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Not many people are wetting a line right now, since it’s just too darn cold for most folks to get out after the fish. There might be a few trout or drum around, but if there are, they’re pretty safe. Instead, local anglers are preparing for warmer weather and the inevitable burst of the spring fishing season.
One of the things you need to do as an inshore fisherman is stock up on your lures. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank or give your spouse cause to toss you out into the frigid weather after finding out how much you charged at the tackle shop. But for a reasonable amount of money you can have the essential lures you need to get ready for the warmer days ahead.
You will probably want some of the shrimp-imitating lures. These incredibly lifelike creations have become so effective at mimicking shrimp you could almost throw them on the barbecue and eat them (but please don’t, I don’t want to get sued). Tackle companies are making wonderful lures that imitate the No. 1 one bait for speckled trout: live shrimp. These lures also work on redfish, black drum, bluefish and just about anything that eats shrimp.
The top shrimp-imitation brands are DOA and Billy Bay Halo, although there are lots of other good ones out there. The best have scents embedded in the lure to further entice the fish.
There once was a debate among saltwater anglers about whether artificial scents helped you catch fish. No more. Whether or not they did then, they do now. Science has given us a great weapon in artificial scents, and if you aren’t making use of them, you should.
The shrimp imitators can be fished by just tying them on the end of your line, used with a weight, or placed under a popping cork. You can basically fish them just as you would fish with live shrimp. Remember that the key is to fish slowly early in the season, as you will probably be more eager than the lethargic fish.
The next important lure category is the lead head and grub combo category.
There are a lot of different styles of lead heads out there and most of them are just fine. Some folks have personal preferences but I don’t think the jig head makes a huge amount of difference.
You will want a bunch of different sizes and colors though. Make sure for inshore fishing you have lots of the 3/8- and ¼-ounce sizes. Popular colors are red, orange and white.
As far as grubs go, the most popular soft baits today are those marketed by Berkley under the Gulp brand. Gulp baits have their scent embedded in them and the Gulp formulas work. You can buy all shapes and sizes of Gulp soft baits based on what you want to catch. They are great lures for going after speckled trout, redfish and flounder.
There are many more choices for inshore grub bodies beyond the Gulp lures. All of them work at times. You don’t have to choose soft baits with scent, but more and more smart inshore anglers are going that way.
However, if you have a longstanding collection of grubs and other soft bodies without scent, don’t throw them out. Not only will they still work fine, companies like Berkley make spray-on bottles full of scent that can be added to ordinary grubs. Once again, these spray bottles used to be largely ineffectual jokes but now there is no denying that many of these new formulas really do help you catch more fish.
If you are bewildered by the huge selection of inshore lures in the tackle store, at the Ocean Isle Fishing Center, the Bass Pro Store (or wherever you shop) don’t despair. I can guide you to a few brands that I like myself, which make quality stuff that works.
One of them is Sea Striker, a North Carolina company (yea). Sea Striker has been in the inshore fishing business a long time and makes a lot of effective lures and rigs as well as providing you with good components you can use to create your own rigs.
One of Sea Striker’s top sellers are their Gotcha lures, which are the best lures to throw for bluefish in the spring if you are fishing on an ocean pier. Gotchas are pencil-plugs: weighty little lures laden with treble hooks that cast a mile.
Pencil plugs imitate baitfish as you whip them back toward you from the pier waiting for a blue to slam the bait. There are a lot of other similar plugs that also work, but I prefer Gotchas when I’m casting for bluefish.
Another company that makes very effective inshore gear is Fishbites out of Florida. They are a leader in the new synthetic baits that imitate traditional cut bait (which anglers usually cut from shrimp, squid, worms or fish) and work just as well.
One of the most significant scientific advances of the past decade in inshore fishing (as far as benefits to Carolina anglers go) occurred when Fishbites came up with a bloodworm formula that really worked. The price of live bloodworms, which are the No. 1 one bait for spot, had gotten so outrageous I wouldn’t buy them even during a spot run. The newer synthetic worms, which stay on the hook and save you a ton of money, are wonderful.
Speckled trout anglers will also be stocking up on MirrOlures or similar plugs that can be thrown at specks and target bigger fish than soft baits. MirrOlures may not have scent going for them, but they are deadly effective at imitating baitfish like mullet, and spring trout and redfish love to slam them. Just remember not to work them too fast.
All of these lures are available at local tackle stores and the local staff will be happy to help point you to what you need. Now is the time to stock up. The cold won’t last forever, and before you know it, spring will be here and the fish will be biting again.