermen, we are constantly bombarded by aggressive advertising, promotions, and even flashy buildings; it's easy to see why so many anglers buy things that they really don't need.
If you are a corporate executive, banker, or big shot musician, you probably don't need to read the rest of this article. However, ordinary folks and students are often tightly restricted in terms of budget on what they could buy. I remember buying a dusty old Zebco baitcasting combo as my first baitcaster because that was all I could afford at the time. It's easy to cut corners on quality when you have a tightly restricted budget. However, at the same time, many people who are struggling to upgrade their fishing tackle often have a lot of fishing stuff they don't need, such as their first rod.
A fast and easy way to earn a little money to spend on new tackle is by selling your old tackle. The two most common outlets for this are online (such as ebay) or at yard sales (preferably ones for the community; that way you can reach more people).
I prefer yard sales for larger items that aren't expensive but would cost a lot to ship, such as lower end rods and tackle boxes. I usually mark down the prices of used items by half or slight over a half of the initial price. Before selling the product, make sure to wipe it with a wet towel to clean off any stains that may cause it to look old and thus command a lower price. Be ready to haggle.
For smaller items that are at least mid-range in terms of price (higher end baits, reels, expensive rods, etc), I like to sell online, especially if the item in question is higher end or for a niche application. An example of this would be those expensive and highly specialized crankbaits that have depth diving controls; an ordinary person at a yard sale won't realize the truly value of the item but a bass angler browsing online would, and will buy it from you at a fair price. You only want to sell items with a higher cost because shipping will deduct from your profits. Shipping is fairly cheap for smaller items; you can ship them in larger envelope with USPS First Class Package ($2.50), which includes tracking. The cost of shipping rods varies, from $15-30, depending on your post office. Shipping reels and other medium sized items can be done in a Small Flat Rate box, which costs $6.50.
It's a nice, beautiful sunrise at the lake. You can already see the bass swirling at the surface of the water, surrounding a shoal of hapless bluegill. Your heart thumps with excitement, and you race towards the shoreline, rod in hand.
You spot a nice pile of structure, a log jam. You can already see 3lb+ fish cruising around, looking for anything to bite. Your heart feels like it's going to burst out of it's chest. You quickly pull out your rod and cast towards the structure pile. In your excitement to catch a fish, you got careless and made a sloppy cast, snagging your $15 jerkbait on a large pierce of wood.
The first thing you do is swear. That's the natural reaction to these kinds of things. Then you tug on the line, hopping to pop the bait right on out. Unfortunately, it doesn't. Your heart drops, and that feverish excitement fades for a brief moment. You bite the line with your teeth, tie on a new bait, and make a more careful cast this time. You are promptly rewarded with a 3lber, and tat excitement once again returns. You continue fishing.
Above: Pretty much any sturdy knife can work as a fishing knife.
However, a month later, when you show up at your dentist's office, he takes one look at your teeth an wags his finger at you. Your tooth is chipped. And that's just one of the more visible side effects of your teeth as an all-purpose fishing tool. Not only do you chip your teeth when you bite on fishing line, you also run the risk of swallowing/ingesting harmful chemicals that may have been in contact with your line.
A better option would be to buy a sturdy knife to cut line with and cut up bait, or dig one up in your basement (everyone has a knife somewhere in their house). You don't have to buy a very expensive one, just about any knife will do the trick here.
Scent is the biggest new craze around soft baits these days. Companies regularly create high tech formulas to try to emulate the underwater smells of baitfish. You often see packs of soft baits advertising some exotic new concoction, with ingredients that look like they came from some laboratory. Some people think scents are useless, but many, including me, swear by them. I have noticed more catches and a better hook up ratio when using them (fish on holding on to the bait more). Bass have developed senses of taste, which is why they don't eat twigs and leaves. If they accidentally eat something they weren't supposed to, they will split it out faster than you can blink. It just doesn't taste natural to them.
Above: Adding scent balls to bags of soft baits helps infuse more scent into the baits and add scent to used baits.
Even through the controversy, one thing that scent does for certain is to mask your smells. Human oils, sunscreen, food sauces, bug spray, and motor oil is easily detected by fishes and will repel them. Your soft plastic, no matter how lifelike it may look, will be turned down for a lack due to the unnatural scent. Take my word on this.
