I was fishing last weekend with my regular fishing partner, Capt. Tommy Thompson. It was a foggy morning, with little wind, and water temperatures in the low ’60s. Because I fish topwaters preferentially, and the because the conditions were perfect, I started fishing with my favorite lure, a nickel Heddon Super Spook Junior. Tommy was fishing with a Live Target scaled sardine. After the first hour and a half or so, Tommy had four upper slot trout to the boat (all released) and I had had two hits and misses on my topwater. Although I am accused of being stubborn, that was enough to get me to switch to a suspending lure, and within five minutes, I had brought this oversize redfish and a four pound trout to the boat.
In my years of fishing the Big Bend area, I have moved away from live or cut bait fishing in almost all situations, because of two reasons: I lack the patience to sit and wait for fish, and second, I believe that in most cases, artificials catch bigger fish. And I do love topwater fishing….the fish tracking down the plug, the explosive surface strikes that get your adrenaline flowing. But there are limitations to fishing topwaters. The most important is water temperature. In very warm water, and especially in very cold water, fish will not put forth the energy to blast the surface plugs that work well in more temperate waters. And at times, even when the water temperature is reasonable, they’re just not interested in topwaters. While this is extremely hard for me to accept, my stubbornness does have limits, and I will switch to something subsurface. This could include jigs, unweighted or weighted soft jerk baits, crankbaits, or suspending plugs. In this post I’ll stick to lipless suspending plugs, how to pick them, and how to fish them in relatively shallow water, less than four feet in depth. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that if you go to ten different captains you’ll get ten different lists of lures, so this list is specific to lures I use all the time. There are a number of suspending lures I’ve yet to try, like the family of Sebile lures, and hopefully I’ll get around to those soon.
One of the great things about fishing suspending lures is that we have a huge selection to choose from. My selection depends primarily on one factor, water depth. How I work them depends on another factor, water temperature. In general I use one of two types of suspending lures. One type will dive down to depths of 4 to 6 inches, and when left alone, will float slowly to the surface. This characteristic is similar to fishing a floating crankbait such as the Heddon Swimmin’ Image. The advantage to these lures is that they can be fished in very shallow water. Essentially they don’t sink, so I feel comfortable using them carefully over rocks in a foot or so of water. I’ll still occasionally get hung up, but if I work them carefully, it will be much less frequently than a sinking suspending lure.
Live Target makes a number of very realistic lures, and they come in a variety of bouyancies and diving depth. This 3.5 inch mullet is described as a floating twitchbait, and dives to a depth of 6 inches. When worked very slowly, it will work shallower than that. I usually work it with very small twitches and fairly slowly. It also comes in a larger size with the same characteristics. It is the perfect lure for very shallow fishing when a topwater just won’t do.
Other suspending lures sink at slightly different rates. My selection depends on the depth of the water I’m fishing, and where in the water column I want the lure to reside. Mirrolure makes a number of suspending lures, with a variety of sink rates. From left to right, I’ve shown a MirroMinnow, which looks like a large glass minnow. This lure sinks very slowly because of it’s slim profile, and I’ll use it in water from 2 to 3 feet in depth, especially when there are whitebait or glass minnows around. The middle lure is a Catch 2000; I use the regular and the Catch Junior, a slightly smaller plug. It sinks just a little faster than the MirroMinnow. Lastly, the Mirrodine and Mirrodine XL are listed as sinking to maximum depth of 2 feet but they will sink slowly beyond that depth when allowed to. A whitebait imitation, the Mirrodine is the newest addition to the line, including the very new Paul Brown Soft-dine, which is a soft plastic version of the Mirrodine with similar characteristics. I have caught many fish on all of these lures and select them based on the kind of bait around as well as the sink rate. I vary my lure action, from sharp twitches followed by no action and a slow fall, to a constant twitch/return method, primarily depending on water temperature; the colder the water, the slower I work the lure.
Rapala also makes a nice subsurface lure that is particularly good for a walking-the-dog approach but about a foot or two under the surface. The lure on the left is the X-Rap Subsurface Walker, which comes with a feather on the rear treble and a cigar shape that is very effective. The only limitation is that they come with freshwater hooks that need to be changed out. The lure on the right is another Live Target lure, the scaled sardine. This lure comes in three sizes and two types. Both types are described as twitch baits, but one is called a floater and the other a suspender. They are physically identical. The floater behaves like the mullet bait described above, but will only dive to about 4 inches and then float slowly to the surface, while the suspender will dive to 12 inches and slowly sink. These lures have been very productive recently; in fact, they are difficult to find in many locations. I use both types in the smallest 3 inch size.
Last but not least is the Paul Brown Corky Devil. I’ve written a blog post about this lure before (https://bitemefishing.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/time-to-pop-the-cork-for-winter-fishing/) and in spite of the multitude of other suspending plugs I use, it remains my go-to bait in the cold of winter. While it’s sink rate is a little faster than the other plugs noted here, it can be fished with care in shallow water. The crucial aspect of fishing a Corky Devil is to fish it as slow as possible, then slow that down by half. I rarely even give the lure a twitch, but just throw it out and raise the rod tip, reeling fast enough to keep it near the surface, and then letting it drop down again. In frigid water, fish will not chase a lure, so a lot of action is wasted. The advantage of the Paul Brown lures is that they are soft but durable plastic, so the fish is much less likely to spit out the plug than if it bites down on hard plastic. Tommy Thompson and I have been using these plugs for about fifteen years, before they were bought by Mirrolure and we had to order them over the phone and pay by check before they would be mailed to us. They are unbeatable when there are trout around in cold water.
Fishing suspending lures in very shallow water can be challenging but you will learn how to keep the lure in the middle of the water column and off the bottom. When you figure that out, get ready for some great shallow-water fishing. These plugs will produce a lot of action.