By Jim. C. Arness
** I recently started working in the food and beverage department of a very high scale resort on St. Petersburg Beach. The office where I work is situated right above a 5 star restaurant. Watching the chefs at work –and occasionally sampling the end result- is amazing. The effort that goes into a simple salad or bowl of soup is phenomenal. Sculpting huge blocks of ice into parrots and carving everything from cantaloupes and carrots into the Eiffel Tower to having little “egg mice” crawling through a block of Swiss Cheese, detail is everything. The results are some of the most decadent and lavish meals around, as luxurious to behold as they are to eat.
This attention to detail is something that can be –and should be- applied to our presentation of lures as well. After all, we are trying to get something to bite aren’t we? Lures are often discussed in the fashion of color, action and the like, with presentation tossed somewhere in between, like an afterthought. I have usually seen it described something like this:
‘When using a twitchbait, jerk it a few times sharply with the rod, then let it rest for three or four seconds. Vary this interval until fish strikes.’
Now this is giving the mechanics of how to work the lure, but it’s not really saying why. The one common trait that all lures have from spoons, to twitchbaits, to jerkbaits, you name it is that they are imitating something that gamefish eat. A certain type of fish, a shrimp or crab, or even an injured fish. If done properly, the fish sees it as food and strikes. Look beyond the simple “jigging” of a soft plastic or twitching of a plug. See what the lure is imitating. Then instead of trying to make the fish bite the lure, try and make the lure act like food.
For example let’s look at the D.O.A. Shrimp. It runs against the grain for using most other soft plastics. Where they are quickly jerked through the water, the DOA is moved slowly through the water, inching along barely moving. Why? Because it is imitating a shrimp. Shrimp amble, plain and simple. They are not in a hurry to get anywhere (at least not until a 33” snook is 2 inches off their port bow). They slowly hover around, admiring the scenery, not in any hurry at all to go much of anywhere. Why? Because every single meat eating critter in the ocean and a few on the land wants to eat them. They know this. Really. They figure if they act all non-chalant, -you know- like everything is cool man, they’ll blend in.
And they’re right. They sit down there on the bottom amongst the grasses and watch the other mainstay of the gamefish diet, the greenback scurry around like mad trying to outrun the predators. This hide-and-let-them-eat-the-greenbacks attitude is the thought process behind the D.O.A. shrimp. This is how the lure is meant to be fished.
The basic principle of the oriental philosophy of Zen is “by becoming the item, you master how to do the item.” So if you wanted to become really good at the bow and arrow, you would “become the bow then the arrow.” Apply this to the D.O.A. for a moment and imagine you are the shrimp swimming along on the bottom, only as big as your thumb and every single meat eating critter in the ocean and a few on land want to eat you. This is hypothetical now. You won’t catch fish if you go wading out, splash down to the bottom of the flats and try hovering like a shrimp. It won’t work.
Personally, I couldn’t keep from floating back to the top. Just imagine you are the shrimp, let your mind travel down the line to its end and sit inside the lure like a little submarine pilot and now you are the shrimp, you are floating along the bottom trying not to get eaten. And move the lure accordingly.
Continuing along these lines, there are only two main thought processes of the eaten. The “they can’t eat me if they don’t see me,” mentality, like our little shrimp friend and the “I’m too fast and zippy to get eaten” like our little emerald-backed buddies out there. These can be broken down somewhat, but before we go into that, lets take a look at the other end of the spectrum. That of the predator. Which reminds me of a joke.
Two guys are out hiking in the woods when they come across a hungry bear, which starts chasing them. After a few minutes they have gained a little bit of ground and decide to take a quick break. As they are sitting down, one guy reaches into his backpack and pulls out a pair of running shoes. The other guy looks at him and says, “Are you crazy, you’ll never out run that bear.” To which the other guy responds, I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun YOU.”
To predators, food runs, swims, flies, and tries in some form or fashion to escape. This triggers their instinct to eat it. When I was still wet behind the ears in regards to fishing I was on the beach looking for snook one beautiful summer day. As luck would have it as I stood there I actually saw one slowly making it’s way along the waters edge. I moved slowly up the beach from it and tossing a medium sized plug I started to work it across the snook’s path. I was excited, every muscle tense, barely breathing. I had never caught a snook before, and I was watching the entire scene unfolding before me like a TV show. The large snook cruising like Jaws himself, my poor little injured minnow lure swimming helplessly across it’s path… the slow repetitive drone of the Jaws theme pulsating in my ears… closer… closer… 4 feet…. 3 feet… suddenly the snook lunged for the lure.
THIS IS IT! I thought and froze letting the lure stop, making what I thought to be an easier target. Trouble was, baitfish don’t give up that easily. The snook stopped like it hit a wall, and slowly moved around my lure like it was radioactive. My heart sank. NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For days I tried to think of what went wrong. Did it see the leader? Maybe. Could it have seen me? No I had the sun to my back. It took me quite a while to figure it out. The “baitfish” stopped trying to get away. It turned off the fish like a light. This is a predatory response. Food flees. –The following summer I was in a similar situation with a similar snook and a spoon.
I watched the snook following a beach ball sized school of greenbacks over a sandbar. I tossed the spoon out and dragged it through the school of greenies never altered the course or speed and watched the snook slam it home. Zen my fishing friends. Zen. Discipline young grasshopper.- The same theory applies when hikers encounter a bear in the woods. Stand your ground. Head turned slightly to the side – to face him is to challenge him- but eyes on him and slowly back down. Yield him the right of way. This is the predator way of saying “Oh I’m sorry you’re hunting here? My mistake I’ll go hunt someplace else.” When you run you are telling him “Bite me.” Literally.
This is a hard habit to break especially with top water plugs when you see the fish. You want the fish to bite the lure, you want to help him out. Look at it like this, YOU are the bait, YOU are 4 inches long in water 5 feet deep with a 38 inch snook about to turn YOU into sushi. At the least, play the non-chalant approach and stay the same speed and course. Or try to escape. Trust me, you won’t. If that fish wants it bad enough, you won’t be able to get the lure back if your life depended on it.
The other trigger response that some lures play on is the “feeding on the weak” theory. An injured greenback is a lot easier to catch than a lively one. This is where the twitch bait and some jerkbaits and soft plastics come from. This spastic go and stop movement simulates the dying throes of the mortally wounded. Again you are the bait. Out there in the huge ocean, alone –none of the other baitfish want anything to do with your wounded little butt- hurt, tired trying desperately to make it to safety. You swim in a quick little spurt but the pain in your side… eyelids heavy…. Just a little rest…. NO! That redfish could be lurking around the oyster bar just to your left!
Twitch the lure with a spastic jerk, then let it rest. Don’t be afraid to let it rest. Remember the spasmodic movements pulsating through the water are calling the predators like a dinner bell. Wounded fish don’t cover a lot of ground quickly, they can’t.
This brings me to spoons and crankbaits. These guys are impersonating the bimbos of the baitfish community. You know the “ La la la la la what a gorgeous day for a swim, not a care in the world la la la te da la da DOH! Where did that gator trout come from… GULP!” Many of them don’t even get past the “La de dah” part. These are the “foolish fish out of the safety of the seagrass” lures. You know the little fish that just never did listen to their mothers warning them to look both ways before crossing the boating lanes.
Apply these tactics the next time you’re out there tossing those artificials and see what happens, you never know while fishing for dinner, you might become dinner. And that’s a good thing. Remember, the ocean is an awfully big and dangerous place for such a small helpless little lure… be careful out there!
-Until next time- Show the fish no quarter!