By Capt. Mel Berman, 970-WFLA
Most fishing enthusiasts are weird. They drag around gargantuan tackle boxes, packed so tightly with lures they can hardly get the darned thing closed. Yet, if subjected to a reality check, we could put our most used artificials in a tackle box small enough to fit in the palm of a hand.
So why do we show up for fishing trips lugging a tackle box loaded with every possession we own related to our waterborne diversion? My theory is that we anglers have an insecurity. It’s a basic instinct that’s even more compelling than Sharon Stone’s. We want to be ready for the fish with exactly the right lure, in the right size, in the right color, in the right shape, in the right depth of operation, making the right noise, with the right wiggle, the right castability, the right action, and all the other variables that go into the “right stuff” of artificial baits. Never mind that, before the trip is over, we retreat to that old “sure thing” lure after a few impatient throws of the latest doohickey.
Yet we persist on expending those sweat-earned dollars for an endless array of what we perceive as “silver bullets” that ostensibly will transform us into burgeoning Bill Dances. Most seasoned fishing experts, however, always advise starting off with the time tested favorites… lures that have earned their place in most tackle boxes on the simple premise that they consistently catch fish.
Therefore, we present for your consideration a series of flats fishing lures that, when worked properly and under the appropriate conditions, will produce gratifying results. We also will describe specifically how to work them so that you achieve optimum results. For your convenience, they have been categorized into specific groups of lure types. Each product has been extensively field tested by this writer, and are only included when they pass muster as a consistent fish-catching producer. Just remember, the weather, tides, and other conditions could very well be an inhibiting factor in your success rate. Nevertheless, if you persist with these winners, give them half a chance, we feel confident that you should soon be hitting “fishing home runs.”
The Good Old Jig
To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, “a jig is a jig is a jig.” In fact there is nary a jig that won’t catch fish. It is undoubtedly one of the most effective all around fishing lures. Though there are countless variations of this basic design, all are basically worked in the same manner. One simply flips it out, lets it drop, twitches it upward, lets it drop again. This procedure is repeated several times until it is retrieved back to the angler’s fishing position. Some fishermen enjoy a great measure of success by simply casting the jig out and slowly reeling it in, without jigging. This is especially effective using shad and curly tail style tails, which tend to have their own action. Others like to work a jig in mid-water column, twitching it as you would a plug. Subtle differences in jig head design and color is one way manufacturers trump their competitors. The Cotee “Liv Eyes’ jig head has a slightly flat profile that imparts an enticing “screw-tail action,” To this day, it is ranked a favorite with legions of experienced anglers. Yet, there are other fishing enthusiasts who swear by the more traditional “cannon-ball” shaped jig heads, like those offered by Bubba, Love’s Lures and 12-Fathom Jigs.
There are several tail styles, including the shad, eel, swirl, and the grub tail. The later has a unique spiral drop, and when slowly walked across the bottom, looks uncannily like a shrimp. Shad tails have their own wiggle, and require minimal jigging on the part of the angler to catch fish, and are great “starter lures” for the novice. The same could be said about the swirl tails, which are basically a grub-shaped tail, with a curl of plastic attached to its rear. Many old hands recommend that you set aside the urge to buy those bright, blazing colors. Experience has shown that the drab motor-oil or root beer colors are the most prolific producers. Gold or silver metalflake tails work well under bright, sunny fishing conditions. The darker colors, like green, root beer, etc., excel in dark water or low light, overcast days.
Some fishing enthusiasts will doggedly stick with a white or pearl tail, with red jig head. Why? Because it could look like a bleeding bait to the target species and, of greater import, they always seem to catch loads of fish with this combo. A favorite with snook fishers is the 12-Fathom’s tiger-striped jig tail. Available in silver, gold, green and red, these striped tails apparently emulate chubs or killifish, one of the snook’s favorite forage species. Worked slowly across the bottom of deep passes and canals, these striped plastic tails can also be irresistible to reds, trout and most other shallow running sportfish.
Another favorite is the “The Bubba Silver Flash.” Here is a clear curly tail grub, loaded with an overdose of sparkling metal flakes. This wiggly, sparkly jig tail, gyrating and flashing through the water, has proven irresistible to most species, especially snook. Bubba also markets some unusual colored tails, like “pumpkinseed,” brown with dark flecks in it… “green tomatoes,” green with a red core, and an interesting variety of other colors. Bubbas are all made of a softer texture that seems to be irresistible to most fish.
The popular Love’s Lures Tandem is the epitome of a “user-friendly” jig. It is an ideal lure for fishing beginners, because it will catch fish with minimum effort. Comprised of twin 3/32 ounce heads, fitted with either a specially designed grub or swirl tail, the Love’s Lures tandem comes in a great variety of colors. Each jig head is so lightweight, it drops very slowly, permitting its use over the shallowest of grass flats, yet it has excellent castability. The Love’s Lures Tandem is an outstanding “starter lure,” but will frequently be found in the tackle boxes of seasoned anglers. The tandem jig is not the only successful Love’s Lures bait. A few years ago, Bill Love and his son Steve, took that same 3/32 ounce, light weight jig head, added a small cork, about 15 inches of the leader, and dubbed it the “Float ‘N Jig.” Because of this unique design, the Love’s Lures Float ‘N Jig can be worked conveniently in the “skinniest” of water Definitely not a finesse bait, Steve Love works it with such a violent action, you’d swear he’d never catch anything. Yet, he’ll invariably outfish most everyone with his unorthodox action.
