Salt Water Lure Fishing for Beginners by Iestyn Jones & Keith White

In this article we have gone away from our usual format of having one writer give us their views, in this article we have two of the UK’s most successful Bass and predator anglers in a Q&A session, aimed at beginners wishing to have a go for saltwater Bass or even more experienced anglers looking for a few extra tips in this article we feel there is something for everyone!

Iestyn Jones is a professional guide for salt and fresh water predators in Wales & Prostaff for Plus Fishing.
You can contact Iestyn at: [email protected]

Keith White is a Bass & Lure guide in Jersey & Field Consultant for Plus Fishing.
You can contact Keith at: [email protected]

What type of rod?
Iestyn: Stiff rods with a fast action are the choice for fishing topwater baits, lures such as poppers need to be worked by the angler imparting the desired action into the lure via the rod. The stiffness enables more control and contact whilst working them and getting the best action.

Keith: Another great reason for a stiffer tipped rod is the use of a range of lures loosely termed 'Jerkbaits'. Like above, the rod should move the lure and not the lure move the rod. Many of today's modern styled lures are designed to be worked in certain ways. This is covered later in this article.

Iestyn:Soft tipped rods are very user friendly. They are also suitable for fishing most hard baits and soft baits. The modern day saltwater lure angler specifically seeks a softer tip rod for fishing soft plastics and for more finesse styles.

Keith:Soft tipped rods can be useful for lures that contact the bottom or for working lures very fast in more open water. If you are winding fast, make sure you do not point the rod, soft or stiff, at the lure. Keep a safety angle or, all the pressure of a take falls on your line. This can lead to disastrous consequences. It's called a 'smash take'.

Iestyn:Rod lengths, modern lure rods tend to be 6-9 feet in length. For shore fishing 8’ and 8`6" are regarded as the ideal length, providing plenty of casting power and control over the lure due to the nature of the ground fished. The shorter 6-7’ rods are better suited to boat and kayak fishing due to restricted space and movement.

Keith:There is current trend towards the use of jigs and soft lures. Sometimes you can get away with a longer rod but for extended periods and the best take detection, a shorter rod between 7' 3” and 8' 6” can be a wise choice if you think your fishing may lean this way in the future. These shorter rods still have lots of other advantages as mentioned above.

What type of reel, baitcaster or fixed spool?
Keith:Both are just fine but most Bass rods are rung and equipped for fixed spool. Lures over about 14g will cast fine on a baitcaster but distance will be limited due the amount of control needed on the spool. Braids in the 8 - 15lb class work great on fixed spools as long as you slightly under fill the spool by perhaps 1 - 2mm. I would suggest a 4.7:1 thru 5.0:1 retrieve ratio for most plug fishing and soft lure work. For spinner and buzz baits in the sea, a higher ratio is better so the blades will still be turning without it tiring your wrist. A 3000 to 4000 sized reel is just about right for lure fishing in Britain.

Learn to long cast but, don't associate long casting with casting OUT. Cast along structure, near weed, along the rocks and your success rate with improve. Clear water and bright light often means getting a plug away from you but that doesn't always mean straight out to sea.

Iestyn:Fixed spools reels are the preferred choice for lure fishing. A 4000 sized reel is ideal and will cover the majority of all your fishing needs. More specialised aspects of lure fishing may warrant the need for a smaller sized fixed spool or indeed a baitcaster. Braid is the choice for any lure fishing and when spooling up its best to under-fill the spool by 1-2mm. 20lb braid is a good starting point, again specific styles may require lighter or heavier breaking strains. Leader choice is copolymer or fluorocarbon at a length of around 18-30 inches joined to the braid via an Albright knot completes the set-up along with a suitable lure clip. Based on 20lb braided mainline, a copolymer or fluorocarbon leader of 15lbs matches well together and also benefits break-offs from fish or snags without trailing yards and yards of braided mainline.

Keith:Be careful to buy a reel with a spare spool to start you off. I would suggest most people lure fishing for Bass should invest in a good quality but hard wearing braid like Yamatoyo Super PE, Sunline or Power Pro and leave about 1.5mm from the spools lip when spooling the line. Smooth your cast as braid can be quite nasty if it tangles. If it does, do NOT pull it tight. Instead, use the point of a hook and tease out the tangle gently. On your spare spool either carry a lighter braid for soft lures work or even a newer spool-able fluorocarbon line as this stuff is way more abrasion resistant around hard reef than braid.

Which lure should I use?
Iestyn:It’s a minefield out there! There are thousands upon thousands of various lures and colours to choose from. The easiest way would be to categorise the types and select accordingly to the ground you will be fishing over.

