June 15, 2021
Twitchbaits are among the lures that many inshore anglers tend to overlook. They have no built-in action, and they’re limited in application to relatively shallow water. However, these lures can be incredibly effective if you choose the right model and fish them at the right place and time.
Recent designs from several companies are available in amazingly life-like finishes thanks to new printing and molding techniques, making good lures a lot better. Anglers can now fish lures that precisely "match the hatch" of local baitfish, whether that's scaled sardines, thread herring, mullet, pinfish or a host of other species.
As is often the case when new technology first hits the water, they're fooling fish with ease all over the Southeast's inshore waters.
Because there's a wide selection of twitchbaits now available, it's also possible to fine tune your lure choice to the depth and current situations you face throughout a day on the flats. LiveTarget offers a Scaled Sardine that floats at rest but twitches down to about 4 inches on the retrieve. Rapala's X-Rap Twitchin' Mullet floats just below the surface, running at a scant 2 inches when activated. Also good in extreme shallows is the Yo-Zuri 3D Inshore Twitchbait R1207. Each of these lures is ideal for quiet, shallow water with grass or oyster bottom where you might run into tailing redfish.
But suppose you come to a sandy pothole in that shallow habitat—maybe too deep for fish on the bottom to notice a lure near the surface. A switch to a sinking twitchbait like MirrOlure's MirrOdine Skin Series or the Savage Gear Twitch Reaper, both of which fall at about a foot per second, can put your lure in the strike zone.
Ease further along that shoreline and you come to a mangrove creek where the tide is pouring out through a 4-foot-deep cut, and you might opt for a lure that sinks even faster, like the H2O Xpress Hover Shad Softee, a soft bait that looks and fishes like a hard bait.
The bottom line is that there’s now a wide variety of these lures that allows you to perfectly match most inshore fishing situations.
THE TWITCH THAT KILLS
While you can catch fish on most twitchbaits by simply throwing them out there and jerking them back steadily, there are some nuances to the game that can add a lot to your score.
C.A. Richardson, the well-known "Flats Professor" of TV and YouTube, is a fan of the MirrOlure MirrOdine Skin Series, available in sardine, mullet, pinfish and other finishes.
"Cadence is everything on a MirrOdine," says Richardson. "For me, it's twitch-twitch and then slack, then repeat. The lure darts back and forth and rises, then sinks back. The strike comes on the slack, so keep an eye on that line."
Capt. Geoff Page, a well-known guide and tournament winner on Florida's west coast, likes the LiveTarget Scaled Sardine, which he says is a dead ringer for the real thing—wounded and losing equilibrium as it tries to stay down.
"I like the floating model—you can throw it way ahead of a cruising redfish, let it sit until he swims up within 3 or 4 feet and then just twitch it under. They never turn it down."
Capt. Benny Blanco, who guides in the Everglades, often scores with the Rapala X-Rap Twitchin' Mullet. For him, hook style is a key factor.
"The Twitchin' Mullet and others in that series are the only twitchbaits that come with single hooks instead of trebles," says Blanco. "Those hooks make the lure practically weedless, a big plus over the grass flats. Plus, they're much easier on the fish when you're unhooking them, so you're going to have a lot less mortality on releases. It's a win-win."
There are also times when a faster retrieve can be the order of the day with twitchbaits. During spring and fall, water temperatures in the mid- to low 70s usually put inshore fish into serious feeding mode, and a faster retrieve not only triggers strikes but also allows you to cover more water to find the fish.
The action is much like walking the dog with a topwater. It's basically a series of quick twitches, and after each you flick the rod tip back toward the lure to create slack. This causes the lure to progress in a sort of Z-motion back and forth—much faster than the standard twitchbait retrieve, but just as effective at the right time.
FINE-TUNE THE TWITCH
Though most twitchbaits are good right out of the box, there are some tweaks that can improve the bite.
"Sometimes redfish get in water less than a foot deep, and in that water the lure can't run more than just an inch or two under the surface or it's in the grass or snagged on shell," says Blanco. "I like to take the snap ring off the Twitchin' Mullet, which cuts just a tiny bit of weight and lets the nose stay up if you keep the rod high. You can fish it almost like a topwater, but it's making less disturbance and is less likely to spook them as you sometimes do in water that shallow."
Richardson says he varies lure size with the seasons when fishing the MirrOdine.
"In winter, the 2 5/8-inch model fished nice and slow is all they want to eat on most days, but then you get into late spring and the fish are really feeding and you can do better with a larger lure like the XL, which is 3 1/8 inches and has a larger overall profile, too."
It's also possible to adjust the sink rate of lures by adding weight to drop down into a pothole or run the lure deeper as you fish a fast-flowing runout. The old standard Storm SuspendStrips—tiny pieces of flexible lead sheeting with adhesive backs—are easily added to the sides of these lure. This often gives just enough extra weight to drop them down a few feet to where the fish will have a better shot at them. The strips are easily peeled off if you move back to shallow grass.
Twitchbaits can be fished on either spinning or casting gear, but most guides prefer spinning gear for their clients because of the reduced chance of a backlash.
"I fish the LiveTarget on a 7-foot, medium-light rod—not too stiff because you want some flex to get that lure out there. I fill my 2500-size reels with 8-pound-test Daiwa J-Braid," says Page. "That's pretty light for guiding—most use 10- or 15-pound, but it allows everybody to cast so far that we get more hookups."
Like most other flats experts, Page uses an 18- to 20-inch length of mono leader tied to the braid with a double uni knot. The leader provides a "stiffener" that prevents the flexible braid from getting tangled in the lure's hooks, as well as offering some abrasion protection.
"I like to use no heavier than 20-pound test unless there are big snook around," says Page. "Any heavier and it reduces the action of the twitchbait."
However, he says for snook, which are prone to clipping off light leaders with their sharp gill plates, he goes up to 25-pound test.
"I tie the lures on with a loop knot, even though the LiveTarget lures come with snap rings on the nose," Page says. "You get a little extra action using the loop. But keep that loop small, about the size of a pencil eraser."
Page likes the loop knot, or MirrOlure Knot, because it's simple, quick and plenty strong enough for a leader that tests two- or three-times the strength of the running line. If you don't like tying loop knots, a small but strong snap like the SPRO Twin Lock is a good substitute. They’re light enough not to affect the lure buoyancy, but allow added action. The size 3 is ideal for most inshore lures, and it's rated for 70-pound-test, so you’ll never have one pop open on a trophy snook.
The new generation of twitchbaits have a lot to offer flats anglers. Load your tacklebox with a selection of different sizes and buoyancies and fish them right, and you'll be ready to fool the fish no matter what conditions you meet on the flats on any given day.