One of the most common questions we get asked is “what lures do I absolutely need to buy before going on a trip?” So, we spent a little time debating the topic and came up with what we consider to be the five lures that you shouldn’t leave home without.
Probably the best piece of advice we can give if you are just getting started saltwater fishing, or if you’re headed to a new location—stop into the local tackle shop wherever you’re headed and pick their brains a little bit (and buy something from them!). We’re confident that 99% of the time one of the lures on our list will be the top recommendation, wherever you go.
#1 THE PADDLE TAIL
Paddle tails may be the most tried and true artificial bait on the market.The soft plastic paddle tail fished along with a jig head is one of the greatest lures for finding fish in unfamiliar places.
This is a low-cost, simple-to-use bait that will give you a shot at just about any inshore fish. It’s particularly good for catching trout and redfish around structure or on the flats. It’s also one of the best lures for exploring new spots, since it can be worked across large swathes of water relatively quickly, and can be effective in different parts of the water column. Depending on the conditions and situation, a paddle tail jig may be fished with a straight retrieve or by bouncing it off the bottom.
One of the reasons that the Paddle tail tops the list is the nearly infinite color combinations that are available by mixing different plastics with different colored jig heads.
#2 SHRIMP LURES
We all know that shrimp are a favorite food of almost every inshore fish. Having some shrimp-shaped lures on hand is usually a smart idea since they will provide a familiar presentation to your intended species.
Sizes and shapes of shrimp lures vary these days. Some look more like traditional paddle tails, while others look like a roto-molded robo-shrimp. Some companies, like Gulp!, have even made scented shrimp lures, which is especially appealing to redfish and black drum fishermen.
Any of the lures in the shrimp family can be extremely effective. Our favorite way to fish them is either free-lined with a very slow retrieve, or directly under a popping cork. The former is a great way to target spooky fish, while the latter can help you capitalize on aggressively feeding fish that are attracted to the sound of the popping cork.
#3 TOPWATER PLUGS
The most effective? Probably not. The most fun. Oh yeah!
Almost every inshore species can be targeted with a topwater plug, which imitates an erratic\injured baitfish when the lure is retrieved in a “walk-the-dog” motion. The speed of the retrieve is generally a function of water temperature, increasing in speed as water temperature goes up.
And while these plugs can be effective at any time, they excel in low-light conditions. This typically means either launching or returning in pitch dark. TIP: Especially in pre-dawn conditions, fish can be caught well before you can see them striking the surface, just listen carefully as you approach your intended spot silently. For most inshore species, we like to fish these lures in 2-6 feet of water, or anywhere that fish are predating on the surface (like creek moths on a falling tide).
Another important factor to consider is wind, as the topwater action tends to be best on clam days with small ripples or a light chop. If you have too much wind or light, the bite will turn off quickly.
#4 BUCKTAIL JIG
Bucktail jigs are one of the most traditional and iconic lures on the market, and they’re as effective now as they were a century ago. These are one of the best snook lures, and they also work well for other inshore species including pompano, redfish, trout, and flounder.
The bucktail just edged out #5 on the list because of its true versatility though. Larger versions of the lure can catch enormous snook and tarpon in nearshore waters with strong currents, with smaller variations catching trout on the flats. The bucktail even has a place in the deep water, being a favorite lure to catch cobia, sea bass, snapper, and grouper.
#5 WEEDLESS SPOON
And last but not least, the weedless spoon is a timeless classic that will catch almost any kind of fish. These lures may not be as attractive as other fishing lures, but they are incredibly effective.
Spoons make fish go crazy by producing tremendous vibrations and flashes under the water. They’re not made to resemble any specific prey, but rather to incite a reaction bite out of a curious predator.
For inshore fisherman, gold spoons seem to be the most popular, although virtually any color would suffice. Offshore anglers tend to use silver spoons more for both casting and trolling.
HONORABLE MENTION- THE SCREW-TAIL
The screw tail is the paddle tail’s sometimes forgotten cousin. It has all of the same features, except it features a tail that spins violently in the water. While the two can be used interchangeably in a lot of situations, we have noticed that the screw tail tends to outperform the paddle tail in trolling and cold water situations.