For the umpteenth time that day, I launched a Johnson Silver Minnow into the grass, slithered it out and used the time it took for it to fall to the bottom to sop my brow with my shirtsleeve. I began my retrieve, allowing the metal spoon to bang noisily against the oyster-encrusted rocks. When it met resistance, I assumed I was snagged.
Then I realized the weight of it felt soft like a fish’s mouth rather than hard like the bottom. I set the hook. The struggle that ensued resulted in a nice flatfish flopping around atop the ice inside my cooler. I was almost jealous, standing topside where the temperature was 100 degrees.
The lesson was that a noisy lure can wake up any sleepy saltwater fish. Even the most sluggish can be goaded into striking if it can hear its next meal coming.
CLICKERS AND CLATTERERS
The original goal of the trip was redfish, and I started out casting the gold spoon, with its spring wire weed guard, into the thin grass along the edge of a coastal river island. Probing deeper water outside the grass seemed only natural, with the gold spoon clattering along as it struck shells and rocks the final few feet of the retrieve.
The metallic clicking and clanking was loud enough to hear above the surface, even for an angler with aged-out ears. Indeed, the spoon had already hooked a couple of red drum in the grass before the flounder struck. While most anglers don’t think of a spoon as a flounder lure, its ability to skitter atop hard structure without snagging makes it a great option for waking up saltwater fish in the heat of summer.
Many other types of metal spoons, too, possess the ability to wake the dead from the doldrums. Clarkspoons and their ilk have a shake, rattle and roll all their own. Primarily made for trolling, these thin, stamped metal spoons can also be cast on light tackle to visible fish, including bluefish and mackerel when they are schooling on top. When they are schooling deeper, hitting them in the head with a heavy, cast metal spoon is a better waker-upper.
When fishing artificial reefs, wrecks, dock pilings and other deep structure, jigging heavy spoons is a proven tactic. Ones that disrupt a lot of water, such as the Stingsilver, or any with a dimpled surface, such as the Hopkins, are among the best.
While it may be flirting with a foul-up, one of the best ways to find out if there are any fish hanging out around deep cover is to bang a spoon against it. For bottom bouncing, it’s best to use a single-hook spoon. Treble hooks are better for casting or jigging in open water or higher in the water column above structure.
SPINNERS AND BUZZERS
Next in order of increasing noisiness is the spinnerbait. While it’s great for probing grass beds for redfish, the standard “safety pin” style of spinnerbait also elicits strikes from flounder, jacks, bluefish, speckled trout and other backwater species.
Spinnerbaits come in a variety of skirt colors and with anywhere from one to four blades in various shapes. For waking up fish in hot weather, color matters far less than the noise made by the blades. Large Colorado blades have the sound-making advantage over narrower willowleaf blades. Dimpled blades create more turbulence than those with smooth finishes. For the most outlandish disruption on a hot, slick, windless day when you can hardly catch your breath, jumpstart the action by tossing a buzzbait. A buzzbait works when nothing else does because of its disruptive qualities. Fish may attack so swiftly and from such a great distance that the angler gets to see the wake all the way to the strike.
Inline spinnerbaits also have their fans. Some have skirts, while others have rattles. Anything that moves a lot water increases the likelihood that a fish will be interested, and any lure with a revolving blade can draw an explosive impulse strike, which is what endears inlines to shallow-water anglers.
CLACKERS AND RATTLERS
A myriad of hardbaits exist, but for purposes of attracting fish with sound, those with rattle chambers are of the most interest. One of my favorites is the Rapala Clackin’ Minnow, which has a cylindrical rattle chamber that extends crosswise through the lure’s body. The flat ends of the chamber are visible and make direct contact with the water.
To use it effectively, crank the Clackin’ Minnow a couple of turns, twitch it and allow it to rest. It wobbles like any typical minnow imitation when reeled; when twitched, the clacking sound is loud enough that it can be heard by an angler on the deck.
Most other hardbaits with internal rattles are also effective with a reel-twitch-stop retrieve. Some make a constant rattling sound with a steady retrieve. The best way to find out is to flip the lure beside the boat and work it with varying retrieves. If it’s a keeper, you will be able to hear—and maybe even feel it if the rod is sensitive enough—the sounds it is making.
Many of the MirrOlure family of lures are equipped with rattle chambers. Some of the best are the suspending twitchbaits, including the MirrOdine MR17 Suspending Twitchbait and the TT Sinking Twitchbait.
WALKERS AND POPPERS
Floating topwater lures, like the MirrOlure Top Dog, Heddon Zara Spook and Rapala Skitter Walk, have long been considered topnotch noisemakers. These lures have several advantages. For one, they don’t snag on submerged structure since they float. They can be navigated through and around vegetation. Finally, anglers are able to give them personality during the presentation by varying retrieve speed and rod action.
Floating topwaters can even be fished in tiny hotspots, such as open docking bays, or holes in oyster beds and grass beds. Cast and allowed to sit, then given a gentle flip, they can turn on fish resting in the hole. A fast to-and-fro may be the ticket for ripping up a grass bed in the morning when water temperatures are cooler. However, a lazy flip-flopping may be more attractive to fish during the heat of the day. For the best sound effects, select a model with an internal rattle chamber.
Another more understated floating lure that can’t be overlooked is the concave-faced popper. There are so many makers and models to choose from, and so little time on a sweaty summer morning. However, you can always start with one of the all-time greats: Rapala’s Skitter Pop, which has a narrow body and spits water like a showering baitfish. As with walking lures, the noisiest poppers are those that have an internal rattle chamber.
PROPS AND PLOPPERS
To really shake up the fish, add propellers to a floating lure. Some prop lures have blades so outlandish in size and configuration, they look as though they would repel fish, not attract them.
While the saltwater version of the Smithwick Devil’s Horse has large propellers compared to the freshwater model, you can really crank up the volume with the 2-inch props screwed onto either end of a Heddon Wounded Spook. For the utmost in buzzes and bubble trails, though, stir up the water like a Cuisinart blender with a Whopper Plopper. The plastic floating topwater lure with a one-bladed prop took the freshwater bass fishing world by storm before saltwater anglers caught on to its hot-weather abilities. If the fish in your territory haven’t been maddened into striking at the Whopper Plopper’s cacophany of crippled-fish sounds, make certain you are the first to make the introduction.
THE LATERAL LINE: A FISH’S SIXTH SENSE
The secret to the success of noisy lures lies in a fish’s lateral line—a row of recesses along either side of a fish that can be so prominent on some species as to be a defining characteristic. A fish’s lateral line allows it to sense changes in pressure.
In reality, a fish “hearing” with its lateral line is similar to the way humans “feel” loud music in their chest. Whether, and how much, a noise attracts your attention depends upon the frequency and intensity of its sound waves. Since sound waves move four times faster in water than in air, and since they have more kinetic energy underwater, picking up sound with its lateral line is one of the most efficient means a fish has of homing in on prey.
AN EDGE FOR YOUR BAITS
Managing your baits is challenging, as the harsh, saltwater environment is intent on expediting their demise. Plano’s new Edge tackle management system offers several advantages over traditional plastic storage boxes. These ruggedly built boxes prevent rusty bait hardware with their Rustrictor-infused interior, while the sealed lid keeps salt and water out. A one-handed lid latch eases opening, and the crystal-clear lid lets you know at a glance what’s inside. Boxes vary in size and range in price from $25 to $50 (planomolding.com). —Dr. Todd A. Kuhn