Scent, especially if it is oil based, masks these odors, and possibly attracts or entices fish to hold on to your bait longer, so you may get better hooksets. However, scents gets washed off as the bait is in the water, and loses it's effectiveness over it. In addition, many companies don't add enough scent to their baits, and you get a weaker effect. If you were to catch a live, healthy bluegill and smell it, you would find a noticeable fishy smell to it. You need a noticeable smell to your baits.
To add extra scent to my baits, I like to dip cotton balls in scent, and put the balls in the bags of bait. Make sure the cotton is thoroughly saturated, but not dripping wet with scent. The cotton balls with slowly but steady leach out scent, which infuses with the bait, and adds new scent to old and used plastics.
Above: Scent balls can be placed in bags of soft baits for additional scent.
I hope that helps. Also, the idea for this article came from a reader. If any of you out there have any ideas for articles, let me know in the comments section below.
We all love our spinnerbaits and chatter baits. They are great search baits that work year-round, and produce. Sometimes, there's no bait like a small spinnerbait for catching numbers, and fast. The chatter bait, otherwise know as the bladed swim jig, was a recent upstart that shook the industry, as pros all over BASS and FLW tour caught their limits, way ahead of everyone else. Both of these baits are easy to fish, and are relatively weedless. Everyone has a few of these baits in his/her tackle box, and for a good reason, too.
However, the trailer of the spinnerbait/chatterbait is sometimes just as or more important as the bait itself. The trailer can make or break your trip, as fish favor certain profiles or actions at certain times. Fish also often chew or pull of your trailers. It's often to a have wide and large selection of trailers with you at all times.
Above: Two of my best chatter bait trailers were made from ripped up soft jerkbaits and worms. Simply cut off the tail at an appropriate place, and you got a unique trailer unlike anything the wary lake bass have seen before.
I like to cut off the trails of old or ripped soft plastics to use as trailers. The soft jerk bait-tail is an especially well known and effective chatter bait trailer, as well the claw end of a soft plastic craw. The combinations are endless. The trailers created from old soft plastics are unlike anything the seasoned bass from pressured waters have seen before, and these may tempt them to strike. It's also a very cost effective way of acquiring trailers for your baits, as these trailers are entirely free, made from old or beat up plastics.
The sizes of the baits are customizable, as well. You can cut a bait as long or as short as you want, as the situation dictates. Smaller trailers are good for cold water or post frontal conditions, while larger trailers work great for warm water or otherwise feisty bass.
If you fish a lot, or just are plain bad at casting (make sure to read my articles on accurate casting), you'll find that the cost of buying baits adds up. Soft plastic lures naturally get torn by aggressive fish, sharp objects, or the fish just pull them off the hook. It's inevitable.
As fishermen, we sooner or later go look at cheap Chinese knock-offs of more expensive American and Japanese soft baits. They usually are cheaper than their American counterparts, and feature more baits per bag, too. There is usually a free but 30-day long ePacket delivery. You can usually find such listings on Amazon and eBay.
Above: Here's a 50pk bag of 4" soft jerkbaits that I managed to snag for $2.50.
The biggest question surrounding these soft baits, however, is their performance. Many baits you find by Chinese manufacturers often are extremely stiff, and don't have much action underwater. That translates to bad catches. The baits are often very ambiguous to rig and fish; you aren't sure how to effective use your bait. Some baits even are shriveled up or are made of non-plastic components. I have also heard about packages not arriving, or in very subpar condition. The seller wasn't very open to communication in those cases. However, there are some ways to tell if a bait is worthwhile or not.
Above: Many baits lack instructions on use, or hook slots for rigging. You pretty much have to figure out how to fish them yourself.
The first thing to do is to look at the reviews. If a bait is well made, it should have a lot of good reviews. However, keep in mind that on some sites, such as Alibaba, the reviews are often fabricated. eBay and Amazon reviews are pretty trustworthy. Look for detailed and well written reviews when looking at a bait.
The next thing to check out are the descriptions. Look to see if the bait's description is well written and detailed, and if the seller looks like he knows what he's doing. For example, look for the material of the soft bait. You want plastic, not silicone. Many of the less-desirable baits are made of silicone.
The third thing that I like to do is to find out whether or not the bait is unique to the seller. Many, if not most, Chinese listings are of the same bait, only by different sellers. The sellers are basically middlemen; they buy mass produced bait from a certain factory and then sell them online. These mass produced baits are usually of subpar quality. Look for baits that only one seller has for sale. Those baits are usually better designed and made.
