Suspending Plugs Pay Big Dividends

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Frequently, fans of Flats Class ask what is your favorite hard bait?  A top water or maybe a lipped plug?  That question, simply can’t be answered with one bait choice. But, if I widened the possibilities to include an entire bait category… it would definitely have to be suspending plugs for me.  The versatility of these lures in relation to the realism of their profiles and their swimming action always pays big dividends!

Suspending plugs come in a variety of sizes and profiles for inshore anglers trying to imitate finger mullet, pinfish and pogies or any other “fin fish”for that matter. And some manufactures re-create these baitfish with unbelievable realism and detail in appearance. But in my opinion, the bait doesn’t have to be a perfect duplicate of the “Real McCoy”, it does however need to be similar in profile and base color!  For instance, I often choose my bait profiles (look) based on either seasonal forage or the size of the bait currently present in the water on that trip. Once profile and size has been determined,then color is founded on water clarity first and “match the hatch” second for me.  By in large, once the profile, size and color is narrowed down the only other important consideration is retrieve tempo.

photo 2 (2)The lure action and tempo imparted by the angler is generally the “real trigger” of the bite not just the realistic look of the plug. That’s the beauty of the suspending plug category… the angler plays a prominent role whether or not the fish accepts or refuses the lure!  It’s why I enjoy this category baits so much because it provides me the opportunity to coax the fish into striking by varying the tempo of the retrieve. Having control over the plug to simulate a fleeing or a wounded bait and being able to evaluate how the targeted gamefish reacts to it… is priceless!

In most inshore regions, all of the typical littoral zone predators love to smash well presented suspending baits without hesitation!  These baits routinely fool the most discriminating snook, redfish, trout and even tarpon in the hands of a skilled angler. Gamefish are susceptible to this category of baits mostly because it’s  natural for predators to have a primarily “fin-fish” diet, this makes suspending plugs an all-purpose option for anglers.

After much experimentation with sink rates and lure actions, I’ve come up with a few suggestions for our fans who originally posed the question “What’s your favorite lure?” When it comes to selecting a suspending plug for depths in the 1′ to 2′ range, I favor Mirrolure’s Catch 2000 and the entire Mirrodine line-up. I found that these two offerings not only “match the hatch” but re-produce both natural & erratic swimming motions better than all the rest. A close third suspending lure that I do consider a sure fire bet, especially in cooler water temps, would have to be the Paul Brown Lure!  The Paul Brown Lure has been a popular twitch bait in Texas for big trout for decades and now is getting quite a cult following in Florida and the Carolina’s.  There are several other suspending plugs that I enjoy employing in some deeper water scenarios but the above three lures are unquestionably my preferred choices that often pay big dividends for my clients and myself!

Just another suggestion from the poling platform from Capt. C.A.!

October Fishing Report for Tampa Bay

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t share with you all that October just might be the best month to fish in our area. The water begins to cool down and the first few cold fronts begin to seep far enough south to trigger some tremendous feeding action for both snook and big trout!

Also without a doubt, this is the month hard baits start getting a real workout in my tackle bag. In particular, the new Clear Eyes Pro Series Top Dog Jr. from Mirrolure… my new favorite! This one plug creates several opportunities to catch an “inshore slam” in our region, from back bays to flats, trophy fish love to blast surface walkers in October.

Here’s some of the action you can expect in the shallows:

Trout- Begin looking for trout in areas where the shallows are adjacent to deeper water access. Places near the inter-coastal waterways where flats get a good flow of clean water and have healthy sea grass. Also, plenty of bait needs to be present look for birds like Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans and you’ll be on the right path. Don’t be afraid to utilize reaction baits such as topwater or swim baits all day! The Z-Man Diezel Minnow in pearl white or a variety of surface walkers from Mirrolure will help you score some big trout in the 1′ to 2′ depth range.

Redfish- Big schools are still intact but will begin breaking up soon. These big schools love grazing on the outside of big flats in 2′ to 3′ of water and are easy to see from a great distance. Flats holding plenty of sharks and large stingrays are typically where you are likely to encounter these big schools of redfish… again they are easy to spot! Lures that excel and are hearty enough to pull on the brutish school reds are Aqua Dream’s New Crab Spoon and Z-Man Scented Jerk Shadz (Bad Shad color) on a 5/0 EWG Rigging Hook. And don’t be afraid to throw that top water either, big redfish love striking them in October!

