How To Work Our Lures
I get asked a lot about how to work our lures, and this is another one of those questions that doesn’t really have a single answer, so firstly, I'm going to do my best to break it down and explain how I think about it and secondly, I'm going to give some examples of what works for me,
Let's not overcomplicate things, there are basically only like 2 ways you can retrieve a lure, you can reel it straight in or you can “work it” with a series of twitches & pauses, that’s it.
I personally am not a huge fan of reeling straight in or the “jigging action” where the lure is constantly bouncing wildly up and down, that's not to say that these retrieves don't work, just my personal preference, I try to keep it natural, working horizontally within a 6-10” section of the water column, even if I’m fishing deeper and letting it sink, I won’t pop it up out of that zone.
I try to fish as small a zone as possible so that when I get a bite, I have a fairly good idea where that fish came from and I can retarget that zone on subsequent casts and if I get more bites, it allows me to quickly build a pattern for the day,
You can also do this using the jigging action by paying attention to where the fish hits the lure, it might be at the top of the pop or the bottom of the fall, etc.
This is super easy with a "reel it straight in" retrieve as you simply need to pay attention to how fast you're reeling and then match that once you start getting bites,
Anyway, you get the idea!
Just start with whatever retrieve you want, then slow it down, speed it up, pause longer, add shorter pauses, more erratic twitches, more lazy pulls etc. etc. until it starts working, then keep doing whatever you were doing.
Something else to keep in mind is how much the jighead you decide to use affects the retrieve you're going for, IE: if you're trying to work a lure erratically on the surface, it's gonna be hard to do if you've got a big 'ole 1 ounce jighead tied on (if you're curious about it, I've got another post on jighead selection here)
I don’t think any one retrieve is better than the other, what the fish are into varies, it’s your job to figure out what they want, the most important thing is to just pay freakin attention!
Another thing I think is super important to pay attention to, is how the fish strikes your lure, did it just crush it and jerk the rod out of your hand? Did it just kinda start to drag and feel heavy on you? Were there several taps and missed hooksets before it finally committed? This can tell you a lot about how eager, or not, the fish are to eat your lure.
If they’re just crushing it, chances are they're actively feeding, which means there's probably some natural bait in the area and it might be a good idea to make your retrieve a little livelier to give them something to focus on chasing down (this also might warrant a brighter color selection)
If they’re hitting sluggishly and seem resistant towards biting, maybe you tone it down your retrieve (and/or color) a bit to give them a little easier, harder to pass up target.
So, as promised, here are a few examples of how I personally do it, it would be impossible for me to account for every scenario that you may encounter so just keep in mind that the general approach is trying different stuff until you figure out what works, remember, don't over complicate it.
I approach this similarly to color selection, I’ll start out with my standby retrieve, that's worked well for me, it's made up of a fairly erratic series of small, quick twitches and pauses of varying lengths at a normal-ish(for me) pace and then I'll adjust it if needed,
For instance, I might speed it up a bit(with a light jighead) to keep the lure up out of the grass if I’m fishing shallow,
If it’s a little deeper, I might start off quicker and then slow it down to work different zones of the water column, lengthening the pauses to let the lure get down a little further before I start my next series of twitches until I hone in on the depth they're hanging out in
Something else I pay attention too is the bait, for instance, if I see a lot of mullet on the surface, I’ll start off letting my lure sink down a bit beneath them and working it erratically with longer pauses mixed in so that it stands out as like a stunned straggler that can be easily picked off by predators.
Structure, if you have it, can also play a part, if you have say a ledge and you’re throwing your lure up shallow working it through the shallow water and then off that edge into deeper water, you might try letting your lure sink down passed that ledge as oftentimes predators are waiting there to ambush natural bait coming out of the shallow water(bonus points if you also have a current pulling water over that ledge)
Maybe you even have some structure paired with current, like an oyster bar with a point sticking out across the current that creates a little dead zone where predators can hang out waiting for bait to be brought over the top of the bar by the current, it would probably be a good idea to set up down current of that bar and toss your lure up over the oysters, working it quickly to keep it from getting stuck, then letting it drop as soon as it gets over that dead zone behind the bar, hopefully it drops down right in a large fish's face!
In another scenario you may be sight casting where you can literally see how the fish reacts to your retrieve(and color), you might throw ahead of a school of fish and barely move your lure or even just let it sit while they swim up and hopefully one just kinda sweeps it up nice and easy, or you may try throwing past a fish and then ripping the lure right up in front of it to get it to just react and bite, obviously if one of these approaches doesn’t work, try the other one (that’s kinda the whole idea here)
Another factor affecting your retrieve can be the species you're targeting, for instance, if I am targeting flounder, a flat fish that lives on the bottom and ambushes prey, I’ll use a little heavier jig head and skip the lure across the bottom with quick little twitches, maybe even pop it up off the bottom a few times and let it sink back down if they’re feeding aggressively, since I've found flounder seem to enjoy chasing a bait up off the bottom when they're pissed off,
The beauty of fishing, is of course, me sitting here talking like I know something, then going out skipping a muddy bottom for flounder with a little Mini Money and this 7lb trout thumping it instead, lol.. you just. never. know.