7 Ultralight Fishing Techniques That Are Perfect For Beginners

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Are you new to ultralight fishing? Learning the right techniques can be a challenge. Many new anglers struggle with finding the right gear set-up and tackle as well as how to use it correctly. For example, my first ultralight rod was a 5′ Shakespeare Ranger with a 6lb fluorocarbon line ( I miss that thing). I would stand on the bank and make casts with either the wrong size lure, into the wrong place, or battle casting upwind. And these are just a few examples! It can be frustrating. But this style of fishing tends to produce a lot of action from an array of species. Trust me, it’s worth learning some basic techniques before you hit the water.

Best Ultralight Set Up

Ultralight fishing rods can range from 5-to 6 feet. The shorter the rod, the shorter the casting distance, which comes in handy when fishing ponds and around low-hanging branches. Longer rods such as 6’6″ -8′ are preferable when casting slip bobbers or heavier lures and when you’re going for distance. It’s important to pay attention to your line rating as well.

Ideally, you’d want to go with a 4-8lb range, which allows you to cast a wide range of ultralight lures. Next comes the reel. Choose anything small with a gear ratio somewhere between 5:2:1 and 6:2:1. Select your line according to the rating of your rod and reel (both should also be in the same line range). Let’s dive into some ultralight fishing techniques that’ll get you ready for your next adventure on the water.

1.) Fishing In The Wind

A little wind on the water can be a good thing when throwing moving baits. But if you’re new to ultralight fishing, then the wind can be a problem. Especially if you’re casting an ultralight lure with a weight of 1/16 oz, as an example. One strategy is to avoid casting long distances and focus on the areas near you. Use bait like crappie jigs or nightcrawlers, anything that requires little action, and target nearby structures like stumps, fallen trees, and brush piles. If casting is necessary, keep your back to the wind and cast along the bank. By doing this, you’ll avoid cutting across the wind.

2.) Flipping Technique

Obstacles like low-hanging tree branches are common when freshwater fishing. Flipping is a technique used to avoid overhead casting and allows you to get into areas situated under low trees and boat docks. This method is perfect to use when targeting areas close to you. How to do it:

  1. Tilt your rod tip down and practice swinging your lure like a pendulum in the direction of your target, back and forth.
  2. Cup your lure in hand without grasping it tightly, just allow it to rest against your palm.
  3. Use the pendulum swing you practiced while allowing the lure to fall out of your hand and swing the lure at the target – this is called flipping. 

Ultralight Fishing Techniques: Flipping

This method of casting takes time to master. You can practice at home using targets like a bucket on its side, a boat trailer, which simulates a low hanging object like the edge of a dock, cups, mugs, whatever works for you. Flipping is a technique used by amateurs and tournament anglers alike, and it’s well worth learning when targeting water seemingly impossible to reach. However, flipping can be difficult on a spinning rod. It’s worth it to research other methods for flipping baits. 

3.) Fish Close, Then Far

I like to fish the water in front of me first because if I catch a fish further out, ill spook the one’s near the bank as I bring it in. Additionally, in the warmer months, shallow water along the bank is an excellent place to fish. Shallow water provides vegetation that generates rich oxygenated water and shade. Hit all these areas first with nightcrawlers and crappie jigs – lures that’ll slip in and out of submerged grass. Then start working your way further out. Some great ultralight fishing lures and baits for shallow water include:

  1. Crappie Magnets
  2. Grubtail Jigs
  3. Meal Worms

Three are pictured showing  the range of versatility when using ultralight fishing techniques.

4.) Target Boat Docks

Boat docks provide fantastic cover for panfish and bass. They provide quality shade during spring and summer as well as safety from larger, predatory fish. For this reason, they’re awesome for ultralight fishing. Start by throwing moving baits like rooster-tail spinners, grub tails, ultralight Rapala lures. Work the corners of the dock first from shore, then retrieve along the sides. My personal favorite lures to cast around docks are silver/chrome Rapala Minnows like the Rapala original floating minnow for its multi-species quality.

A long boat dock extends out, and to the left is a bank of vegetation where ultralight lure techniques can be practiced.
Boat docks like this provide good opportunities to throw small moving baits and jigs.

Ultralight Fishing Techniques: Boat Dock Lures

Other awesome lures to try around docks are ultra-light jigs, tiny jerk baits, slip bobber with a nightcrawler or crappie jig.

Four naturally colored jigs are spread out on a boat dock for ultralight fishing techniques
Small Jigs like these can be thrown on a light Texas rig around docks to target smallmouth and largemouth bass

When casting a small jig like the one pictured above, cast as close to the dock as you can, feel for the bottom, then hop the jig back slowly. This presentation is to be used when the fish are hugging the bottom, either lethargic or influenced by a recent cold front.

5.) Fish A Slip Bobber

A slip bobber will allow you to cast long distances and present fish with an effective lure that remains in the strike zone. Cast out over grass beds, along shorelines, near docks, etc. Use a lure like a crappie jig or nightcrawler and retrieve slowly with light rod raises to give the bait action. A slip bobber like the one below is perfect for ultralight fishing.

Ultralight Fishing Techniques: Thill Slip Bobber

Thill bobbers are light balsa wood and can be bought with a pack of bobber stops and beads.

A red and yellow Thill Slip Bobber laying next to a bag of bobber stops and beads.
A Thill Bobber set like this can be used to adjust the depth of your lure and allow it to remain in the strike zone.

6.) Night Crawlers

When targeting bluegill and small bass, there are few live baits that compare to nightcrawlers. They can be fished in multiple ways including on a bobber, a sinking rig, or even trolled. One seldomly used method is the Carolina Rig. Secure a small slip sinker or split shot weight above a  #6 Eagle Claw Bait Holder Hook with a nightcrawler, cast out, and slowly drag bottom, giving your worm some action with small pops in your rod tip. This is a great technique in early and late fall when bluegill and bass can be located near the shore.

7.)  Avoid Heavy Lures

To keep it simple, anything 1/16 – 1/4 oz lure is a safe range. But this all depends on your rod’s rating. Never overload by using a lure that exceeds the rating. Doing this will risk snapping your rod and/or line. Heavier lures are also more difficult to cast when mismatched with the wrong size line and rod. However, it’s tempting to grab a heavier lure when larger fish are present. In this case, it’s best to always have a spinning rod or bait caster suited for a heavier tackle.

Two silver Rapala original floating minnows laying side by side on a moss covered railing.
The Rapala Countdown and Original Floating Minnow are effective ultralight moving baits.

Ultralight Fishing Techniques: Rapala Lures 

The Rapala Count Down is my favorite minnow presentation when targeting smaller fish. The lure sinks at 1ft per second, which allows you to manage accurate depth. The Rapala Orginal Floating can be fished when the fish are higher in the water column and more responsive to a twitch-and-pause action.  Both lures are effective when thrown on a 6-8 lb line.





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