I get a lot of questions from readers and my fishing parties on what to buy for their first light tackle outfit. A while back I gave you my opinions for your first medium weight outfit, so now it's time to give you my suggestions for light tackle.
As with every purchase of new (or used) tackle, you should ask yourself a few basic questions. How often do I plan to use it? Where do I plan to use it? What species do I want to fish for? Do I already own some tackle that will work for what I want? Do I want spinning or bait casting reels? How light do I really want? I'm sure you can think of some other questions to ask yourself. If not, your tackle dealer will certainly think of some for you before he shows you what he has to offer.
If you are planning a trip with a guide and he says that he supplies tackle, you probably should save your money and use his unless you already own a favorite outfit. Are you planning salt water or fresh water fishing. A lot of tackle manufactured today is made for both, but beware, some rods and reels will not hold up as well as others in the salt water environment. Check with your tackle dealer on this.
Know before you buy
If you are going to light tackle fish for tarpon, you will need something different than if you are planning trout or bass fishing. If you already own fresh water tackle and are planning a trip to the salt water, your existing tackle will most likely work for you. Just be sure you remember that salt is extremely corrosive and can literally ruin a reel overnight if you don't clean it carefully. Also salt is highly abrasive when dried into crystals, and your line and rod guides must be thoroughly flushed after a day on the briny. If you are comfortable with bait casting reels, then they would probably be a good choice for you, however, if you cannot cast them, or you haven't tried to, perhaps your best bet would be a spinning reel. Almost everyone can be taught to cast a spinner fairly well in just a few minutes, but a bait caster takes a lot of practice. Since this is your first foray into light tackle, don't get IGFA record fever and go for the two pound test rigs - plan to buy something that you can utilize with several weights of line and lures in the six to twelve pound class. You will be much happier, believe me.
The reel deal
Now that you have answered all those questions, go to your favorite tackle store and shop. Look at the Penn 4300 SS reel. It is a reasonably priced light tackle spinning reel that can easily cast line from four to ten pound test. For most light tackle fishing on the flats, either six or eight pound line will serve you well, so the 4300 SS is a good reel to start with. If you are proficient with bait casters, then perhaps you want to look at a Penn 940 or Abu Garcia 6500. Both will work well with line in the six to twelve pound category as well as even lighter and heavier. Novices take note: you will need a lot of practice to cast proficiently with one of them.
Light tackle rods
When choosing a rod, I prefer a six footer for my spinners because they are short enough to handle in the car and boat without too much fear of accidental breakage. Windows get rolled up on rod tips and your buddy always seems to put his size 12's on the most brittle part of your rod that he just laid on the deck for you. Longer rods increase the chances of either of these things happening. If the chance of breakage is slim, you can certainly use longer rods, but the main criteria is that the rod have an action that will cast the size plug, spoon, or bait you are planning to use. By the way, try to bring your reel with you when you go rod shopping and vice-versa. Your rod and reel perform as a team, so you need to know how well they match one another - and how they feel in your hand.
The heavier the terminal tackle and lure, the stiffer the rod will need to be. If you are planning to go flats fishing for reds and trout, snook, cobia, etc. then you are gong to be casting shrimp at some point, probably with no lead. Pick up a shrimp sometime and see what he weighs. You are going to need a rod that will cast that scrawny little fellow. One of the rods that I use with the 4300SS is a Berkley graphite Lightning Rod LR30-6. This rod is six feet long with a recommended lure weight of 1/8 to 3/8 ounce. It has served me well on redfish up to thirty five + pounds, although that's definitely pushing it. For the bait casters, there is also a wide variety of sizes and lengths, but most of my bait casters are on seven foot rods with a little more backbone for heavier lures and baits such as pinfish and sardines. I also use my bait casters for trolling and bottom fishing, so I need a heavier rod than I would have bought for throwing light baits.
The line on line
Once you have chosen the rod and reel, let the store fill it with line. I highly recommend Team Fish Camo line. If you are not familiar with it, the concept is: there are several colors in the line that break up the light as it goes into the water and makes the line harder to see under or even above water. Team Fish makes line in any strength that you want to fish with; 2#, 4#, 5#, 6#, 8#, 10#, 12# and up in the Camo and in clear, and many of those weights in pink for those of you who don't want to try the Camo. Once you are really proficient at light tackle, they also make 1/2 pound and 1 pound test. Believe me, it takes a lot of practice before you move into that neighborhood.
For your leader material, the Team Fish leader spools are great - the line is not curled like on the smaller diameter 1/4 pound spools and it comes in convenient carriers, available in 15#, 20#, 30# test and up. If you are wondering why you might want heavier leader material, it's because most of the fish you will be going after either have sharp teeth, sharp gill plates or live in abrasive environments, like the roots of mangrove trees. A heavier leader will give you a better chance of landing your fish on light tackle.
Dollars and cents
What can you expect to pay for your new hobby? Just like the offshore tackle, it ain't cheap. The Penn 4300SS has been discontinued but you may still be able to find them in the $100.00 range, or try a , a Shimano Symetre (similar in size to the 4300SS) and an Abu Garcia 6500C bait caster , all of them will probably be in the $100.00 range. A Penn 940 is hard to find now a days, but will probably be $80 to $100.00. The rods will cost you from $35.00 up, depending on the size and weight, so you can expect to spend in the neighborhood of $110.00 and up for your first light tackle outfit - minus lures and terminal tackle.
Using light line gives you a lot less room for error when you tie your knots, so a good book on fishing knots is a wise investment. Light line is also very intolerant of equipment deficiencies such as sticky drags and corroded rod guides. If you're serious about taking big fish on light tackle, don't scrimp on your equipment cost. Pay the extra few bucks and get quality stuff. The extra years of service will more than make up for the higher initial cost.
I hope this has given you some insight on the variety of options open to you and maybe piqued your interest in light tackle angling. It's a lot of fun, and gives you an inshore alternative when the weather's too rough to go rassle a grouper. In any case, I've never heard of anyone catching a fish sitting in front of the TV. Get up, head outside and go fishing.
Tight lines and good fishing,
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