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The World’s Best Lures—Or Are They?

May 31, 2007


Asking me to reduce my overstuffed tackle boxes to a bare bones selection of artificial baits is like asking me to give up medium-rare venison, Mama’s chocolate chip cookies or my favorite adult beverage. But I was asked. The real killer is picking lures that can catch all our favorite freshwater fish—from panfish to walleyes, to bass, trout, pike, muskies and catfish.

Cleverly, I chose baits that I can modify or select in different weights, sizes or tail dressings to target a variety of fish in specialized situations. Sure, there are better dedicated-baits for exacting conditions, but the following seven will get you through for anything, most any time.

Rapala (Original floating balsa minnow)—Tell me what these baits won’t catch. From just subsurface to deep water (using slip sinkers, or Bait Walker, or trolled with a keel sinker), they’re sized for everything from big pike, muskies (the teeth of those critters will do them bad, though) to stream trout or panfish. Heck, I’ve even caught channel catfish on ‘em.

Mepps Spinner—In small sizes they’re the quintessential stream trout lure (squirrel-tail dressed or plain), but you can change out the treble hook for a single then Texpose or Texas hook on a plastic trailer for timber brush or weeds for bass or pike. Work the little ones from floats (bobbers) on structure or cover edges for whatever lurks . You probably have more ways for these in-line spinners that come in all sizes and configurations imaginable.

Plastic Tube Bait—In a medium size down to three-inch size, I’ll hedge my bet and pick a Berkley Powerbait Tube for the extra scent attractant. But various brand soft tubes can be had in smaller sizes for crappie and trout to medium-large for bass, to giants that you can crash through weed mats. Fish them with internal weights, exposed jig heads or without weights, drop-shot style.

Original Slug-Go—Yes, it’s meant as a near-surface jerkbait but it’s a dandy weighted using the maker’s nail inserts, or a weight of your own choosing, or a slip-sinker so you can crawl-twitch the lure along the bottom. Plenty more ways to choose: rig it weedless, rig it wacky style with nail weights at either end. This can be your plastic worm, or in bitty sizes, a nifty little minnow or wax worm imitation for panfish.

Jig—I’m thinking about a jig head in assorted sizes with various tail dressings (or none) for anything with fins that swims. Tiny marabou-skirted jigs are classic for panfish and trout (don’t overlook them for spawning bass, either). Plain heads dressed with a minnow or crawler are standard for walleyes. Jigs pre-dressed with little plastic tentacles like a tube bait take panfish, trout, bass and more, depending on size. Slip a plain-Jane head onto a paddle-tail plastic and you have a swimbait. And, of course, the jig head with brush guard and skirt sweetened with pork or plastic “critter” trailer is standard fair for largemouths in heavy cover.

Rat-L-Trap—The most inexperienced angler will catch fish on these just by casting them out, cranking them in. They’re great in cold conditions and hot weather. Everybody thinks of them as bass baits, but they’re fine for walleyes and the little ones for panfish and trout. Yes, biggies catch our toothsome friends. And you can weight them, too, for trolling, or tow them with no weights at all.

Spinnerbait—Because they come in so many sizes and finishes there’s not one of the sweetwater fishes I want to catch that these things won’t—and they’re just so much fun to use, banging into brush, rocks and weeds due to their near snaglessness. You know how they clobber bass. Trim a heavy one with some natural bait for cats in current. Use one of the original Johnson Beetle Spins in ultralight 1/16 or even 1 / 32 oz. for panfish, trout, or twitched beneath a slip float for walleyes.

And while on that subject, you can make a serviceable walleye crawler spinner rig from one of these lures by adding a tiny float to the upper wire arm, or choosing the lightest spinnerbaits (so you can slow troll them at a walleye creep). To complete the rig, snell on a short length of monofilament to the main spinnerbait hook and add a trailer hook or two. Now you have a rig on which to drape a natural crawler or bait minnow.

