Best 6 Sarasota fishing lures
It comes as a surprise to many visiting anglers that artificial lures can, at times, out fish live baits. As a full-time fishing guide in Sarasota, being flexible in adapting to conditions is critical to success. I use artificial lures very often on my charters, especially in the cooler months. Here is my list of the best 6 Sarasota fishing lures.
My 6 best Sarasota fishing lures are as follows; Bass Assassin jig and grub, Rapala X-Rap, Gulp Shrimp, Johnson spoon, MirrOlure Mirrodine, and Key Largo pompano jig. These are all lures that have proven themselves over the years for my clients on my Sarasota fishing charters. These lures cover the entire water column, from the surface to the bottom. They can also be fished as shallow as a foot up to the deepest water in Big Pass.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
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Artificial lures are effective for a number of reasons. While live bait primarily produces when fish are hungry, lures will elicit strikes under other conditions. Fish will hit lures out of anger, competitiveness, excitement, or curiosity. A lure can be used to aggravate efficient abiding that is something a live bait won’t do. This makes artificial lures effective when fish are both actively feeding and in a more challenging mood.
Artificial baits allow anglers to cover a lot more water than live baits. This is crucial to success when fish are scattered over a large area. Many of the best deep grass flats are large areas. Lures are usually the best option to eliminate unproductive water as quickly and efficiently as possible. Artificial lures are also a lot of fun to fish. They are a bit more interactive and many anglers get more satisfaction out of fooling a fish on “fake” baits.
4″ Bass Assassin Sea Shad on a 1/4 ounce jig head
The most popular and effective artificial lure on the West Coast of Florida, and really the entire Gulf Coast, is the jig and grub combo. Jigs are inexpensive, easy to use, and effective on a wide variety of species. They can be set up to mimic bait fish or crustaceans. The single hook on a jig also allows for a less invasive release of the fish.
My personal favorite soft plastic bait is the Bass Assassin line of baits. They offer jig heads in several different styles with long shank hooks, wide gap hooks, and different head sizes and colors. The 4 inch Sea Shad tail works very well for me here in Sarasota. Colors are endless, with my favorites being Red Gold Shiner, New Penny, and glow chartreuse.
Jig sizes and designs
Jig heads come in a wide variety of sizes styles and colors. Despite that, they are all basically the same. A jig head is basically a hook with a lead weight at the front near the eye. This design allows for some weight to be cast out easily. It also gives the jig a seductive, erratic motion in the water. The most widely used jig size here in Sarasota is a 1/4 ounce. Anglers fishing shallow water will need to go down to a 1/8 or even a 1/16 ounce jig head. Conversely, anglers fishing deeper water or in heavier current may need to bump up the jig weight to 3/8 ounce or even a 1/2 ounce in extreme conditions.
Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits are very easy to use. They can be cast out and retrieved at a steady pace. But, the more effective retrieve is a jig and fall retrieve. The jig is cast out, allowed to sink several seconds, then the rod tip twitched sharply. The jig is then allowed to fall, seemingly helpless. This is the action that triggers most strikes, therefore most strikes occur on the fall. They are effective in almost every angling application. The deep grass flats, passes, backwaters for snook and redfish, and inshore Gulf of Mexico when fish are breaking are all situations in which the Bass assassin 4 inch see Shad is an effective bait.
#8 Rapala X-Rap Slash bait
Plugs have been around freshwater and saltwater fishing for a long time. In freshwater, they are used to mimic a variety of different types of prey. Here in Florida, the primary use is to imitate a wounded bait fish. They do that very effectively! Plugs can be cast a long way and are great to cover a lot of water in a reasonable amount of time. They also elicit some very exciting strikes. One negative of fishing with plugs is the treble hooks. However, several manufacturers, including Rapala, are offering plugs with a single wide gap hook.
My favorite plug is the Rapala X-Rap Slash bait in the number eight size. This slender bait is several inches long and mimics the size, shape, and color of the bait fish that are prevalent in the area. Olive is a very good producer in water that has a little color to it. Ghost is a fantastic color in very clear water and out in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Rapala X-Raps work very well trolled out in the Gulf of Mexico as well as in Sarasota Bay.
These small plugs have produced many nice catches for clients on my Sarasota fishing charters. They are fairly easy to use, with a great built in action. They float on the surface, then dive down a couple feet when retrieved. X-Raps have a great erratic action that triggers some vicious strikes.