Here’s how to work the Love’s Lures Float ‘N Jig. Flip it out… wait a moment or two as the jig drops. Then, with a sharp upward movement of the rod, the cork makes a loud slurping sound. Steve Love claims it is that sound, like a hungry fish feeding frenzy on the surface, that entices most species. Steve and his dad have landed numerous sea trout, including several “gator-sized” lunkers up to 29 inches. The Float ‘N Jig is also quite effective for snook and redfish, but it seems to be one lure that sea trout absolutely can’t resist.
Variations on the Jig
Some years back, Mark Nichols of Stuart, invented an artificial shrimp that really worked. The “DOA” not only looked like a shrimp, but emulated an action that, from a fish’s perspective, appeared to be the real McCoy. The original DOA Shrimp did produce good results, but many anglers simply didn’t care for the excruciatingly slow retrieve it required. Then last year, Nichols went back to the drawing boards and re-engineered his DOA Shrimp. He made it slightly heavier, added a standard single hook and impregnated the plastic body with real, pond raised shrimp. The result is a bait that’s far more user friendly, and catches fish with even greater competence. As a matter of fact, many anglers now grade the new DOA Scented Shrimp as their most effective lure. Many anglers catch lots of fish by walking the DOA Shrimp across the bottom, employing an occasional
light twitch to emulate a shrimp dodging a predator. The favorite color by far is the natural, light beige that looks so very much like a real shrimp. Other have also had good success with gold glitter and white. There are also darker colors, including root beer, and various shades of green and chartreuse.
My friend Captain James Wood often says that, were he restricted to just one lure, he’d choose the simple ¼ oz gold spoon. Many of us concur with this selection. There is no more effective lure for redfish. The ones I have used productively include the Cotee “Liv’ Eye Spoon and the new Love’s Lures “Lovin Spoonful.” Their design is quite simple, comprised of a traditional 1¾” blade, fitted with a split ring and treble hook. Love’s Lures has added a split ring and barrel swivel to the top of their “Lovin Spoonful.” This gives it a bit more buoyancy, enhancing its shallow water use. It also adds an enticing side-to-side wiggle, and helps minimize annoying line twist. Most other brands can be fitted with this split ring/barrel swivel set-up and modest cost.
Though I favor the ¼-ounce variety I do not want to denigrate all other small spoons on the market. There is a huge cadre of successful anglers who have made their reputations landing fish with such favorites as the Johnson’s Silver Minnow, Bubba, Gator, and Hobo Spoons, plus many others brands. Spoons are also among the easiest of lures to use. Simply cast it out, and retrieve slowly as possible, keeping it just below the water’s surface. In shallow water, it is best to close the bail before the spoon lands, and start reeling immediately. Even a novice, who’s not familiar with the use of artificials, can easily entice a fish to strike with this highly productive, basic lure.
An interesting new variation on the spoon is The Bait Cradle. It employs a modified weedless spoon as, literally, a cradle for a jig tail. Marketed in cooperation with Bubba Jigs, most Bait Cradles come packaged with one of the popular Bubba Sparkle Swirltail grubs mounted aboard. In use, as with a spoon, you can simple cast it out and reel in or twitch in slowly. The wobbling spoon action, combined with the sparkling, wiggly jig tail is a siren’s call to any red, snook or trout in the neighborhood. Beautifully finished in 24-carat gold plating, the Bait Cradle should hold up well in the highly corrosive saltwater environment. Of greater importance, it is one new bait that many Gulfcoast anglers will definitely want to add to their arsenal.
Harold LeMaster was a genius. When he invented the original MirrOlure 52-M in the 1950s, he came up with what many consider the quintessential plug. Most MirrOlures share a unique design feature that sets them apart from the other hard baits. In order to emulate the brilliant flash of a forage fish, Harold LeMaster added a silver or gold foil inside their plastic body. As they are worked, MirrOlures pick up the sun and glint in the same way the scales of a baitfish might. Over the years, this design has proven to be a highly effective.
Unlike plugs which have their own wiggle when reeled in, most MirrOlures require the angler to twitch the bait, providing a wide range of actions that can be tailored to the targeted species and fishing conditions. Once mastered, most anglers tend to eschew the use of crank-type baits in favor of these versatile twitch baits.
There are many other equally effective twitch type plugs, such as the Bagley Finger Mullet, Trader Bay’s teakwood plugs, Bomber Mullet, the Dalton Special, and dozens of others. I’m certain you could add a number of your own favorites to the list.
Here’s how most experienced anglers get work these twitchers. Flipping the plug out, take up most of the slack, and with a slight wrist movement, twitch the lure with the rod tip. With most topwaters, the twitch pulls the lure slightly below the surface. After the twitch, lift the rod tip to provide a measured amount of line slack, allowing the plug to rise to the surface. Repeat the whole process several times until the bait is finally to the boat. For the most part, the reel is used exclusively for taking up line. It is the rod tip that imparts the action.