Wooden Plugs for Spotted Sea Trout and Red Drum
By Luhr Jensen
Spotted sea trout and red drum inhabit all of the coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico. They range from the Florida Everglades and the Texas bays to the Third Pass of Mexico. Following are some techniques and suggestions to help you catch these sensational game fish.
WORKING THE SHALLOW FLATS
Grass-covered shorelines and shallow sand flats are the primary feeding and spawning grounds for reds and trout. They can be found in these areas when the water temperature rises above 70 degrees, as they come to feed and to leave their eggs in the safety of the sea grass.
The time that water temperatures begin to warm just happens to coincide with the higher tides of spring. These higher-than-normal tides flood the flats, allowing fish access to previously unreachable areas. After a cold winter, they roam the flats, feeding hungrily on schools of mullet and shad. Unlike freshwater bass which have no tidal movement to deal with, sea trout and red drum feed best during the high tides when their favorite foods are abundant in the shallow water. It's also when these predators are especially vulnerable to topwater lures.
Baby Black Bass
Although high tides provide the best times for catching these fish, you can also be successful during outgoing tidal movement. The fear of being trapped in the shallow water causes them to abandon the flats for deeper holes as the water drops. As long as there is moving water to help move bait from one place to another, trout and drum will be in the vicinity.
This pattern continues through summer and into fall when the second spawning period begins. Fall fishing is similar to spring as the fish are constantly feeding on the flats, storing fat in preparation for winter. During the colder months, they'll spend most of their time in deeper water and feeding activity will slow. This is when slightly warmer days can make a difference. Once again, on these days, the water temperature will rise and you will find fish feeding on the flats.
WADING THE SURF
Although not every part of the gulf coast has a surf line shallow enough to allow wadefishing, it is a major sport from Texas to the gulf side of Florida.
"Reading the water" is somewhat of a cliché, but it can make the difference between a successful surf fishing trip and stopping at the fish market on the way home. Most of the gulf shoreline is made up of sand bars. The troughs or spaces between bars, are the highways that fish use to journey from one place to another in their search for food. Within these bars are cuts which serve as intersections, connecting the troughs and providing short-cuts from one sand bar to another. As the incoming tide rises, fish use these cuts to travel back and forth, searching for food. As food is washed from the sand bars, it falls into the troughs where the surf running predators lie in wait.
Watching the water and taking notes on where and how the waves break, should give you some idea of where the cuts are located. Waves break harder against a greater resistance, hence, if they're breaking less in any given spot, there must be a cut in the bars. Knowing what to look for before choosing the spot you want to wade, can make a world of difference.
Spotted sea trout and red drum are easily spooked when cruising the shallow flats looking for food. For this reason, the best technique for catching them is to get out of the boat and wade. Once on the flat, you must move slowly and with caution to prevent spooking them. This will help you catch more fish and keep you better aware of what's going on around you. The latter can be very effective in helping prevent an accidental meeting with some of the nastier residents of the flat!
Being aware of your surroundings will also allow you to keep up with what the fish are doing where they're feeding and what they're feeding on. Casting in a fan pattern not only covers water faster and more thoroughly, but also keeps your lure closer to the previous cast's position. This greatly increases your strike zone.
Trout and drum feed on the smaller baitfish that cover the surface of these shallow waters. When you spot a school of bait acting erratically or nervously, cast the topwater lure to the edge of the school and then begin your retrieve.
Working the edges of cuts and deeper channels that cross a flat is another way of catching trout. As they use the cuts as highways, they often leave them to ravage a nearby school of baitfish for an easy meal. If the water is too deep to wade, drift the area working the lure with the same technique as when wading. Note that drift fishing must be done quietly. It is important that you wait to start the motor until you are out of the immediate area where you're catching fish. The reason for waiting is so that fish won't be spooked by the noise, and will remain in the area, allowing you to make another pass, hopefully with good results.
The most important thing to remember is that you can't catch fish if the bait's not in the water.
COLOR & SIZES
It has been proved that fish spending most of their lives in shallow water, may be able to distinguish between colors. Most expert saltwater anglers agree that when conditions are overcast or the water is off-color, a darker colored bait will draw more strikes. On days when the weather and water are clear, use a lure with lighter colors.
Fish feeding on the flats are already nervous, so it would be wise to use a smaller lure when conditions are extremely clear. When the wind is up and water is rougher, a larger bait will attract more attention because of the turbulence it creates.
Remember, in clear, calm water, use a small, light-colored bait and in off-color, rougher water, throwing a larger, dark-colored bait works best.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
If you're working your topwater plug over a school of baitfish, chances are that a hungry speck or redfish is going to take advantage of the opportunity. The resulting explosion is always hart-stopping, even to the most experienced angler.
