When and Why to Change Lures, and Bucket Lists

When and Why to Change Lures, and Bucket Lists
Clear water–clear bait–two at a time!

A gentleman on the boat asked two really good questions. I get lots of these daily from my anglers as well as via my website www.jaywatkins.com, and also my Instagram account; jaywatkinsfishing. Questions inspire me to continue my fishing education and keep me dialed into what I see every day on the water.    

The gentleman asked – How do you know when to change from one style of lure to another? And – What is currently on my bucket list?

I honestly never thought much about the bucket list thing, so I will save that for later in this article. I do however think constantly about what lures I should be using. I honestly don’t think so much about WHEN to change lures nearly as much as the WHY aspect. In other words, you can’t do one without understanding the other, or vice versa. 

For me, lure selection is all about seasonal patterns combined with weather and water conditions. Gulf coast weather can be highly unpredictable at the best of times, which means we might have to adapt daily, sometimes hourly.

It's January so we’ll delve mostly into my wintertime lure ideas and strategies. But first a little background on the lures I used in the past and those I trust to do the job now. Just for grins, here’s a question for you, and we’ll get to this one later as well; “What color lure do you think I have never ordered or used?”

I am a diehard soft plastic angler and have primarily used Bass Assassins the majority of my career but, like others, I started with the old Kelly Wigglers, Hogie’s, and H&H Cocahoe Minnows, all of which were extremely popular back in the day. When the Bass Assassin rattails came along it did not take me long to become a big fan. I have honestly never been a huge fan of topwaters as a go-to lure but love them as a fish locating tool. One or two misses from the “right fish” and I am going subsurface.

As I have become a better angler I find myself using suspending lures more and more. Years ago I threw the MirrOlure 52M series and on some occasions the 7M. Today, my topwater and suspending baits are all MirrOlure products; the Paul Brown Corky Series, Custom Corkys, and Texas Customs.

Why I switch lures depends on the conditions and results I am obtaining. I do get hardheaded at times, trying to make them eat what I want them to eat, and more times than not this costs me in the end. Yeah, I still catch fish, but I always wonder how many more I might have caught had I switched. In my business I need to know what lure will provide my clients the best chance for success; being hardheaded is not always the best way to discover this.

Since it’s wintertime, let’s start with the Corky Fat Boy. This is my confidence lure out of the whole MirrOlure/Paul Brown family, especially over shallow grass and scattered oyster shell. I use a quick twitch of the rod to create a short erratic action. I follow this with a dead stick pause for a few seconds, and then a few quick turns of the reel handle, and then another pause. Sometimes I slow the bait way down and simply bounce the rod tip, lifting the bait in the water column, and then letting it slowly sink.

Strikes that come in the upper part of the water column suggest a more active feeding period, while lower-column strikes suggest less aggressive feeding. When repeatedly missing bites I will switch to a 5-inch Bass Assassin or MirrOlure Provoker. Sharp, quick hits that fail to produce hook-ups on the larger profile Corky always get me to thinking. I know it sounds like know-it-all fish-speak but I can actually distinguish the bite of a larger fish from those of smaller fish. This ability comes with water time and nothing else.

I also believe that short, sharp strikes can be a sign that trout and redfish are targeting smaller finfish. We see this after extremely cold spells while small bait fish are still present in deeper portions of our back lakes and drains. I take it as a clue to downsize from 5-inch plastics to 3- to 4-inch lures like MirrOlure’s Lil John. This is a tough bait that has very erratic action when twitched along bottom.

Never discount the fact that big fish will readily eat very small baits. We saw this a week ago when water temperatures dropped suddenly below 50 degrees…light but deliberate Corky strikes but few takes. A quick switch to the Lil John resulted in numerous trout of 4- to 5 pounds coming to hand. 

The opposite can also be true. Trying to locate fish during tough full moon periods, finding only small trout on small baits where I suspect larger fish should be present, I jump up to 5-inch plastics, a Fat Boy, or maybe even a topwater.

Once wintertime fish acclimate to cold water we often see normally aggressive feeding becoming the norm again with strikes in the upper portion of the water column. I have had tremendous success in shallow water on Corkys and the new swimming-floating Texas Customs Double D baits when water temperatures were above 50 degrees. This is especially true during warming trends after long, cold and dark days. When the sun starts warming the shallows, bait and game fish respond by moving up to warm up.

As regards soft plastic colors, you could say I’m boring. I like dark baits on dark days and in dark water, clear baits on clear days with clear water. I do like a little chartreuse on the tail or the jig at times but tend to try putting something in front of them that provides only a quick glimpse. Confused? I believe fish react mostly to the flash of a lure to draw an instinctive reaction. In soft plastic baits it’s the glitter that catches the light that draws the strike.

On a dark day, the darker silhouette blends with the water but the glitter picks up what little light there might be. In clear water the clear body seems to disappear, leaving only the flash of the glitter or shiny hologram. Again, I believe it’s all about the glitter and flash. One of the biggest assets to the new Custom Corkys is the basically clear body with either gold or silver hologram. It’s the glint of light off the hologram that seals the deal.  

I have always been very basic in soft plastic color selection when pushed to produce on really tough winter days. Plum, black, white, pink and any hints of chartreuse are really effective. For jigheads, I find the 2/0 Bass Assassin Spring Locks most effective in gaining hookups. Oh, and by the way, the only color I have never ordered or used is red and white. I know it sounds impossible but it’s true.

So, to sum it up, change your lures when the fish tell you to change and then try to discover why the change worked. Learn this and your fishing game is forever changed.

Bucket list? I will give you the short version. I’d like to fish the Amazon with my boys. Honestly, I like fishing everywhere with my boys. Mountain streams and another trip to Alaska is on our must-do list. Snook in Florida during the spawn with Jay Ray’s topdrive is also way up there.

I have been fortunate to fish with most all the best guides and anglers in Texas but a few still remain. I would love to spend some time with John Gill; John is one of the best big trout anglers of our time. Brett Sweeny is on this list as well as Chad Peterek. I would love to fish with Chuck Naiser and let him show me how a real fly fisherman gets it done. Eddie Curry out of South Padre would be a fun day for me and maybe Eddie could get Skipper Mock to come along. I have never fished much in their area. I hope I can fish with Mike McBride, Trisha and J.D Whitely a few days this winter.

I would like to hunt a true South Texas trophy whitetail deer once again with Lowell Odom and Norm Charlton; Norm’s a ton of fun and Lowell can score deer on the hoof with the best of them. Maybe we could get Dale Combs to join us.

At 60 I feel great and still have the drive to go every day the weather allows. Hopefully I still have plenty of time to get a few of these things checked off the bucket list.  

May your fishing always be catching!  -Guide Jay Watkins