Plenty of inshore anglers rely heavily on natural baits like live shrimp or mullet, and no one can argue their effectiveness or ability to attract gamefish. After all, it’s what the gamefish are actually feeding on and what keeps them alive. Other anglers, however, swear by artificial lures, saying they often catch twice, three times, even five times the number of fish that other anglers catch on live bait.
“You do spend a lot of time putting on another bait after reeling in a fish,” said Rick Percy of Reel Chance Charters in Beaufort, S.C. “The time it takes you to pull a live bait out of the bait tank, thread it on the hook and cast it back out is longer than you think. An angler working an artificial lure can already have another fish in the boat by the time you do all that.”
Still, Percy uses both live and artificial baits, because he said both catch fish, and on some days, one works better than the other.
Justin Wright of Morehead City, N.C., also uses both natural and artificial lures for inshore fishing, at the same time, all-day long. His setup is different from most inshore anglers he encounters: it’s a trick he learned while freshwater fishing as a kid on Lake Wylie along the North Carolina-South Carolina line between Charlotte and Rock Hill.
“I never saltwater fished until I was in my late 20s, so when I moved here, I just brought my Lake Wylie crappie-fishing mentality,” he said. “It’s worked for me all along the coast, especially for redfish and speckled trout, and it’s a technique that uses both live bait and plastic lures.”
The first thing Wright does on a fishing trip is rig and set out two rods with live bait under popping corks. He places those rods in rod holders at the stern of his boat, positioning the corks about 30 feet back. He rigs a third rod with an artificial shrimp and begins casting between and past the two corks.
“I work the plastic shrimp in just like normal: twitching it along the bottom, reeling as I go. You can work it pretty fast this time of year because the water is cooling and the fish are beginning to feed more aggressively than in the past few months,” he said.
Some days, Wright isn’t able to work his artificial shrimp much. His live bait is getting hit too often, forcing him to put down his rod to pick up the live-bait rods to reel fish in. He doesn’t mind those days.
On other days, he hooks plenty of redfish and trout on the plastic shrimp, while his live bait doesn’t get touched. He doesn’t mind those days, either.
Most days, Wright finds that using both at the same time go hand-in-hand in a way that reminds him of catching crappie on Lake Wylie as a kid.
“A lot of days, fish will follow your artificial lures for a while, and maybe even nip at them here and there. Sometimes you won’t even know they are following, but other times, you’ll see them follow all the way to the boat, then they’ll dart away as soon as they see the boat. Those days can be frustrating,” he said.
That’s where the live bait comes into play.
“I learned from the crappie that on days like that, if you have a live bait waiting on them that they have to pass while they’re following your lure, that’s usually too much for them to bear,” he said.
“They can’t resist that. It’s like they are curious about the lure and hungry, but something is telling them not to eat that lure. Maybe it just doesn’t look quite natural to them. This is especially true when the water is really clear. They will follow the lure, but are hesitant to bite.
“Redfish and trout are the same way. No matter how wary they are of that artificial lure, they see a live shrimp or mullet swimming around, and it’s like they can’t resist it. It’s like they are mesmerized by this plastic lure and the way it’s swimming, then when they see the live bait, it’s like a reaction strike. They don’t stop and sit there, looking at the live bait. They just devour it.”
“It’s a no-brainer to me. Use both live and artificial bait together, and you’ll catch more fish, Wright said.”