Small Baits for Spring Saltwater Fishing

March is the month that ushers in spring. Spring's warmer weather and warmer water welcomes new life to Texas' inshore bays. Shrimp, crab and finfish have - or soon will - release this year's crop of younglings. When this happens, the bay's resident predators will shift their focus from large, hard to catch adults to the young, naïve hatchlings populating the flats.

This transition doesn't happen all at once. Rather, the spawn of various species is staggered throughout the spring and early summer. But, March marks the start of a three month run of hatchlings in our bays. To up their odds for success during this time period, anglers should `match the hatch' by downsizing lures, baits and flies. Anglers should also shift their focus to areas where predator fish are most likely to be able to ambush or attack the small fry menu items.

WHERE TO LOOK
As is typically the case, predator fish will be found where the food is. During spring and early summer, the majority of the food is located near where it was hatched. For shrimp, crabs and a myriad of baitfish, this typically means marshes and back lakes.

When spring tides push extra water into these nursery areas, redfish and speckled trout will ride the tide right into a dinner buffet. Anglers should do the same, following the water into flooded areas.

When tides recede, fish will usually fall back into channels that lead into these backwaters. But, if there is enough water to allow them to stay in the back lakes and marshes to feed, they will.

As the weather continues to warm and the hatchlings continue to mature, they will eventually begin finding their way out of the backwaters and into the open bay. At this point, anglers can often find packs of specks and reds awaiting the departure of the fry at the openings of drains, channels and bayous that connect with back lakes and marshes.

Once they enter the main bay, the young shrimp, crabs and fish will rarely strike out straight for open water. Instead, they typically feel their way along shorelines. When fishing shorelines, anglers should look for points or other features that will cause schools of bait to interrupt their course. These are natural ambush areas for predators.

Whether fishing along the shore of an open bay, near a drain or in a back lake, anglers should always look for flooded grass - or in the case of the extreme lower coast, mangroves. When given the opportunity, young fish and shrimp prefer to cling close to flooded structure like cord grass in order to have some semblance of protection from predator fish. But, of course, specks and reds and other species know this and will often bull their way through flooded grass in order to feed on these young prey items.  At times like this, anglers can often spot feeding fish by looking for any areas of grass that are moving in an unnatural fashion.

Of course, not all marine animals spawn inside protected backwaters. Indeed, many lay eggs and hatch their young in the open bay. And, as previously mentioned, at some point even those born in the backwaters must make their way into the bay.

Whether they were born in the bay or migrated there, all small fish and crustaceans will be seeking shelter while growing up in the bay. Hard structure such as oyster reefs provide a measure of protection. But, where available, grass is the preferred shelter for most juvenile marine animals.

In areas of sparse bottom growth, fishermen should concentrate their efforts near isolated grass beds. Over vast grass flats, anglers should focus on the edges of grasslines and in the barren 'potholes' that pockmark the flats. In every instance, the sudden transition from grass to bare bottom provides an ambush point predator species use to their advantage.

WHAT TO THROW
Super Spook Jr - March not only ushers in the start of spawning season for many marine species, it also sees warmer tides lapping against the shores of the Texas coast. The influx of bait and warmer water tends to invigorate predator species such as speckled trout, snook and redfish. As a result, many bay systems experience a good topwater bite during March. Of course, spring can be windy and the resulting rough water often dictates using a topwater plug big enough and noisy enough to gain attention over the roiled water. However, on calmer days - or when fish are dialed in to smaller baitfish - try tossing a smaller topwater.

Among the best 'junior' surface plugs is the Heddon Super Spook Jr. Measuring just 3 1/2 inches long, the Super Spook Jr. effectively imitates smaller mullet as well as newly hatched speckled trout (yes, trout eat their young).

Creme Spoiler Shad - The 3-inch Creme Spoiler Shad swimbait is a perfect imitation of juvenile mullet and shad. And, it's paddletail gives off plenty of vibration to attract fish in the often-murky spring waters. The Spoiler Shad can produce fish by simply casting and reeling, but can also be jigged, bounced over the bottom or buzzed just beneath the surface.