OK, what have I missed? I’ll bet you have a favorite lure that would make this list even better—and maybe a neat way to rig it. I’d like to hear about it.

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  • May 24, 2007

    Got a release method for fish caught from the deep?-4

    by

    Reversing_the_bends
    Releasing fish caught deep and quickly brought to the surface has long been a problem both in salt and freshwater. Basically the fish’s air bladder —now filled with expanded air from the depressurized rise from the deep—keep it floating on the surface.

    Tournament walleye anglers have long been using the technique called “fizzing” for fish held in a livewell for later release. Friend and pro Mark Martin has this method down pat.

    He holds the fish upside down in his livewell, moves two scales to either side of the anal hole, then counts five to seven scales forward toward the fish’s head. At this point a needle (usually an old IV needle or a fairly large hypo needle, that you might obtain from a veterinarian) is inserted at a 45 degree angle and left there until bubbles cease coming out through the needle.

    For bass, at least there’s an easier, less invasive way. It could work on other fish, though species with serious teeth could pose a problem. California anglers Todd and Rod Thigpin, who make Stocker Swimbaits, use a sinker and structure marking buoy for fish bass pulled up from 20 feet or deeper.

    A 10-ounce, torpedo-shaped sinker works best. The weight is tied to the end of the marker buoy line. And then while lip-holding the fish in a vertical position, the sinker is dropped past the fish’s crushers into its gullet (you know, like a sword swallower). Then you let the weight take the fish down to its comfort level. Through the line you’ll feel the fish becoming active as it reacclimatizes. A jerk on the line will quickly remove the sinker.

    This stuff is surely worth a try. “Floaters” don’t stand much of a chance for survival. Send any thoughts, disagreements or other methods you’ve discovered this way. We’d all like to share them.

    [ Read Full Post ]
  • May 21, 2007

    Fishing in Disney-1

    by

    Fishing_with_disney
    Earlier this month Gone Fishin’ blog regular Alabama Hunter (who lives near Birmingham and travels to Orlando) asked me about getting into fly fishing in his area. Because a lot of you bring the kids to Disney world in Orlando, this is a good place to start. Conventional baitcasting/spinning for bass and panfish is well known in the area, but there’s never been much mention of a dedicated area fly-fishing source. Here’s one:

    Orlando Outfitterswww.orlandooutfitters.com; 407-896-8220.
    They’re not only an equipment source, they offer casting instructions all year, can hook you up with guides or point you to the hottest fishing—both in fresh and saltwater. The photo here shows a nice spotted sea trout caught in the area.

    As for Alabama Hunter’s Birmingham locale, there was an outfit called The Deep South Fly Shop run by Robert Rogers 205-969-3868, flyshop@earthlink.com, but you’ll need to check if it’s still in business.

    Lacking that, there are a number of other fly tackle sources around Alabama. Here’s a list:

    Church Mouse/Fairhope Fly Shop
    31 South Section Street
    Fairhope, AL 36532
    Phone: (251) 928-1619
    Fax: (251) 928-117

    McCoy Outdoors
    3498 Spring Hill Ave
    Mobile, AL 36608
    Phone: (251) 473-1030

    Rainbow City Auction
    114 Steele Station Rd
    Gadsden AL 35901
    Phone: (256) 442-5919
    (website: www.rbcflyfishing.tripod.com)

    Riverside Fly Shop
    17027 Highway 69 North
    Jasper, AL 35504
    Phone: (256) 287-9582

    And a little research will show that there’s a lot of potential for the long rod in Alabama, though it never gets a lot of mention.

    [ Read Full Post ]
  • May 18, 2007

    Victory at Last!-0

    by

    Brian_1st_tarpon2
    The winds backed off. But it still looked pretty iffy for the tarpon at the ditch—otherwise known as Boca Grande Pass on Florida’s west coast, and if you’ve been following these recent posts you know that Brian Lynn and I hit a dry spell following our little altercation with the guys in the brown suits—sharks, that is—a few day’s back. So Capt. Ray Van Horn, Capt. C.A. Richardson and his girlfriend Jessica, Brian and I were about to head to a little cay where the redfish were supposedly schooled up. Then the Nextel call came. Capt. Artie Price, a close friend of Ray and C.A. and fellow competitor in the redfish tournament game, had a quick message for us. He was already at the pass. “You might wanna head this way,” he said not so cryptically. “We’ll be there in fifteen,” Ray told him. The ‘poons were in.

