Same baits, different retrieves

Heath Hillman caught these two nice trout on a Heddon Spook Jr.

Add some new techniques to your fishing repertoire

What in the cat hair is going on? He’s not walking the dog, he’s — dragging the dog.

Heath Hillman, pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Ocean Springs, and I were fishing a productive area around Biloxi not too long ago. Heath was using a Heddon Super Spook Jr. with a chartreuse head and white body; I was using the same lure but with a solid bone body.

I was doing the typical walk-the-dog retrieve that all of us professionals use, while Heath was doing something I’d never seen before: He was dragging the bait straight forward 6 to 8 inches with a spitting action and the occasional pause.

I’ll be honest: I thought he might catch a few but that I’d be doing most of the catching that morning.

We hadn’t been there long when an obviously blind trout smashed Heath’s topwater.

Then another.

Then another.

I’m no rocket surgeon but I know when something is working, so I tied on the same color lure. The difference being I was walking my dog and Heath was dragging his.

Walking the dog wasn’t happening.

I know when something is working, and I also know when somebody else has the hot hand. Heath was getting hits almost every cast, so being the benevolent guide I am, I put my rod and reel down to keep the boat in position and run the net for him.

The other reason was to watch the trout hit his lure. All jokes aside, there were times when four or five trout would come up to his lure to track it.

Then one would smash it.

The water was clear, so we were able to see the whole scene unfold.

I’ve been on a few clear-water bites, but nothing like that.

A few days after this trip, I fished the lower part of Fort Bayou, where I’d been catching a mix of shorts and keepers on a regular basis.

It wasn’t in the cards that day, so I assumed they were shut down for some reason and wrote it off as a bad day. I had a few fish slap at my offering, with only two shorts to show for my effort.

Ray Ladnier, a friend of mine from Latimer, had fished the same day in basically the same area and had caught a quick limit before heading home.

When we compared notes, I soon figured out we were using very similar lures — just different-size jigheads with different retrieves.

I used a MirrOdine along with a Z-Man MinnowZ on a ¼-ounce jig head — both fished in the upper part of the water column.

I fished the MirrOdine with short twitches and a slow retrieve. I slow-rolled the soft plastic, keeping it 2 to 3 feet below the surface.

Those two methods had produced quite well a few days before, so I stuck with it.

Ray used a Matrix Shad on a 1/8-ounce jighead and fished it painstakingly slow.

Where I was making a long cast with my jig and slow-rolling it back somewhat perpendicular to the current, Ray was making shorter casts and letting his jig free fall slowly to the bottom with the current, watching his line for the slightest tick.

I believe the way I fish a jig results in more casts and will catch actively feeding fish, and that Ray’s way of retrieving a lighter jig will produce under any conditions — especially when the bite is slow and the trout aren’t actively feeding.

Hey, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not the brightest color in the tool shed, but I do pay attention to what folks do and say to make myself a better trout fisherman.

I had set retrieves locked in my head based on past success and didn’t attempt to adjust when my way of doing things didn’t work.

I have two more retrieves in my toolbox now, and I’m not afraid to use them: the Hillman Drag the Dog and the Ladnier Free Fall.

The next time you’re fishing an area that you know holds fish and it’s just not happening for you don’t be afraid to mix it up. Use that time to try something different. Try different baits or, better yet, try different retrieves with the baits you’ve had success with in the past.

The last time I saw Heath at church, he told me he wants to learn to walk the dog like us pros, but for now he’ll stick with fishing his Spook Jr. the same way he fished a Devil Horse back when he was a kid fishing with his dad and granddad.

I don’t blame him, but, man alive, I can’t wait until we’re fishing together and all those trout want is a Spook Jr. walking like a dog.

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