Watch the area surrounding the school and you bait for tell-tale signs of game fish approaching for a strike. Many times you'll see the wake from a redfish before it actually gets to the lure. Don't panic! Just wait it out and when it takes the bait and turns to run, "SET THE HOOK".
If the fish misses your plug the first time, stop and wait for a few seconds to see if it comes back for another try. If not, start working it again. When you first start using topwater plugs, it may seem like you miss setting the hook on alto of fish. If this is the case, wait until you feel pressure on the line before setting the hook. This will give the fish time to get a good hold on the plug before you nail it.
Saltwater fishing tackle used for topwater lures is a great deal like that used by bass anglers. The ideal rod should be of medium action and between 6ft. and 7ft. long. A light tip and solid backbone will give the plugs the best action and leave you plenty of hook-setting power.
Your reel should hold approximately 125 to 150 yards of a good 10 to 12 lb. line such as Fenwick's Saltline. Stainless steel ball bearings are also a prerequisite for a saltwater reel.
Before going on your fishing trip, take a minute to sharpen you hooks. This will improve the efficiency of your baits and get you more fish. Luhr Jensen's Sharp Hook File produces excellent points and is easy to use. Start by placing the file along one side of the point and create a cutting edge in the inside of the hook gap. Repeat this on the other side of the point and you'll have a sticky-sharp hook that will improve your catch ratio.
There are three basic categories of wooden topwater lures. These include surface chuggers/darters, jerk/walkin' baits, and propeller baits. The following are some proven techniques for using lures from each of these categories.
These are ideal baits for someone just starting to use topwater lures. Those such as the Bass Oreno, make a chugging sound, much like a trout feeding, when working as a chugger. When used as a darter, they have a swimming action that entices redfish to take a bite.
1. When fishing near the edges or through the deeper water of cuts, the Bass Oreno can be used as a swimming/wobbling bait. Use a sharp twitch of the rod tip to bring the bait forward and make it dive underwater with a splash and a pop. Allow it to float back to the surface and then repeat the process. Working the bait in this manner utilizes its sound-action abilities to the fullest.
If you're working a sand flat for reds, use the Bass Oreno as a sub-surface wobbling lure. With a slow, steady retrieve, this bait will wobble from side-to-side, giving every indication that it is a wounded baitfish.
If neither of these techniques seems to work, try a combination of the two. Use the twitch method for several feet across the surface, then switch to the sub-surface method. After you have retrieved the lure several feet under water, allow it to surface and begin again.
2. When fishing along grass shorelines or above a grass-covered flat, use a slow twitch-and pause technique. This will keep the bait out of the grass and give fish the best opportunity to take the bait.
WALKIN'/JERK BAITS AND PROP BAITS
Covering a flat with baits such as the Bass Oreno, Dalton Special, Jerk 'n Sam and the Ozark Woodchopper lure can be done in several ways. Explained below are two of the better saltwater techniques for using these lures.
Finish # 0979
1. While fishing over a grass-covered flat, allow the sharp VMC hooks to cut through the grass and prevent snagging. Work the bait with a sharp twitch of the rod, stopping it over sand pockets. At this point, twitch the lure lightly until it is back in the grass, then repeat the process.
2. "Walkin" the dog" is a method that has been used by successful bass anglers for years. In the recent past, saltwater anglers have also discovered this excellent manner of working a lure to catch fish. While keeping slack out of the line, work the lure with short and sharp twitches of the rod tip. The result is a bait that jumps or walks from side-to-side, creating the illusion of an injured baitfish struggling on the surface. The Bass Oreno, Dalton Special, Jerk 'n Sam and the Ozark Woodchopper lures are all excellent lures for this type of fishing.
A FEW OTHER TIPS
1. Many of us tend to work topwater lures too fast. If you are missing more fish than you're getting, SLOW DOWN and give the fish a chance to see the meal being offered.
2. If you don't get a strike on the first cast, keep trying. Look for baitfish and other signs to make sure there are gamefish in the area. Above all, if the lure's not in the water, it won't catch fish!
3. Don't forget that fish are cold-blooded and during the winter may not feed as aggressively. Work the bait slowly during these times. When you think you're working it slowly, slow it down even more.
SHARP HOOKS PAY OFF! One of the easiest things you can do to improve your fishing success, is to maintain super-sharp hooks on your lures at all times. A fine-toothed file such as Luhr Jensen's Sharp Hook File is the absolute best hook sharpening tool available.
Hold the file parallel to the hook point and with gentle, one-way strokes, remove a small amount of metal on at least two sides of the point to obtain a sticky-sharp point with a knife-like cutting edge. These top-quality, high-carbon steel, ultra-fine tooth files are available in two sizes (4 1/4" x 5/8" and 5 1/2" x 3/4") and four models (tang-end, thumb handle, unbreakable plastic handle and with a lanyard and snap ). Keep the file clean and dry and occasionally spray it with a non-corrosive lubricant such as WD-40 to prevent rust.
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