    The bite was on, all right, hot as firecrackers and the word was soon out, too, boats zooming in to start the rotational drifting that makes fishing the pass such a circus, crazy, exciting, and dangerous as hell. There were fish in the air, fish falling from the sky too close for comfort, though this time none fell into a boat.

    Capt. Ray, also known as the Colonel, barked orders in fine fashion and in moments were into fish, losing fish, breaking off. Then Brian hooked up and shortly was clambering into Capt. Artie’s boat to fight his first tarpon ever, and to allow me take his photo. Brian fought his fish well. He also proved that he was lucky. During the fight the fish had rolled into the leader, effectively lassoing itself, which was good considering at some point the jig in its mouth had yanked out. It was a thick fish, well over 100 pounds you could tell when Artie and Brian pulled it most of the way from the water for some quick photos.

    C.A. had an adventure, too. He was working on a jig snagged on a bottom ledge, the rod bent, but not dangerously so, when the thing exploded. Fiberglass isn’t supposed to do that—at least not as easily as a graphite stick.

    Between one thing or another we were down to just a few functional tackle rigs when Jessica hooked up. Another first. With C.A. coaching Jess did a great job on her fish despite a gimbal belt that kept slipping, and then, of all things, the composite gimbal on the rod butt, breaking. Not fun. Her rod was now free to rotate to either side as the big fish she was fighting changed course. But she was into it and then, with her tarpon tiring quickly, starting to show through the clear water, maybe five more minutes left in the fight, a tarpon being fought in a neighboring boat rocketed ahead. The line to which the neighbor’s fish was attached crossed and cut Jessica’s. Her fish was gone and she had a few choice words to lay on the guy next door.

    Then the sun began burning through the haze of the smoky sky and lo, it was as though a Mayfly hatch had begun, nymphs emerging from their shucks and exfoliating into delicately limbed adults. In this case, I refer to the fishing ladies of Boca Grande pass who in pretty short order were out of their windbreakers and, well, you get the picture. As the temperature rose, the disrobing continued until the fisher ladies, practicing for the all-female tournament in just one week, were down to barely legal threads. Let me tell you it was pretty tough to concentrate on fishing then.

    [ Read Full Post ]
  • May 18, 2007

    Where are the Tarpon?-0

    by

    Boca_redfish
    With something like 280 fires burning throughout Florida, and winds from the west and north, the air is worse than in New York City and the little fish the tarpon eat like popcorn in Boca Grande pass have vamoosed. By the time we arrived at Capt. Ray Van Horn’s other hotspot, a place where the silver kings were corralled by sharks the day before, the fish were gone from there, too. What to do?

    We slipped into the backcountry trying to scratch some redfish and snook at least to get tight on something. Bad joss there, too. It took all day to take and release a small snook, and finally a just-legal redfish. That baby went into the cooler for dinner. Not that it would feed Capt. Van Horn, Capt CA Richardson, Senior Editor Brian Lynn and yours truly, but it was going to make some pretty picking, Cajun style, as a test, really. The restaurant at Burnt Store resort/marina where we were staying is called Porto Bello, and they’ll cook up fish you elect to keep. Let me tell you what they did to that redfish was magic. I tried keeping the dish away from everybody but without success. Sure wish we’d had some more.

    We have one more day here. Capt. Ray says he’s never seen the tarpon leave the pass more than three days during peak season—which is now. Tomorrow is day four. We’ll see.

    [ Read Full Post ]
  • May 15, 2007

    Boca Victory at Last!-0

    by

    Click here for a few snapshots from Boca Grande Pass!