Rapala plugs are quite versatile
Rapala plugs are effective in a wide range of angling applications. I use them a lot when targeting snook, redfish, and jacks around oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, and docks. They work very well when trolled in rivers, creeks, and residential canals in the winter. Rapala X-Raps are great fun whenever fish are breaking on the surface. This definitely includes inshore Gulf of Mexico action for Spanish mackerel and false albacore. They are also extremely effective when cast over shallow grass flats that have bait working on them.
The best retrieve when using these plugs is a twitch and pause. The lure is cast out, retrieve quickly for a few feet, then allowed to pause. Short twitches of the rod tip will impart a darting action. Often times, the strike occurs as the bait sits there motionless. Care does need to be taken when using plugs, especially with multiple anglers on the boat. Treble hooks can be dangerous both when casting and releasing fish.
3″ Gulp Shrimp
There are times when the bite can be slow, and this is when I switch to scented grubs. The best one by far, in my opinion, is the Gulp line of baits. Gulp Shrimp in the 3 inch size work very well, in some cases better than a live shrimp. These baits can be extremely productive, especially for speckled trout when conditions are a bit tough.
The formula that was created for the gulp shrimp is very effective. It is more than just a soft plastic immersed in a scent. The scent is actually built into the bait itself. In all honesty, color matters very little, in my opinion. It is all about the scent! As with other baits, they come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. The 3 inch shrimp is the most effective size here in Sarasota. Glow, root beer, and new penny are the top colors.
Gulp Shrimp can be used just like any other soft plastic, rigged on a quarter ounce jig head. Anglers will usually have a bit more success with the Gulp Shrimp working them a bit slower. As stated, the sent is the primary attraction, so the bait should be work just above the grass or bottom in a subtle hopping motion. They can even be brought back in using a steady retrieve, just above the grass.
Another popular way to use a Gulp Shrimp is under a noisy cork. This is very popular in Louisiana and Texas. Noisy floats such as the Cajun Thunder have a concave face which gives off a distinct popping sound when twitched. A 2 foot to 3 foot leader is tied to the bottom of the cork, followed by a 1/8 ounce jig head. The gulp shrimp is then added to the jig head hook. The rig is cast out, allowed the settle, and worked back in a series of aggressive twitches. In most cases, the more noise the better! This is just like using a live shrimp under a popping cork, and can be just as effective.
1/2 ounce gold Johnson weedless spoon
Johnson spoons have been around a long time, originating as a freshwater bass lure. The spoon was designed to work through lily pads and other freshwater vegetation without hanging up.
The 1/2 ounce gold weedless Johnson spoon is a mainstay of redfish anglers all over the country. They can be cast a very long way and worked through shallow grass without snagging the bottom. They have a single hook which rides upper right allowing for good hook sets without catching on the grass.
There are two attributes of the Johnson weedless spoon that make it so effective. They have the ability to run very shallow while still given off a wobbling, seductive action and the ability to cover a lot of water in a short amount of time. Redfish and snook will scatter over the shallow grass flats and stage in potholes and other areas. The Johnson spoon cast very far and this allows anglers to eliminate unproductive water efficiently. They do come in silver as well, but gold is a more effective color in the slightly stained waters where redfish and snook generally live.
17MR-808 MirrOlure Mirrodine
the 17 MR 808 MirrOlure Mirrodine is an absolutely perfect replica of one of our top baits; the scaled sardine. Also known as shiners, white bait, pilchard, and greenback, it is a primary forage of many game fish in Sarasota and throughout the entire Southeast United States. The number 18 color, green back with a white belly, is a very popular color pattern. As with all manufacturers, MirrOlure offers many different sizes and colors, but this particular pattern works extremely well here in Sarasota.
The MirrOlure Mirrodine is a suspending twitch bait. It does not have a bill as do many plugs. It has a more subtle action which at times is extremely effective. The lure sinks very slowly and is retrieved back using short twitches with a pause in between. The bait suspends, hanging there motionless, an action which drives fish crazy. This bait is most effective and water 5 feet deep or less. It is deadly when fished over bars on a high tide.
1/4 ounce Key Largo pompano jig
Pompano jigs are very plain looking. This belies the fact that they are very effective artificial baits. Pompano jigs have a round fairly heavy head with a short, smallish hook and some dressing. This dressing is usually nylon and extends just beyond the bend of the hook. The 1/4 ounce Key Largo pompano jig works very well, and is quite economical. Chartreuse and white are the two most popular colors.
Pompano jigs are simple and easy to use. They are extremely effective in the passes where they are fished vertically. The angler simply drops the jig down to the bottom and is hopped as the boat drifts along. These baits imitate small crabs and shrimp that live near the bottom. Each time the jig is lifted and falls it kicks up a little puff of sand. This is very natural and will fool pompano, ladyfish, and other species in the passes.
