This page is actually two articles. The first explains the lures used on our flats and how to fish them, and the second is how to rig the most effective lure on our flats, soft plastic baits.
Website Created by Keith Kalbfleisch
By Captain Keith Kalbfleisch
I like fishing with lures. By lures, I mean anything that is other than natural bait, whether hard topwater lures, soft rubber jerkbaits, or flies. To me there is no better thrill than to see a redfish cruising the shoreline, placing a lure in its path, and then tempt that fish to pounce on the lure! It is a thrill!
Beyond the challenge of tricking a fish into taking a hunk of plastic, rubber, or feathers, the use of lures can be very practical. I believe that overall you can catch more fish with lures than with natural bait. What? Yes, that’s right—more fish with lures. I had a good example of that the other day when I participated in a local saltwater tournament. I did not get the winning 27” redfish, but I caught 15 that morning—more than any other team in the tournament, and all on lures.
My reasoning for using lures over bait goes like this: First, you have two fishing situations you must consider—casting to a fish you see, i.e. sight-fishing, then catching fish that you do not see but are scattered on the flat. Let’s look at sight-fishing first.
When you see a fish in the water, whether it is because you actually spotted the fish in the water, saw it tailing, or spotted the wake, you have a limited amount of time to get your bait or lure properly placed in front of a fish. Most baits, like live mullet, chunks of bait, crabs, or large shrimp are going to land in the water fairly noisily, and are then difficult to work past the fish. You have to get it right in front of the fish and then keep it still, hoping the fish sees it. Then, if the cast is off, or the fish changes direction, it is not easy to quickly reel up and recast to that fish. The possible exception to that is a small shrimp, but still it is difficult to move quickly. In contrast, light lures like a rubber jerkbait or tube will hit the water rather quietly and you can quickly get them into position.
The second situation is with fish that you don’t see. The shapes of most natural baits don’t lend them to covering water, so the most common method is to anchor down, cast your baits out, and wait for the fish to come to you. There is no doubt that this works, and I use it myself with clients that are not particularly proficient with casting. However, if you assume that the fish can see six feet through the water, then each of your baits have an effective area of about 112 square feet (the area of a circle, remember your high-school geometry?). If you can cast 100 feet with your lure, and assuming the fish can’t see it as far since the time available to see it is less (say 2 feet), and assuming that only the farther half of the cast is effective (the fish close to the boat may be spooked), then each cast with your lure covers an effective area of 200 square feet—almost twice as much as a bait sitting still.
However, I don’t think that a lure is quite as effective as natural bait sitting in the water in front of a fish. By this I mean if a fish has a nice shrimp naturally and quietly presented, it will more likely eat than with an artificial bait presented just as well. In my experience, the lure is probably half as effective. But even with that handicap, the area covered more than makes up for the effectiveness. So the trick now becomes, how do you work your lures to make them as effective as possible?
There are a number of considerations when using lures on the flats, including type of lure, color of lure, terminal rig setup, and lure action. Let’s look at each, but only in the aspect of what I think is the best for our area fish. Also, I will address the color of lure and lure action within the discussion of each type of lure, leaving terminal rig setup for the end.
I like to break my most popular lures into 5 categories—top water, jigs, jerkbaits (rubber), other rubber baits, and flies. Top water includes lures like Top Dogs, Chug Bugs, prop baits, and Zara Spooks, but there are a plethora of similar lures that are very effective. I find these lures most effective in two conditions—lowlight and choppy water. Lowlight conditions like early and late in the day are traditional times to use these types of lures, but I also have good results in choppy water during full-light conditions—especially in the afternoons when we get a sea breeze. As to color, I like to think “natural”, going for colors that remind me of mullet, greenies, etc., so I like white or silver bellies with green, blue or black backs.
Now, how to fish topwater lures. For most, you will “walk the dog”, trying to get the lure to alternate between swinging to the left then right. This is accomplished by short jerks, reeling between each jerk. You are trying to give the illusion of a wounded baitfish—try to get your lure to play the part. If you use a “chugging” type lure, don’t feel afraid of giving it a good chug. The noise these lures make is imitating predatory fish feeding, trying to get others around to get competitive—so give your topwater some good noise! The downfall of topwater lures are those large treble hooks that most have, since our areas have lots of grass that tend to get caught in the hooks, reducing their effectiveness.
The next type of lure is jigs. Jigs are used for redfish and trout in most of the areas they are found throughout the nation, and they work here also. The problem with standard types of jigs is our thick seagrass. The one jig that I have found very effective, particularly in the winter, is the Hookup Lures weedless skimmer jig. Go for brown and black colors, and slowly bounce it across the bottom—the reds love it.