    Brian_1st_tarpon2_2The winds backed off. It still looked pretty iffy for the tarpon at the ditch—otherwise known as Boca Grande Pass on Florida’s west coast, and if you’ve been following these recent posts you know that Brian Lynn and I hit a dry spell following our little altercation with the guys in the brown suits—sharks, that is—a few day’s back. So Capt. Ray Van Horn, Capt. C.A. Richardson and his girlfriend Jessica, Brian and I were about to head to a little cay where the redfish were supposedly schooled up. Then the Nextel call came. Capt. Artie Price, a close friend of Ray and C.A. and fellow competitor in the redfish tournament game, had a quick message for us. He was already at the pass. “You might wanna head this way,” he said not so cryptically. “We’ll be there in fifteen,” Ray told him. The ‘poons were in.

    The bite was on, all right, hot as firecrackers and the word was soon out, too, boats zooming in to start the rotational drifting that makes fishing the pass such a circus, crazy, exciting, an dangerous as hell. There were fish in the air, fish falling from the sky too close for comfort, though this time none fell into a boat.

    Capt. Ray, also known as the Colonel, barked orders in fine fashion and in moments were into fish, losing fish, breaking off. Then Brian hooked up and shortly was clambering into Capt. Artie’s boat to fight his first tarpon ever, and to allow me take his photo. Brian fought his fish well. Along side it proved that he was also lucky. During the fight the fish had rolled into the leader, effectively lassoing itself, which was good considering at some point the jig in its mouth had yanked out. It was a thick fish, well over 100 pounds you could tell when Artie and Brian pulled it most of the way from the water for some quick photos.

    C.A. had an adventure, too. He was working on a jig snagged on a bottom ledge, the rod bent, but not dangerously so, when the thing exploded. Fiberglass isn’t supposed to do that—at least not as easily as a graphite stick.

    Between one thing or another we were down to just a few functional tackle rigs when Jessica hooked up. Another first. With C.A. coaching Jess did a great job on her fish despite a gimbal belt that kept slipping, and then, of all things, the composite gimbal on the rod butt, breaking. Not fun. Her rod was now free to rotate to either side as the big fish she was fighting changed course. But she was into it and then, with her tarpon tiring quickly, starting to show through the clear water, maybe five more minutes left in the fight, a tarpon being fought in a neighboring boat rocketed ahead. The line to which the neighbor’s fish was attached crossed and cut Jessica’s. Her fish was gone and she had a few choice words to lay on the guy next door.

    Then the sun began burning through the haze of the smoky sky and lo, it was as though a Mayfly hatch had begun, nymphs emerging from their shucks and exfoliating into delicately limbed adults. In this case, I refer to the fishing ladies of Boca Grande pass who in pretty short order were out of their windbreakers and, well, you get the picture. As the temperature rose, the disrobing continued until the fisher ladies, practicing for the all-female tournament in just one week, were down to barely legal threads. Let me tell you it was pretty tough to concentrate on fishing then.

    [ Read Full Post ]
  • May 15, 2007

    Where are all the fish?-0

    by

    Img_0536
    With something like 280 fires burning throughout Florida, and winds from the west and north, the air is worse than in New York City and the little fish the tarpon eat like popcorn in Boca Grande pass have vamoosed. By the time we arrived at Capt. Ray Van Horn’s other hotspot, a place where the silver kings were corralled by sharks the day before, the fish were gone from there, too. What to do?

    We slipped into the backcountry trying to scratch some redfish and snook at least to get tight on something. Bad joss there, too. It took all day to take and release a small snook, and finally a just-legal redfish. That baby went into the cooler for dinner. Not that it would feed Capt. Van Horn, Capt CA Richardson, Senior Editor Brian Lynn and yours truly, but it was going to make some pretty picking, Cajun style, as a test, really. The restaurant at Burnt Store resort/marina where we were staying is called Porto Bello, and they’ll cook up fish you elect to keep. Let me tell you what they did to that redfish was magic. I tried keeping the dish away from everybody but without success. Sure wish we’d had some more.

