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Using Waxwings in Florida

Inshore Florida applications for a Pacific coast lure style.

Is it a jig? A plug? A spoon? A little of all three, with finishes such as Bunker, which fooled this seatrout.

Florida's inshore grassflats in midsummer are a little like the kelp beds of Southern California, only in miniature.

When our turtlegrass (flat blades) and manatee grass (corkscrew-shaped) tops out, seatrout, snook and redfish dig deep into the shady tunnels. What appears to be a solid mat of vegetation may conceal a couple of feet of fish-holding water.

I thought about the connection while casting for calico bass off Trestles Beach, in Orange County, CA, last summer. The kelp roots in water as deep as 80 feet, and the calicos, typically from 2 to 8 pounds, climb all over the giant stalks and leaves.

Out there, a lot of fishermen use the Shimano Waxwing lures, which dart in an exaggerated Z-shape while remaining upright. The tandem hook, likewise, runs with the points up, helping steer clear of snags.

With its well-recognized and much-copied Butterfly Jig series, Shimano dusted off and polished an old concept, the metal vertical jig. The Waxwing is basically a new design, selling for a few seasons now with little competition. It's not what it looks like: It's not at all designed for vertical jigging. The hooks entangle with the line, if you jerk it straight up and down. This is a lure for covering the first few feet of the water column.

My thought is, the Waxwing is a hybrid of plug-spoon-and-jig, the kind of lure you might turn to in a situation where you want casting distance, with swimming action, minus the snags. A big turtle grass flat, for example. Or a late-summer tide rip, with lots of floating grass. Or a sargassum patch offshore (tunas love these things!). There's a dizzying array of color combinations, and lure weights. The finishes are beautiful, and the swimming motion is unlike that of other lures, at least in my box.



The lures are reflective and cast far, about like a surf-casting spoon, but again without the spin or the exposed hook.

Since that California trip (research!), I've tried the Waxwings on Florida grassflats, and I see some applications. The things are pretty expensive, as inshore lures go: The 7/8-ounce model (3 ½ inches)goes for $18 a pop. Not something you'd want to throw at bluefish, in other words!

But what these lures do offer is concentrated weight per size, allowing you to cast a sardine-size lure a long distance; models are available as small as 2 ½ inches, in ½-ounce. And due to the relatively weedless configuration, they'll swim places a treble hook plug simply will not. Coupled with braided polyethylene fishing line, the Waxwing retrieve is brainless—just straight reeling allows the lure to swing side-to-side, while the top and bottom “wings” stabilize it.

Florida Sportsman feature writer Chris Collins and I tested the 2 ½-inch 68-series Waxwings in some pretty heavy grass in the Indian River Lagoon. Trout seemed to like the lures just as well as the popular soft-plastic baits we normally use. We did notice the hookup ratio wasn't quite the same: As you'd guess, the follow-up strikes weren't as frequent with the hard metal lures. But when the hook stuck, it was game on.

At one point, with chewed-up plastic tails littering the cockpit of my skiff, I was about to comment to Chris that the cost factor was mitigated by the durability of the Waxwing. But then I grabbed the line to pull up a fish and my uni-knot slipped. Eighteen dollars buys a lot of plastic!

Shimano advises against using a leader with the Waxwing, and tying directly to the wire eyelet for optimal action. My own experience with a single, direct-tie uni knot has been mostly negative, with most makes of braid, which is one reason I always add a monofilament shock leader. The palomar knot is better, if you go straight braid-to-lure.

Since that trip, I've fished the Waxwings other times, and a Florida-style shock leader configuration did not seem to impair the characteristic swinging action.

The take-home lesson is, either perfect your braid-to-lure knots, or use a leader. And again as already noted, if bluefish or other toothy marauders roll into your neighborhood, tie on something from your disposable lure box. - FS

First Published Florida Sportsman July 2012

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