Bassin' for Reds and Trout

When the summer heat kills the largemouth action, it is time to head to saltwater to catch some fish. Best of all, you can use the same tackle and gear you use for bass fishing!

By Bud Reiter

You have to be a pretty dedicated bass angler to chase largemouths during the heat of a southeastern summer. There normally is some feeding activity during the early morning and late evening hours. If you are on the water at those times and in the right spot, you might get in on it. But the rest of the day is likely to be spent doing a whole lot more fishing than catching.

For many anglers, four or five fish - with one of them hopefully tipping the scales at the 3- to 4-pound mark - is a pretty good trip under those conditions.

For others, however, a dozen-plus fish, with one or more hitting the 7- to 8-pound mark or larger, is considered to be only a moderately successful day.

Is one group more skilled than the other? Nope, skill isn't necessarily a factor. The difference in the action is merely a matter of location. The former are the ones trying to scratch out a few reluctant largemouth bass, while the latter are the ones who choose to probe the inshore coastal waters where trout, redfish, flounder, bluefish, jack crevalle and a host of other species find warmer weather much more conducive to biting lures than freshwater bass do.

"Bass can get pretty sluggish in the mid-summer," says Capt. Jim Romeka, who guides in both fresh and saltwater, "but the inshore saltwater fish are at their most active. It's not hard to have 20 to 50 fish days on inshore waters, and just about any bass fisherman already has all the gear he needs to do it. These fish hit almost all the same lures bass will, but they won't be nearly as finicky when it comes to size and color. Unlike bass on a hard-fished lake, they don't know the catalog model number of every lure made, and often they don't have to be finessed. If you put something that looks like food in front of them they normally eat it, and it doesn't take a large lure selection to do that."

Jim Romeka finds that his bait casting gear can handle redfish the same way it takes care of largemouth. Photo by Bud Reiter

Topwater plugs are deadly inshore baits during warmer weather, especially for larger trout and redfish, but even flounder take them in extremely shallow water. Savvy inshore veterans like to carry at least two basic types - a quick moving walking bait and a quieter bait - that can work one small area for a longer period of time. Single rear propeller baits are popular for this latter method, although some big-trout experts swear by twin prop plugs.

The walking baits get the nod for covering larger areas of oyster shells or submerged grass flats, while the slower baits are ideal for working narrower target zones, like the edge of an emergent grass bed, rock jetties or concrete bulkheads.

Another effective, but often-overlooked, "bass lure" is a minnow plug, or stickbait. Not only do they perfectly mimic the finger mullet that form a major part of the inshore forage base but also they are very versatile.

Twitch them lightly on top and they become a subtle topwater plug. Work them as a jerkbait, just as you would for bass, and they can cover water quickly. These lures are often the perfect solution for those times when trout and reds blow up on quick-moving topwater plugs, but fail to take them. Twitching a minnow lure with a topwater plug action, but 6 inches to a foot below the surface, often turns those boilers into biters.

When it comes to color selection, white with a red head is a universal saltwater favorite. If your tackle box lacks that hue, don't worry. The same chrome with a blue or black back that you toss for bass works fine. Add a firetiger pattern for dark days or stained water, and you are in good shape.

One change you should make, however, is the hooks. The freshwater versions of these baits normally sport light wire hooks that rust quickly if you even mention "saltwater" in their presence. Such hooks also are fragile enough that they are trashed by the first decent redfish or jack crevalle you tangle with. Veteran anglers routinely replace them with stronger saltwater trebles in the same size. These are available in packs of 25 at quality tackle shops.

While topwater plugs and minnow lures are deadly baits, no serious angler should be without a few lead head jigs and some plastic trailer bodies.

"Any fish that will strike a lure will hit a plastic-bodied jig," explains Capt. Jimmy Keith, who also splits his guide time between freshwater lakes and the Gulf coastal waters, "and it doesn't take a big selection. If you carry a few lead head jigs in 1/8, 1/4, and 3/8 ounce you can take a basic 4-inch swimming tail and by just changing jig head weight you can swim the jig over shallow cover, bounce the bottom or probe deeper holes in even the strongest current. It's the most versatile inshore bait you can use."

Plastic bodies are available in a wide array of colors, but anglers don't need more than a few. In darker waters a root beer or motor oil color is effective, especially with some gold flake mixed in. A combination of red/chartreuse or white/pink are good general purpose colors, while a pearl or clear color with some silver flake can be a better bet in extremely clear water, or when the fish are obviously feeding on glass minnows or small mullet.

These three basic lure types can handle a tremendous range of inshore opportunities. But if you fish in an area where grass, whether submerged or emergent, is a significant part of the habitat, add a gold weedless spoon, an inline spinner and a few of the soft-plastic jerk baits that you would use for bass. Trout and reds use grass cover just like bass do, and these lures are as effective on them as they are on largemouths.

With the possible exception of the plastic-bodied jigs, virtually any Southeastern bass angler will have these lures in their tackle box. They also have the rods to toss them on.

"There is really no such thing as a 'bass rod and an inshore saltwater rod'", Romeka notes. "The rigs are interchangeable. It all depends upon the rod action and line size you find works best with a particular lure type. Your favorite topwater rod will work just as well on a 5-pound largemouth bass as it will on a 5-pound channel bass. Your worm rod will make a good jig rod, your jerkbait rod works fine in fresh or salt, and if you fish weedless blade baits or jerk worms in heavy grass on a 20-pound-test casting outfit then use the same rig for saltwater grass."

You also don't need to make any changes to your rigging.

"A common misconception among anglers lacking saltwa

ter experience is that you need a wire leader," says Jimmy Keith. "That's not true under most circumstances. There are some toothy critters that sever line like a razor. But inshore anglers chasing trout, redfish and flounder aren't likely to run into them. Those fish prefer more open Gulf waters. Trout do have canine teeth, and there will be some oyster shells that can abrade line, but simply checking the line periodically and re-tying when needed, takes care of that."

Bass tackle is fine for inshore angling and so is a bass boat. Any boat that can handle a 2,000-acre lake is more than adequate for Gulf Coast flats and tidal creeks. But there are a few maintenance tips that anglers venturing into saltwater should heed.

Saltwater is tougher on equipment than freshwater. But it's not that tough, or every inshore guide in the Gulf would be out of business. Standard procedure for these guys is to spend 15 minutes at the end of each trip washing down the boat, trailer, and rods with a garden hose. Pay particular attention to the trailer springs and wheels, and spend some extra time on the trolling motor head.

Other potential problem areas are electrical connections and switches. These are easily solved by applying a light spray of a quality corrosion block, about once a month. It doesn't hurt to also spray the engine steering arm, jack plate and trolling motor mount.

It takes surprisingly little time. But for anglers who would like to spend more time catching than fishing this summer, it's time well spent.

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