These guides love hard baits for catching quantity and quality of speckled trout and redfish this time of year.
Fishing for saltwater fish isn’t a highly technical endeavor. Throw a few plastic cocahoes, a handful of jigheads and a couple popping corks in your box, and you’ll be ready to catch just about anything that swims.
In fact, several guides attack the entire day with just a bagful of their favorite soft plastics, and leave it at that.
However, there are some saltwater anglers who would never leave the dock without their box of not-so-secret hard baits. Even though these baits aren’t that much of a secret, way too many saltwater anglers still overlook them. Everybody knows these baits catch fish, but few are willing to put down the soft-plastics long enough to give them a try.
Three of Louisiana’s best-known saltwater guides — Capt. Chad Billiot, Capt. Andy Mnichowski and Capt. Barry Brechtel — are hooked on hard baits for trout and redfish, and none of them balk at handing over a big bait with monster treble hooks to their customers.
Billiot guides in the Leeville area, Mnichowski guides in Venice and Brechtel guides out around Hopedale. If you want to catch trout and reds like these guides this year, you better think about putting these hard baits in your box. Some work on top; some work below the surface, but all will put fish in the boat.
Saltwater Super Spook
The Saltwater Super Spook is a souped-up version of the freshwater model complete with tough saltwater components that can withstand the punishing saltwater environment and fish.
Mnichowski helped Heddon develop several of the colors that he felt were a must for saltwater anglers.
“The Super Spook works from May to the first of November,” he said. “All the bait will come up to the surface once the water starts to warm up due to a lack of oxygen down below. The redfish and trout will be looking for something to eat up toward the top.”
Mnichowski says the Super Spook is best for anglers targeting larger trout. The size and colors available make it a close match for the finger mullet that big trout love. And while he loves it for large trout, he did say it’s hard to keep the redfish off of it — like that’s a problem.
“My No. 1 colors are bone and red head,” Mnichowski said. “Those two will work in dirty water or clear water. Also, there’s a new color called spectrum that is dynamite in good, clean water. It has a bunch of different colors — kind of like a rainbow — and it kind of constantly changes colors.”
The Super Spook is also best suited for rough water up to a foot chop because of all the noise it makes. And Mnichowski likes to keep it handy to make those “country mile” casts to a fish that breaks far away from his boat.
Super Spook Jr.
This smaller version of the Super Spook works in identical conditions as the Super Spook, but Mnichowski tends to throw it more if he’s on a bunch of 1- to 3-pound trout rather than the big girls.
“The Junior has smaller hooks, which makes it easier for a big trout to throw it,” he said. “It’s kind of a trade off because I get a lot more bites with the Junior model, and it’s easier to get those smaller fish in the boat with it.
“But a big 6- or 7-pound trout could pull off those smaller hooks a little easier than he could the big hooks on the Super Spook.”
Another distinction between the Super Spook and the Junior is that the Junior is better suited for calmer water because it doesn’t make near the commotion of the Super Spook. Mnichowski sticks with the same colors he uses with the Super Spook.
Bomber Long A (14A)
This is the lure Mnichowski turns to if the water is a little dingy or a little cooler and the fish don’t want to come up to hit on top. It suspends under the water much like a baitfish would, and allows him to make a slow presentation.
“I think it’s so effective because it resembles a glass minnow,” he said. “That’s why they’re so good down here on the river. It’s kind of the bait I turn to when the fish just aren’t going full throttle on the Spooks. I use it if I know I have big fish hemmed up but they aren’t eating.”
Mnichowski said the best retrieve with the 14A is to get it down just above the fish, and work it with a twitch, twitch, pause cadence. It’s a slow, natural presentation that will eventually drive the fish crazy. He likes it best over oyster reefs or little islands.
“There’s a speckled trout color in that 14A that really works well,” Mnichowski said. “There are a lot of other good saltwater colors, but that one works for me every time I throw it. Twitch it over their heads a couple times, then pause it about 3 to 5 seconds, and they’ll rip it. Sometimes they’ll eat it while your moving it, but if they’re active enough to do that, I’m usually throwing a different bait.”
Mnichowski relies on this shallow-running crankbait when he needs a steady retrieve to attract redfish that are over hard bottoms like oysters or shells. Its 3-inch thin body has a tight wiggle that can work where many other lures cannot.
“It’s just a little bait that works great in dirty water when you can see the reds pushing and boiling the water,” he said. “The bait floats when it hits the water like a regular crankbait, but it dives about 2 or 3 feet down with a steady retrieve.
“That steady retrieve with the rattling sound is just what those moving reds are looking for. I like to keep it about a half foot under the surface. I primarily uses the mullet color in dirty water and the sardine color if the water is clear.”
This unique, jointed, floating topwater popper was made with the big fish angler in mind, and that’s exactly why Mnichowski keeps several in his boat when he’s fishing for bull reds near the coast.
