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December 16, 2013

Flats Fishing With Ultralight Tackle

Take shallow-water finesse fishing to a whole new level.

(Be sure to click through all the images in the gallery above.)

In the early ’60s, I had caught enough bonefish that I felt compelled to challenge myself by filling my spinners with 4-pound mono. I thought it was kind of a wacky idea at the time — as did my guide, the legendary Bill Curtis. Still, we pursued this craziness in Curtis’ Glencraft from one end of Biscayne Bay to another. My basic outfit was a 6½-foot ­spinning rod, an Orvis 100 reel, and terminal rigging of 2 feet of double line with a 1/0 hook. We lost plenty of bonefish and permit, plus some small tarpon as well.

The years went by, and I continued to pick up my ­ultralight spinners. Since Curtis had gotten quite busy, he referred me to a younger guide from New York, Capt. Frank Garisto. When Garisto saw my ultralight tackle, he was quite intrigued and dubbed it “spider-web” fishing.

It took us a very long time, but we eventually succeeded in attaining two International Game Fish Association world records — an 8-pound, 4-ounce bonefish on 2-pound line and a 23-pound, 15-ounce permit on 4‑pound line.

Garisto and I put in the time, and slowly we learned ­techniques that gave us better odds in this exciting specialty. We increased the rod length and used rods made of softer materials. In addition, we increased the length of our leaders, as well as refined our leader construction and connections.

Outfit for Ultralight

Features of rods that optimize line protection should be utilized to the fullest. For one, that means using a long rod that keeps a maximum amount of line out of the water. I suggest using a rod from 8½ to 9 feet long.

Because ultralight lines break so easily, choose a rod with an action and material that provide a lot of “give.” The desired bend is a noodle- or fly-rod type of action. My choice is to opt for S-glass rods instead of graphite. Also, pick “high-footed” rod guides that minimize line slap against the blank.

Use spinning reels that feature silky‑smooth drags and line rollers. Also, choose spinning reels that have a fast retrieve ratio. This is valuable when a quick turn of the handle might get you on your double line or leader, and you can increase pressure as the battle draws boat-side.

Opt for the longest leader possible. Remember, the IGFA allows a combined length of double line and leader up to 20 feet. My leaders are generally 15 feet long. I favor clear monofilament for its overall forgiveness and stretch compared with fluorocarbon.

My leader is three parts — a double line, intermediate leader and 20-pound monofilament to the hook, tied together with surgeon’s knots. Tying the double line straight to 20-pound leader is far too abrupt for a secure connection. My experience is about 10 feet of limp mono goes well between 3 feet of double line and 2 feet of 20-pound leader. It serves as a ­transitional cushion.

The intermediate leader is 8-pound or 15-pound mono, depending on whether I use 2- or 4-pound-test main line. If I am fishing for snook or tarpon, I’ll add 12 inches of ­appropriate-size fluorocarbon before the hook.