Shocking But True
In my opinion, the tougher the conditions, the more important bait selection and the order in which baits are presented becomes. These are also the situations in which the more fishermen in my boat the better I like it. More baits in the water at one time means I can figure out what’s going on that much quicker besides upping my odds of making contact with an active fish.
Most of the time I’m fishing with 2 or 3 anglers plus myself, so the first person in the boat casts smaller, straight tracking, quicker moving, and natural colored lures that typically wouldn’t provoke many follows, but perhaps get a nip from an otherwise neutral fish. Some of my favorite first baits through are Harassers, Screamers, Showgirls, Flashers, spinnerbaits, Slammers, and Big Games. I might also have the first bait throw a top water, Cisco Kid, Depth Raider, or Musky Train MX for deeper edges. The next person in the boat follows with a bait for aggressive fish, like a double 9 or 10 bucktail, a ripped minnow bait like a Grandma, Big Game High Rail, or a jerk bait like a Squirko or Suick to try provoking a reaction strike or opportunistic feeding type strike.
It is important that the first two baits through are picked for covering lots of water and allow quick, repeated casts to likely looking and known fish holding targets. I normally like to move quickly on clear and lightly stained water, but when it gets tough, I slow down and pick structures apart, hitting the sweet spots much more thoroughly, like I would in dark or dirty water. Aggravating a fish is the idea here, more than thinking you are fishing for a feeding fish. It’s also important that the lures be high percentage hookers because under tough conditions the strikes will typically be more of a nipping, slapping, rolling nature rather than the classic T-bone. If there are 4 of us in the boat, the 3rd bait through is what the 2nd didn’t pick, or a rubber bait in a natural color pattern worked fairly quickly and erratically. The last bait through is what I call the “shocker,” and what I normally throw. Not only is it the slowest and deepest running bait, but it’s also the biggest, brightest, ugliest looking bait in the set. If a fish eats it under these conditions behind 2-3 other baits, it’s a bonus. Its sole purpose is basically as a locator to find fish to come back on later, under more favorable conditions.
Some of my favorite shockers are magnum and pounder Bulldawgs, especially those with bright, contrasting tails; big, slow moving, weighted jerk baits; double 10’s with bright blades and skirt colors, fitted with a large rubber tail, and slow rolled; loud or big zig-zag top waters. Water color does not seem to matter. As a matter of fact, the clearer the water, the better these bright colors seem to work in this application. Surprisingly, these same baits in more natural colors are often the best baits for aggressive fish under low light and/or more favorable conditions.
I don’t want the big, obnoxious baits being cast over the spot first because many times under tough conditions the followers are what I call “one time Charlies” – you will only get them to move once, and I’d rather have them see the smaller, more natural, quicker baits first and perhaps get a shot at them. If they don’t rush and grab the first set of baits through, they will many times still follow the shocker and expose their location. It’s possible to catch a fish on the shocker if the bigger brighter bait happens to aggravate them, but throw the shocker first and the other baits have little chance under these conditions. You’ll just end up with some follows and stories. Interestingly, even though the shocker works best as a locator coming through last when you are casting when you’re trolling, a shocker seems to work best as the first bait closest to the boat and positioned at the bottom of the edge of the prop wash.
Knowing where fish are is a big deal. Do not underestimate the advantage of the “one in the hand is better than two in the bush” theory when it comes to being ready to make your milk run at dusk or in the face of an approaching front during a tough day. The shocker is playing an ever increasing role in my arsenal as a viable tool with a purpose and many times a positive end result.