One of the most common mantras among inshore fishermen who have their eyes set on trophy-sized gamefish has been, “Big baits, BIG FISH!!!”
For the most part, that premise is true. A trophy speckled trout or a bull red prefers a sizeable meal and focus on prey that fits that bill. It only stands to reason that lures that present a similar size profile would be the choice to fool these bruisers. Put a Super Spook or a six-inch soft plastic in front of a giant that is actively feeding, and good things will probably happen.
In some cases, such as during spring, smaller fish and crustaceans are the only available forage. If you wanna eat, you eat small.
Other times, such as in late summer and fall, smaller bait are very plentiful, and fish target them to gorge themselves. When shrimp begin their migrations out of shallow systems to head out to the gulf, trophy class trout and redfish gorge themselves on the sudden crustacean bonanza.
That does not mean that the fisherman hoping to hook and land the fish of a lifetime should dump out all the sub-four-inch tails and plugs in his tacklebox and replace them with industrial-sized lures. Even anglers dedicated to catching the larger gamefish in a given bay system can have a use for smaller lures.
In fact, there are times where even the biggest fish will exclusively prefer smaller baits and lures. Like the idea to which this column’s title alludes, even elephants prefer to eat a peanut now and again.
It would seem counter-intuitive for a big fish to eat small prey. It takes a lot of calories to sustain the metabolism of a large critter, and it would seem to make no sense to expend those calories for anything but larger meals to net the most nutrition from the effort of chasing, catching, and eating it.
However, in the right conditions, large fish will consume small stuff. The most coveted state record, Bud Rowland’s 15 pound 5 ounce speckled trout, slurped in a fly the size of a quarter, Rowland’s vaunted “Numero Uno.” You would figure that a beast like that would’ve been waiting for a hand-sized pinfish or foot-long mullet to swim by, but it nailed a fly a little bigger than a thumbnail.
Like I said, peanuts for elephants.
In the fall, areas such as Sabine Lake undergo a migration of shrimp from the marshlands into the lake proper, and every predator in the system puts on the feedbag. You’ll see shrimp jumping and fleeing unseen fish trying to bust them.
In a situation like this, you have to match the hatch not just in appearance, but in size. An excellent choice for this situation is the three-inch DOA Shrimp or three-inch CAL Shad.
You can either swim the bait, or work it under a noisy float (DOA also offers a rig known as the “Deadly Combo,” which is a DOA Shrimp set up under a popping cork so you can just take it out of the package, tie it on, and get to fishing.
Another great choice for this sort of fishing opportunity is a small popper such as the Rebel’s Pop’R or Yo Zuri’s Popper. Both of these plugs are around three inches long. The combination of the plug’s size and the noise of the popping will get the fish’s attention and usually stimulate a strike.
There are times when predators are in a negative mood because of conditions, such as in the Dog Days of summer, when a lack of wind and increase water temperatures put trout into a profound case of lockjaw.
This is the sort of situation where not even live bait can get many strikes. The fish are simply not feeding. When this happens, a small lure such as a DOA Shrimp, or a MirrOlure MirrOdine are good choices. There is some work that comes with the approach, however.
Gamefish, trout especially, will be holding around reefs, spoil banks, and potholes. You’ll have to work to spot these holding fish. When you do locate one (and sometimes a pair), cast your offering past the fish and work it right back to them.
When you get the bait in front of the fish, stop and let the lure suspend in front of the fish. Right. In. Front. Usually, when the trout sees an easy target that won’t take too much effort to consume, it’ll inhale it.
The late summer Texas surf is dotted with baitballs of rain minnows, pilchards, and other smaller species. All sorts of predators, including big tarpons, jacks, redfish, bonito, and kingfish strafe these schools for the easy pickings they present. It’s quite a sight to behold when these apex predators tear into one of these schools of fry and decimate them in clouds of red foam.
The two-inch DOA Terroryez or a MirrOdine are good selections for these chaotic scenes. However, Live Target has created an entire line of plugs designed just for these scenarios. The Bait Ball series is a line of plugs that are made to simulate the schools of small bait that these fish devour by the mouthful. Each plug has a holographic image of the fry that comprise these baitballs. When a bonito, tarpon, or kingfish focuses on the plug, it doesn’t see a singular target; it sees a pod of baitfish trying to flee the maelstrom.
Another feature of the Bait Ball plugs is that they allow an angler to use heavier tackle, which comes in handy when you latch onto a rampaging 50-pound tarpon or 48-inch kingfish.
Remember, these ARE elephants we’re talking about.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]