April 09, 2020
Lure-and-fly combinations increase your fish-catching potential.
Back when I first started fishing the Indian River Lagoon for snook, redfish and seatrout there was a group of older anglers who spent a lot of time wadefishing and were generally considered the authorities on catching these species on the flats. I befriended a lot of these fishermen and learned a lot from them, but if there was one consistency among the group it's that they used one version or another of what they called a “poacher” rig. The lure and fly rig isn't so popular these days, but it's just as effective.
The name is of course a tongue-in-cheek reference; the rigs as described conform to Florida state fishing regulations (and we'll assume that you, dear reader, will abide by size and bag limits!). Practically it's a lure and fly in tandem.
Poacher rigs consist of a lure, usually a slow-sinking or shallow-diving plug, and fly in tandem, and the groups were divided on whether or not the fly should precede the lure or vise versa. They were, however, in agreement that this rig consistently caught more fish than the standard lure alone—often nabbing a double. The belief was that if the first offering didn't inspire a reaction strike from gamefish, the second would draw the more delayed predatory/stalking strike.
What is the primary difference between the rigs? We can only speculate as to how a fish interprets all this, but the basic thinking is, a lure following the fly represents a predatory fish, like a pinfish, chasing a shrimp or juvenile baitfish. The fly following the lure, we surmise, is a juvenile baitfish trying to keep up with a mature baitfish.
Longtime Jensen Beach angler Johnny Mastos, who recently passed away, swore by the fly-first poacher rig. Mastos would start with a 24-inch section of 25-pound-test monofilament leader to which he would rig a 3-inch dropper loop about six inches down from the connection to the terminal end of the line. To that loop he'd attach a standard Lefty's Deceiver fly in green-and-white or brown, by running the loop through the hook eye and around the entire fly, snugging the loop tight to the hook eye. On the end of the line Mastos would run a medium rate sinking or diving plug or, at times, a shad-body jig.
Mastos would work the lure with a twitch, twitch, pause retrieve, allowing the lure to pause for two or three seconds before moving the rig again. The strikes usually take place during the pause, and it's about 50/50 as far as whether the fish eat the fly or lure.
Before Jensen Beach angler Ed Wagner passed away, he'd shown me how he liked to fish the poacher rig with the lure in front of the fly. Like Mastos, Wagner was a fan of a slow- to mid-level sinking plug, although he said shallow diving plugs would work just as well. Wagner started with 18 inches of 30-pound leader, to which he tied the lure to the end via a loop knot so the lure would have a lot of swagger and flash when retrieved. He'd then tie 16 to 18 inches of 30-pound leader to the rear treble hook using an improved clinch knot. To the end of the leader, he'd tie his fly (in Wagner's case he liked anything green, black or yellow).
The rig is cast, allowed to sink to just above the seagrass, and retrieved with a single twitch and a long pause. Again the strikes come on the pause.
Like a lot of fishing techniques, despite being extremely successful the poacher rigs have gone by the wayside as the popularity of new lures and techniques have developed, yet they remain one of the single best ways to target inshore gamefish. Give it a try, and you'll be surprised by the success of this simple, yet effective rig. -FS
Florida Sportsman Magazine August 2011