One of my favorite topics, and debates, is the use of artificial baits (artificials) for backcountry fishing. I love the challenge of figuring out the target species’ appetite and what makes them eat. Many of you see my social media posts, which will have the hashtag #nobaitonmyskiff. It’s true. My live well has been plugged and rendered inoperable since day one and serves as a great cooler for water and snacks!

For this blog, I’ll break down the information into three basic types: (1) Top water; (2) Suspending (hard and soft baits); and (3) Sinking/search baits. Every category has its purpose and it’s up to each of us to figure out those best times or what we most enjoy using. That decision may be dictated by light conditions, weather, water conditions or a fish’s attitude. I’ll lay out what has worked for me over years and strenuous testing; consider it first-hand research.

Top Water Baits

Top water baits are probably the most exciting when they work because those explosive hits will, without a doubt, be nerve-racking and will get our hearts going! These baits span decades of use and development, and will be very familiar to any that have fished for bass. The saltwater versions are just a bit more robust.

First, let’s cover the classic Rapala SkitterWalk and those similar. I keep color patterns simple and you’ll see this repeated throughout this writing. For these, I like the Bone color and the traditional “Bleeding Baitfish,” which is the red head with white body. These are reaction baits, so the rhythm will be the kicker more so than color. This combination with a rhythmic walk-the-dog cadence has been putting fish in coolers since before my time. The added version with propellers has been just as successful, and by design, it’s easier to use. A simple cast, let, rest and steady retrieve will provide for explosive strikes. For stingy fish, let it pause, twitch, pause and twitch – that will drive them nuts to strike.

A newer topwater lure, one that I use a lot and put in the hands of less experienced folks, is the “Wake Bait.” This is a floating surface lure with a very small lip. When it’s retrieved at a slow pace, it will create an amazing surface pattern, literally a small wake that resembles the wake created by a mullet or bait fish as they cruise along. Folks, if you haven’t tried these yet, do so on your next fishing trip. The results will amaze you. Can you tell I love these lures?

Suspending Baits

Next, let’s turn our attention to suspending baits, both hard and soft.

You’ll notice in the pictures that these hard bait companies do a great job of mimicking bait fish. Rapala, MirroLure and DOA are probably the top producers in this category. This is another easy and effective lure to use, especially when you are making long search casts. Throw this lure, let it sink a bit and, like the walk-the-dog pattern for topwater, use this very similar retrieve. In your mind, imagine that bait is wounded or hurt… its motion will be a bit erratic. Make it stand out and look different to the fish.

Next, the soft baits are ones that I use probably 97% of the time. I am comfortable throwing rigged weedless in the Texas Rig fashion into and as near to the mangroves as possible. DOA, Bassassassin and Zman make really good and durable plastics.

For colors, off white tones work well, such as:

  • Houdini
  • Green Moon in the Bassassassin
  • Beer Run, Shiner and Slam Shady in the Zman

Hard baits will have a similar technique; once the cast is made, let them sink a bit. Subtle twitches of the rod tip, with just enough retrieve to take up slack on the line, is most productive. You want all these lures to stay withing the fish’s strike zone as long as possible. Keep in mind: all these fish are predators, so keep that lure in motion. Anyone on my skiff will hear me say to harass them and “make ’em eat!”

Sinking Baits

Now to sinking search baits and scented baits.

I’ve turned a leaf lately and have begun taking advantage of scented baits, and it has made a noticeable difference in my success ratio. The Gulp family of baits are extremely popular and have an outstanding selection. From shrimp patterns to jerk shad styles, they all work. A newcomer is FishBites, which also offer a broad selection of scented baits. I’ve been tipping Bucktail Jigs with the E-Z Shrimp in pink, and holy cow – what a difference! I almost feel like I’m cheating (almost).

In this lineup, a great, versatile search bait with a solid history in both freshwater and saltwater is the good ole’ spoon. Two versions I use and both equally successful are the Johnson and the Aqua Dream. The tried-and-true pattern is gold, and you can’t go wrong with it. As mentioned, above water conditions may have a say in choice. When fishing in dark, stained water, I throw the darker watermelon-red Aqua Dream and the difference is notable with hook ups. The darker pattern for sure stands out better. Add to that the classic, pulsating rhythm as you retrieve it and… well, you’ll know why these are so successful.

I’ve tried to keep this simple my friends. This ain’t rocket science. These lures one and all have been a blast to fish and all in some way have very successful pedigrees. Give them a try if you haven’t yet. Figure which you like and work best for YOU. That will help keep you boat clean and free of stinky bait.

Have fun and be safe y’all.

About the Author


Joe Garcia is the Brand Fishing Ambassador at Sunshine Ace Hardware.

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