Rubber jerkbaits are my favorite lure. They cast well, are virtually weedless, and catch fish. I am always asked what color is the best—believe it or not, that is not real important. The other day I had a redfish tour pro on board, and he was discussing colors, pulling out one that he felt was not effective. I took it and caught three nice redfish in short order on it. In fact, pictures of fish from that trip, with that color lure in their mouths, were used at the last Florida Sportsman Show promoting the color! I have seen nearly every color catch fish, since the action is what is really important. However, you will do well if you again try to think “natural” when selecting your colors. Go for colors that resemble fish (greens, silvers, whites), crabs (browns, dark greens), and shrimp (light browns, copper, pinks). Have fun with your colors—there are many choices, including some cool ones!
The fact that rubber baits catch fish is very well known, but how to give them the proper action is not. The secret is to “twitch” them—do not pull, swim, yank, jerk, reel, drag, jig, skip, or crawl them. A twitch is your rod tip moving quickly no more then one foot, let the lure fall to the bottom, then you reel up your slack. The lure must stop and sink. Then twitch again, repeating the process. Most clients and fishing partners I see that have problems catching fish go too fast when fishing these lures. Remember that you are actually imitating crabs and shrimp, which do not move very fast naturally.
If I could do one thing for my clients, it would be to have them understand the above-described action for their lures. Most don’t understand that a 2-3 foot movement of their rod will move the lure the same distance—and there are not many crabs, minnows, or shrimp that move that far, that fast. This is especially aggravated when using braided lines with fine diameters and little stretch. It seems that the belly in the line caused by wind seems to bother some—believe me, the lure is moving. Often I will watch the lure moving quickly from the poling platform, when the angler thinks it is going slow.
The next lure category is “other rubber baits”. These primarily include tubes, rubber crabs, rubber crawdads, and rubber shrimp. This class of lures is very effective, but have a handicap in our area due to the amount of seagrass, making them difficult, but not impossible, to cover lots of area. However, they are exceptional for sight casting since they are very realistic imitations of what the fish eat naturally. Again go for realistic colors and you can’t go wrong. The action technique for using them is the same as for a jerkbait—twitch them along the bottom.
The final category of lures is flies. This is a specialty area for most of us, but one that I like. A fly can be quietly presented, and then presented again quickly if need be. The problem is that you must be able to cast at least 60 feet to consistently catch fish—a challenge for many fly fishermen, especially with a 15-knot wind and moving fish!
The flies used in our area vary as much as the fishermen do, but they are mostly styled after small fish, crabs, and shrimp. They should be worked in short strips, imitating the intended food item. This fishing can be very fun and rewarding, fooling a wary fish with a carefully crafted bit of fur and feathers.
The last thing to mention is the terminal end of your line, no matter which lure is chosen. The focus here is again “natural"--no swivels, no beads, and you want a light leader. Typically I will use 14-20 pound-test fluorocarbon that is tied directly to my lure by either a loop knot or a uni-knot.
As you can see, I believe lures can be extremely productive, but they need to be as natural looking as possible. So keep the colors natural, slow down your presentation, and if there’s one thing for you to remember, it’s twitch!
By Captain Keith Kalbfleisch
I often find fellow anglers that have difficulty in how to rig their soft plastic baits for our flats in Central Florida. These lures, including jerkbaits, tubes, shrimp, and crabs are wonderfully effective and can be rigged and fished in a number of ways. What I want to try and do in this article is give you one of my favorite ways to rig these baits. It is versatile and effective--you can count on it working. The ideas here are not new, I blatantly stole them from the bass fishing word, but used on the light line on our flats it is an extremely effective technique.
Bass fishermen will recognize this as a modified "Texas Rig". The required items for how I rig it are a soft plastic bait (I've shown a jerkbait here, but other baits can be used), a 4/0 wide-gap worm hook (shown is a Daiichi), two to four feet of 15-20 lb fluorocarbon leader, and a 1/16 bullet weight (I like the screw-in Florida weights as shown, but a sliding bullet can also be used).
Start the hook into the jerkbait by going straight down the center of the bait.
Push the hook in about 1/2 an inch, then bring it out of the bottom of the bait as shown. In many jerkbaits this is right at the beginning of the belly slit.
Now pull the hook through the bait until the eye of the hook, with the knot, is into the bait and you can rotate the hook 180 degrees so the point now is turned towards the back of the bait.
Now measure where the hook should go through the back of the bait for it to lie straight on the hook.
Bend the bait so you can push the hook point through your measured spot.
Now pull the bait slightly forward and tuck the tip of the hook into the bait, making it totally weedless.
You now have a perfectly weedless and effective lure ready to fish. Rigged like this it will be near the top of the surface, and can be fished by twitching or even popping on the surface. Many top local fishermen fish this bait this way, however, I often like to add a small weight to the front of my lure. I do this by using a small (1/16 oz) sliding weight, usually a screw-in style.
This weight slides on the like and then screws in to give the final version of the rigged lure. A sliding weight can also be used.
This rigging style can also be used for other soft plastic baits like tubes, shrimp, and crabs. Here is one of my favorite lures, a Bass Pro Shops' XPS Boss Shrimp rigged the same way.
I used a slightly clear shrimp so you can see the hook and sinker, but it is a very realistic presentation.
Try this rigging style--you will like it!