Archive for the ‘Tackle and Rigging’ Category
After a great run of 8 years, I decided to upgrade my ride. I ordered a new boat, a Young Gulfshore 20, which is a custom-made boat made by Robb Young of Inglis, Florida. My trusty Action Craft has been a great flats boat, but I wanted something a little more roomy that could comfortably fish more than two without losing the shallow-water performance that is necessary for the kind of fishing I do. The Gulfshore is the perfect boat. It’s built on the hull of Robb’s amazing bayboat, the Young 20, but altered for fishing shallow with lower freeboard, a large tunnel hull and open spaces. Each boat is custom-made with multiple options. My boat has the new 150 Mercury, out less than a year, which is the lightest 150 HP four-stroke motor made; Lenco tabs, a Bob’s Action Jack jackplate, an 8 foot PowerPole, and I moved my new iPilot Minnkota trolling motor to the new boat. Some of the specifics on my boat included an extension of the foredeck providing more fishing space on the front of the boat and more storage; a popdown ladder which attaches to the jackplate; zero degree rod holders and 9 foot rod tubes; an adjustable helm; LED lighting and host of other small touches. It took about 6 weeks to build the boat from scratch. Here are some pictures of the process.
I sea-trialed the boat yesterday, we made a few last-minute adjustments, and it is now residing at the Sea Hag Marina. Learning to fine-tune a shallow boat can take some time. No two hulls run exactly the same, and finding the sweet spot for a shallow ride involves adjustments of the trim tabs, motor tilt and jack plate to get the boat stable while running in a foot of water or so. Hoping to do a lot of that research over the next month or so. Young Boats is the place to go when you want a boat you expect to keep for a long time. Their handcrafting quality is evident in every boat they make. I want to thank Robb Young for his flexibility and Dave for his rigging experience, and Angil for making sure all the communication and timing worked out.
I get asked a lot about fishing soft baits in very shallow water and grass. We frequently fish in less than 3 feet of water, and sometimes less than that, and especially in the spring, with lots of grass. Even with weedless spoons, grass gets picked up on almost every cast, and with exposed hook lures, fishing over rocks in very shallow water results in lots of rockfish. Given fishing this shallow is pretty specialized, here are some tips for rigging soft baits weedless, and also avoid hooking shallow rocks.
Here are some standard soft jerkbaits and a variety of offset worm hooks. These hooks were developed to Texas-rig soft freshwater baits for bass fishing. I started using them in the salt about fifteen years ago and these rigs are among the first I go to in shallow water in the winter and grassy water in the spring and summer.
There are many soft jerk baits, and many sizes and shapes of offset worm hooks. These baits happen to be a Stanley Wedgetail, a Bass Assassin 5 inch shad, and a DOA CAL jerkbait. The most important part of selection is making sure the hook fits the bait. The size of the gap in the hook and the height and thickness of the body of the jerkbait determine whether a particular hook will work with a specific bait. For most 4 to 5 inch jerkbaits, you will be using a 3/0 or 4/0 sized hook, but those sizes vary by manufacturer. If you place the hook over the bait you can make an educated guess as to whether it will work or not. The first step is to stick the point of the hook through the nose of the bait, and push the hook out through the bottom of the bait. The distance on the bottom between the exit point of the hook and the nose of the bait depends on the length of the offset at the base of the hook.
Pass the hook through bait and rotate it so the hook is facing upward and offset part of the hook is inside the front of the bait.
The next maneuver requires some experience. You need to compress the soft bait forward toward the nose and push the point of the hook through the bait and out the back of the lure. Selecting the amount to compress the bait, and thus the spot at which the point of the hook enters the bottom of the bait requires some experience but you will pick it up rapidly once you try a few of these rigs. What you end up with is the hook laying along the back of the bait.
Here are some pictures of the smaller DOA bait with a smaller gap worm hook.
It’s important that the hook lie very closely along the back of the bait. This allows you to “skin-hook” the very point of the hook just under the surface of the bait, keeping the point very lightly covered. It will cause a slight bump in the top of the lure where the hook is covered. Some baits, like the DOA bait, actually have a small groove in the top of the bait that the hook can lay in to keep the point hidden.
Because I fish in very shallow water, I don’t use weights. Many hooks either come with small weights on the bottom loop of the wide-gap hook, or allow you to add them. Personally, more frequently I use the smaller gap hooks so the hook isn’t exposed below the bait. I want the bait to sink slowly and I work it simply with a few small jerks to keep it moving as it flutters toward the bottom. However, the same rig may need these weights if you fish in deeper water. My usual rig includes a 15 to 18 inch flurocarbon leader of 20 or 25 pound test, thrown on a 2500 sized reel with 10 pound Power Pro braid. If you fish with a light rod and line, you will be amazed at the distance you can throw these lures, even without any weights at all. I usually will try and set up with the wind at my back regardless of lures, just to allow longer casts which are very important in shallow water for stealth purposes. You do need to give the fish a little time to get the lure into it’s mouth, and you also need to set the hook a reasonable amount to pull the point out of the skin, but you don’t need a massive hookset like with largemouth bass.
