Written by: TERRY TOMALIN
When it comes to catching fish, small changes can have big results. Twenty-five years on the fishing beat have taught me to keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut. So when my boss suggested I write a story about soft-plastic artificial baits, a.k.a. "jigs," I thought I would get a second opinion. • "A story? You could write a whole book," declared Joe Georgia of Seminole's Dogfish Tackle Company. "Where do you start?"
Most anglers keep a variety of soft plastics in their tackle boxes. But why does one fisherman catch his limit while another fisherman using the same lure goes home empty-handed?
"It is all about the presentation," Georgia said. "Many anglers just don't have the right technique."
Soft plastics come in a variety of shapes, colors and even scents. They are designed to imitate everything from pass crabs to finger mullet.
"You have to work each one differently," Georgia said. "There is no one size fits all."
Artificial Shrimp: These lures, pioneered by tackle legend Mark Nichols of D.O.A. Lures, work for a variety of species. The most common mistake anglers make when working an artificial shrimp is retrieving the lure too fast. "The most natural way to work a shrimp is to cast it up tide and let it drift down tide naturally twitching slightly every few seconds," Georgia said. "Let the water do the work."
Jerk Baits: The name describes the method of retrieval. The angler "jerks" the bait, then lets it sink, as opposed to a "crank" bait which requires a consistent, steady retrieve. "These baits are a great way to cover ground and find fish, however the downside is that most people don't know what size head to use," Georgia said. "People often fish with too heavy a weight — on the flats you only need a 1/16- or 1/8-ounce head. These baits should be worked slowly across the bottom and twitching the rod with tip down."
Crab Imitations: These lures can be bounced along the bottom with a weighted, weedless hook or tossed up tide and twitched as they slowly drift in the water column. "Another great way to use the crab is to drop shot it like you were bass fishing … suspending the crab just above grass and keeping the weight on the bottom," Georgia said.
Swim baits: For decades, the go-to artificial has been the gold spoon, but new advances in materials have enabled manufacturers to make soft-bodied baits that look like the real thing. "If you rig one with a weighted, weedless hook and then 'swim' it across the flats, you will cover a lot of ground and find fish," Georgia said. "The time to use these artificial lures is when the tide is dropping and the fish are falling off the shallow flats and into pot holes and channels."
Georgia said anglers need to take control. "It is like you are the director of a movie and the lure is an actor," he said. "Your job is to figure out how to help the star captivate the audience, which in this case is the fish."
The key is presentation. Try to make the lure look as natural as possible. Don't know what looks natural? Put your rod down on the deck and look at the water around you. Watch how the scaled sardines and threadfin herring move then mimic their actions.
"Color is also important," Georgia said. "In the spring and summer we have an abundance of 'white' baits, but in the winter they are gone," he said. "In the winter, we have shrimp and other crustaceans, which are darker."
A simple rule: In the summer, go light. In the winter, go dark. Another tip: slow down.
While anglers in every region have their own tricks and tactics, live bait is usually scarce around here during the colder months, which is why many local fishermen rely on shrimp to carry them through the winter. Since fish are cold-blooded creatures and their metabolisms slow as water temperature drops, they have a more difficult time feeding when it is chilly. Remember — cold water affects both predator and prey. That is why many anglers choose artificial baits, so they can control at least one half of that equation.
Anglers will debate color, shape, size and even scent, but one thing is for sure: The slower the retrieve the better. A jig bounced slowly across the bottom will work well in most scenarios. If the fish aren't biting, slow down your retrieve. If that doesn't work, and the fish still aren't biting, slow your retrieve. If that doesn't work, slow down your retrieve. Get the picture?