    We have one more day here. Capt. Ray says he’s never seen the tarpon leave the pass more than three days during peak season—which is now. Tomorrow is day four. We’ll see.

    [ Read Full Post ]
  • May 10, 2007

    The Sharks are at the Boca Pass!-0

    by

    Bullshark_2Yesterday Capt. Bucky Dennis proved that a simple boat drifting technique is primo shark medicine for fishing Boca Grande—the giant pass that connects Charlotte Harbor with the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s west coast and annually lures thousands of tarpon and the sharks that stalk them like wolves.

    Primo medicine, that is, if you have the right bait—which is live stingrays. The first shark to crush a live ray fluttering just below the surface came unbuttoned despite Herculean efforts with Bucky’s custom big game rod sporting a 12/0 Penn Senator reel. The next shark stayed hooked, honking out 80-lb. test-braid line and bucking the rod in grand style each time the drag washers slipped.

    The big-headed bull shark finally quit and we brought him boatside thrashing and giving that classic toothsome smile. The fish was maybe 350-400 lbs.

    We lost others and caught more including what looked to be the fish we had nailed earlier (sharks aren’t particularly brilliant, but aggressive they are). Finally, Senior Editor Brian Lynn and I hauled our butts into and 18-ft. flats boat owned by one of Bucky’s pals, Jimmy Kearn for more photo ops. Bucky and two of his client/friends would soak the remaining baits but before the two boats separated Bucky tossed us a mangled, very dead stingray that a bull shark had previously chomped before it got off. We’d soak the thing between taking pictures.

    It didn’t work that way.

    Munched_stingray_2
    The ragged, dead ray was no sooner in the water when a huge hammerhead sliced in knifing the surface with its high dorsal fin, rolling at the boat so we could plainly see that it was not all that shorter than the 18-ft. skiff. It circled around, homed in on the bait floating on the surface and heaved part of its head and back out as it ate. We were all yelling crazily.

    Brian was up and the tackle in his hands included a state-of-the-art dual drag Accurist reel said to be able to apply 80 lbs. of drag pressure. I don’t know about that figure but I can tell you the reel has the muscle to eventually wear out most anything with fins. Unfortunately the reel was spooled with 60-lb.-test line, the drag had been pre-set to max, and when its owner hollered at Brian to jam the drag lever forward to full strike position, Brian did just that and the hammerhead about pulled him over the side. It didn’t last long. The line cracked loudly and the shark simply steamed away.

    And now we’re after tarpon, tarpon that had been eating big time a few days ago but which have been hammered by a low-pressure weather event—Tropical Storm Andrea—and have vacated Boca Grande pass like the area’s wind-blown smoke. The weather has put the hurt on redfish and snook, too; great gamefish that offer a “Plan B” option near the pass.

    We put in six hours in Capt. Ray Van Horn’s 22-ft. Ranger bay boat this morning and zeroed—as did Ray’s partner C.A. Richardson and everybody else we saw. But at lunch Ray got a tip—an intelligence report about a big tarpon school not far way that was being corralled by a bunch of sharks. If the pass strikes out tomorrow morning, we’ll head for those fish. And then there’s one more fishing day after that. Tonight we pray to the weather gods for good tarpon weather. But I think Brian is still dreaming about hammerheads.

    [ Read Full Post ]
  • May 8, 2007

    Sharkin' time and more!-2

    by

    OL Senior Editor Brian Lynn and I are at famed Boca Grande pass on Florida’s west coast for the annual food chain frolics: Huge schools of tarpon come to nosh on crabs and giant sharks come to eat on the ‘poons non-stop through June and into early July.

    Yarmouth_ns_mako
    Tomorrow we go out with Capt. Bucky Dennis the guy who caught the world record hammerhead of 1280 lbs. last year, and which was featured in a photo gallery on the OL website. You can find the complete story and photo gallery of that amazing fish by clicking here.

