Autumn ultralights

by • October 31, 2016 • Alaska AnglerComments (0)1115


Heather Fries holds a cutthroat trout caught on an ultralight outfit and jig. Photo by Chris Batin.

As fishing season wanes, opportunities heat up

The last fishing opportunities for the year are upon us, and with the main runs of salmon almost over, anglers still looking for action are now turning to trout and char fishing. One of the best ways to enjoy success at this time is with ultralight tackle.

If you haven’t already done so, you should indulge in ultralight fishing because it’s fun. When a trout jumps on ultralight gear, you feel every headshake, every flick of the tail. And they jump. And jump more. I suspect trout jump more when hooked on ultralight gear because they don’t have an ounce of lead anchoring their head to the stream bottom.

Let’s ensure we’re talking the same language here. Many clump ultralight fishing into a sport that uses up to 3/4-ounce lures and light line. This is light-tackle fishing, NOT ultralight. True ultralight encompasses lures that weigh from 1/64 to 1/8 ounce, and can push the envelope at 1/4 ounce when required and conditions allow.

Ultralight trout fishing is precision strategy, in which the angler becomes a tactician, an active hunter in pursuit of piscatorial trophies of all sizes. Because most ultralight trout waters are small and the fish are easily frightened, careful spotting, stalking and presentation skills are required. Veteran fly fishers often have difficulty working these smaller waters, while an experienced ultralight angler fishes them with ease. Of course, ultralight lures look and behave naturally in the water, which result in more strikes.

In my fishing-vest pockets, I can carry about 100 ultralight jig /color combos that will catch 2- to 8-pound trout. My cost? About what you would pay for a dozen spinners, spoons or plugs. Expect to pay slightly more for specialized baits like Atomic Teasers, which I highly favor for autumn trout. White is always good in open water as it imitates the belly of forage fish or maggots on salmon streams. Black is good to use at any time, as it imitates sculpins, leeches and dragonfly nymphs. Try different tail configurations. I prefer the various types of curly tails, as they offer the most action with the least amount of movement.

During the 41 years I’ve pursued trout on ultralight tackle, I’ve made a few observations that will help you enjoy optimum success on the water this autumn.

An ultralight leadhead jig generally will outfish spoons, spinners and oftentimes bait, and for good reason. Finicky trout inhale 1/16- and 1/32-ounce jigs because they mimic stonefly, caddisfly, Odonata and other nymphs – all foods large trout crave. To prove their effectiveness, I sometimes use these mini-jigs on a flyrod with spectacular results. Conversely, small flies like Clouser minnows are nothing more than a lead-eyed jig, and are easily cast with an ultralight outfit and 2-pound test line. Transfer a few to your jig box.
Weights range from 1/64 ounce for specialized applications to the more versatile 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jigheads. Carry a variety of weights and tails to match, but especially fluorescent red, to imitate the salmon eggs trout are still feeding on, especially in streams or lakes with spawning salmon.

One of the best ways to fish a jig is to allow the stream’s hydraulics to naturally drift and carry the jig. Simply cast and snap shut the bail immediately. Control the jig’s drift by raising and lowering your rod tip. As the jig drifts through cover, follow it with your rod tip, and be ready to set the hook at any time. As the jig begins to cut across the current seam, lower your rod tip or impart a twitching action to imitate a forage fish or an insect trying to become airborne.

More times than not, when I have been fishing streams, much of the best trout fishing has been within a few feet from shore. Yet many anglers mistakenly cast across stream. Trout will sense your approach, and will often move slightly to the edge of deep water, where they will hold and feed. Drop your jig into the pockets of holding water at your feet first and catch more trout.

When vertical fishing for lake trout or char, maximize the effectiveness of your presentation by dancing your jig through the water column. I prefer a twitch-twitch, pause, followed by one revolution of the reel handle. A two to six-inch twitch will entice most trout.
Ultralight gear and trout are like fine brandy and a relaxing evening in your den library. The two are inseparable for a quality experience. Learn the subtle and fine nuances of this fishing methodology and you’ll discover greater enjoyment and success in your autumn trout outings.

Chris Batin is editor of The Alaska Angler and author of numerous books on Alaska fishing, available at www. Contact him at

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