Light vs Ultralight Rods: Differences and Best Choice

While light and ultralight rods look similar, there is actually a world of difference between them. In how they feel, how they cast, and how they need to be used. …

While light and ultralight rods look similar, there is actually a world of difference between them.

In how they feel, how they cast, and how they need to be used.

Read on to find out the differences between light and ultralight rods, what kind of fishing situation and species each one is suited to, and more.

Light Rods vs Ultralight Rods: Key Differences

Ultralight rods are true finesse fishing tools and need to be paired with small spinning reels and can be deadly for chasing panfish, trout, and perch. You can use an ultralight setup to target largemouth and smallmouth bass in certain circumstances, but don’t expect to be able to stop a trophy bass on this gear!

Light rods are more of a good balance – they can be used for panfish and smaller trout, but have enough backbone to stop walleye, bass, and salmon – and large trout.

The table below helps identify the difference and key features between ultralight fishing rods and light fishing rods.  

Line RatingLure Weight RangeLengthReel SizeSpecies
Ultralight Rods2-6lb1/32oz to 1/12oz6-7’1000-2500 (10 to 25)Bluegill, crappie, trout, perch, bass
Light Rods4-10lbs1/16oz to 1/4oz6-7’2000-2500 (20-25)Trout, Bass, Walleye, Salmon

What Are Ultralight Fishing Rods Used For?

Light rods are a bit more powerful than ultralight rods 1
Using an ultralight rod is recommended for fishing panfish and small trout in mountain streams, as well as for casting really light lures.

You should use an ultralight rod for any type of fishing involving panfish. A light rod will still catch these species, but it is too powerful and you won’t get as enjoyable a fight. Some panfish – crappie in particular – have thin mouth tissue and an ultralight rod is good for not pulling the hook out of their mouths during the fight. Throwing small marabou jigs with ultralight rods is a top way to catch crappie.

You should also go with an ultralight rod for trout fishing for small trout, particularly in those little mountain streams where you don’t need to cast a huge distance but you are often dealing with overhanging vegetation. Ultralight rods tend to be a bit shorter and that helps in this situation.

Ultralight rods are also the best choice when you need to cast really light lures. Lures (or jigheads) that weigh between 1/32 and 1/16 oz are difficult to cast on anything other than an ultralight rod. With this finesse gear, though, you can throw even a tiny lure a decent distance with good accuracy.

When Are Light Rods a Better Choice?

Light rods come into their own, compared to an ultralight setup, in a few circumstances.

The first is when the lures you are casting are a bit heavier. Once you get up towards 1/4oz, then an ultralight rod is going to be overpowered in casting these lures and you are better off using a light rod.

The other situation is when you need to stop a fish from reaching structure. Bass are probably a good example here. While you can fish an ultralight rod for bass, you are already stretching things a bit. And if you are fishing in a tight structure – say a dock or pier or rock wall – well it is going to be difficult to stop that bass’ initial run with an ultralight rod. Whereas with a light fishing rod, you might be able to turn it before it reaches the structure and buries you in it!

Light vs Ultralight Rod for Trout Fishing

Trout are one of those species where it is good to have the choice of an ultralight fishing rod and a light fishing rod.

Which one you would use depends on:

  • The size of the trout you are likely to catch
  • The weight of the lures you are casting
  • The type of water you are fishing

Small trout of, say, less than 12 inches are fine to catch on ultralight rods. They don’t pull too hard and you’ll enjoy the tussle. Typically they live in small streams in relatively shallow water where you don’t need to cast a long way and you’ll be using small lures such as spinners or mini crankbaits to tempt them, or small jigheads if you are fishing soft plastic baits. 

Once you move up into larger rivers and lakes, you’ll find bigger trout on average and you might consider a light rod as an alternative.

Personally, I’d stick with the ultralight rod in most circumstances because catching trout on very light gear is great fun, but I would consider switching to a light spinning rod when the expected size of the trout gets to 20 inches or more, or when I need to throw heavier lures of  ⅙ or ¼ of an ounce or so.

Using a Light vs Ultralight Rod for Bass

Ultralight rods are great for perch and panfish
For bass fishing, a light spinning rod is the preferred choice, but an ultralight spinning rod is suitable for those pursuing smallmouth bass with small lures or downsizing lures to get a bite.

Whereas with trout fishing, an ultralight tackle is probably the default option and you’ll only use heavier gear occasionally, for bass fishing it is reverse.

If you only owned one bass fishing outfit, light spinning rods are going to be your go-to, and ultralight rods are very much a plan B.

However, for those who love the sport of finesse fishing and are pursuing bass with small lures, and have room to stop the fish on its initial run, then an ultralight spinning rod is a suitable weapon of choice.

Ultralight rods are a good choice for smallmouth bass and, on rare occasions, largemouth bass. More often than not you are better off with a light or medium-rate spinning rod or baitcasting rod for largemouth bass, but sometimes when you downsize lures to get a bite, an ultralight rod is best.

Best Line for Utralight and Light Rods

Ultralight rods should be used with a reel spooled with a line within that 2-6 lb rating.

Line that is significantly heavier than this imparts too much drag in the cast to propel light lures the required distance using an ultralight setup.

My favorite choice of line for ultralight fishing is braid with a mono or fluoro leader. The thin braid allows you to cast further and with more accuracy than straight fluorocarbon or straight monofilament.

For light spinning rods, I will also use braided line (of 6-15lb breaking strain) and a mono or fluoro leader most of the time, but in some circumstances, you can also spool the reel with straight fluoro or straight mono.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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