The Key Largo pompano jig can also be used effectively on the deep grass flats. There will be some days where the fish actually prefer the smaller profile especially in the cooler weather. It is especially effective over flats that have a mottled bottom with areas of sand interspersed with the grass. These jigs generally will not catch as many speckled trout as the jig and grub combo well, however it catches everything else and will catch more Pompano.
Pompano jigs work very well for anglers fishing off of the beach. Anglers can “tip the jig” by adding a small piece of shrimp to the hook. This is an effective method used to catch whiting, silver trout, and other species out of the surf, especially in the cooler months.
Plug fishing article
Jessica made a perfect cast placing her plug right next to the dock piling on the up current side. A sharp twitch of her rod to caused the Rapala to dive a couple of feet below the surface and dart seductively. On the third pause, the lure just stopped and a nice redfish boiled on the surface, furious at the hook stuck in its lower jaw. Several minutes and a half dozen head-shaking runs later, the slot size red came alongside, posed for a quick picture, and was released back into the water to contemplate its recent adventure. Two hours of afternoon plug casting resulted in this red small snook, several Jack crevelle and ladyfish.
I love fishing, but I really love plug fishing! The reason? Plugs are very productive on a wide variety of species and are a blast to use. Casting is half the fun, making accurate casts under mangrove trees or near docks is very satisfying and challenging. Bites range from subtle takes to downright ferocious strikes. Anglers need to take care, however. Anytime a lure with multiple treble hooks in involved, extra caution is required. Plugs come in many colors, shapes, and sizes, but can be broken down into two categories: surface or top water plugs and sub-surface baits.
Top water plugs
Top water plugs come in two styles; poppers and walk the dog baits. Poppers are very easy to fish and are quite effective. The Rapala Skitter Pop, Rebel Pop R, and Chug Bug are three popular examples. These are floating baits that have a concave face. The technique is simple; cast it out, let it settle for a moment, then twitch the rod tip sharply causing the face of the plug to dig into the water and make a loud “pop”. The famous Zara Spook is the best-known example of a walk the dog. The Rapala Skitterwalk and MirrOlure Top Dogs are also local favorites. The retrieve is a bit more difficult to master. After being cast out, the rod tip is held down near the water and a rhythmic twitching retrieve causes the lure to dance back and forth on the surface.
One common mistake anglers make plug fishing Sarasota is working top water baits to quickly and aggressively. This is particularly true on a very calm day. Slow, subtle action will generally draw more strikes. Another mistake often made is striking too soon. The sight of a large predator blowing up on the top water plug is very exciting, often resulting in a reflex strike that pulls the lure out of the fishes mouth. Instead, wait until the weight of the fish is felt and set the hook in a smooth, sideways manner. This is safer as well.
While a top water strike can be spectacular, more fish are caught on subsurface baits. Most of these lures float on the surface and dive down when retrieved Primarily, the lip on the lure determines the depth the plug will run. However, line size and speed are also factors. Lure manufacturers will have the pertinent information on the box. Rapala X-Raps are my personal favorites.
Plugs are available in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Generally speaking lures that dive down to to 5 feet are the most effective in our local waters. Match the size of the plug to the available forage. Olive is my favorite all-around color, but gold and black and chartreuse work great in stained water, and pearl and silver are very effective in clear water.
Suspending plug such as the venerable MirrOlure can be deadly, particularly on speckled trout. They sink slowly and are worked back with a twitch and pause retrieve. That pause, where the bait just suspends, seemingly helpless, really triggers the strikes. Lipless crank baits, such as the Rattletrap are very easy to use. Just cast it out and reel it back in; they have a great built in action. Chrome with a blue back is the favorite color when plug fishing Sarasota.
I use the same basic rod and reel combos for most of my inshore fishing. Spinning reels matched to 6 1/2 to 7 foot rods with either 10 pound monofilament or 20 pound braided work well. I like the monofilament in open water in the braided line when fishing around structure. A 24 inch to 30 inch piece of fluorocarbon leader is attached to the end of the running line. 30 pounds is a good starting test for leader, though you may need to bump it up when fishing for big snook or toothy mackerel.
Plugs are versatile; just about every game fish that inhabits the Suncoast will devour them. In addition to casting to structure for snook, redfish, jacks, and other species, plugs are deadly when fished over the grass flats. On a recent charter I had a pair of 11-year-old boys score on a bunch of Spanish mackerel using a number eight Olive X Rap. The boys cast into thick bait schools near Big Pass and burned the baits back as fast as they could turn the real handle. Needless to say, the strikes were explosive!
