I’m constantly learning new things. Sometimes things I’ve already learned fall out of my leaky brain and I get to learn them again. I’m sure you’re the same way. Sometimes even obvious things take a couple tries to get stuck in there for good. And that’s why this week’s topic is one that may seem familiar.
This past week, several conversations with different people came up that revolved around the same theme: Small baits and working them nice and slow. I’ve talked about it before and I’m sure I’ll talk about it again. I do that not because I like to repeat myself but because it’s so important to catching fish here in Southwest Florida.
Small lures and baits catch a lot of fish — and of all sizes as well. A 3-inch shad tail on an eighth- or quarter-ounce jighead is truly one of the most universal baits in salt or fresh water. It imitates a small fish or other swimming critter, and pretty much any predator is going to want to go after something like that if you can get their attention with it.
The most productive method is a low-and-slow hop or twitch. Hold the rod at about a 10 o’clock position while you reel slowly. Make a quick single or double jerk of the rod upwards to 11 o’clock and then lower it back to the 10 position. Continue reeling slowly and repeat the twitches every few seconds. This lure can also be retrieved faster, but for most species slow hops will work better.
Jerkbaits such as a Rapala X-Rap SXR-08 or MirrOlure 17MR are incredible small hard baits that can also be worked slowly. Both are suspending baits, which means they don’t float but they also don’t sink all the way down (or at least, they sink very slowly).
The X-Rap is the easier of the two to work. All you really need to do is just reel it in. No frills, just a slow and steady retrieve. The diving lip gives this bait nice tight wiggling action as you crank it. If you feel like it, you can toss in an occasional twitch, or try reeling faster or slower, or just stop it completely for a moment.
The MirrOlure, on the other hand, takes practice. It has no lip, so if you just throw it out and reel it in, there’s not much action. Its motion depends on the operator (that’s you). Try twitching the rod only a couple inches while reeling at the same time and pointing the rodtip towards the water. It’s kind of like working a topwater bait, or rubbing your belly and patting your head. It’s not impossible, or even hard — but it will be the first time you try it.
Downsizing your lures to even smaller can be very productive. A lot of times you will be surprised with the size of fish that will eat these teeny-tiny baits. But if you think about it, elephants eat peanuts — at least, that’s the saying. I’ll bet you have eaten M&M’s before, and those are pretty tiny. Sometimes a snack is easier to deal with than eating a big meal. Do you always want a big steak, or are there times when you’d rather go for something bite-sized? How many more ways can I say it?
Look, it comes down to basic biology: Fish are cold-blooded. In colder water, they don’t digest food as quickly. Smaller meals break down easier. The things we need to watch are making sure the hooks on little lures are strong enough and making sure we have enough weight to get a decent cast. These considerations lead some anglers to the fly rod, but I’ll let Capt. Rex Gudgel deal with such issues in his columns.
And why does slow matter so much? Again, it’s biology. Go to a canal or creek. Sit still and quiet, and watch the small fish as they swim around. Most of the time, they move very slowly, except when being chased by something or chasing something else. Try to mimic that behavior with your lures. It’s a whole lot of slow, interspersed with occasional blind panic.
The colder it gets, the slower the fish (both prey and predators) will be. So for the severalth time (but not the last time), start fishing smaller baits at a slower pace and see if it doesn’t start catching you some more fish.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor and at 14531 N. Cleveland Ave. in North Fort Myers. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.