Fishermen love to debate the merits of fishing lures. Soft-plastic jig? Or hard-plastic plug?
Both have their merits, but with summer here and the fish on the move, I'd put my money on a hard-body bait any day.
"The fish are active," said Eric Bachnik of the L&S Bait Company. "It doesn't take a lot to make them strike."
When it comes to fishing lures, Bachnik knows the business. He comes from a long line of tacklemakers. In 1937 his grandfather, Harold LeMaster, built his first lure, a bass plug, in Illinois.
Ten years later, after moving to Florida, he saw a fisherman using a homemade lure that flashed in the sun. That's how LeMaster got the idea to put a mirror inside a fishing lure, hence the name MirrOlure.
The name game
Artificial baits made of hard plastic, or "hard baits" as they are commonly called in the tackle industry, come in all shapes and sizes. The Largo-based MirrOlure's nomenclature can be confusing at times because they use a numerical system instead of naming each lure individually.
"Most of our lures mimic or imitate some sort of forage fish," Bachnik said. "In this area, the major players are finger mullet, scaled sardines and threadfin herring."
Knowing what baitfish are in the vicinity will help you pick an artificial lure that does not look out of place. Fly fishermen call this "matching the hatch."
Once you settle on a pattern you need to decide what action you want in your lure.
MirrOlure sells a variety of hard baits that resemble wounded baitfish. When twitched, these baits dive below the water's surface and resurface, just like a fish that has been nailed by a predator and can't seem to get oriented.
These baits are ideal in most areas of Tampa Bay where depth can be a factor. Fish them in the shallows and along the mangrove shorelines, oyster reefs and open flats. The trick is enticing your prey to strike, so these are not passive lures. Anglers must work to make them perform.
When retrieved with a constant twitching action, these lures zigzag across the surface of the water. Some anglers refer to this motion as "walking the dog."
Surface walkers are an essential "tool" that can be used to find fish on an open flat. Tournament anglers sometimes call these lures "probing" baits because they are used to locate fish while covering a lot of water. These hard baits are essential components to any redfish angler's tackle box.
By far the hottest category in saltwater fishing, these lures suspend in the water column just a few inches below the surface. The longer a lure remains in the "strike zone," the greater the chances of a hookup.
These hard baits are particularly effective when the fish keep missing, or short-striking, surface plugs. Suspending twitchbaits are another great option for the shallow waters of Tampa Bay.
This category is what made MirrOlure famous. These lipless lures sink in the water column and are used when the water depth is greater than 4 feet. With a twitching retrieve these lures dart, flash and mimic a wounded baitfish.
These baits feature a lip, which allows the lure to swim. They are ideal for anglers with little experience using artificial lures. Simply cast and crank back in, the lure does most of the work.