    Just last Saturday Bucky was out at the pass for five minutes when he hooked into another huge hammerhead, nearly as big as his record. This one knocked the stuffing out of him. He fought the beast for 10 solid hours. When Bucky finally got the shark to the boat three pals grabbed the wire leader but were brought to their knees. You’re going to see the full story in an upcoming issue of OL, but for now, consider this. Bucky was so stoved up he couldn’t get out of bed the next day. But he’s ready to go again now.

    After last year’s catch, Bucky received a lot of grief from people (some of them anti-hunters/anti-fishermen) regarding the fact that sharks are famously slow-growing fish and should always be released. While it’s true that now many sharks are off limits for targeted fishing (great whites among them), many others are not. Most shark anglers now release their catches unless the fish looks to be an obvious record, or, they’re fishing a shark tournament.

    Now you can argue against records and also tournaments if you want, and you can be more specific and take a stand on releasing sharks alone—on the spot. And then you can get more specific: If it’s legal, should any fish be taken during bedding/spawning season? Bucky’s big hammerhead of last year was about to give birth it was found when the Mote Marine lab cut it open. That gave everyone who took issue with this record catch even more arguing ammo.

    So what do think—should a fisherman be allowed to keep one shark (one not on the endangered list) for record purposes or a likely tournament win? Or should the biggest sharks that give birth to large numbers of "pups" be released?

    Let’s hear your thoughts.

    [ Read Full Post ]
  • May 4, 2007

    Post-Fishing Brews-6

    by

    One of life’s great pleasures after fishing—assuming you’re of age—is sipping, or if it has been a broiler out there, downing in precious few swigs, a cold one of your favorite brand. That is, if you have a favorite.

    Post_fishing_brewsky_2
    In the self-interest of maybe discovering a great beer or ale I’ve somehow overlooked, I’ve begun taking a random, scientifically flawed survey among fishermen about their favorite brews. After digging a bit into those brand choices and reasons for them, I’ve made the sad discovery that in the end, most guys and many (though not all) ladies have locked into a specific beer brand based on reasons other than taste. And if that brand isn’t available, why they’ll be content with most any of the mainstream products available in order to quench thirst or to socialize—unless of course he or she falls into that pale sub-category who favors light beer (however it may be spelled), in which case it has to be a light.

    Now I know a lot of you out there like the light stuff, so I won’t go ranting against its existance, but I’d surely like to know why you like it. I suppose there’s justification for a less-than full-flavored brew if you’ve just come in from baking in 90-plus-degree heat all day and need to consume a beer in maybe four gulps. I’ve been known to do that in the Bahamas and have no gripe with the local Kalik beer then—or even later. Back home a normal Corona (no lime; I like beer taste) or a regular Heiniken is about as light as I can stand to go.

    Day in and out, though, I want big flavor and for me that translates into the tangy bitterness of hops. Because of that you’ll usually find me reaching for an IPA (India Pale Ale) of one brand or another, in a long neck, please, never a can. I like a lot of home grown IPA’s out there, but among my all -time favorites (when I can find the stuff) are Long Trail unfiltered IPA (made in VT), DogFish Head 60-minute brew (made in Delaware, and I don’t need to spend the extra $ for the 90-minute version ), and Fisherman’s IPA (by Cape Ann Brewing Co., Gloucester, MA). Don’t try this last if you don’t have time to slowly decant it into a large mug. It has a non-ending head that would give the Energizer Bunny pause. I happen to like that. Sure, there are lots of local IPA’s built in the Midwest and West, many of them excellent. And if it’s not the heart of summer or I’m about to segue into a serious meal, a Guiness Stout from the tap will please me to no end.

    Like I said, I’m into this beer survey thing and would like to hear about your favorite. If there are enough votes for a beer not on my hit list, why I just might be tempted to switch.

    Got a tip, hot story idea, cool photo or just want to know which lure to use? Email Jerry at jgibbs3@gmail.com!

    [ Read Full Post ]
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