Above: Kinked tails are often found on Chinese soft baits.
And lastly, I would like to see whether or not the bait is well packaged. The packaging speaks a lot on the seller's expertise in the fishing industry, and how well the bait is made. Look for clam packaging or baits neatly arranged, in custom bags, as opposed to being jumbled up in a generic ziplock bag.
While some Chinese baits may be poorly made, make sure you give some of them a try. They can be really nice low cost options for weekend fishing.
Whenever you go into your local tackle shop, or the fishing section of Walmart, you will see shelves upon shelves of lures. You may know the model and the size of the bait you would be using, as well as how to fish that bait. However, you may wonder, what color do I need? Many lures have dozens of colors for each model, sometimes even more. However, we can't buy all of them. Which one should I buy? Here's a quick guide on how to properly pick out lure colors.
Above: Black and blue works very well in dark, murky water, even if the color doesn't match that of the forage.
Go dark for dark water
In dark water or dirty, darker colors, such as Junebug and Black and blue, work well. They provide a contrast or silhouette to the dark, unclear waters. For muddy ponds and green colored lakes (in the summer, algae and plankton blooms turn many lakes green), this is a staple color, especially if you live in the South. The bass are usually sight feeders, and need to be able to see your lure. I have had many fish-less days in the past when I was using a clear color in dark water. The fish just can't see the lure, folks. Make sure you have some packs of black and blue/w blue flake lures in your arsenal.
Natural Colors for clear waters
In clear water, natural colors are the way to go (Green pumpkin, watermelon, or shad). These colors resemble forage fish, such as bluegill, and look quite natural in clear water situations. Many northern lakes, moving rivers and creeks, and reservoirs, have clear water, especially in the late fall, winter, and early spring. Dark colors look very unnatural , and won't get you the same number of bites. Get some green pumkpin in your tackle box.
The color of the forage
Sometimes, the fish are just too picky. You need to, as fly fishermen say, "match the hatch". Sometimes, the bass are just feeding on one thing, and your lure looks quite unnatural to them. Look for what the bass would be feeding. In most ponds and lakes, it's bluegill, so make sure you have some green pumpkin colored baits at hand, but sometimes it shad (shad colored cranks and silver/whitish lures come in handy), crawfish (craw pattern crankbaits or orange/reddish baits), or even trout (trout pattern swimbaits, jerkbaits and other hardbaits are needed, but trout forage waters are rare, unless you live out west). I make I have green pumpkin, and shad and craw colored lures in my box at all times.
Ultralight fishing is fun. There's no denying that. However, for most of us, our main quarry is bass, and ultralight fishing is something we do occasionally. We don't obsess over the length or other specifications about it like we do with conventional bass fishing. For most of us, ultralight fishing is just passing by a creek on the way home and stopping to grab the ultralight from the trunk of car. Or it's going to the old farm pond with grandpa and catchin' a bucketful of bluegill for grandma to fry. We all like doing it, but don't focus on it like we do with bass fishing. We want to make one purchase, and one purchase only, to head down to the creek to have some fun. What's a good all around length for an ultralight rod?
Above: Ultralight rod for most people: 4'6" fiberglass rod.
While most people fish 4'6" length rods to go ultralight fishing, I personally think that 6'6" or 7' rods are the way to go. It is a good length for both lakes and streams. It even works well for those little forest creeks. I know that some of you ultralight gurus out there will probably balk at this mere suggestion, but hear me out.
The long the rod, the further the casting distance. That makes lake and pond fishing a lot easier; no one can really cast well with a 4'6" stick. While the tradeoff is less casting accuracy, the difference isn't that bad. And when you consider that setting the hook is a lot easier with a longer rod, that really seals the deal at this point for me. I don't want to have a beautiful stream-bred smallmouth swallowing my mealworm ever other cast.
In addition, you can "dab" in smaller waters. In those common forest creeks that everyone likes to fish in, you really can't cast. But you can use flip the bail on your spinning reel and drop your bait into the water, sort of like cane pole fishing, or not even flip the bail at all and just put the bit into the water. "Dabbing" is a lot easier with longer rods than short ones, and you can easier sneak up on fish better.
Above: Here's a better all around ultralight rod: 6'6" graphite composite.
