As fishermen, we’re constantly trying to trick fish into making dumb mistakes. Sometimes it’s easy. Fish that have never seen a baited hook don’t know to be wary of it, and an angler who is lucky enough to find them can have a field day.
But the reality is that we share our waters with lots of other fishermen, and uneducated fish are a rarity. Some of our canal snook in particular have seen it all. I think they might even be able to quote you lure color codes and SKUs if you could break the language barrier.
Despite that, artificial lures are still effective at catching fish. Part of the reason is that even smart fish don’t always recognize when they’re being fooled. Part of it is that bits of plastic, metal and hair can actually look quite amazingly lifelike in the water. And part of it is the inquisitive nature of a predator. Fish are like cats in that way. Sometimes they seem to realize it’s probably not actual prey, but they just can’t help but attack anyway.
Have you ever noticed that lures are as prone to fashion whims as ladies’ hemlines? The latest and greatest thing hits, and everyone has to have it. You’re not one of the cool kids if that’s not what you’re throwing. Fast-forward a year, and all the trend-setters have moved on to a new latest and greatest. The old, out-of-style baits get buried at the bottom of the tackle bag to rust in peace.
It’s a little silly, but there might be something to it. Lures that are new to the market might move a little differently or have a different profile or come in different colors. If it’s sufficiently different from what the fish have seen before, they may be willing to take a whack at it just to see if it’s edible. Fish have to be opportunistic to survive. Exploiting that simple fact can lead to a lot more hooked fish.
Of course, not every new lure becomes a hot ticket. It needs more than simply novelty — it needs to catch fish too. If only there were a way to combine newness with a proven ability to attract fish …
Oh, wait — there is! The lures that you know and love from other types of fishing can be used in the Southwest Florida salt. Plastic worms and lizards used for bass are deadly on snook, redfish and (believe it or not) grouper. Spinnerbaits can be amazing when fish are holding in deeper water in the canals or outside the bars. Old-school freshwater topwaters like the Jitterbug work beautifully on saltwater gamefish, especially in low-light and slightly choppy conditions. Flatfish crankbaits catch fish wherever the water is deep enough to use them.
The list goes on and on. The divisions that we create between saltwater and freshwater fishing and between what works up north and what works here are mostly in our heads. The biggest differences are that our fish are more pressured and tend to live in shallower water. Once those have been accounted for, fish are fish.
If you don’t have any previous lure-fishing experience to fall back on, don’t fret. Getting started with artificials is pretty easy, especially this time of year. Most bait fishermen are familiar with dangling a shrimp under a popping cork. The simplest way to transition into lures is to just swap out your shrimp for a soft plastic shad or jerkbait on a jighead. Work it the same as you did the shrimp: Cast out into a likely area and blorp it every 30 to 45 seconds.
For this type of fishing, I prefer a scented bait. Pick a color and shape you like (or get a recommendation from the tackle shop) and then add a squeeze of shrimp or crab Pro-Cure gel to the bag of baits. Squish it all around, let it marinate overnight and you’re ready to fish. Keep the baits in the original bag — it’s way easier.
If you want something to cast, there are options that don’t require a lot of user input. A Rat-L-Trap or lipped jerkbait will swim when you reel and sink or float when you stop (choose the Trap in deeper water and the jerkbait for shallow situations). Most spoons will waggle seductively without and twitching or jerking — simply cast and reel. Soft plastic baits with swimming tails will do the same.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are lures that don’t do anything on their own. Walk-the-dog topwaters like the Zara Spook and suspending twitchbaits like the MirrOdine are wholly dependent on operator skill to attact fish. They’re great lures, but not for beginners. You’ll need someone to show you the basic methods, and then the fish will fine-tune it for you by either biting or not.
Most lures fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes: They have built-in action of some sort, but a skilled user will be more effective than a newbie. As with most things, you’re well advised to start at the beginning and work your way up. So get that pack of soft plastics and take the first step on a new path.
As the Fish Coach, Capt. Josh Olive offers personalized instruction on how and where to fish in Southwest Florida. Whether you’re a complete beginner or just looking to refine your techniques, he can help you get past the frustration and start catching more fish. Lessons can be held on your boat, on local piers or even in your backyard. To book your session or for more information, go to FishCoach.net, email Josh@FishCoach.net or call 941-276-9657.