Trout the hard way

Making the case for hard baits.

Live baitfish or shrimp presented on a Mustad Demon In-line Circle Hook are an easy sell to speckled trout, while soft plastics rigged on Mustad Inshore Darter Jig Heads and worked with erratic twitches and hops will also bring keepers to the box. However, one of the best ways of fooling these prized inshore fish is with a selection of hard baits.

A well-balanced game plan should include multiple options, but the hard bait advantages are clear:

Low Maintenance — None of the muss and fuss of catching, holding and handling live bait. This becomes an even greater concern in cold weather, where gloved hands make working with natural baits a complicated task.

Durability — As long as you’re not smacking your lures against rocks, seawalls or other solid surfaces, your hard baits will remain battle ready for a long time. (Daily rinsing keeps saltwater corrosion at bay, but make sure your baits dry thoroughly to prevent rusting.)

Castability — Typically aerodynamic in form, hard baits cast easily — especially for those upwind presentations. Long rods, at least 7 feet, plus braided line facilitate casting.

To fully cover the water column, make sure your hard bait arsenal includes these elements:

Topwater — Don’t let a trout’s soft body design fool you, this super-aggressive predator will blast a surface bait with reckless abandon. This is a great technique when fishing around mullet schools, as big trout often run with mullet for two reasons: 1) Concealment from prey and 2) Free meals via the crustacean and finfish forage displaced by the vegetarian escorts.

The cool thing here is that the mullet’s commotion often masks the otherwise intrusive fall of a topwater plug. With all the leaping and splashing a mullet school displays, trout are hardly impacted by a topwater plug’s arrival, but they’ll absolutely blast a surface plug with impressive ferocity.

Presentations are straightforward — quick downward rod twitches to “walk the dog” will have your topwater twitching back and forth to mimic a wounded baitfish. You might also work a popping topwater into your selection to call fish from afar and stimulate those in the area.

Crankbait — Not a common choice for the inshore saltwater scene, but these baits can greatly enhance your arsenal. Bass anglers know well the value of bumping along rocky or shelly bottom — a tactic that may tempt trout and other inshore predators feeding around oyster bars or jetty rocks.

Additionally, the aggressive shimmy of a lipless crankbait puts on a convincing display when trout target flashy bait schools.

Subsurface — Whether it’s a shallow running lipped bait or a slow-sinking twitch bait, being able to work the middle of the water column ensures a well-rounded arsenal. When selecting size, your smaller plugs will often appeal to big fish, but they’ll more frequently appeal to smaller ones. Conversely, a larger sized subsurface bait typically yields only larger bites, so just decide your day’s focus — quality or quantity.

With any hard baits, check your hooks often to ensure sticky points. If not already equipped, switching stock trebles to Mustad KVD Elite trebles will enhance your bait’s grabbing power. If you’re losing too many fish, consider replacing treble hooks with Mustad In-Line singles for more secure holds and easier live release.


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