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February 27, 2009

Guess 'Hoo's Coming to Dinner

Gator trout and bull reds show a taste for "offshore" bait

If fish are striking the bait short, Martinez rigs the ballyhoo segment under a noisemaker float such as a Cajun Thunder or a Mansfield Mauler (the predecessor to the Thunder) and fishes it with a sharp pull-pause cadence. The pull causes the float to make its classic "swoosh-click" sound and make the 'hoo dart to the surface. The pause allows the bait to drift back down in the water column. When the float sits upright, Martinez repeats   the sequence. A short-striking predator rarely misses the bait because the slower-moving target is easier to hit.

Faking It
Martinez also keeps a collection of artificial lures that are effective 'hoo imitators. His lures of choice mimic the flitting, darting action of a greenback. His favorite baits are the Berkley Gulp! 5-inch Jerk Shad in Herring or Pearl. The bait shares the same profile as a small ballyhoo and darts like one when rigged on a Bass Pro Shops' Superline Vertical Drop Hook ( If ballyhoo are hard to come by, he'll also fish them under a Mansfield Mauler or Cajun Thunder, the same way as a half-a-'hoo.

"The fish seem to respond to the action and the smell," he says.

The most intriguing lures are top-waters. The classic 3/8-ounce Smithwick Devil's Horse propeller bait is a novel option that sees little saltwater use in the digital age, but the spitting, darting action generates a dead-on imitation of a fleeing ballyhoo. Small Pencil Poppers such as the Daiwa #4 TD Pencil ( fit the same mold. Work them around grass lines and over sand holes where you see darting bait.

If more conventional lures are your preference, take a long, hard look at the broken-back lures such as the Cotton Cordell Jointed Red Fin and the Jointed Bomber Long "A." These lures have been strong medicine on trout, redfish and snook for years, but they don't really resemble a mullet, do they? The long profile and erratic darting action do look familiar, however.

These lure patterns make you wonder 'hoo is designing them.