Surface lures - Walk the dog, poppers, stick/pencil baits etc are all names for these (on times) devastating lures and carrying a good selection will see you covering most eventualities. Speaking to local anglers and/or joining an internet lure forum are all good ways in determining the lures that catch fish from the ones that catch anglers!!! When it comes to connecting the lures I first attach a copolymer leader to the braid using an Albright knot. Notice I said copolymer! Now I’m an avid fan of fluorocarbon and for all my other set-ups I use fluoro, but for topwater baits I find a copolymer leader that floats works better for me because fluorocarbon lines sink, as fluoro sinks it pulls down and straightens the lure which is great if its tail heavy but not for lures that float horizontally. To this I tie a JB swivel clip in either a size 2 or size 3 dependant on lure size and clip on my selected lure.

If I was to suggest one model, it topwater lure it would be the O.S.P Yamato pencil popper which is just truly fantastic. It is equipped with two line clip eyes. When fished clipped to the bottom eye, the lure can be "walked", "popped" or "splashed" in a very enticing manner, additional side cups create a nice wake and water disturbance enhancing its appeal. Clipping the line to the top eye connector allows you to make the lure dive, a couple of hard cranks sees the lure dive to a couple of feet and allows you to work the lure by "twitching", "sliding" or even a sub-surface walk the dog. A very versatile topwater lure with a central rudder for sturdiness in calm and choppier water.

The next water column to consider is sub-surface to depths of around 2 meters. Again O.S.P. have produced a suspending lure called the Rudra SP which produces some of the best actions there is in one single lure. It can be fished from 1’ to around 7’ dependant on rod angle and retrieve speed. (The lure needs to be cranked down to achieve desired depth). When you have chosen the depth the technique for this particular lure is to jerk, stop and pause and to twitch the lure all the way back right to the rod tip. When pausing and stopping the lure, it sits perfectly balanced. Don’t be afraid to leave the lure sat (dead) in the water for periods of a minute or more, the natural current and movement will actually be continually moving the lure and is often when a hit occurs, hold tight to your rod the takes can be savage! Another huge benefit of this lure is that it can be worked in calm to rough seas, it is a delight to use and more importantly it works. Again the lure is clipped via a JB swivel clip (size 2 or size 3) only difference when fishing this set-up is leader choice as you will need a fluorocarbon leader.

One question that seems to arise over and over again is "what colour is the best"? Take a look in any pluggers lure box and you will find all manner of colours and colour combinations and the simple answer is there is no one single colour, moreover a selection of colours that all have their use dependant on the conditions. As a guide, in bright calm conditions with good water clarity subtle and natural colours come into their own and are less likely to spook fish than bright gaudy colours.

However the flip side is in rougher, overcast days in murky waters the subtle natural colours are just "lost" in the water and its then that a bright coloured lure works. So a varied selection from clear "ghost" colours right through to black all have their place. Another factor to consider is rattles. A similar rule to colour selection can be applied. In calm flat water a loud rattle can spook fish yet in choppy water or murky water a loud rattle is like ringing the dinner bell and gives the fish something to home in on! Here’s the BUT......rules are there to be broken! Whilst applying this rule of thumb will certainly increase your catches always be prepared to try something different. Above all else be confident in what you’re doing.

Another frequently asked question is "do big baits catch big fish"? The simple answer is yes they do. But then smaller lures also catch large fish! So again, there in lies the decision. My way of approaching this is straightforward and works. I always, always set out to match the hatch with colour and size mimicking the prey fish and establishing the depth to fish the lure at. When I do fish big lures it’s either to match the prey fish size but usually for the sole purpose of provoking a fish to strike. Scaling down in size is also another option, you may catch small(er) fish but as is often the case targeting smaller species and creating activity can and does switch on the bigger fish.

My three point plan:

  1. Match the hatch (size, colour, action, speed etc)
  2. If you know there are fish in front of you but they’re unresponsive or wary, fish BIG lures, and fish accurate. Stick the lure right in front of them enticing them to strike.
  3. Scale down looking for smaller (or different) fish. Generating action in the swim can really switch big fish on.

Keith:Not many lures will truly suspend horizontally in saltwater from the box. I wouldn't worry too much about that as most will slow float and that alone is a deadly presentation. The Rudra like the DEPS Balisong Minnow SW is great at pulling down, really fast (use of a stiffer tip rod helps the lure make a lot of commotion) making running depth with noise, vibration and rattle and then, bringing the lure to a dead STOP!

Just take up the slack line but do not move the lure. A little known fact is that Bass, amongst other predatory fish will investigate most anything and they will approach the scene of heavy commotion like you just made with your lure. Wait for the fish to find your lure and hang on. Always give the Bass time to come. That might take 30 seconds or more. Then just twitch that lure as a Bass may be watching or, be sucking it in to its mouth as you turn the handle. Be ready because, this type of strike is really common and incredibly powerful and, if you aren't ready, you can be sure the Bass will be.

