Hackney's Bass Tackle Attack on Salt, Part II

The professional bass angler reveals his favorite saltwater lures for kingfish, tarpon, red snapper and jack crevalle

In part I of Hackney’s Bass Tackle Attack on Salt, Greg Hackney discussed riding the limits of bass tackle beyond the backwater bays for inshore species out to the nearshore waters where bigger species live. As he pointed out, the advantage of bass-grade tackle in the deep is the ability to cast lures and impart actions to them that standard trolling and bottom fishing can’t achieve. The downside, however, is that even the heaviest of bass gear will sometimes get whipped by sea beasts that are, well, much bigger than bass tackle is made for.

In Part II, Hackney offers his four favorite bass-tackle-based techniques he regularly uses in nearshore waters from the mouth of the Mississippi River out to about five miles, which includes fishing on oilrigs where all manner of species live. These four techniques border on the outer limits of being able to cast and retrieve artificial lures in saltwater while still maybe having enough rod and line strength to land the sea beasts they fool.

Jerkbaiting for Kingfish

Kingfishing is traditionally done by trolling spoons or lures or drifting live bait for king mackerel. However, Hackney says once the trolling gets monotonous, he grabs a medium-heavy casting combo spooled with 30- to 40-pound test braid, ties on a light wire leader, snaps on a KVD Jerkbait (HCKVDJ300) and feeds it to toothy kings for fun.

“We’ll go out where everyone is trolling around for kings, cast a jerkbait out and rip it back to the boat and get hooked up in no time,” he says. “The flashier the jerkbait the better. The more you rip, jerk and flash the jerkbait as fast as you can, the more they get after it. They’ll charge up out of nowhere and smoke it; their speed is so impressive.

“But they’ll also smoke you on that tackle if you get a big one,” he adds with a laugh. “It’s a wild battle. Every time you think you’ve got them whipped, they’ll spool you out again on a straight line run that will scream the drag.”

In order to achieve the kind of speed needed to entice kings, Hackney uses a large capacity Quantum EXO PT 300 reel with a lightning fast 7.3:1 ratio to really rip the jerkbait. As for the rod, he says a medium-heavy stick in the 7’- to 7’-6” range will work.

“You’re not looking for a pool cue,” he advises. “It needs to be on the medium side of heavy to cast the bait and really snap it.”

Fluke-type Baits for Tarpon

When tarpon start corralling bait pods near the mouth of the Mississippi River on calm summer days, Hackney’s go to is a soft-plastic shad body like a Strike King Caffeine shad impaled on a 5/0 circle or J-style hook. He simply threads the Caffeine Shad onto the hook, nose first, and then pushes the hook point out of the back, just like it was on a lead head jig. To help the soft plastic stay put on the hook, he pushes the nose of the plastic up over the eye of the hook and runs a toothpick through the nose of the plastic down through the eye of the hook, to pin the plastic to the hookeye. Once the toothpick is firmly in place, he trims the excess ends flush with the plastic so no toothpick is sticking out.

Since the soft plastic is weightless, Hackney has to go to a medium-heavy action spinning rod spooled with 40- to 50-pound test braided line and a 50-pound test fluorocarbon leader.

“Normally, I want speed in saltwater fishing, but this is one case where a slow sink through the bait pod with the lure is critical,” Hackney explains. “The tarpon have the bait herded up tight and you want to make your lure sort of drift naturally through the pod and appear vulnerable – once a tarpon sees it’s not keeping up with the rest of the herd, it’s game over.”

He also suggests this is one case where color is critical as well. Tarpon have keen senses so the lure must be a close imitation of the forage they are honed in on. He notes that on a couple of encounters with tarpon, bites were not earned until some color matching to the bait in the pods was done.

Once the soft-plastic imitator is dialed in and the bite happens, Hackney warns the chances of landing a big tarpon are not real high.

“But you will get several spectacular jumps out of the fish, which is the best part anyway,” he adds.

Greg Hackney's saltwater lure selection
Greg Hackney's saltwater lure selection. (Photo courtesy of Greg Hackney)

Red snapper on a 1-ounce jig

When Hackney heads to the oilrigs and platforms in nearshore waters, he arms himself with a 5-inch Strike King Caffeine Shad on a 1-ounce jig head tied to about 40-pound braid on a heavy-action flipping stick teamed with the same large capacity size 300 Quantum PT EXO high speed baitcast reel.

“This is nearly identical to stroking jigs on the ledges of Kentucky Lake for bass,” he details. “Cast it out and let it sink down to the depth you’re seeing fish on the graph, rip it up and let it fall back down – that speed trips their trigger. A lot of times those snapper are suspended in the water column and feeding on schools of smaller bait.

 “People think they need to send a huge live bait to the bottom on heavy saltwater tackle and that’s not always the case. We catch plenty of decent snapper on that 1-ounce jig on lighter tackle.”

Big spinners for jack crevalle

As crazy as this may sound, Hackney’s favorite saltwater fish to tangle with are giant jack crevalle on spinnerbaits. For him it’s the epitome of “bass fishing” in saltwater.

The recipe is to wake (just below the surface) a big 1-ounce Hack Attack heavy-cover spinnerbait with a large willow blade with the help of the high-speed EXO PT 300 and a heavy-action flipping stick with 50-pound braid – and the drag locked down. He frequently targets jacks around the rips and jetties in the mouth of the river.

“A jack crevalle is the meanest sportfish out there,” he says. “They’ve got a bad attitude all of the time; they strike with the ferociousness of a peacock bass and fight like yellowfin tuna.

 “People can call them trash fish all they want, and no, they’re not the best table fare in the ocean,” he concedes. “But when you’re bulging a big spinnerbait out there as fast as you can wind it and the water flushes around it while the rod is physically ripped from your arms – there are few things that match it in terms of getting completely train-wrecked by a fish. I rest my case…”

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