“I throw it all the time if I want to catch bull reds,” he said. “When you pop it — imagine the noise from a Pop R amplified by about 20 times. That noise drives those big fish nuts. You can pop it two or three times and let it sit, and the reds will come out of nowhere to explode on it. It’s amazing how much better those giant reds up to 40 pounds will hit the Knuckle Head over the Super Spook.”
There are a lot of great fish-catching colors to use, but Mnichowski almost exclusively throws the white body with a red head. He throws it on sturdy tackle with at least 20-pound-test line because the smallest reds he expects to catch are 27 inches.
“If you want to catch some bull reds,” he said, “find some mullet jumping around, and put that bait on. They will smash it. One of the best things about it is that it’s built so tough that you can catch 10 to 15 huge reds on it before you can’t use it anymore. I’d say that’s getting your money’s worth.”
The best time to throw the Knuckle Head is from the end of May to the beginning of September because this is when the mullet get real thick on the surface. Mnichowski did add that this isn’t a bait to use in a duck pond on the inside. Rather, try it down on the coast where you have shallow water and bull reds roaming.
Billiot reaches for his box of MirrOdines anytime he needs a faster-sinking twitch bait that he can work a little aggressively. The ideal situation for the MirrOdine would be trout holding in 2 to 3 feet of water that are actively feeding.
“The Dine is built to sink a little faster than the MirrOminnow,” Billiot said. “I tend to pick it up if the trout are feeding more on pogies, and we get a lot of pogies in our water around Leeville. I also throw it a little bit more if the water isn’t very clear. It’s the same weight as the MirrOminnow, but it sinks faster because of its thin, wide-body profile.”
While Billiot has caught some good fish on the MirrOdine down on the coast and around the islands, he most frequently uses it in marsh situations. The suspending nature of the MirrOdine makes it awesome for fishing suspended fish over oyster reefs and shells because the bait won’t get down in the hard stuff and hang up.
Billiot typically selects a darker-colored MirrOdine because he says they stand out more in the black-looking water in the marsh that has a black mud bottom. His favorite is the one with gold sides and black back.
“These work best for me on spinning tackle with a 7-foot rod and 8-pound diameter Power Pro line,” he said. “This combination allows me to whip the MirrOdine farther, which is important in clear, shallow water.”
The MirrOminnow is the same weight as the MirrOdine, but is designed to look more like a glass minnow, which is a favorite baitfish for cruising trout. Billiot picks up the MirrOminnow anytime he’s fishing in 2 feet of water or less. It works especially well over the shallow reefs in the marsh, and is productive on the sandbars off the Timbalier islands.
“This is a great bait any time you have shallow trout, which is almost all the time around here,” Billiot said. “The MirrOminnow works perfect when they’re shallow because it suspends in their face. Trout don’t hug the mud like redfish, and this lure makes it easy to target those suspended fish. Even my novice customers can throw this bait out and catch fish.”
Billiot said the MirrOminnow was at its best in clear water, but he added it didn’t have to be perfectly clear. As long as you can see the bottom, this bait will work. This bait has a larger profile than the MirrOdine, which makes it great for larger winter trout that are looking to get the most bang for their buck when they eat something.
“I throw this bait a little more than the MirrOdine along the coast,” Billiot added. “That good green water out there means I go with something like a silver/green or silver/chartreuse color. This bait sinks slower than the MirrOdine, too. That means I fish it more on days when I need to fish a little slower and keep the bait hanging in their faces.”
The Catch 5 is a larger version of the MirrOdine. Billiot said the Catch 5 is his bread-and-butter bait out around East Timbalier, where it has fooled plenty 6-pound trout. This bait works great over the rocks out there, and Billiot said he could work it in 3 to 5 feet of water rather quickly to mimic a big pogie coming through the area.
“It has a fast sink rate, and I can jerk it back quickly,” he said. “It’s the heaviest of the MirrOlure sinking twitch baits, and it works anytime you know fish are suspended around the rocks. It will even work well on suspended fish around the platforms in 10 to 15 feet.
“It’s not so much a suspending bait as it is a fast-sink bait. It will get as deep as you want it to go if you give it time.”
Brechtel also put the Catch 5 on his list of must-have hard baits. He fishes the red head and bone with black and orange around Hopedale, and he believes the Catch 5 is at its best when the fish are active.
“I’ll pick it up if I’m out on some oyster reefs that are about 7 to 10 feet deep,” he said. “It has a quicker side-to-side motion than something, say like the 52M, which gives a better up-and-down motion.
When the Catch 2000 first came out, Billiot used it almost exclusively in the Sulphur Mine in 2 to 3 feet of water on the coldest of days. He knew the big trout were in that range, and that the Catch 2000 was a perfect bait for dead sticking.
“You can keep your rod tip down and fish that thing on bottom much like you were fishing a Texas-rigged worm,” Billiot said. “It will dart and dance right on top of the mud, and it does it very gracefully. This bait is for the coldest times when the trout are down deep and totally lethargic.”