Plugs catch big fish!
Plugs also catch a lot of speckled trout, oftentimes fooling larger than average sized fish. Top water baits are an excellent choice for fishing very shallow water early and then late in the day. In the summer, shallow bars on the edge of grass flats load up with bait, which in turn attracts game fish. Add in a high tide at first light and the result is an excellent situation to catch a nice fish on top water.
Suspending plugs such as the MirrOlure are deadly on speckled trout when fished over the deeper grass, in 4 to 8 feet of water. They also fool mackerel, bluefish, jacks, and other species. These baits do not have a lip, therefore they do not dive. Instead they are cast out and allowed to sink for several seconds, then twitched sharply. The lure just hangs there motionless, helpless, inducing a fish to strike it.
Trolling with plugs
Trolling plugs is a great technique to locate fish when scattered about in a large area. This also works well with children and novice anglers; if they can hold rod they can catch a fish. This applies to the inshore bays, passes, and Gulf of Mexico. That number eight Olive saltwater X rap is my go to lure for trolling. Simply let out half the line, close the bail, and drive the boat around just above idle speed. Sometimes working the rod tip will elicit more strikes.
One trick that served me well on charters when plug fishing Sarasota is to troll the passes. The traditional method is to drift with the current and cast jigs plugs or spoons. Once the drift is complete the boat idles back up and drift is repeated. As you idle back to the start, why not drag plug behind? Many mornings I catch more Spanish mackerel this way, as they prefer a fast-moving bait.
Casting and trolling plugs in the inshore Gulf of Mexico is an extremely effective technique in the spring and again in the fall when pelagic species move through. A large Yozuri 3-D will produce some very nice king mackerel and large Spanish mackerel. Look for birds and bait schools on the surface and troll around the edges of the bait, not right through the middle. The inshore reefs off of Lido Key hold a lot of fish and are very reliable producers.
Sight casting to breaking fish is terrific sport! Spanish mackerel and false albacore will often be seen tearing up schools of helpless baitfish on the surface. Spanish will stay on top longer and not move as much is the false albacore. The Albies can also be very fussy; you need to scale down the offering and go lighter on the leader. With either species, ease the boat into position and cast into the fish or troll around the edge of them and be prepared to hear your drag scream! Anglers can also employ the same tactics from the beach to catch Spanish mackerel.
In the cooler months snook migrate into creeks canals and rivers. The Phillippi Creek, Bowley’s Creek, Hudson Bayou, and area residential canals on Siesta Key all hold fish. The Manatee, Braden, and Myakka Rivers are all productive winter spots. The fish are scattered and plugs allow an angler to cover a lot of water effectively and thoroughly. Black and gold is an excellent color combination in the tannin stained water, as are bright patterns such as fire tiger. If you venture far enough upstream, don’t be surprised if a nice largemouth bass intercepts your offering meant for a snook.
River fishing is a charter that is best for more experienced anglers. This is more of a “quality over quantity” trip. Some trips come up empty, though not very often. But, there is a chance to land a trophy snook on every river fishing charter. Along with the large snook, average sized fish in the 18″ to 24′ range are commonly caught. Largemouth bass, jack crevelle, are also available and are a fun by-catch!
Top river spots when plug fishing Sarasota
Outside bends in the river are prime spots to hold snook. The deeper holes in the rivers will be found on the bends. The current carves out a deep hole in these spots. If cover such as fallen trees exists, that even improves the chances of catching a nice snook! Tides are crucial as well. Outgoing tides are preferred. If these tides occur early or late in the day, better yet. The ideal river fishing conditions would be as flows. A high, outgoing tide first thing in the morning with cloud cover and even some light rain falling.
While saltwater fishing gets the majority of the attention in Sarasota, there are freshwater opportunities as well. Myakka River State Park has upper Myakka Lake in the river flowing through it. Both offer opportunities to catch bass Bram crop he and other species using plugs very small number for Apple is working very well cast towards lily pads and other shoreline vegetation.
Lake Manatee is another local productive freshwater lake. It is quite a bit larger and deeper and offers excellent trolling for crappy in the fall and early winter. The Manatee River flows from the dam towards Tampa Bay it has a good population of largemouth bass sunshine bass a local hybrid and snook as well.
I hope the list of my best 6 Sarasota fishing lures was informative and helps anglers catch more fish!
Capt Jim Klopfer
1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236