I love this rig. It fishes very slowly and safely over rocks without getting hung up, and works through heavy grass better than any other lure I’ve seen. And my largest trout in the past few years was caught by Dr. Bob Watson fishing this rig with a Bass Assassin Die Dapper soft bait in two feet of water over a rocky bottom. That’s a pretty good recommendation. Play around with hooks and baits until you find the right combination of size and weight for your location. You’ll be amazed at how weedless and snag-free these baits fish.
It’s been too long between blog posts, and part of the reason is that the fishing has been sub-par this fall. In my October post, I was rooting for the water to clear but we continued with rain and storms, and while we caught some nice fish, the numbers have been down. Fewer mullet inshore this fall, fewer migrating schools of whitebait and the schools of large reds were hard to find. We’re currently experiencing a somewhat decreased winter trout run; trout have been in the Steinhatchee River in decent numbers, but they’ve been inconsistent. There have been some great days with silver (sand trout) in deeper river holes, and lots of speckled trout have been taken as well, but just minor warming temperature shifts will shut off the bite and send the trout out on the flats. A few weeks ago, fishing with Capt. Tommy Thompson, we found a nice school of larger fish, anchored by this 5.25 pounder.
This was a nice fish, but I wanted to discuss several aspects of this catch. I was using my standard winter-time trout lure, a Paul Brown Corky Devil, by far the most productive cold-water trout lure I have ever used. A slow-sinking soft bait with a single treble, it is designed to fish very slowly, with little motion other than a slow retrieve and an occasional jerk or two. The only problem with the lure is that winter time means large trout, like this one. Large trout have large mouths, and they inhale these lures so deeply that the treble becomes wrapped around their gill rakers. Just a few days before I caught 8 trout over 22 inches and four of the eight had hooks around their gill rakers, which takes great care and skill to retrieve without killing the fish; this is an issue when you are restricted to keeping only one trout per person over 20 inches. I decided to try something a little different, and attached a sturdy circle hook to replace the treble. I also attached the lure using a clip.
There were a lot of trout around that day, and I had a lot of hits. I tried a variety of ways to fish the circle hook. The first few fish that took the lure were never firmly hooked. I simply raised the rod tip, felt a few shakes, and the fish was gone. I finally realized that the wide body of the lure required a slower approach. Fish hang onto the Corky lure; it’s soft and you have enough time to simply reel slightly with the rod tip down to secure the hook in the corner of the mouth, as in the picture. Not that this will be perfect. The trout has to be large enough to get the lure well into its mouth. I expect to lose some fish with this set-up, but since most cannot be kept anyway, I don’t consider it that much of a loss, and the larger fish are more likely to be hooked up. I have strong feelings about large trout being released in good shape, because these large trout are the breeding stock (almost all are females) that provide more large trout. If you are a lure fisherman, consider giving circle hooks a try instead of trebles.
You’ll also notice the clip. It’s not that lure fishermen are lazy, but somehow switching lures and re-tying when there is a bite on doesn’t happen, and you end up with a shorter leader when you do. Additionally, many lures without split rings (like the Corky) are said to work better with a loop knot, which also takes up leader and time to tie. My friend Sam Root clued me into the Tactical Angler Fishing Clips and I ordered some, not really expecting very much. I had tried similar clips many years ago and found them either too weak for large fish, or too difficult to use. However, these clips are quite different.
They are by far the easiest clips I’ve ever used. It literally takes seconds to switch lures, especially in lures without split rings. Lures with split rings require a bit more manipulation for more mature eyes and fingers, but even those are easily switched. Here’s a video demonstration of how to use them.
I’ve used them several times now, on a variety of plugs and jigheads, and even on unweighted soft plastic jerk baits rigged with offset worm hooks. I wish they were available in a slightly smaller size than the 50 lb. size for this latter situation, because they do cause the baits to sink faster than I would like, and in a nose-down direction, which is not that realistic. However, I’ve caught some nice fish using this set-up as well. You can find them from a variety of vendors on the web. I expect I will using these regularly as I fish plugs about 90% of the time I’m on the water. I think you’ll find them useful as well.
I want to wish everyone a great New Year…unlimited horizons, clear water and tight lines ahead.
