A nyone who fishes with me for any length of time knows that I can be pretty picky about the tackle I use. Everything must be matched and balanced, or I actually don’t feel comfortable.
It should come as no surprise that I have myriad combos in my fishing arsenal, each with a specific role. I have rods for offshore bottom fishing, rods for trolling, live baiting, topwaters, jerk baits, and popping corks. I have combos for light jigs, heavy jigs, big swimbaits, and small swimbaits. I have long rods for long casts, short ones for close work, high capacity reels with smooth drags for fast cosmopolitan fish, low-gear, heavy drags for going knuckle and skull with brute thugs that live in jetties and under docks. I have rods for every season and event.
Until recently, however, I kept only one light action outfit, which I used infrequently (usually when I was fishing off a dock or pier for small trout or pinfish for the next day’s offshore trip—only one.
My default rods have always been medium power, fast action rods. If I needed finesse in a certain situation, I had a couple of outfits that I’d tuned and balanced for such an occasion, but they were still medium power, fast action. Even when I went on a freshwater adventure for bass and panfish, I never went with a rod that was lighter than my default combos. Anything lighter, I simply didn’t use.
My aversion to what was traditionally considered light tackle was simple: I didn’t’ trust it. When I first started out as a “serious” angler (as opposed I guess to the “not so serious angler”), there were plenty of saltwater rods in the medium light and light categories. The rods were whippy little numbers with little backbone, but they could sling a 1/8th ounce or lighter lure as far as the line capacity of the 2000- and even 1000-sized reels would let them. By the very nature of their size, the diminutive spools were loaded with 8- or 10-pound test line—often with as little as 100 yards on the spool before casting.
These buggy-whip fishing systems worked great and a lot of anglers caught a lot of trout and redfish on them. The problem occurred when something bigger than the intended quarry grabbed your bait. If you latched into a big jack or an oversized redfish while wading with one of these gossamer-filled outfits, you were, as my students so eloquently put it, SOL.
I’ve shared a boat with many an angler who has hooked into an outsized critter with undersized tackle. Rarely has one of these people been able to somehow coax the lunker to the net. No, I was quite happy with my medium tackle and 180 yards of 12-pound line. It might be less sporty with the two-pound trout, but if I latched into a 10-pound redfish or that elusive eight-pound trout, I was less likely to have my heart broken.
Time marches on, and technology waits for no man, as they say. Tackle companies such as St. Croix, Shimano, and others have improved what comprises “light tackle” to the point that these systems don’t mean you will be completely out-gunned if you set the hook into a fish of a lifetime. Improvements in technology and materials have mitigated some of my primary concerns with light tackle: the inability to deal with big fish effectively.
Take Temple Fork Outfitters, for example. The good people at this rod company proved they knew the needs of saltwater anglers with their line-ups of saltwater-specific rods. All of TFO’s saltwater brands are sturdy, well-built rods that more than live up to the expectations of coastal anglers. The Mojo Inshore still has the sturdy features of its predecessors, but it comes in a variety of lighter actions that Texas inshore fishermen want in a rod.
I had the opportunity to use a Tactical Inshore casting model that was designated “Light Power.” Remember, I prefer a medium power and fast action. Joe Montemayor at Joe’s Tackle in Pharr, Texas was certain I’d be impressed with the rod, so I matched it up with a Chronarch Ci4 casting reel (more on that in a moment), and off I went to try and overpower the rod.
Let me make that clear—I went out to try and completely overwhelm the rod. I took it along with my friends Anibal Gorena and Dave Rutledge when we went into Port Mansfield’s famed East Cut for some surf-run redfish. On my first cast with the diminutive outfit, I latched into a 28-inch redfish that had no intention of coming in peacefully.
I really put as much pressure on that red as I could and waited to see if the rod would explode into a thousand pieces (it didn’t) or turn the fish (it did). The action was rated as “Light,” but the rod had the toughness needed to whip the 11-pound red. I was very happy with the result.
The Shimano Ci4 was another example of the improved technology of modern light tackle. Over the past couple of years, the Ci4 has become very popular among Texas anglers, and rightfully so. The reel is smaller than the traditional 200 series, but the guts are sturdy enough and the drag smooth enough to be more than a match for the hostile denizens of the Texas coast.
When the next big redfish—a beast over 30 inches—went on a long run, the line paid out smoothly and with no hesitation. When loaded with a quality 20-pound test braided line (I was using Power Pro), the reel matched up well to the Mojo and performed beautifully.
I’m still not completely converted to light tackle. My default is still a medium power, fast action rod, but I won’t shy away from grabbing a lighter stick when the situation calls for it. In fact, much to my wife’s chagrin, I may start expanding my arsenal to give the Mojo some company.
Time marches on, and even a stubborn fisherman can learn something new.
Email Cal Gonzales at
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]