I am fortunate to get to fish across the U.S., from Alaska to the Florida Keys. The more I learn about fish; of all species, is that a fish is a fish, no matter where he lives.
All fish have a need to feed, spawn, and seek out shelter or safe zones throughout the year. Some fish are more aggressive than others yet they can all be trigger into biting from time to time in the right scenario. My point is this… By researching the species you are targeting, often times there are alternative ways to catch them than the old worn out methods most anglers use.
For instance, after years of catching catfish accidentally on artificial lures; I made it my goal to purposely go out and attempt to land a keeper catfish on a lure. I spoke with guides, read some biology studies on the aggressive nature and times of Flathead Catfish. I knew that Flatheads predominately ate live bait; turning their noses up at dead or cut baits. I reasoned that rising water would trigger the feeding urge and compel some ‘cats to strike lures.
Thus a few years ago, when a nearby reservoir began to flood and ultimately release high volume of water, I knew this was my chance. I grabbed my stout Ugly Stik Catfish rod, sixty-five pound Stealth Braided line, and a selection of large shad colored Culprit swimbaits and headed to the tail waters. Once there, I found some anglers chunking large live shad into the roaring current. My setup was quite similar- except for the “live” shad. My Culprit/Riptide four inch, soft plastic baitfish imitation closely resembled the shad that were tumbling through the dam gates into the mouths of awaiting fish.
I must admit, the strength of the current took some getting used to! Trial and error lead me to switch to a ¾ ounce head, and I was in business. Unfortunately my fish several fish were all Asian carp. Then I began to feel the concrete “buffers” or walls built to break the mighty strength of the current and limit erosion. I reasoned that any predatory fish would utilize those buffers to ambush bait. (Once again a fish is a fish, whether it’s a Bass, Trout, or Catfish).
A well placed flip drew a strike and a miss. The next toss out; well let’s just say things got crazy! Apparently a giant log or small truck snagged my swimbait, because it felt like the Hulk. Of course the current was increasing my workload, but I knew I had a “good one” on. I battled that fish for some time, finally beaching it on the rocky rip rap shoreline. That twenty-five pound Flathead represented my first, “outside the box” catch caught with unconventional methods.
It only got my desire to target fish of all areas with what I call “cross over” lures. By this I mean using a lure for an entirely different species than what it was intended for. Another great example is when I went to Canada for the first time. The outfitter and other anglers kept mentioning the enormous Northern Pike and basically stated the only lures these big fellas ate were the traditional spoons and in line spinners.
I took it as a personal challenge to catch them on other methods. One again research showed that Pike were very aggressive. I knew they had probably seen every spoon or spinners made, yet they would probably be naïve to “cross over lures” such as my trusty old swimbait. I packed dozens of swimbaits in various colors and sizes. Additionally I stashed several packs of Culprit plastic frogs and some jigs to swim through any weed beds.
While others were casting the same old deal, I immediately began hammering large forty inch Pike on my soft plastic swimbaits! After a few days of that, I gave it a rest and headed into the weed beds. Early on I made long casts with the Culprit frog; retrieving it through needle grass and milfoil. Strikes were heartstopping! Water splashed everywhere as chaos ensued; truly a unique and fun way to catch toothy critters. Additionally swimming a jig through the flooded vegetation was yet one more trick these fish had never seen! I ended the trip with a forty-seven inch monster on one of my “cross over baits” that others claimed wouldn’t work!
Probably one of my fondest trips and most unique “cross over baits” was my first trip to Alaska. I knew the area we would be fishing was a great Salmon fishery and that some lunkers were caught on bright colored flies. Most of the non-fly fishermen, threw spinners and small spoons. I packed along some Blakemore Road Runners, which I reasoned looked like flies but could be cast on spinning tackle. I also brought along some Blakemore Rollin’ Runners which are a slightly larger head and hook but allow the lure to be paired with a “adult sized” soft plastic body.
Again I encountered naïve fish. These big Silver Salmon had never seen anything resembling a Road Runner! Strike after strike, I began to land more than my share of fish! Immediately I knew the shortfalls of my lures. The larger ¼ ounce Rollin’ Runner was perfect except the head size was occasionally too heavy for the shallow streams we were fishing. The larger hook was perfect for the Culprit Mullet, but the big head caused it to foul in the weeds. Thus I often switched to the smaller 1/8 oz. maribou Road Runner and once again hammered Salmon.
Here again presented a unique issue. The small, light wire hook used in the traditional Road Runner was designed for Crappie, and panfish. Our average Salmon was 10-15 pounds! Thus after every catch, I had to re-bend the light wire hook back into shape. Once I returned from that trip, I presented my findings to TJ Stallings at Blakemore which helped influence the birth of the Road Runner 2.0, a larger hook version of the original, but with the lighter weight head design.
My most recent, “cross over” adventure was again to the Great White North. I was invited to test the waters of Lake of the Woods, with my buddy Randy Powell. He was a regular there and had previous caught and released dozens of big Muskie. When I began to prep for the trip, he advised that the predominate lure for those big nasty Muskie, was a large, flashy in line spinner. So what did I do but pack gear completely off the grid.
In my duffle went my trusty Culprit Mullet swimbaits, as well as the new Incredi Swim, some plastic frogs, Strike King Rage Blade vibrating jigs, and some trusty Bass lures like Culprit spinnerbaits and topwaters. Stuff no respectable Musky angler would have! In fact, I took no special Musky rods, because I own none.
In a week of dawn to dark fishing we boated 4 Muskie. All were caught on typical bass spinnerbaits. Heck I never even threw any “Muskie” lures. What’s more, I found that once again lures that work in a particular depth range or “terrain” for a species such as Bass also work well in those same conditions for Muskie and Pike. The fore mentioned spinnerbait was a perfect example as was the Rage Blade which worked great in the thick weed beds on Pike. I had a Muskie follow but not bite it. Also I had a few follows on the swimbaits but alas no bites.
I personally feel it is much more important to match your lure to the depth range, terrain or cover and then search for the proper color. We found that the fish on our trip preferred the flashier colors. Anything chartreuse, electric chicken, red, or bright was the key.
Additionally water color and vegetation type was critical. Finding green (living) grass was the key, as all the fish moved out from the dead or brown grass. Most lures also came through the green grass better; the brown dying grass broke off easier and clung to the lure making it ineffective.
Lastly, by utilizing bass tackle we also presented lures that the fish rarely if ever saw. This was the end of summer and it’s quite possible the fish had gotten “educated” to typical Muskie lures but were “dumb” to bass gear. What I do know is that time after time, I have proven that “cross over lures” can catch fish and often do a very effective job. What do you have to lose by packing some along on your next trip?
story and photos by Tom Cannon