Heddon Torpedo - Another effective 'downsize' topwater plug for spring and early summer is the Heddon Torpedo. At 2 1/2 inches, the Baby Torpedo is a great bait for casting near rafts of small baitfish. When twitched, the bait's propeller causes enough commotion to be heard over the finning bait. This bait is particularly effective when fished around marsh drains and bayou mouths where schools of young fish are likely to be funneling out.

Bomber 14A - Texans have longed fished floater/divers. The Cordell Redfin has always had a prominent place in Texas speckled trout lore. Measuring 3 1/2 inches and diving to depths of 3 feet, the 14A is practically the baby cousin of the popular Redfin. On calm days when visibility is good and ambient sound is at a minimum, the Bomber 14A is absolutely deadly when fished over shallow grass flats or swum through potholes and channels.

Spoons - Weedless spoons such as the Johnson Silver Minnow have long been favorites for fishermen on the Texas coast. However, during the spring and early summer, anglers should shelve their 3/8 and 1/2 ounce models, opting instead for 1/8 ounce sizes. Per usual, silver, gold and copper will all be productive. Spoons are especially productive over grass flats when newly hatched baitfish are hiding in the grass.

DOA Softshell Crab - Once juvenile crabs have grown to about the size of a 50-cent piece, they will move out of the backwaters. As they are making their way from the nursery areas to the open bays, they are easy pickings for predators such as redfish, which are often congregated at the bayou mouths waiting for the tide to sweep the young crabs out. In this situation, freelining a DOA Softshell Crab can be absolutely deadly.

YUM 3-inch Wounded Tube - Though they are typically thrown by freshwater bass fishermen, tube lures can be deadly effective on saltwater fish as well. The 3-inch YUM Wounded Tube is just the right size for spring flats fishing. And, when rigged 'Texposed'-style on a Stanley SwimMax Hook, it can be cast into the densest grass, making it the ideal lure to throw when fish are buried on grassy flats or swimming through flooded cordgrass along the shorelines.

WHEN SMALL ISN'T SMALL ENOUGH
Although the above mentioned 'junior' size lures will usually produce good catches during spring and early summer, there are times when fish are keyed in to tiny shrimp and baitfish and will hit nothing else. Under those circumstances, it usually pays to go 'extra small.'

DOA Tiny Terroreyz - Measuring just 2-inches and available in weights of 1/32, 1/16, and 1/8 ounce, the Tiny Terroreyz is an excellent bait to throw when reds and specks are cueing on glass minnow fry and other diminutive baitfish. The transparent colors often work best in clear water conditions. The Tiny Terroreyz can also be rigged and thrown as a tandem.

DOA 2-inch Shrimp - Like its baitfish counterpart, the 2-inch DOA Shrimp is an excellent bait to throw when fish are keying on small food items. Since it comes rigged weedless, the 1/20-ounce shrimp can be worked easily over grass beds. It, too, is very effective when rigged tandem.

Creme Spoiler Shad (2-inch) - A dead-ringer for glass minnows and other teeny baitfish, the 2-inch Creme Spoiler Shad can be fished in all the same manners as the larger version.

Blakemore Roadrunner - The same 1/4 and 1/8 ounce Blakemore Roadrunners used by freshwater crappie fishermen work well in saltwater when fish are turning their nose up at anything bigger than an inch or two. The standard marabou Roadrunner can produce well, but anglers can also buy the jig heads and rig them with downsize plastics.

A WORD ABOUT EQUIPMENT
With the rare exception - Super Spook Jrs, for example - downsized saltwater lures are light. And, most often, spring winds are brisk. Therefore, it typically isn't the best idea to try flinging these lures on your favorite baitcasting outfit. Rather, a medium light spinning rig is a better choice. Something along the lines of a 7-foot, medium-light, fast action rod paired with a reel capable of handling 125 yards of 8 or 10 pound test is a good, all-around 'light lure' outfit.

Again, although standard baits will still produce this time of year, there will be those days when the fish are feeding strictly on certain-size items. At times like these, it can pay off to have a light rod and a few 'kid-size' baits to save the day.