Last month this column addressed natural baits, and the fact that some in that category might not seem to be all that "natural" at first glance. Artificial lures can present the same apparent conflicts. The most common and popular lures for inshore saltwater species are undoubtedly the soft plastic shrimp imitations, which only seems logical. Some of these actually look enough like a live shrimp to fool human eyes at first glance, others have only the vague shape of a shrimp, but we assume the soft plastic will not only impart a life-like action to the lure, but will feel "natural" enough to a fish to allow the angler more time to set the hook. While there are some soft "plugs" made, most are of hard plastic these days, and have to depend on two or more sets of sharp treble hooks to "stick" a fish before it realizes it is trying to eat an imitation of a baitfish. Metal spoons certainly dont feel like anything but a piece of metal, so they also require a rather quick hook set, or hard strike from the fish.
In the case of the hard lures, they obviously attract a fishs attention by the way they look. Color is one aspect, although it is not always a straight-forward reproduction. The afore-mentioned spoon reflects light and creates flashes as it moves through the water, resembling the flashing of a mullet or shad. Other hard lures may be very popular with fishermen but in colors that do not seem to resemble those of natural prey. Some colors can be puzzling as to what they might look like to a fish, but splashes of red would likely seem to imitate bleeding, therefore simulating a wounded baitfish. The movement of a hard lure also attracts the attention of predator fish. Spoons "wobble", causing them to flash more. Popping lures, well, they "pop" --- probably fooling a fish into thinking another of his kind is feeding in that spot. Other lures either imitate the movements of a wounded or fleeing baitfish, or can be manipulated to look that way by the angler. While they must look edible to a fish, it is sometimes hard to look at the old favorites like the BINGO lures once so popular on the Texas coast and see the resemblance to a shrimp.
Some very successful "lures" have been very simple. Trot-liners once commonly used pieces of red ribbon on their hooks to take large numbers of speckled trout, and the "buck-tail" type of jig uses bundled fibers to give a hook body and movement. Offshore fishermen have used even simpler tools, as pieces of drinking straw threaded on the line above a hook that move jerkily enough to drive chicken dolphin crazy. Skirts of billfish lures have been made from the unraveled strands of lawn chair webbing. The ancient "Hootie" lure was basically small pieces of unraveled nylon rope with a hook hidden inside. The Russell Lure, a proven killer for king mackerel, is shaped like a curved piece of an aluminum pipe half section. It has such a violent action when trolled at even slow speeds it takes a strong rod to hold it. Certainly nothing in the Gulf moves that strongly and erratically - yet this lure drives kings and jacks wild, and has taken most other Gulf species. Joe Pennick, of Freeport, who made a successful variation of the Russell Lure known as the King Getter, also made a curious little "spoon" that was a section of twisted metal which would spin going through the water (with a good swivel in front), and undoubtedly caught fish.
The lures used for trolling for marlin and tuna in deep water, while certainly much larger than lures for smaller quarry, certainly do not approach the size of the tuna and dolphin big blue marlin normally feed on. These lures are usually designed to bubble and splash the surface, and leave "smoke trails" when pulled at fairly high speed. My opinion, for what its worth, is that all the commotion simulates a feeding or fleeing prey fish, and the hunter strikes at the "head" of the commotion, instead of at the lure itself. Early in the development of this type of lure in the Gulf, captains from Texas and Louisiana would often modify lures they purchased to improve the results. The "Hacksaw Yap" was one of Hawaiian lure maker Henry Yaps resin heads sawed off to 3 inches or less - and with a blunt "face", which made it create more splashing, and a much more aggressive smoke trail. I used to mold my own heads by pouring resin in a 35 mm film canister, with a piece of soda straw down the middle for running the leader through. With skirts of either lawn chair material or commercial rubber or plastic, I had success with these on dolphin and tuna.
An even more dramatic example of a productive lure that does not look like it should work was the old Arobogast Jitterbug, which used a sort of double dish lip to cause it to wobble dramatically. I never caught anything on one when I was a freshwater bass fisherman, but always heard that others did.
So it seems that an artificial lure can pretend to be a species of baitfish or shrimp by its shape, color, and/or movement. Of course, now we also have lures that even smell like bait. There is an old saying that fishing lures are mostly designed to catch fishermen, rather than fish, and there is no doubt there is some truth to this. There are also some who think a good enough fisherman can make catches with pretty much anything on the end of his line. Myself, I think the appearance and action of a lure are important, but maybe no more than where, when, and how it is worked. As a friend of mine often said about fishing, "You have to fish where they live, and you MUST be present to win!
THE BANK BITE
Location: Deep holes along the jetties, in marinas, and occasionally in the bays. With at least the possibility of cold water, fish will seek the relative warmth of these spots.
Species: Speckled trout and redfish are the top prizes, but croakers and sand trout can fill a frying pan satisfactorily.
Best Baits: Natural baits - dead or alive - that can be trusted to give off a good scent trail. Soft plastics can work, as well as "glowing" jigs under lights at night, but they should be worked slower than in warm water.
Best Times: Moving water is always best, but a full high tide pays off best in the deep spots.