What Can You Use Ultralight Rods For? (3 Surprising Facts)


by Robert Ceran

Ultralight fishing has gained a lot in popularity over the past decades, but if you haven’t tried it yourself, you may be asking yourself why this is.

What are the advantages of using an ultra light fishing rod, and should you use it for your purposes?

Let’s dive right into the details, and try to answer that question.

What are ultralight rods god for?

Ultralight rods are great for catching relatively small fish species in shallow water.

They are most often used to target trout, panfish, and yellow perch in creeks, ponds, and shallow areas of lakes.

Ultralight rods can also be used to target larger species (such as bass and walleye) when the bite is slow, as you’ll often get more bites by switching to ultra lightweight lures at times when standard lures and tactics don’t work.

Now let’s cover this topic in more depth, and define what an ultralight rod actually is, what makes it different from a light power rod, and when you should use it.

What is an ultralight fishing rod?

An ultra light fishing rod is defined as a rod that can cast lightweight lures between 1/32 and 1/4 oz, and that works well with fishing line sizes between 1 and 6 lb test.

In order for a fishing rod to perform well with these super lightweight lines and lures, it needs to have ultra light backbone power, which enables it to load up properly during the casting process.

Using this kind of rod allows you to cast ultralight lures over relatively long  distances, which would be impossible on a rod with heavier power.

Ultralight fishing rods are almost always spinning rods, since this rod type performs much better with lightweight lures and lines compared to casting rods.

We’ve tested this directly by throwing exactly the same lure on a casting and spinning setup side by side, and found that the ultralight spinning setup was able to cast a lightweight lure over a greater distance and with more accuracy than the casting setup.

If you’re currently assembling your ultralight setup, check out our article: what is the best ultralight reel?

Light vs ultralight rods

Many anglers use the terms ‘light rod’ and ‘ultralight rod’ interchangeably, but it’s important to note that there is actually a clear distinction between them. They are designed to perform best with different lure weights and line strengths:

Rod powerLure weightLine weight
Ultralight1/32 to 1/4 oz1 to 6 lb test
Light1/16 to 3/8 oz5 to 10 lb test

The table above compares the line and lure rating of ultralight vs light rods.You can refer to these numbers in order to decide which one of them is best for your purposes. 

While you can catch the same fish species on both types of rods, each of them comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Ultralight rods are better for casting super lightweight lures, and for using lighter lines to entice finicky fish to bite. But they also come with a greater risk of tackle breakage if you hook a bigger fish (more on that below). 

Light vs ultralight rod for trout

Ultralight rods are very popular among trout anglers, and for good reason. Good trout fishing rods enable you to cast micro crankbaits and other lightweight lures in small streams, which would otherwise only be amenable to fly fishing tactics.

At the same time you can also use them for larger rivers and lakes, which makes ultralight tackle very versatile for trout fishing.

In my experience it’s also a lot of fun to hook even a small trout on ultralight tackle, since they put up such a determined fight, and you’ll really have to hold on to your hat if you hook a bigger fish.

So should you use a light or ultralight rod for trout fishing? The answer depends on the size of fish you expect to catch. If you’re mostly catching fish under 2 pounds, then an ultralight rod is the way to go, but if you’re likely to encounter bigger fish, then it’s better to upsize to a light power or medium light power rod with a stronger line.

Trout are extremely hard fighters that will put your tackle to the test. A 4 pound fish can quickly end up breaking a 2 lb line, and a bigger fish can even break the tip of your ultralight rod. It’s important to keep this in mind when fishing lakes and reservoirs, where trout often grow to bigger sizes. 

Light vs ultralight rod for panfish

Ultralight rods are perfect for crappie, bluegill and other kinds of panfish. While crappies can grow to quite respectable sizes, it’s very unlikely that they’ll end up breaking your line or rod, which means you can fully downsize your tackle, and rest assured that you won’t lose fish.

Using ultralight tackle for panfish is an absolute blast, as you can really feel every movement of your lure in the water, and when a fish hits it, the sensitivity of the rod makes even a bluegill feel like a big fish.

When to use an ultralight rod

The best time to use an ultralight rod is if you’re targeting smaller fish species in relatively shallow water. The perfect places for using ultra light rods are in creeks, small rivers, and ponds, where you can target trout, panfish and yellow perch.

You can also use ul fishing rods in shallow areas of larger lakes, such as bays, shallow mudflats, and inlets, and some anglers even use them for inshore saltwater fishing. 

You can also use ultralight rods to target bigger fish, but keep there’s a higher chance of losing fish due to tackle breakage.

So you probably shouldn’t use them for species such as salmon, catfish, pike, or muskie, but ultralight tackle is fine for walleye, since they aren’t the biggest fighters out there.

Another time when it’s great to use ultralight tackle is when the bite is slow, and fish are very finicky about what lures or baits they will bite. This often happens when there’s a change in weather, as it takes time for the fish to adjust, or if the water temperature is colder than 55 degrees.

Can you catch bass on an ultralight rod?

Yes, you can catch bass on an ultralight rod, by using finesse applications with micro jigs and other small lures. In fact, these tactics often outperform heavier applications and presentations on slow days when the bass are not feeding actively. 

However, when using ultralight tackle for bass, you really have to keep in mind that bass are very strong fighters that regularly reach sizes of 7 or 8 pounds or more. And if you hook a big fish on an ultra light rod, there’s a good chance you’ll run into serious problems if you’re fishing close to cover.

After all, it’s not much use hooking a trophy sized bass, only to lose it a few seconds later as it dives underneath a laydown and snags your line on the branches. 

So if there’s a lot of cover in the location where you’re fishing, or if you know the bass there grow to large sizes, it’s better not to use ultralight tackle, and instead switch to a medium or medium light spinning rod.

On the other hand, if you’re fishing for bass in small creeks or ponds, and the average size of the fish is below 10 inches, then an ultralight rod is perfect for you, since you’ll enjoy the fight that these small bass put up on your sensitive gear.