For some reason, Billiot hasn’t had much success with the Catch 2000 down on the islands. He considers it more of a marsh bait because it kind of gets lost in all the commotion down off the coast.
“I work it with the same gear I use for the Catch 5 — baitcasting gear with heavier mono,” he said. “This is a big bait like the Catch 5, but it looks more like a mullet. Therefore, if I’m in an area where I think the fish are feeding primarily on mullet, this is the bait I throw. That’s also why I stick mainly with the mullet colors like a pearl/green look.”
The She Dog is one of the most popular saltwater topwater baits, and lots of anglers already know when and where to use it. Brechtel says your job as an angler when fishing on top is to try to irritate a big female trout enough to make it bite, and the She Dog is the perfect irritant.
“She’s down there on the bed three or four days after a full moon,” said Brechtel. “And she’s already kind of mad and ornery.
“If you’re on that kind of fish, and she’s just tail-slapping all your other lures, tie on a She Dog and work it over her heart. It’s going to make her mad enough to explode on it.”
Billiot primarily uses a She Dog to target redfish that are hanging out in the ponds around Leeville. He likes it on reds because it’s a little smaller than the He Dog, and the redfish can get it in their mouths a little bit easier.
“A firetiger or black/chartreuse She Dog is the first bait I throw early in the morning during a redfish tournament,” Billiot said. “I can make really long casts with it and cover a bunch of water. If there is a red around, it will come over to that high-pitch noise to check it out.”
A She Dog should be worked on the surface in a “walk the dog” presentation. This walking action produces the deadly clicking sound that the trout and redfish find so seductive. Billiot said the ideal situation for a She Dog would be clear water with an incoming tide or beautiful marsh water with 3 to 4 feet of visibility.
“You might be around a wooden platform or something like that with shrimp popping around on the surface,” he said. “You might also be hearing fish eat on top off in the distance. That’s the time to put the She Dog on. It’s one of those baits that you should always keep handy, and don’t be afraid to try it just to see if they will eat it no matter what the conditions are.”
Brechtel turns to the Frenzy Walker when he thinks he needs a little extra noise in a topwater lure. This little-bit-more-aggressive noisemaker works when the water is off-colored or there is a little chop on the surface.
“I’ve found that more noise can make a difference sometimes,” Brechtel said. “It also presents more of a larger mullet look, and it will pull up fish from pretty deep water. It’s worked great for me over the reefs in Black Bay. That little bit of extra sound can really aggravate them up to the surface out there.”
Brechtel’s best color for the Frenzy Walker is the red/white model. He also likes the Shore Minnow version if he needs a little bit more color. The key to his color selection is to understand what the mullet look like in the water at any given time. Think about what the lure looks like above, from the sides and from below, which is the fish’s perspective.
While Brechtel favors the Frenzy Rattler, he did say that the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap would work just as well. The main reason he favors the Berkley model is that he thinks they have better color patterns.
“These are strictly trolling baits for me,” he said. “I’ve done extremely well on them by trolling more than one at a time along the Causeway and the Twin Span. This is best in winter when the trout are down deep and are absolutely dormant. It also works well in murky, dark-looking water.”
Brechtel reasoned that these big trout are sitting down there with nothing to eat when all of a sudden they hear what sounds to them like a school of baitfish coming. They can’t help but take a go at one of those “baitfish” coming through.
“You’ve got to get them to go deep, though” he said. “I use the 3/4-ounce model in chrome/blue and black/silver, and let out a fair amount of line behind the boat to get them to work about 18 inches off the bottom. These rattlers coming through is just the trick needed to make those reluctant trout bite.”
When you just know the trout are feeding on shrimp, you can be certain you can catch them on the Pop’n Shrimp. This lure is designed to be fished over shallow flats and around shallow grass beds.
“The neat thing about this bait is that it has those little tentacles hanging off the hooks that resemble shrimp legs and antennae,” said Mnichowski. “That completes the look that makes it look much like a shrimp popping across the top. The trout and redfish will slam this thing when you’re working around grassy flats.”
Mnichowski said the best way to fish the Pop’n Shrimp is to make it skitter and pop across the surface much like you would fish a Pop R when bass fishing. Work on making splashes with the bait rather than pops, and try to throw a lot of water with it when you’re working it. An easy way of putting it would be to try to make it splash rather than pop.
Obviously, there are lots of other hard baits out there that work well for saltwater fish, but these are what Mnichowski, Billiot and Brechtel would consider the heroes of hard baits. Make sure to put a few of each in your box so you’re covered for all fishing situations.
But more importantly than that, make sure you actually pull them out and give them a try the next time you’re on the water.
For more information, call Andy Mnichowski (504-415-4099), Chad Billiot (985-637-5058) or Barry Brechtel (504-610-6914).
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