So there you have it. The ideal length for an ultralight rod. If you really want an extra edge, get a graphite or graphite composite rod for added sensitivity. Pure graphite may be expensive, but graphite composite is quite affordable.
If you had to choose one bait to fish for in an unknown lake, at an unknown time with unknown conditions, what bait would it be?
There's a lot of debate on this question. But in the end, it's going to be narrowed down to two or three baits: The 6-ish" straight tailed soft plastic worm, the 5" stickbait, and maybe the 5" soft jerk bait. All of these baits are good producers that work well in many conditions. They are old favorites, and tried and true. Every fishermen has used them before. But for me, it's going to be the 6" straight tailed soft plastic worm. Here's why.
Above: Nice bass caught in terrible cold-front conditions. Freezing water, fish on lock-jaw, and a pond with seemingly no source of structure whatsoever. But the old 6" straight tail saved the day.
The 6-ish" straight tail has proven itself time and time again. It just straight out catches fish. When conditions get hard, tournament fishermen pull them out, for finesse applications, such as a shakey head. You can also easy shorten it and put it on a drop shot rig. If you want to fish it during the summer for a bigger presentation, rig it on a texas rig. You can drag the depths of large lakes with it on a carolina fish, and rig it wacky style in the heat of the summer. Many of these 6-ish" worms have similar shimmying to popular stickbaits, and provide a smaller profile forever more bites. You can twitch it around, weightless or with a small split shot, by twiching it around underwater like a jerk bait You can even do a topwater presentation by rigging them weightless, texas style, and twitching them on the surface. The possibilities are almost endless with this bait.
Above: 6-ish" straight tailed worms work in many situations and structure, from the reeds to the right and the submerged logs in the middle of the pond.
5" Stickbaits are a common contender for this. However, they simply aren't as versatile, or have the same fish catching properties as 6-ish" straight tails. The good ones also aren't cheap at all. They have a larger profile, which drives away the smaller fish, and that profile isn't finesse at fall. During cold water or frontal conditions, you won't get those bites. The most common application of these baits, and what most people fish, is a wacky rig. While that is a great rig for the summer months, it doesn't work well when it gets colder. It also easily gets hung up. The texas rig (weightless) version of this bait, isn't bad, it just doesn't work well in the cold as the 6-ish" straight tailed worm. This bait doesn't have the same range of presentations that the straight tail has.
5" soft jerk baits, while easy to use, don't work well in muddy or otherwise unclear water. That seriously limits your fishing. In addition, the only real and effective way to fish them is rigging one texas-style (weightless) or two in tandem, and slowly twitching them. Sometimes, that isn't what the fish wants. These baits also have thick plastic, and setting the hook on them isn't easy.
Thus, the 6-ish" straight tail soft plastic worm is the best option. Notice that I say 6-ish", not just 6". That is because many manufacturers make 7", or 6.5" straight tail worms that have the same ways to fish and are effective. Just use a worm in that size range for your fishing.
Fall is here. The trees glow with various colors, and the water is getting colder by the day. The fish also are less active. It's time to switch out those summertime baits.
Often in the morning, when many people do their fishing, the fish are out in the shallows of ponds and lakes. In the past, we fished the banks in the morning with topwater lures. But now's it's too cold for topwater. What you do?
That's when a 4" finesse soft plastic comes in. Whether be a 4" craw, worm, or lizard, anything that isn't too bulky is fine. It know, 4" plastics are hard to find, but after a bit of searching you will find them. Rig that with an exposed thin wire hook (aberdeen), and you are set. This soft plastic is designed to be rigged weightless, and on a light action spinning rod and reel, with light 6 or 8lb line.
Above: For best results, cast towards structure in the shallows, such as weeds or rock piles.
To work this bait, simply cast towards structure, and let it sink. Feel for bites. If there are none, twitch and "hop" it across the bottom. Reel in and repeat. Bites with this bait are subtle. I often get big bluegill on this bait, with the occasional catfish.
Sometimes, it's good to add a little bit of fish attractant to this bait when the bite is stale. With the plethora of scents on the market these days, get on that matches your bait for the best results (get crayfish for a 4" craw, etc). For baits that don't resemble anything in particular, such as worms, simply get a generic all around scent. I hope that helps.
Hi. I am Ian, an extremely avid bass fisherman living in Howard County, MD. I like to bank fish and fish at local ponds and small creeks. I will explore budget friendly options for people to use in this blog. I hope I can teach you something.