For the past several years, I've become accustomed to fishing inshore with artificial baits. This was born out of necessity rather than any other reason because most sanctioned tournaments do not allow live baits. The first couple of years I experimented with a variety of artificial baits but found that most of my catches occurred when using live shrimp or mud minnows. This would often become frustrating during a tournament because I could not catch the numbers or the size fish that I thought would be possible with live baits.
Fast forward 5 years and I find myself fishing with artificial baits more than live baits most of the time. Even when I have clients on board, I will provide them with live shrimp of finger mullet and I will occasionally cast one of my favorite Berkley Gulp or Z-Man baits. Yes...I know...sacrilege. I use two competing baits. I found the Z-man holds up exceptionally well to the flounder bite and for whatever reason, they seem to prefer them over other baits I use. However, I have more success with Redfish and Trout using the Berkley Gulp. Much of this has to do with how the bait is fished. However, there is no debating just how tough and active the Z-man baits are. I will go through a bag of Berkley Gulp before I even consider replacing a Z-man.
In the photo below, I was fishing with representatives of our sponsor, Tel-Conn Manufacturing. Each of them were fishing with live shrimp in an area known to hold good redfish and a few trout. We worked the area a bit while avoiding a local charter captain for Flex Appeal Charters, so that we didn't have a negative impact on his service to his client. He knows I'm new to hosting clients, and provided friendly guidance to a spot that was upstream of him and on a point. As we locked in place, we began to catch a few small fish, only to have another boat pull in on our location. After asking if the captain was just going to park on top of us, I realized his fishing etiquette was virtually non-existent and he simply did not care. Seeing my clients getting aggravated because he just took their casting location, we relocated to a creek on the other side, where they caught a few fish that were too small to keep.
After a half hour of catching dinks, I saw our charter captain had left and began to navigate towards the area he had just left. As we were trolling, I began throwing a gulp shrimp near the mouth of the creek. The sudden pull and the sound of drag letting go indicated a nice red was on the line. This is a bit of the norm for this location and the I found the artificial bait I was using had once again performed as good, if not better than I would have with a live shrimp. Now, I'm not saying artificial baits are better. I truly believe the best baits are provided by God and they can't be beat. However, with a bit of practice, study and skill, a man, woman or child can learn to entice a fish with a hard plastic or soft bait much better than they can with live bait. After all, you may not be able to control exactly where you live bait goes, but that artificial can be placed right where you want it and will swim, bounce of jump at the will of the fisherman.
It's not all about the action though. Many fish will not bite regardless of what you seem to put in front of them. This is where continuing education credits are needed. Water clarity, water color, water temperature, current, tide levels, and sunlight will all play a part on the finicky mind of the fish and how they choose to feed. Natural baits offer natural colors that may fade from sight in some conditions. The fish then depends on their sense of smell and vibrations to find a food source. Artificial baits are made available in a variety of colors that fish can see in those same conditions. With the introduction of baits that are saturated with scents, a combination of color and odor has the ability to draw in what was once unobtainable. If you find the water too muddy, the addition of a silver or gold spinner or spoon will assist even more.
As our veterans and I compete in upcoming sanctioned tournaments, I will try to provide footage of how we are working these baits, what colors we are using and provide input on the conditions. You will hear us promote the baits that really work for us as we also thank each of our sponsors when afforded the opportunity. Feel free to ask about the baits we are using and even offer suggestions for other baits. We enjoy learning from others and are often willing to share a secret or two that may help you reach your limit with opportunities to cull out the smaller ones. I look forward to seeing you on the water!