Freshwater baits and methods can help you land big reds
“Freshwater is for drinking, and saltwater is for fishing.” I pretty much lived by that during the earlier days of my fishing career. I’ve since found an appreciation for freshwater angling. Even more so, I have come to love several lures and strategies that initially earned their reputations for catching freshwater fish, but also are quite effective for fooling red drum.
That’s right, baits and techniques that catch bass will catch reds, too. In fact, some of these lures and strategies have become my go-to choices for pursuing redfish. Anglers willing to give these crossover baits and techniques a try definitely will increase their hook-ups with the bronze-backed brutes.
Lures that produce reaction strikes are extremely popular in bass fishing, because the bass often stage in and around structures waiting to ambush prey. Redfish do the same thing, especially along structures such as rocks, rip rap and oyster shell, which we have a ton of here on the upper Texas coast.
Reds will position themselves tight to these structures and stealthily wait for baitfish or crustaceans to be swept in front of them by the tide. When this happens, they react immediately and strike, just like a bass in freshwater would.
Crankbaits are among the best lures to produce reaction strikes, in that they are typically retrieved at a moderate pace, and bounce off structures well. When a crankbait deflects off a rock or a cluster of oyster shell, the fish has no choice but to eat it. Reaction strikes that occur when this happens are impressive, because the fish doesn’t have time to hesitate. There’s no doubt when a redfish chomps a crankbait.
Two of my favorite reaction strike producing crankbaits are made by Bill Lewis lures — the MDJ Series SB-57 Squarebill crankbait and the 3/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap.
The SB-57 Squarebill is one diverse lure, especially when it’s used in water depths from 1 foot to 6 feet. Its design allows it to be thrown in places where no other baits would survive, because the square shape of its bill makes it bounce off virtually any hard surface without getting hung up. It’s the four-wheel drive of crankbaits. I’ve thrown it right into the middle of a mangled mess of submerged rocks and rip-rap without ever getting it stuck.
This lure allows you to catch reds in places others simply wouldn’t, drastically increasing your playing field and helping you to land more fish. My favorite color patterns for the SB-57 include Red Glitter Craw and Mustard Craw, both of which are typically known as freshwater colors.
A 3/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap is a lipless crankbait, meaning it doesn’t have a plastic bill or a lip extending from its nose. The Rat-L-Trap also deflects off hard surfaces well, making it a great choice when fishing any stretch of rocks, shell or rip-rap. I like to use the Rat-L-Trap over the SB-57 when the structure I’m targeting is a little deeper, in the 3- to 8-foot depth range. By far, my favorite color pattern for a 3/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap is Pink/Gold.
Another freshwater lure that has found its way into the hands of many saltwater anglers is the spinnerbait. Spinnerbaits produce a lot of flash and work well for reds when they are retrieved parallel to grassy banks, across windblown points or over submerged seagrass beds. It’s also a killer option when sight fishing in shallow water. Spot a redfish, simply pitch the spinnerbait in front of the fish and get ready to set the hook.
Single-blade spinnerbaits tend to work better for redfish than double-blade models. Instead of using skirt-style spinnerbaits, I prefer to use rigs with a jig head attached that can be fitted with a soft plastic swim bait or paddle tail.
Weedless applications effective in freshwater also have proven themselves in our
estuaries, specifically in marshes and back lakes containing flooded grass. Soft plastics rigged weedless with offset, worm-style hooks, as well as floating frog or tube-type baits can produce big results when reds are stacked up in the grass.
Expand your horizons and don’t be afraid to try something new. If a lure catches fish in one application, it just might work in another. After all, a fish is a fish, regardless of where it swims. So add some of these crossover baits and strategies to your arsenal this month, and go tangle with some drag-peeling redfish.
You’ll be glad you did.