Mullet, herring, menhaden and sardines swimming erratically just below the surface, throwing a telltale V-wake, don’t swim that way because they’re comfortable. Chances are those baits are speeding away from a perceived threat.
“Distress is typically the ‘running motor’ behind a waking baitfish,” says Patrick Sebile, founder and lure designer for Sebile Innovative Fishing. “Predators are sensitive to any signs showing a weakness.”
The swimming movements of a suffering baitfish, especially when separated from a school, demonstrate why a wake bait’s action is so effective. Wake baits (at least those covered in this fishing article) are lures that have a drastically sloped lip or other design feature that causes them to swim methodically near the water’s surface. Some wake baits work on top of the water, others just below the surface, and a couple can even do both. Each different style of bait tends to leave a tempting wake in its trail — hence the name.
Wake baits are not a newfangled innovation for anglers, but modern and unique designs from top lure manufacturers have reinvigorated enthusiasm for their versatility and effectiveness. A baitfish fleeing in the upper water column creates turbulence that is often felt but not necessarily seen by predators — wake baits provide both commotion and a strong visual.
“Cast a wake bait along a wall where snook wait for prey, above a reef where snappers and jacks look for food, or in front of a manta ray to entice a cobia,” says Sebile. “Nothing is more difficult for a fish than to grab a bait among millions; it’s much easier to attack one alone.”
Check out these wake baits that stand out from the rest.
Egret Kick A Mullet Jr.
The Inside Scoop: Egret’s Kick A Mullet Jr. is a jointed, waking hard bait that features a wedged tail, similar to Egret’s soft-plastic line of baits. “You can feel the vibration of the lure in the rod as you reel the bait on top,” says Louisiana pro staffer Ray Christy. “Make sure to keep your rod tip up if you want the bait on top.” Christy uses the Egret Kick A Mullet Jr. in the winter and spring around southwest Louisiana for trophy speckled trout in the Sabine and Calcasieu lakes. “The Kick A Mullet is a fishable bait right out of the package. I don’t switch out the hooks,” he says. “I can use it as a wake bait or suspending bait; the tail has action even as the bait falls.”
Gibbs Pro Series Danny
The Inside Scoop: Gibbs’ ProSeries Danny Surface Swimmer is built from pine, offering lifelike action few lures can replicate. It also features a stainless-steel lip and is rigged with VMC hooks. “The bait is truly enticing because of the tail action,” says Matt Smalley, sales and operations manager at Gibbs Lures. “That lip gives it so much east-and-west action. The Danny simulates a baitfish at the surface, able to call fish from depths of 25 feet.” The Danny is simple to cast and reel, and anglers can easily feel the wiggle. “Guides love ’em for their customers,” he says. “Still, pros will outfit these plugs to whatever specs they want.” One wild card: Danny Surface Swimmers work for the night bite.
Jackall Mikey Jr.
The Inside Scoop: The Jackall Mikey Jr. is a three-piece jointed bait with a drastically angled bill that creates a killer wake at the surface when fished slowly. “The snakelike slithering in the water, combined with a light rolling action, gives fish something they normally don’t see,” says Dan Thorburn, Jackall’s lure product manager. “Realistic paint finishes help fool fish into thinking the prey is injured and fleeing.” The Mikey Jr. can be fished at different speeds without the lure coming out of tune; this allows the angler to “burn” it back, or just creep it. “I won’t say one lure is better than another,” says Thorburn. “I firmly believe that any lure can work at any time, but when fish are committed to surface- and subsurface-type lures in clear waters, I’d use this bait.”
LiveTarget Wakebait Surface Mullet
The Inside Scoop: The LiveTarget Surface Mullet is a broken-body wake bait that’s electroplated to withstand corrosion. “The ‘trigger’ quality of the wake bait is that it looks like a baitfish breaking away from the school or specific structure,” says Gary Abernethy, spokesman for LiveTarget. With jerkbaits, the action is erratic, but Abernethy points out that wake baits have a rhythmic retrieve and cadence. “The rod angle helps create the rhythmic action,” he says. “When the lure’s a farther distance from the boat, keep the rod tip higher; closer to the boat, drop the rod tip.” Swimming in the top 6 inches, the Surface Mullet excels in cold-water conditions when fish won’t hit a topwater, or in extra-clear water when a topwater is too aggressive.
Mann’s Tidewater Mid 1-Minus
The Inside Scoop: Mann’s Tidewater Mid 1-Minus is a buoyant lure with a big body, angled lip and saltwater hooks, ideal for redfish, seatrout and snook. “The motion of the Mid 1-Minus creates an X shape, almost like a crab scuttling across the surface,” says Mike McPherson, director of operations at Mann’s. The more perpendicular the lip, the larger the wobble, he says. “Our baits have at least a 75-degree lip. It’s not so much about depth, but about the wobble.” The best conditions to cast the Mid 1-Minus are in the extreme shallows during a day with overcast skies or when fish are feeding toward the surface. “The vibration of the 1-Minus, nicknamed ‘The Egg,’ is natural in its motion — just what game fish are looking for,” says McPherson.
Rapala BX Waking Minnow
The Inside Scoop: The Rapala BX Waking Minnow imitates a finger mullet found in coastal Florida waters during the spring and fall. Three black-nickel VMC hooks, an enhanced lip and balsa construction provide its action and strength. “Noisy topwater baits can be offensive to fish,” says Capt. Rick Murphy, pro staffer for Rapala lures. “With this balsa bait, you get the enticing side-to-side action without spooking fish.” A tough copolymer shell protects and allows for realistic finishes to the BX Waking Minnow. “The Waking Minnow fishes shallow, tight to shorelines, and won’t get hung up on structure,” says Murphy. “Don’t allow slack in your line, as with a twitch bait; the wake bait has high hookup ratios because the line’s tight when setting the hook.”
Sebile Flat Belly Walker
The Inside Scoop: The newly introduced Sebile Flat Belly Walker is not your typical wake bait — it doesn’t have a lip. “The lure was designed as a topwater wake bait,” says Patrick Sebile. “The unique feature is that its flat belly was inspired by a surfboard.” To work the Flat Belly, reel just fast enough to make a wake. “That can be as easy as a steady retrieve over grass flats and sandy potholes,” he says. “Above the reef, crank five to seven turns to make a wake, then stop for one or two seconds and start the retrieve again.” Sebile recommends throwing the wake bait when game fish are targeting baits 3½ to 4½ inches long.
Yo-Zuri Crystal 3D Minnow Jointed
The Inside Scoop: Yo-Zuri’s Crystal 3D Minnow Jointed wake bait is constructed with a triangular lip and strong joint connections made from two loops with a stainless-steel pin. “Anyplace you can throw a walking bait, pencil bait or topwater, you can throw this bait,” says Chris Bishop, national account manager at Yo-Zuri. “It has a wide, snaking action that’s hard to replicate.” Cast the jointed wake bait in the early morning or late evening, or during calm, overcast conditions for best results. “When fish feed from below, having your baits up top is vital,” says Bishop. “These baits are great on the flats for striped bass, tarpon, seatrout and redfish.”