Capt. Tommy Thompson and I spent last weekend exploring for redfish. It’s been a tough year, actually, with good fish being widely scattered. With this being the warmest winter that I can remember, everything from the redbuds to the trout are confused. Fish are moving in and out of creeks with a pattern we haven’t figured out yet, but a recent warm spell sent us out to see what was up. Most recently, our usual spots haven’t been that productive, but low tides have made them challenging, and this weekend we had some good tides and excellent weather to get to some places we haven’t been to in months. We left the Sea Hag around noon to fish the flood and early falling tide. Although moderate winds were forecasted, NOAA was wrong again, but this time in a good way. We had light easterly breezes of about five knots. We ran to an area north of Dallus Creek initially, and found two smallish redfish and I found a nice 4 pound trout fishing an unweighted plastic jerkbait in a creekbed. However, the bite wasn’t that impressive so we ran to a rocky area nearby that had been very productive last year. Although we fished Paul Brown lures, jerkbaits and crankbaits, it became obvious that a nice school of redfish was primarily interested in topwater plugs. I was using the LiveTarget mullet, and Tommy a nickel Super Spook Junior. They both produced well. We were fishing an area of scattered rocks outside a creek mouth with a large sandbar nearby; mullet were everywhere, and there was a large school of slot-sized fish that were hungry.
We ended up with 10 nice redfish to 27 inches. We figured we’d try again the next day, but the school had moved on. We still ended up with three redfish and three trout, but they were relatively small and scattered. With the warm water temperatures, be on the lookout for mullet schools, especially around rocky points, oyster bars, and creek beds, and if there’s nobody home, move around. The schooling fish are hungry and feeding, while the solitary fish are more difficult to entice. Things from here on out should get nothing but better through the spring.
They say that lures are made to catch fisherman, but in fact those of us that fish artificials do have our favorites that seem to work better in certain conditions. For instance, one of the topwater plugs I use is the freshwater version of the Rapala Skitterwalk; it’s smaller than the saltwater version, and I just catch more fish with it than the larger plug. I also favor certain colors at certain times of day. In the early morning I use bright shiny plugs (an example would be the nickle SuperSpook Junior), while later in the day I’ll usually switch to a more toned down version (for instance, bone or darker colors). For suspending lures, I like Paul Brown’s Corky Lures (now made by Mirrolure) and the Mirrodine, and for medium sized crankbaits, the Heddon Swim’n Image. However, like everyone else, we are frequently trying new lures, looking for something better. A report from the iCast convention in Florida Sportsman caught my eye; I’ve never seen lures that looked as much like real fish as these, but they weren’t released yet. However, I managed to land a few LiveTarget lures (and bought several for Capt. Tommy Thompson for his Christmas present). I literally got mine the day after they were released, and couldn’t wait to try them out. I ordered a a 3 inch scaled sardine suspending bait, a 4 inch Mullet Walking Bait, and a 3.5 inch Mullet Wakebait.
I was anxious to try these out and Tommy Thompson and I took a trip out of Steinhatchee this past weekend. Conditions were remarkably good considering how awful the wind had been recently, and the air temps were in the 50’s early, up to the low 70’s later in the day. With a midday low of zero, we figured we better get out early and fish our near-shore spots. We were fishing in 2.5 feet in an area of scattered grass and rocks where we have had some good days recently. I started out with the topwater (as usual) but there wasn’t much of a topwater bite. The topwater mullet lure was quite heavy for its size, 1 1/8 oz., and was easy to cast a long distance. It has rattles and rode somewhat differently, with a bit more tail weight than some other topwaters. This means that it rides very high in the front when working it. Because of the weight, it also works better with a somewhat slower action to emphasize the walk-the-dog action that we aim for. Tommy began catching some fish with suspending lures so I switched to the wakebait and immediately began catching fish, some of the biggest trout of the fall, with several over 20 inches. I also managed one excellent redfish, which slammed the wakebait aggressively.
The wakebait has some excellent characteristics for fishing shallow. It’s jointed, which gives it a great action, and the lip is at an angle that allows it to run just under the surface if worked slowly, but it will dive down to 6 inches or so when worked faster, which provides a lot of flexibility. We had to leave the area as the tide ran out, and the day became overcast . I tried the suspending sardine bait later on in the day. Unlike many similar lures (such as the Mirrodine), this plug actually floats slowly to the top, but will work down to about 2 feet when worked as a twitch bait. I caught several smaller trout later in the day using it. I thought all of the lures had their advantages, and are fairly unique. They are also not cheap, but in the right situations, I suspect I’ll be using them regularly.
