Bass Fishing with Ultralight Gear (Are You Missing Out?)


Ultralight fishing gear and tackle have long been associated with panfish like bluegill and crappie. However, many bass fishermen overlook the benefits of ultralight fishing.   

Whether you’re a veteran bass angler or someone new to bass fishing,  you may be missing out on one of bass fishing’s best-kept secrets: bass fishing with ultralight gear.  Read on below for a discussion of the benefits, tricks of the trade, and important considerations for using ultralight tackle for bass.

What is Ultralight Bass Fishing?

Ultralight bass fishing is a technique that incorporates the use of smaller spinning reels with lighter spinning rods that are rated low for power so that bass anglers can use smaller pound test line (between 2 and 8-pound test)  to fish with smaller, lighter lures and baits.

7 Reasons to Use Ultralight Tackle for Bass Fishing

1. Ultralight Gear is Perfect for Pressured Bass

Pressure is, perhaps, the number one reason to employ ultralight fishing techniques.  With the proliferation of bass fishing tournaments and the explosion of outdoor activities like bass fishing as a healthy alternative to being inside, many fisheries are being hammered with intense fishing pressure.

As a result, many bass are becoming immune to many of the usual baits and lures.  However, ultralight bass fishing has been virtually untapped.  Downsizing your tackle, line, and lures can pay huge dividends for highly pressured bodies of water.

2. Ultralight is a “Sneaky” Technique to Catch Bass

Light tackle bass fishing gives anglers a unique opportunity to sneak up on unsuspecting bass in ways that they’re simply not used to.  Lighter line can be virtually invisible to waiting bass.  Combine that with a lure that can be gently cast and “touched down” in a likely bass habitat and you’ll gain a huge advantage over baitcasters with larger rods and lures that can often “plunk” into the zone with too much commotion.

3. Opt for Ultralight for Bass During Extreme Weather

During tough weather conditions like extreme heat or a sudden cold front, fish simply turn off sometimes.   In these difficult situations, traditional size and style baits may not get the job done.  Extreme heat or cold present golden opportunities to downsize baits to entice finicky bass to eat.

4. Ultralight Fishing Allows You to Match the Small Hatch

Savvy bass anglers understand the importance of “matching the hatch” to have the best chance of getting bass to bite.  If they’re eating shiners, put on a shiner-like bait.  If they’re busting on shad, throw on a shad imitating lure.  What if they’re chasing a pod of small minnows (and what if they won’t hit the A-rig or it’s illegal in your state or tournament)?  Good luck throwing a small tiny Rapala lure or tiny crankbait on a baitcaster.  Do it and you’ll see zero castability and plenty of backlashes.

This match-the-hatch scenario presents the perfect opportunity to pick up your ultralight gear.  Take advantage of these situations to work lures that are the same size as the bait that they’re chasing.

 5. Ultralight Bass Fishing Gear is Usually Cheaper

Generally speaking, the lighter rods and reels don’t cost as much as large casting rods and complicated baitcasters.  Additionally, many of the lures and soft plastics for light fishing are cheaper as well because they’re smaller and not as expensive to manufacture.

 6. Ultralight Fishing Generates More Bass Bites

By downgrading lures and baits as well as line, you’ll most assuredly generate more bites.   Fish like things that are easier prey and smaller presentations often represent an easier meal.  Although there are many ultralight bass fishing techniques, most have one thing in common: they get more bites!

Note:  While it is likely true that you’ll get more bites, it’s also often true that the fish may be smaller overall.  (This not to say that ultralight fishing can’t land big bass — see below!).

Even though we’re all interested in trophy catches, there are obvious situations where more bites is better like:

  • Taking a kid fishing.
  • New anglers wanting to gain experience 
  • A tournament day that is particularly tough or needs to be salvaged (you need a limit, ANY limit!). 
  • The list goes on.

 7. Ultralight Bass Fishing is Fun!

Simply stated, fishing for bass with ultralight gear is uniquely challenging, generates more bites and is a special twist to this great sport and pastime.   Hook up with a 3 pounder on 4-pound test and listen to the reel scream.  You can’t just horse the fish in. You’ve got to understand how to work the fish in conjunction with your gear to make things happen and land your catch.  Light tackle bass fishing brings an entirely new look to fishing and it’s FUN!

Can You Catch Big Bass With Ultralight Gear?

When most people think of fishing with smaller rods, reels, and lures, their default thinking is smaller fish.  Not so fast.   Although it is likely that you’ll catch more fish albeit smaller in general, there’s nothing to say that you’ll not land a big one with the right tactics.

You can catch big bass with ultralight gear. By fishing with ultralight gear in likely big bass hideouts, your chances of catching a large bass are great. You’ll need to understand how to reel in a bigger bass with ultralight gear by manipulating the drag or back reeling while maintaining just the right pressure.