Snook- The action on the linesider’s starts to heat up this month with the daylight hours getting shorter. Mangrove lined shorelines with good current and a little depth more than 2′ will often produce plenty of snook action. Naturally action is best this time of year around river and creek mouths but docks are great plays as well. It’s hard to beat a Mirrodine right now or a well placed topwater plug, these snook are looking to eat and fatten up for the cooler weather so expect good action on the bigger moons all month.

Here’s a quick reminder, don’t forget about my two fishing schools this month! The first school is my new Flats Class “Work Shop” on October 11th at Bill Jackson’s in Pinellas Park and my second school is the Flats Class V2.1 at the Strike Zone in Jacksonville, FL on October 25th! These classes fill up fast so please register on my School Page here on my website or email me at to secure a seat soon.

Until next time, keep them rods bent!

Press Release: Flats Class TV partners with Smith Optics

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Press Release: Flats Class TV partners with Smith Optics

Tampa Bay, FL- Flats Class TV is pleased to announce a brand new partnership with Smith Optics, one of the most respected optics brands in the industry since 1965! Smith Optics is based out of Ketchum, Idaho and is a dominant brand with an unmatched following in the Western U.S. and extremely popular with the skiing, surf, and fly fishing communities. But now, Smith is ready to tackle the world of saltwater angling with the assistance of Flats Class TV and the launch of their new proprietary ChromaPop Lens.

Here at Flats Class TV we are excited about this new relationship with Smith Optics! The introduction of ChromaPop is a real game changer for shallow water anglers. This new lens technology, that is exclusive to Smith Optics only, delivers sight fishing enthusiasts a significant advantage! The ChromaPop lens gives anglers a pair of optics that create maximum color contrast and definition by eliminating color confusion. Now, an angler can quickly distinguish a single bonefish over sand, a tarpon under a school of bait or a speckled trout suspended over turtle grass in an instant; this allows for quicker more accurate presentations and ultimately better hook up ratios. How does Smith Optics accomplish this result? Simply by blocking color wave intersections as they pass through the lens, ChromaPop is able to eliminate color confusion so your brain is recognizing true color and contrast faster with much more clarity. That’s the Smith advantage!

Smith Optics also has a reputation of superior quality! Their new lenses are super resilient to scratching and crazing. Plus they use a film-free polarization process that eliminates delamination issues that plague other sunglasses brands! In addition, I have found that the Smith Optics frames are lightweight and durable decreasing the fatigue factor when I’m on the water extensively… day after day. Quality and style is just the beginning at Smith!

By in large, Flats Class TV is identified as a “true to its roots”inshore television program, the new relationship with Smith Optics and their ChromaPop technology is a natural fit for us. I hope our fans are as excited about this new relationship as we are here at Flats Class and see the real advantages that Smith Optics brings to all of those who truly enjoy flats fishing.

By C.A. Richardson, FCTV

Why Lure Color Can Make Fish Bite!

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Over the years, I consistently am asked one question over and over from viewers and students. “What lure color should I choose”? In my opinion, there is truly no one homogenized answer to this relatively simple question. Of course, most anglers roll with the consensus, that light colors work in clear water while darker colors tend to fair better in off-color water conditions. But, I tend to answer this question with a little more in-depth perspective.

I generally consider five pieces of criterion when trying to determine lure color; target species, preferred seasonal forage of target species, water clarity and temperature, plus light penetration. Naturally, different geographic regions tend to have “tried & true” color favorites that have been popularized by guides and lure manufacturers over time but that thought process can be a counter productive on occasion if anglers don’t factor in all variables.

Your target species will play a significant role in choosing lure color because species such as Sea Trout and Snook tend to be more visually oriented predators that ambush prey and take advantage of low light scenarios. So with that in mind, colors that silhouette or contrast (two tone baits for example) might be solid choices at dawn and dusk. Whereas, Redfish likely utilize olfactory and lateral line senses to a greater degree and feed with their eyes looking into the sea bottom. That makes earthy organic colors more preferable especially during daylight hours for “forage rooting” redfish. This mindset lets you play to the strength of these target species when lure color matters!

When I’m speaking of the preferred seasonal forage, I’m actually inferring to the “match the hatch” theory. Throughout the year, there are going to be periods when shrimp are overly abundant or a major baitfish hatch has taken place. These natural phenomenons may dictate lure color choices because gamefish get locked in to a particular color tone and profile during these periods. An example, might be an area where the fiddler crab population is relatively dense. The redfish that feed in that same zone should respond positively to lures that incorporate colors like New Penny or Rootbeer Gold because they (the redfish) associate those color hues as a primary food source.

