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Tightlining Technique Catches Bass

by: Brad Wiegmann

  Its winter and water temperatures have dropped into the mid to low 40-degree mark in the Midwest.  Catching lethargic bass seems like an impossible undertaking.  The only sane thing to do during this time is to stay home and check out The FB Board on the website.  Nevertheless, anglers will be anglers and that means we go fishing, no matter how cold it gets.  One effective technique for catching bass during this time is Tightlining.  The Tightlining technique originated from anglers fishing TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) lakes that are cold and gin clear.  During the winter months, the TVA draws their lakes in east Tennessee down below pool levels, sometimes up to 30 feet.  Having limited cover available and ultra-clear water clarity, anglers experience success catching big smallmouth Tightlining with ultra-light fishing line and small jigs.

  The majority of anglers have read or seen fishing shows about the float-n-fly technique.  It catches bass in cold water conditions off structure; however, it requires an angler to use awkward equipment compared to what anglers normally use. The act of casting can also be impractical with a bobber 9 to 15-feet from the jig.  Float-n-fly experts that have cast this set up for years have developed a specific technique for casting; however, for the average angler forget it, your line, bobber, and jig become one wicked mess.  Plus trying to land a big smallmouth while struggling to remove a bobber from your fishing line can mean losing fish; especially, if you are by yourself.  Tightlining on the other hand uses conventional spinning tackle, 7-foot rod, ultra-light line, and a small jig.

  Finding information on Tightlining can be almost impossible.  Lucky for us novice Tightliners, Nathan Light, a renowned Tightlining guru from east Tennessee, has come out with a DVD called Light on the Water, Learning the Art of Tightlining.  (See more information on the DVD).  In the DVD, Light covers all the basic information on equipment, places to fish, fighting a fish, knots, and the best time and conditions for Tightlining.  When watching the DVD it’s important to pay attention to the knot Light ties.  The knot does not tighten down on the eye of the jig but has a loop to allow the jig to sit horizontally in the water when retrieved. 

  When Light is Tightlining he uses quality 4-pound co-polymer fishing line with a Shimano Sprex 2000 on a Kistler 7-Foot LTA medium action rod.  For a jig, Light uses the original size Uglyhead Jig ( almost a 100% of the time when Tightlining.

  When Tightlining Light explained, “Anglers should look for a 45-degree bank with river rock, rip rap, or black slate; these banks warm up fast after a couple days of sunshine.”  “An angler should simply cast out towards the bank and shake their rod tip as they slowly reel in the jig,” Light continued, “The key is to cover lots of water like fishing a crankbait and keep the bait off the bottom but close to it.”  “Another crucial part of Tightlining to be successful is water clarity, the lakes out in east Tennessee are gin clear; so cloudy days and light wind are better for catching bass,” Light added.  Light also pointed out that the small jigs were “brush magnets” and to not fish them too close to cover.  Normally, Light likes to sit with his boat in 20 to 25-feet of water, cast towards shore, and work his jig all the way back to under the boat than reel it in. 

  It’s amazing that any angler could catch and land big smallmouth bass on ultra-light fishing line and small jigs.  Light, however goes against conventional wisdom and puts numbers of large smallmouth in the boat.  So forget about that bobber and go Tightlining for some of the most exciting fishing you will have this winter.

Brad Wiegmann is a professional fishing guide on Beaver Lake and outdoor writer. Contact him at (479) 756-5279 or by e-mail at