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How, when, where to use artificial baits


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000

Floater or sinker? Grub or curly tail? Gold or silver? No wonder we're undecided. There are so many types of artificial bait, it's hard to decide what works best for a particular situation. Then you have to decide what size. It can be mind-boggling.

The easiest way to approach artificial bait fishing is to realize it usually takes more than one kind of fake lure to get the job done. After all, there are three zones to cover in the water column: surface, subsurface and bottom. Having special bait for each zone is the way to go.

Use a topwater floater for the surface and a suspended or sinking crankbait for subsurface. For the bottom, there's really only one lure to use, the jig. Surface or topwater baits are probably the favorite among artificial chuckers because you actually get to witness the explosion when the fish strikes. Others you can feel, but with surface slurpers you get the whole nine yards. Favorite topwaters are zigzaggers, floater/divers and propeller baits. The noisier the better.

Zigzaggers have a back and forth action usually called "walking the dog." The action is created by twitching the rod tip while reeling. If you're not used to walking the dog, it will wear your wrist out. That's where the prop or floater/diver plugs come into play. A single twitch or two creates the action.

Propeller baits are great, but usually need a little tuning to get the right sound. Some baits come with propellers on the front and back. Taking off the front propeller will accomplish better results for a couple of reasons. First, on more occasions than not, the line gets wrapped around the front prop. Second, it will lessen the weight in the front of the plug and let the bait sit in the water a little rear-end heavy. This will help achieve that perfect sound.

To finally get that perfect sound, you must tweak the rear propeller. Simply turn the blades inward a little to give them more of a pitch. Now, the sound is more of a zip than a slurp. If the bait zips at 85 zips, it's ready.

Floaters/divers have a unique action that is irresistible. When the lure is twitched, it dives down sharply, but barely under the surface, then shoots backward up to the surface. The bait will stay in the same spot where it's twitched if the line isn't reeled in.

Topwaters are ideal in lowlight conditions. Use them until the sun starts to cast shadows, then go to subsurface tackle.

Subsurface baits don't have to be lures. Spoons and jigs are great underwater too. In fact, most of the time, gold spoons get the nod from me. The flash and noise that the wobbling metal blade makes is hard to beat. Plus, I can control the depth of the spoon with my retrieve speed. It's a simple yet effective bait to use.

The rest of the time a suspended crankbait is the ticket. It won't sink to the bottom where the treble hooks can get snagged in grass or other bottom debris like sinkers will.

For working the bottom, one of the most versatile of all artificial baits is the jig. The weighted head and single hook rarely get snagged. The depth of the water and the strength of the current will dictate what size head to use. Working the edges of flats, the lightest head is best. Around bridges, up to 1 ounce will normally work.

Jig tails come in all shapes and colors. Shad, slug and tubes are very popular designs. To make things even more interesting, insert a worm rattle in the tail to give it a little more appeal.

Color is always a hard decision, but it you follow the old adage -- dark water-dark color, clean water-light color -- you can't go wrong.

- If you've had a great day fishing from land and want to share it with our readers, contact the LUBBER LINE at (727) 893-8775 or e-mail

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