Everything is relative. There is no clear cut definition of what constitutes light tackle nor is there a universal description. Light tackle fishing is a carefully thought-out approach that centers around your own ability as an angler, the species you seek, and the conditions under which you must fish. Going too light for the challenge is better defined as stunt fishing.
The deciding factor as to what constitutes light or lighter tackle centers on the breaking strength of the line. No matter what the rod and reel look like, if the line will self-destruct at six pounds, 10 pounds, 20 pounds, or 30 pounds, that is where the measurement will be taken. Only the line gives us the basis for comparison and the key to what might be considered light for the situation and what would be defined as well matched to the challenge or over gunned for the fish you are trying to catch.
Light tackle anglers have always been innovators and pace setters. The knot systems that most of us use today and test 100 percent of the unknotted line strength were developed and adapted by the light tackle gang, because there is less margin for error. Over a half-century ago, pioneers in this phase of fishing modified tackle from the design of rods to drag improvements in reels. Someone is always tossing in bed at night wrestling with new ways to gain an edge on an existing species or work out a different approach.
Most light tackle situations involve fly, spinning, or plug tackle, but lighter trolling gear also defines opportunities. If the recognized tackle for an offshore species is 50-pound test and you approach the situation with a 30-pound test outfit, you are light tackle fishing. It’s all relative, even if you employ 50-pound tackle when 80-pound or 130-pound is the norm.
Although they are primarily credited with developing the bait-and-switch technique for catching sailfish on fly, the late Captain Lefty Reagan and his angler, Dr. Webster Robinson, opened a much greater vista for the angler who wanted to catch big fish on light tackle. Their contribution was the use of a hookless teaser on heavier tackle to raise the fish. It can even be done with live bait as the teaser. That process works for countless species on both the inshore and offshore grounds.
Light tackle fishing should be considered opportunity sport. There are times for a variety of reasons when it makes sense to use standard tackle for the situation. However, lighter tackle should always be rigged and ready and certainly within arms reach. To me, the accomplished and complete light tackle angler should be able to handle trolling tackle as well as the three types of casting tackle (fly, spinning, and plug) with equal aplomb.
As you hone your light tackle skills, you will automatically become a better all-around angler. No matter how seriously you take light tackle fishing, remember that it should be fun. With lighter gear, even the smaller denizens become more meaningful and a pleasure to catch. If you match your tackle to the species, the situation, and your own angling skill, you’ll add a new dimension to your fishing.