"Boy, when that old dude said the bass were deep, he meant deep!" My old college fishing buddy Sean Neil whistled as he looked at my Humminbird and saw it marking Falcon Lake bass in 42 feet of water.
The elderly gentleman who had talked to us at the boat ramp had mentioned that the bigger bass were holding near the bottom in deep water close to the dam. Action was spotty on Carolina-rigged lizards with big sinkers and long leaders.
I could see why relatively few bass were coming up. The fish were suspended between 30 and 35 feet down. Even a Carolina-rigged worm wasnt going to score consistently.
"You have anything to get to these fish?" Sean asked. "Slabs, maybe?"
I rummaged through my tackle bag trying to find something that would work. I had only a dearth of freshwater lures---mostly plastic worms---in a salt-crusted bag. I pulled out six brand new 55 gram Shimano Butterfly jigs that I recently bought from Joe Montemayor of Joes Tackle in McAllen. The weight translated to two ounces, which meant theyd get to the depth, and our worm sticks had enough beef to handle them, but I had no idea if theyd produce. These were deepwater jigs for snapper and grouper.
Without any other options left to us, we tied them and sent them down. Sean mimicked the spastic up-and-down retrieve that I was using, and then lowered the rod tip to let the bait drop back down. It never made it to the bottom because a stout 4-pound bass zapped it. Sean was left to net his own fish, because I was hooked up to his fishs twin.
If you go to any sporting goods or tackle shop, there is usually a clear demarcation between freshwater and saltwater tackle. The packaging is different, the colors are different, even the terminal tackle is different. Anglers fishing for bass, crappie, striped bass, and other freshwater quarry are usually in one aisle, while fisherman who chase a saltier variety of critter are on another, and never do the twain meet.
The fact is freshwater anglers are missing out on some very effective tools by eschewing the briny stuff.
"Theres no reason why some of these saltwater lures wouldnt work in a lake for (freshwater species)," said Montemayor. "If they catch trout, redfish and flounder, theyll catch a bass."
Montemayor pointed out that a great many saltwater lures are simply sturdier versions of popular freshwater lures. Some actually mimic physically similar species.
"Take a look at the shad and menhaden (pogy)," he said. "At a glance, they look a lot alike. They have the same shape and same colors. Now look at the lures that are made to imitate them, the Sassy Shad and the (Gulp!) Pogy. There isnt much difference between the two. Why wouldnt (the Pogy) work in fresh water?"
Montemayors point is clear. There is little difference in design of several fresh water and comparable saltwater lures. For example, freshwater and saltwater topwaters such as the Heddon Super Spook or Rapala Skitterwalk are essentially the same plugs. Both versions are walk-the-dog lures with internal rattle chambers and are very effective for their respective species. The only real discernable differences are in hardware. Saltwater jigs and plugs come equipped with sturdier hooks that dont corrode or break down as quickly in saltwater as the lighter wire hooks found on freshwater tackle.
Still, some saltwater lures offer designs and techniques that may be novel to freshwater, but viable alternatives. Deepwater jigs such as the Shimano Butterfly jig or bomber Saltwater Grade are an excellent deepwater option that at first blush appear similar to the slab spoons long popular for deep suspending bass, but are wholly different. These jigs offer an erratic darting action that is unique to their design. In situations where bass and stripers are suspended down deep but no deep enough that traditional jigs or worms can be effectively fished. As in the case with Sean and me, fishing vertically over the school and using the recommended reel-like-mad-and-jig retrieve through the school, then dropping the jig back through the school, can draw some jarring reaction strikes.
Twitchbaits, which are very popular on the Texas Coast from Beaumont to Boca Chica, also have a place in fresh water. Much like popular "slash baits" such as the Rapala X-Rap and classic suspending plugs in the Rattlin Rogue design, twitch such as the Mirr-O-Lure Catch 2000 or Mirrodine are suspending or slow-sinking lures that hold in the middle of a water column and present a target for finicky predators. Unlike the spastic action of the X-Rap or the mechanical wiggle of the Rogue, twitch baits have a more subtle wiggle when fished slowly (the "twitch-twitch-pause" retrieve you hear so much about). Twitch baits also have an interesting finishing wobble when the retrieve is stopped which can draw a fishs attention, and sometimes a strike. The wobble is especially pronounced when using a loop knot to fasten the lure to line. Twitchbaits are also smaller than the more popular sizes of slashbaits, which can be the finishing touch for a snotty bass to strike.
Lures of a Different Color
An underrated quality of saltwater lures is the greater variety of colors and patterns available as opposed to freshwater versions. Montemayor pointed out that there are some colors in saltwater that are simply not available in freshwater lures. LSU, for example, which is a dark purple body with a yellow tail (not chartreuse, as many believe) is a pattern unique to the coast, as is Chicken on a Chain, Morning Glory and even a relatively pedestrian scheme as red/white.
"Take a look at off-colored water in a lake and compare it to off-colored water in the Laguna Madre," said Montemayor. "Tell me that lures that work in low visibility conditions in salt water wont work in the same conditions in fresh water."
There really is no argument. Fish dont have the ability to think and reason as humans do, although some frustrated fishermen will argue that point. They will not eschew a lure after glancing and thinking, "Hey! That is a pinfish pattern. They dont live in lakes!" They operate on instinct. If it looks edible, they eat.
Adding saltwater lures to a tacklebox may not necessarily ensure an anglers success. There are still several factors that play into the equation, but it does offer a greater variety of options and resource to tap into, which could increase the likelihood of success.
Besides, it gives you a great excuse to explore an entirely new aisle in your tackle shop!