Technique works especially well in cold, clear water
When Willis Trapp of Camden, S.C. told me he uses artificial lures in conjunction with live bait, I kind of cringed. I envisioned a Texas-rigged worm/live minnow combination. I just wasn’t sure how natural that would look. But he explained a little further, and it made perfect sense.
“It works for a lot of species. And it works well in cold weather. I first started doing it on Lake Wateree while fishing off a dock. But I’ve used it from boats too. And on stripers, bass, redfish, and speckled trout,” he said.
He first used the technique as a teenager when he couldn’t buy a bite from crappie, even though he could see them follow his small spinners and crankbaits all the way back to the dock.
“It was frustrating. I could see them come all the way in. If I paused the lure, they’d stop and look at it for a second, then just swim off. If I didn’t pause it, they’d follow it until I pulled the lure out of water. They were interested enough to follow. But they wouldn’t bite for anything,” he said.
But then something turned a light bulb on in Trapp’s head.
Attract the fish, then hook ’em
“I was reeling in a little lure. A crappie was following just like normal. And then a few minnows swam past my lure. The crappie immediately crashed into those minnows. It was like someone out walking leisurely, then breaking into a sprint. I scooped up a few minnows with a handheld net,” he said.
Trapp rigged up a live minnow on one rod and placed it in a rod holder on the dock’s railing. Then he made another cast with his spinner. Once again, a crappie followed the lure in without biting. But when it saw the live minnow, the fish abandoned the lure and sucked the live bait right in, bending the other rod over.
“That was a game changer for me. I can’t begin to count the numbers of fish I’ve caught doing that since then. It’s been great in the winter, but it works other times too. Basically, anytime I see fish follow my lure but they won’t take it, that’s when I try it. I catch fish almost every time I try it,” he said.
Trapp said it works even when live bait alone doesn’t turn the fish on.
Fish can’t seem to help themselves
“I might toss out a live minnow and the fish never find it. But swimming an artificial lure by them, they’ll follow that. And then when they see the real thing, it’s like instinct takes over or something. Seeing that different, live bait right there. They just can’t seem to help themselves. It’s like they have time to think about it if it’s just the lure. Or if it’s just the bait. But they get lulled into watching the lure. Then it’s like a switch flips in their head when they catch sight of the live bait,” he said.
“I think it’s the most effective in saltwater when it’s really cold and the water is super clear. Redfish and speckled trout will follow a grub or a Redfish Magic spinner. But they shy away from biting it. But you bring it just behind the boat and have a live shrimp or mud minnow a foot below the surface. Man, they’ll hit it all day long. They can’t stop themselves,” he said.
When finding live bait is tough, Trapp said this technique is not as good with dead bait.
“You want your bait lively and moving around. The closer it is to dead, or if it’s dead cut bait, they just don’t seem to want that,” he said.
Trapp also cautions anglers against getting lulled into thinking the artificial lures are only decoys.
“A fish will still occasionally bite your lure, so be ready for that too,” he said.