Water clarity is the one common denominator that most anglers can agree on when making lure color decisions. It’s long been accepted that clear water has most inshore anglers reaching for natural or translucent colors. Meanwhile, turbid or tannin water often bring fluorescent or darker colors out of tackle bags. But there is another factor to contemplate in the water clarity equation… such as water temperature. When the water chills down over the flats most of the bait fish evacuate the shallows, leaving only crustaceans and creatures that live near the bottom for fish to feed on… darker colors prevail here regardless of clarity in these scenarios. The inverse is true, in regards to warmer water temperatures, that frequently flood many shallow flats and bays with thousands of baitfish. This rise in water temperature and presence of minnow bait, by and large,means that lighter colored lures,such as white, silver or bone, are more likely to incite strikes over darker choices. But,predominantly water clarity is still the principal element when selecting lure color!

2014124redAnother essential consideration is available light. Light penetration is dependent on several components like the angle of the sun, cloud cover, water clarity, depth, and even wind! It’s typical and wise for anglers to select darker, fluorescent or two-tone colored lures when available light is very low, or in choppier sea conditions that diminish light penetration. And on those days when the sun is high and the sky is blue, which is often the case in post front conditions; it’s then more conforming to tie on natural colored or translucent baits in smaller profiles to ensure success. The role “light penetration” plays in fishing also has an effect on feeding behaviors of certain species. Many predators are able to adjust visually to changing light conditions much faster than their prey; this happens primarily at dawn & dusk and gives predators such as “gator trout”a tactical advantage.

It may seem like an awful lot of circumstances and information to interpret just to choose the perceived correct lure color. But, for those anglers willing to educate and adapt to conditions where color can leverage an advantage… it’s worth the time invested!

Just another great tip from Flats Class and please remember to keep conservation and ethics in your future fishing adventures…

By Capt. C.A. Richardson

Tide Height & Gamefish Relationship on the Flats?

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troutTidesThe height of the tide is one of the most critical factors when it comes to locating gamefish consistently. Ask yourself this simple question; where is my favorite fishing area and when does it produce the best for me? Is it high tide, low tide, or somewhere in the middle? Once you understand this elementary concept of “fish positioning”you will be well on your way to patterning gamefish based off the height of the tide… and likely duplicating your success in your “favorite fishing hole”in new areas.

In many of my experiences, “high water” often sets up good fishing along mangrove shorelines, oyster bars, pockets in coves, and points where structure is present. I believe these high water zones are regular gamefish producers because prey such as mullet, glass minnows, and a variety of crustaceans seek refuge in these habitats during the higher water phases. What can be challenging about targeting the higher water phases, is that gamefish can spread out over a large expanse so it’s best to develop a secondary pattern (windy or lee shorelines for example) to have more steady results.

On the other hand, “lower tidal” phases concentrate game fish in areas such as: the deeper zones & edges of a given flat, deep creek mouths,and any large sandy troughs, basins, or potholes within the grass flat itself. This lower tide height scenario is by far my favorite as a shallow water skiff guide. Simply due to the fact, that the gamefish that I’m targeting are much easier to locate and generally catch since they’re all bunched up. If you avoid the lower tide phases, because you are concerned about being stranded or trapped on the flat… you are missing out on the best opportunity of all the tides you could fish!


Click image to enlarge.

Lastly, the “middle tidal” movements can be a little trickier to figure out. The reason why,more or less,is the familiarity on how the game fish access the flat from the low tide zones to the high tide zones and vice versa. If you look at a satellite overlay of a typical shallow flat, you will invariably notice deeper egresses where gamefish can comfortably traverse from the edge of a flat to the crown of the flat through the middle tide phase in either direction. When you discover these pathways within the flat, you greatly put the percentages in your favor! At this point it’s just a matter of finding the secondary pattern (what they eat) and your results should be predictably good.

Examine the satellite map image above and notice the typical high, middle, and low water tide height zones plus also take note of the pathways that gamefish might utilize to move about the flat.

Bottom line, if you are not taking “tide height” into serious consideration when surveying a shallow flat, you just might be putting yourself at a significant disadvantage.

Another great tip from Flats Class!