I was at a tournament at Lake Seminole once when lighter gear came into play for us.  We found bed fish that were super-pressured.  There were boats literally running over the beds all day long.  We were certain that many had already taken shots at the fish we found but decided to downgrade to spinning gear, light line, and a smaller presentation.  The result – fish on and in the boat!   Although the fish weren’t huge (2 to 3 pounders), they filled out a limit and netted us a very good finish.

Ultralight Bass Fishing Rods. What You Need to Know

Using the right rod for ultralight bass fishing is critical to your success.  A rod that is too heavy will mean less feel for the smaller baits that are used for this tactic.   If you can’t feel the bite, then there’s really no point.  

Additionally, bigger rods won’t have the castability and won’t match up well to the smaller spinning reels used for ultralight fishing.   The baits and lures used in ultralight bass fishing are so light that they don’t weigh enough to generate momentum to make them castable.  You’ll need a rod that flexes enough to create a little “whip” action to help with casting.

The trick is to find an ultralight rod that is not too flexible.  If you’re using one with too much flex, hook setting may be a problem.

Be careful not to get a typical ultralight rod that’s usually made for spec, bluegill, or other small fish.  For bass, you’ll need a rod that’s longer than a panfish setup with some “umpfh” to it so you can handle bigger fish when needed.

Look for rods with light to medium light ratings.  

Check out the Fenwick HMX Spinning Rod on Amazon. It’s a great fit for an ulatrlight spinning rod.

What is the Best Reel for Ultralight Bass Fishing?

Reels for ultralight bass fishing are also an important piece of the puzzle.  Get one too big and you’ve killed the whole setup; too small and you’ll sacrifice your ability to cast, retrieve efficiently, and reel in bigger fish.  

Most good ultralight reels are lightweight, hold ample line and are durable.  

Fishing Line for Ultralight Bass Fishing

As mentioned previously, fishing line for ultralight applications is usually in the 2 to 8-pound test range.  4 pounds is most common.   

If you’re fishing with soft plastics, I would suggest going with a smaller pound test braid line (10 pounds) to a fluoro leader (4 to 6 pounds).

For crankbaits or other moving baits, use 4 to 6 pound mono.

Top 7 Ultralight Bass Fishing Lures and Baits 

1. Tube Baits

Worked slowly near cover or for bed fish, tube baits are highly effective.  Can be fished weedless as an added bonus.

2. Mini Buzz Bait

Highly effective at dawn and dusk as a search bait.

3. Rooster Tail

A timeless wonder that always seems to work.  

4. Beetle spin

Another ageless bait that consistently produces.

5. Mini Crankbait

Bass can’t resist mini crankbaits especially when they rarely see them.

6. Small Rapala

Small Rapalas have been around forever.  A perfect match the hatch lure for small baitfish.

7. Wacky Rig Worm

Perfect for skipping under docks, bushes, or overhanging trees.

Can You Catch Bass on Ultralight Gear? (Without Breaking Off)

Getting bites on ultralight setups is one thing, reeling them in and landing them certainly takes some skill.  

You can catch bass on ultralight gear without breaking off by using a sweeping motion to hook fish instead of the traditional jerking motion.   Additionally, don’t over-tighten the drag so you can “play the fish out” by maintaining steady pressure. Better yet, learn to back-reel to fight bass on ultralight gear.

The hookset is the start of the catch process and warrants special mention in relation to ultralight fishing.  When fishing with a heavier line in traditional setups, anglers often talk of “setting the hook”.  However, set the hook too hard with an ultralight line and you risk breaking off or dislodging a hook.  

Instead, reframe your mind to “sweep the hook”.  Use a more gradual, even-keeled sweeping motion to hook fish.

Once hooked, the key to landing fish is to maintain pressure but not too much.  Learning to effectively use the drag system is important but next-level fishing involves no drag, called back reeling.

For an excellent explanation of back reeling for spinning reel and ultralight bass fishing, check out this great video.

The Bass Line. Final Word

The world of ultralight bass fishing is, seemingly, relatively untapped.   By taking a little time to learn how to downsize, you may tap into a technique that many are simply missing out on.

Take a break from the bigger gear, go grab some smaller line, lures, and an ultralight rod and reel setup.  You’ll be amazed at how effective lighter gear can be in many situations.

Hit the bank, hit the boat or do whatever you can to get your fish on!

Jason Bradstreet

I’m Jason Bradstreet. I grew up fishing tournaments with my Dad who was a well-known Central Florida Bass Guide and tournament angler. I have been bass fishing for all of my life am passing the love on to my family. Now, I serve as a bass fishing coach and captain to my kids who fish tournaments in the Bass Nation circuit. Our family loves to fish. We research, practice together, and enjoy both recreational and tournament bass fishing as a family. We are excited to share what we’ve learned on this site!

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