I’ve recently gone back to using a lure I used first many years ago…the DOA shrimp. It has some excellent characteristics for the kind of fishing I do in shallow water. It’s simple to use, very resistant to destruction by marauding pinfish (although a puffer will take a nice chunk out of one), and one characteristic that sets it apart from scented baits like Gulp: it comes pre-rigged and rides hook up, out of the grass (it doesn’t stink either and it’s much easier to keep around your boat). Tommy Thompson and I have comparison fished the DOA versus the Gulp shrimp on a number of occasions; much of the time, the DOA will outfish the Gulp. One of the comments about these lures over the years is that they were expensive, but the fact that they are pretty indestructible compared to most soft plastics makes up for that. Recently, the company has started selling “spare parts” kits with 9 bodies, 3 hooks and 3 weights for a very reasonable price (http://www.doalures.com/).
This is great for me, because I like to tinker, and for at least ten years I’ve been changing out the hooks on my DOA shrimp. I always felt the angle of the standard hook was not wide enough so I would replace the hooks with wider gap hooks. DOA shrimp come in several sizes, based on their length: 2,3,4 and 6 inches. By far the commonest size is the 3 inch, which weighs 1/4 oz. The 4 inch, which weighs 1/2 oz., has long been a favorite of mine. Fishing in shallow water, the extra weight allows longer casts with light tackle. The problem is that the weight also drags the bait down quickly, and what is more desirable is a slower sinking rate. The new “spare parts” kits (in addition to the kits, you can buy separate hooks and weights as well for both 3 and 4 inch shrimp) allow me to really customize a shrimp.
Recently my friend Jerry McBride from DOA sent me a number of bodies and weights in both 3 and 4 inch sizes. First, it’s important to note that when you look at the shrimp bodies, there doesn’t appear to be much difference but the 4 inch shrimp is wider and just a bit longer (but not an inch by my measuring). I have found a specific hook that I use to replace the standard DOA hooks. I get it at Bass Pro; it’s a simple wide gap straight shank (not offset) hook. A 3/0 hook fits the 3 inch shrimp, and a 4/0 the 4 inch shrimp perfectly. I put a drop or two of Loctite Crazy Glue in the hook hole on the back of the shrimp and simply slide the hook through from the top and out the front of the lure. This keeps the hook in place; the standard non-glued hooks allow the body to slide up the line when you catch a fish; it can be easily slid back onto the hook, but glue will keep it in place. The weights slide into a pocket on the bottom surface of the shrimp. Using the different weights, I am now able to have a 3 inch shrimp that is standard, or one that can rapidly sink in deeper water with the 1/2 oz. weight. But what I’ve been doing recently is using the 4 inch shrimp with a 1/4 oz. weight. This combination allows me to use a larger bait (catches bigger fish, right?) that will sink slowly, important in less than 3 feet of water. And the added weight of the body provides a longer cast as well.
This picture shows the specific hook in its package, the 1/4 oz. weight and the 1/2 oz. weight, and an “altered” shrimp.
And this close-up shows the subtle differences in the hooks, with the standard hook on the bottom. Admittedly, it doesn’t look very different, but I think the little extra gap between the hook point and the body makes a difference. Plus it gives me a great excuse to get Crazy Glue on my hands and gives me something to do when it rains in Steinhatchee.
You really can’t talk about DOA shrimp without talking about colors; there are bunches to choose from. Jerry McBride has caught more huge fish on DOA shrimp that probably anyone (I guess except for Mark Nichols, who invented them). I’ve recently started using some of his favorite colors- the 382 holographic glitter and the 425 watermelon clear glitter (shown above). I have always leaned toward lighter colors, like the 305 glow (above on the bottom) and 318 chartreuse glitter. If you look at the mouth of the 20 pound redfish in my previous post, you’ll see a 4 inch 318 firmly attached to his jaw. According to Jerry, some west coast guides use almost exclusively pink shrimp, so I’ll be giving some of those a try.
DOA makes a lot of excellent lures, most of which I use at some point or another. The BaitBuster is a great lure for large fish in deeper water; I’ve caught cobia and bluefish in large numbers with them. Some excellent fishermen use the TerrorEyz a lot; I’m not one of them as it’s not really made for fishing grass. The relatively new CAL soft tails and the large BFL plugs have their devotees. But without a doubt, the DOA shrimp is my favorite. I fish them slowly, jerking the shrimp out of the grass and letting it settle back slowly; Jerry insists tying the lure on with a loop knot enables it to look more natural in the water. Some fish it faster, like a jig, but I’ve had better luck fishing it slowly and hopping it above the grass and letting it sink back down. Anyone that fishes in the Big Bend area should have a few DOA shrimp in their tackle box, and give them a try in the right conditions; I predict you’ll use them on a regular basis.