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Use Jerkbaits for Multi-Species Saltwater Success

The new FX Series Smithwick Rogue jerkbaits aren’t only for bass fishing. Learn about great saltwater fishing applications.

Smithwick Rogue speckled troutSmithwick Rogue speckled trout

Fishing from shore in a spot where I’d never before stood and hooked up with yet another thick-bodied speckled trout, I’m certain I was flashing a wide grin. The specks were holding in a current line and along the edge of an adjacent eddy, and my Suspending Rattlin’ Rogue jerkbait seemingly was doing the right dance through ideal zone.

It was the second of three recent days in Northeast Florida putting the new FX Series Smithwick Rogue colors to work in tidal waters. I spent days 1 and 3 of the trip with Chris Holleman of Blue Cyclone Inland Fishing Adventures, catching stripers from the St Marys River on the first day and speckled trout from various spots in the Jacksonville area the other day. I opted to go solo the middle day, fishing from the bank. Of course, I wasn’t really on my own, since I caught all my fish from spots Holleman recommended!

FX Series Suspending Rogues were primary lures all three days. They accounted for every fish caught the first two days and the best fish on the third day.

FX Series Saltwater Origin

FX Series Rogue for saltwater fishingFX Series Rogue for saltwater fishing

The effectiveness of the FX Series colors in saltwater was no surprise. These colors were created to match the way baitfish flash colors and appear underwater, and those attributes are the same whether you’re talking about threadfin shad in a reservoir or menhaden or mullet in saltwater settings.

In truth the FX Colors have saltwater roots. Flyfishing in saltwater is one of Frank Scalish’s passions. When he was a touring professional bass angler, any time the tour took him near the coast, he’d find an opportunity to sneak out to do some saltwater fishing. It was on those outings when he started noticing how different baitfish appeared when he looked at them in the water than when they were out of the water. He saw flashes of many colors that he never saw looking at the same kind of baitfish in hand.

That began a process of studying what baitfish look like in the water and comparing that to how lures appear in the water, which showed him that many lures look very realistic in hand but just look kind of grey in the water. The next phase, which extended over several years, was to experiment with paint colors and painting techniques to figure out how to match what baitfish REALLY look like in the water.

The FX Series of colors, now available in the Smithwick Suspending Rogue and Perfect 10 Rogue, is the culmination of all Scalish has learned since that time about matching baitfish underwater. The complex painting process for these colors involves layering of multiple pearl tones to match iridescent flashes, and each pattern has a creamy solid belly, semi-translucent sides, and more opaque layered colors on the back – like real baitfish.

Smithwick Rogues for Saltwater Species Mix

striped bass on FX Series Roguestriped bass on FX Series Rogue

Holleman has a long history of success using Smithwick Rogues in tidal waters in the Jacksonville area. He began throwing a Floating Rattlin’ Rogue decades ago – when most anglers plying the same waters relied almost exclusively on live bait or soft-plastic lures – and he would catch trout, stripers, redfish and more. Holleman likes being able to cover water and to trigger strikes from aggressive fish, and he has generally found that he catches bigger fish with Rogues and with Cotton Cordell Red Fins than he does with other styles of lure. A jerkbait effectively imitates a mullet or a menhaden, which are important forage for larger predator fish in tidal waters.

The Rattlin’ Rogue also became Holleman’s dad’s favorite lure. Holleman’s nephew, Nathan Johnson, still carries a big box or Rogues that belonged to Holleman’s father (Johnson’s grandfather) that the three of them and others have used to catch thousands of fish.

Johnson, who along with his tournament partner Matthew Lewis, is leading Team of the Year points in the Florida Lure Anglers of Jacksonville, is also a huge fan of Rogues, especially for trout. Johnson expanded his Rogue fishing game several years ago, when he discovered the extreme effectiveness of a Perfect 10 Rogue for saltwater fishing. The deeper capacity, ability to suspend in the zone and larger size makes the Perfect 10 as perfect as the name suggests for targeting large speckled trout.

After seeing Johnson’s success with the Perfect 10, Holleman began experimenting with this model as well. It’s now a regular part of his arsenal for trout, snook and more, and he often has a P10 on one rod and a Floating Rogue or Red Fin on another. Even more significantly for Holleman, he has discovered the Perfect 10 to be ideal for catching striped bass from rivers, which is one of his favorite winter pursuits.

Jerkbait Presentations

Boat positioning for jerkbait fishingBoat positioning for jerkbait fishing

Whether he’s fishing a floating jerkbait, like a Floating Rattlin’ Rogue or Red Fin, or a suspending bait, like a Suspending Rattlin’ Rogue or Perfect 10 Rogue, Holleman mostly moves the lure with his rod and takes up slack with his reel, as opposed to reeling the lure to engage action. That makes the action more erratic and gives Holleman more control.

Depending on the aggressiveness of the fish, the rod movements might be soft pulls or have more snap.

With a floating bait, Holleman tends to keep the bait moving, snapping the rod repeatedly and quickly taking up slack to keep the lure from floating up. Unless the water is quite shallow and the bottom extra grabby, he keeps his rod tip low so the bait can dig a bit more.

With suspending baits, pauses play a big part in the presentation. If fact, Holleman notes that almost all his striper hits on a Perfect 10 occur during pauses. Sometimes the stripers knock slack from the line and jerk the rod. More often, as he starts the next rod sweep, he feels the fish and leans into it more to set the hook.

Tidal currents and eddies define most spots where Holleman targets stripers, so when he pauses between rod movements, the bait isn’t stationary, it’s drifting in the current. The suspending nature of a Perfect 10 or Suspending Ratlin’ Rogue keeps in the prime zone as it drifts.

Unlike many anglers, who like to position themselves downstream of a target, cast upstream and work the lure with the current, Holleman prefers upstream positioning when it’s possible. He’ll Spot-Lock his boat a cast’s length up-current of a key seam in the current, let the back of the boat swing around and then cast from the back of the boat to the strike zone. That keeps a suspending bait in the key zone longer. In the zone, he’ll jerk the rod a time or two to engage the action and move the lure toward him, and then the current will carry it back through the key zone on the pause.

Looking Back & Ahead

The one disappointment from my recent trip to the coast was that the FX Series Perfect 10s were not yet available. They would have been ideal for the stripers.

OK. One of two disappointments. It was also disappointing having to leave that good jerkbait fishing behind – and six hours from home.

It’s not all bad, though. That gives me two good reasons to return!