Be the Bait—Artificially, That Is

By Capt. Cefus McRae, Nuts & Bolts of Fishing Series

When guiding there is a question I am asked more often than not. How do I work this type of artificial bait? I will generally answer, “Just be the bait.” The looks and responses I receive from my answer vary. Then I explain what the artificial being used is intended to represent and how it should be used, or how I think it should be used to achieve the desired result.

Different types of artificial bait are designed to do and imitate different things; some are noisy, and some are quiet. Some are to be retrieved fast and some slow. Some artificials are intended to represent fish feeding on other fish, and others are designed to imitate a wounded bait fish. A few I’m not sure what they represent, but they all have one thing in common; they are intended to draw a strike from a hungry predator.

Knowing about the fish you are targeting, and their feeding habits will help you decide which artificial bait to choose. What the artificial you choose is intended to imitate and knowing how similar live baits move through the water or react, is priceless. This knowledge is gained from experience and paying attention to what is happening around you or in the waters you are fishing. The best classroom for a fisherman is on and under the water.

Generally speaking, you are the main component that affects the way the artificial you choose reacts. You ultimately control the action, or presentation of the bait, with the style of your retrieve. The proper retrieve is the key.

A few examples: When fishing with a fly rod you control the action of the bait by rate of retrieve. The speed you strip line coupled with the design of the fly creates the action. The reel is used to hold line and the rod used to deliver the cast plus fight the fish. When fishing with a casting spoon, crank-bait or spinner (for the most part, not always) the action is controlled by rate of retrieve and the design of the spoon, plug or spinner. The action of soft-plastic jerk baits is created by moving the rod. The reel is mainly used to recover line. The rod is used to create the desired results with a top-water plug. These are just a few examples, and by no means set rules. There are no givens in fishing. But there are always exceptions.

The key to proper presentation and success is understanding what to do to make the bait you are using look real. Do not be afraid to experiment. Ultimately the fish will let you know if what you’re doing is “being the bait”.

Tight Lines and Calm Seas,

Capt. Cefus McRae