March 09, 2023
Late season cold front? Sudden drops in water temperature can make fish lethargic. Warming up is often their first concern with feeding taking a backseat. Summertime tactics of big plugs and large baitfish imitations might not be your best option. Instead, downsize your offerings, lighten your tackle and slow your presentations.
Some very productive finesse techniques worth trying this time of year started in the freshwater bass scene, predominately out of the Midwest. Anglers realized that with some minor tweaks, these rigs and tactics crossover well into the salt.
The Ned rig has gained a lot of popularity in recent years due to its effectiveness on finicky fish. This presentation is a small, mushroom-style jighead or weighted weedless hook (same weight-forward design) generally 1⁄16- to 1⁄8-ounce, rigged with a small soft plastic no larger than 3 inches. A small stick worm was the original bait that started this craze and it actually works well in the salt. But when convincing lethargic inshore gamefish to eat, there’s no better option than a shrimp.
The 3-inch Salty Ned ShrimpZ from Z-Man paired with one of these jigs allows for that natural fall through the water column like a shrimp. Once to bottom, the forward weight paired with the buoyancy of the bait allows it to stand on its head, leaving the tail up for fish to see. Minor twitches of the rod tip, and I mean barely vibrating the tip, give this tail action in the water. This subtle movement can be all a fish needs to commit to eating. It’s a killer for staging trout and redfish in potholes in my experience. Pop it like a shrimp if you’d like, but the beauty of a Ned rig in salt water is being able to give your bait action without much forward movement. That can be key when fish don’t want to chase down a bait. Keep that leader light, no heavier than 20-pound fluorocarbon. Yes, you might lose a fish or two, but the amount of bites you’re going to get will make up for it.
Another great option for when the fish need a bit of convincing is a dropshot rig. Here again, you are wanting to give your bait action with minimal forward movement. I like this tactic for fishing docks and holes where I know fish are staging. You can even fish it vertically around bridge pilings. A 4-foot piece of 12- or 15-pound fluorocarbon with a ¼-ounce bank weight tied to the bottom will be the start of this rig. Depending on how high you want the bait, add in a dropper loop above the weight. About 10 to 12 inches is standard. If you’re dragging this through grass, you may want to raise it a bit. Then add a size No. 1 J-hook to your loop. You will nose-hook your bait for best action. A small weedless worm hook can be substituted if fishing around grass or snags. Small shrimp and minnow imitations are good choices for the dropshot rig.
It’s all about feel with these finesse tactics. The bites can be very subtle. A fast-action, light-powered rod will still allow you to cast these small baits but more importantly feel what’s going on. Length varies; some guys like to downsize from your standard 7-foot rod, to a 5'6" or 6-foot rod for these light presentations. Pair this rod with a 1000-sized reel and 6-pound braid and you’re not only going to feel everything but have a blast with every fish you catch this spring, no matter the size.FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine March 2023
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