Love for Little Lures

Traveling and fishing the light tackle way.

When a sailfish charges a small lure, there’s no dropback needed.

Keep a hook in the water at all times.

It’s amazing how you can improve your results by following this most fundamental lesson in fishing.

In the case of light tackle ocean fishing, one thing we can do is pull lures when moving from spot to spot. Whether it’s re-setting a kite-fishing drift, or traveling to another reef for amberjack, it often pays to toss over a couple of lures.

This time of year you’ll see a lot of livebait charterboats in South Florida and the Keys with a pair of designated “traveling” rods. Often as not, they’ll have 20- or 30-pound test line, a monofilament leader of 80- to 200-pound test, and a colorful, hydrodynamic lure with a single hook. A plastic squid squirt pulled over an egg sinker, with a couple of plastic spacer beads, makes an effective and inexpensive rig for this duty. Unlike natural baits, the lure is always fished with the reel in gear. With the clicker on, this setup requires little attention. A fish is either on, or he’s off.

Depending on the depth you’re fishing, water temperature and cruising speed, you might catch anything from dolphin to mackerel with a rig like this.

Lately I’ve cultivated a fond spot in my heart (and tackle bag) for chrome-headed feathers and small jetheads, mixing flash with color.

On an early winter trip out of La Siesta Resort in Islamorada this year, we fished the heck out of live runners under kites and live ballyhoo out of the outriggers—both traditional and (usually) very productive methods for sailfish in this region. The only sail we caught in two days? A little guy that ate this red-and-white chrome feather which we’d thrown out on a 20-pound spinner, while running along the reefline. The phrase elephants eat peanuts? Well, baby elephants eat ’em, too.

The small feathers are dynamite for cero mackerel, as good an eating fish as you’ll find in tropical locales.

They are also terrific for catching various members of the tuna family:

Blackfins: They often key on small prey, and bite best when the lure is far behind the boat. The 3- to 5-inch feathers and jets perform well at 200 feet out.

Little Tunny (bonito): The smallest bonitos, a.k.a. bullets, are superb live baits; pull ’em off the trolling lure and immediately deploy on a heavy stinger rig.

Skipjacks: If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard someone ask, “Are skipjacks good to eat?” I’d have a lifetime supply of suitable lures. Mostly a late summer-autumn visitor to Florida shores, ravenous skipjacks can drive wahoo fishermen crazy, but when you target them deliberately, they can be tough. If you can get small trolling lures or white bucktail jigs out in front of the school’s path, you can fool them consistently.

Infrequent “hatches” of small flyingfish present another perfect scenario for the littlest lures. Even gaffer-size dolphin grow selective when there are swarms of the tiny fliers in the water. They may turn down the most carefully rigged ballyhoo–live pilchards, even–only to pounce on a 3-inch feather.

I make it a point to always keep a few small lures rigged and ready to go in my boat, regardless of the day’s main target and technique.- FS


Rigging Up

Williamson Jet-O Smoker, top, and Flash-Feather, below.

There isn’t much to rigging small traveling lures, other than possibly adding a small egg sinker or spacer beads to position the hookpoint as close to the back of the skirt as possible (but not beyond).

If mackerel are the primary target, light wire or cable may be used, but usually monofilament in the 50- to 80-pound range is fine. For tunas, some anglers run small skirts straight to the hook on 20- to 30-pound-test fishing line, no leader at all.

You can use a three-turn uni-knot to make connections with monofilament up to 80-pound-test.

Hook size shouldn’t exceed 7/0, and in fact a little 3/0 would match up best with a 4-inch lure.

For extended periods of high-speed trolling (more than 15-20 minutes) and any application with ballyhoo combos, ball-bearing swivels are recommended. However, with straight-running feathers and jets, a plain old black barrel swivel is all that’s needed. With the knottable classes of monofilament leader, skip the snap swivel and tie directly to a No. 5 or 7 barrel swivel; the less stuff you have dragging behind a hooked fish the less chance of a cutoff from an interloping mackerel.

First Published Florida Sportsman Feb. 2010