Last season during testing we were amazed by what at first glance looked like yet another minnow type lure. The market is flooded with these and some work better than others. I'm talking about the Jackson Athlete Slim range in 12 and 14cm. These can be fished fast, like the O.S.P Rudra but these send out signals big time. The model has a loud rattle and what we call a wide activation speed. This means, fished fast, slow, jerky or stopped, the plug is working for you. Try cranking this one quickly with short 2 – 5 second stops to let the plug casually rise a little. It's called 'pull and rise' and is a deadly Bass lure presentation.

Fishing new ground?
Iestyn:OK so we have covered the types of rods, reels and lures that we are going to be using, so it’s time to hit the coast. Miles upon miles of sand, rocks, headlands, tidal causeways, boulders, estuary systems etc. So how do you decide a mark? Where would you expect the fish to be?

Of course there is a lot of information via the web, forums, local tackle shops, catch reports etc, but as so often is the case misinterpretation, undisclosed marks and the like still make deciding where to fish very tricky.

The main factor to consider when choosing your mark can be long and varied, but when you find the mark that ticks all the right boxes your halfway there! Factors to consider, first and foremost… Food supply. Whether it’s small crustaceans, shellfish, crabs, baitfish, etc there needs to be a readily supply of food. To find marks that hold a plentiful supply, experience has taught me that rough ground like weed covered rock and boulders is a good start or indeed any features on clean ground venues where there is sand banks, bars, gutters and cover. Familiarising yourself with the venue at low water on big spring tides even taking pictures or making notes on a notepad will pay dividends. If there are rock pools check these out as well and look for any potential meal for prey fish and predators.

I cannot stress the importance of knowing the ground you’re fishing over.

Other signs to look for - In shallow water studying the water surface will give away the composition of the sea bed and is easier to "read" than deep water marks. When you get to your mark, before even considering casting out, study the surface. Are there areas of calmish water and areas of faster water? Is there white water and boils? These visual indications allow you to establish the nature of the ground your fishing. For instance, deeper holes and pockets on the sea bed will be seen on the surface as calm, flatish water. Shallow areas are observed by faster water movement, (whether its boils, white-water etc) suggesting reef structure, boulders, rocks, weed, obstacles etc.

Look for the deeper, calm water pockets at the edge of currents as this is a key area to locating baitfish which become "trapped". Shallow fast currents make it difficult for the baitfish to move through the current travelling against the tide and then holding in the shallower water. They will however use the tide to move out of the deeper water when the tide turns and swim with the tide, again the same location is where you need to be putting you lure as predatory fish will be waiting for an easy meal at the edge of the current between the deeper and shallower ground.

If you have the time, viewing the mark at both sides of low water really will pay dividends as the mark on the last of the ebb tide and the first of the flood can act completely different. Same rule applies; seek out the calm, deeper pockets of water next to current.

Whenever exploring a new mark it is easily to get carried away in all the euphoria but never ignore your safety, make sure your not going to be cut off by a rising tide or indeed knocked off your feet in swells, fast water, heavy seas etc.

So now you have got to your chosen mark, identified fish holding features its time to start fishing. The best way to explore new marks is to specifically work the water column starting with surface lures and subsequently working deeper until takes are forthcoming. At new marks tackle losses are to be expected as it’s the nature of the game. Identifying potential snags at low water and reading the water when fishing will save on lost lures but at the same time these are fish holding areas and you have to be in it to win it!

Keith:Tools like Google earth, local maritime maps and tidal charts can help you find Bass. All water moves. Tide is the water level rising and falling. Current is the lateral or side to side movement of the sea. Bass know where the strongest current will be and so should you. Try to never pull a lure against and current. It is unnatural and though you may indeed catch a few small fish this way, working a plug just a little faster than the speed of the water can bring exciting results.

Bass like weed, find it. They like it rough and tough. Seek it out. White water? Bass love it and so will you. Think like a fish to catch a fish.

If there was ever one golden rule to lure fishing for Bass then that is confidence in your lure. I can state right here and now that if you do not “believe” you will not reap consistent results. The plugs mentioned above have fooled some very large fish. We’ve had many fish to 9lb using the Jackson Athlete Slim range. The O.S.P Rudra SP has caught countless fish over 5lb. The suspending Deps Balisong Minnow 130SW, 2x 7lb'ers for me! We are giving you the heads up to give you some confidence. Both myself and Iestyn make our living from guiding with lures so we have to choose the best there is. Believe me, the fish know the difference.