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Tackle Selection for the Traveling Angler

MUSKEGON, Mich. – The last time we got together I volunteered a list of saltwater essentials for the traveling angler, to include rods, reels, line, apparel, and other key gear. You can read it HERE.

Now the serious fun – tackle…

Firstly, I don’t do jetties or piers. They can have ‘em. Fishing is supposed to be relaxing. Mobs give me anxiety. So, the baits below are geared for bank casting, wading, and light surfside applications.

To that, premise number one is you already own some excellent saltwater tackle, even if you’ve never cast the coast. This is especially true for sophisticated bass anglers. More baits crossover than you might think.

The second principal is resisting the perception that saltwater tackle needs to be massive and flamboyant. You know…chartreuse tails on everything and hooks that can hang deer. As a transplanted Yankee, I can promise you’ll catch more fish with downsized, naturally-toned baits than gaudy pinks and pearls. Leave those to the offshore crowd.

With our theme set, let’s get right into the baits.

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Circling back to where I started, concentrate on effective bass baits rather than brash saltwater throwables. There are certain exceptions for classic saltwater baits that should be in every kit – they are cited below. But, in general, a rich bass assortment does just fine in the brine.

Frankly, you can live and prosper with three bait types: soft jerkbaits (flukes), swimbaits, and jigheads. I can safely declare that 90% of my inshore catch comes from that trio. And, when you consider that a jighead is paired with a swimbait and jerkbait, we’re only talking about two choices.

Space permitting, you might consider toting a few light hardbaits for diversity. Baitfish-looking subsurface twitchbaits get eaten, as do smaller shallow-running stickbaits. Walk-the-dog topwaters can be explosive in the mornings and evenings. But at the end of the day, jerkbaits and swimbaits are my coastal cornerstones.

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Soft plastic jerkbaits are the unrivaled workhorse. Everything eats them. They can be fished violently fast or painstakingly slow and come in sizes and patterns to mimic every conceivable native forage.

Dare anyone name a make and model I haven’t fished. And, like life, there are winners and losers. Here are some premium picks, and in no order of efficacy:

Big Bite Baits 4” Jerk Minnow

Developed as a bass bait, the 4” Jerk Minnow is especially soft and wide-bodied and performs marvelously in saltwater. And speaking of girth, countless tests have proven that wider-bodied jerkbaits outperform the skinny stuff. Look at the back of a mullet, even sardine or saltwater shad for that matter. Not so thin. The Jerk Minnow is heavy-for-its-size, too, aiding and abetting casting distance. Top colors include Watermelon Red Ghost for universal appeal, Blue Back Herring when you’re trying to replicate bait, and Tilapia Magic in darker water. Carry a few packs, too, because ankle biters will snip their forked tails.

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HACK: I’m all about fat over long when it comes to jerkbaits. In fact, I often trim the nose – ½ inch or so – to produce a beefier profile. Jigheads better marry up to a blunt face versus a slender nose anyway. Plus, a shortened bait puts the hook closer to the bite.

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Slick Jr.

Won’t find this one in your bass repertoire, but it needs to be part of your saltwater stash. Maybe the best saltwater jerkbait you’ve never heard of. At 3.75-inches, the Slick Jr. has broad shoulders and a nifty bulbed tail that exaggerates its wiggle. You won’t find a jerkbait that casts farther, either. The material is dense and durable. Favored colors are Mad Mullet for general use and Ozark Shiner in clearer water. Croaker gets the nod if fish are working bottoms for actual croaker or pinfish.

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Strike King KVD Caffeine Shad 5” Jerkbait

Another bass-centric beauty, the KVD Caffeine Shad shines in the brine. Its lifelike profile and tapered tail produce the right looks and action. Can’t substantiate that the Starbucks smell makes a difference on saltwater species, but I can say it masks suntan stank. Baby Bass, KVD Shad, and Smoky Shad are the ones to own.

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HACK: Baitholders on jigs don’t work. Not as well as I’d like, anyway. So, invariably, I put a drop of Loctite Ultragel Control on the baitholder before fully mounting the plastic. Only needs to cure for a minute or so. Doing so doubles, even triples the life of a single plastic. Keep a bottle readily available.

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Swimbaits are Robin in this dynamic duo. Mostly associated with bass fishing, swimbaits rock the house in saltwater. The nonchalant, almost careless paddling makes inshore species furious. Plus, swimbaits typically flesh out the biggest fish. Chuck and wind. Rinse and repeat. Easiest offering for beginners, too.

Z-Man 4” DieZel MinnowZ

The Grandmaster Flash of saltwater swimbaits. They come larger, but I lean into the 4-incher to mop up everything with fins. Its magic – beyond the perfect profile and swimming action – is the ElaZtech composition. Fish can’t shred the stuff. And if you dab the jighead shank with Loctite, it’s potentially a family heirloom. The bait can last that long. Choose Mulletron, Creole Croaker, and Redbone.

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Strike King 3-3/4” Rage Swimmer

Simply a killer swimbait. The soft paddling action proves irresistible. Don’t jig it, swim it. Keep the bait high in the water column on a steady retrieve. Fish profile it from below and erupt at first sight. KVD Magic, Green Pumpkin Pearl Belly, and Green Gizzard Shad get my saltwater approval.

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The formula’s effectiveness is legendary – freshwater and saltwater. Everything inhales a classic Gulp! Saltwater Shrimp, including sharks, I’ve found. There are over a dozen colors available, but the bluish Molting has widespread appeal. There are more anatomically accurate shrimp baits on the market, but none that put up the numbers. You MUST keep a couple packs in the travel bag.

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Ah, yes…the bait delivery device. Funny thing. There aren’t many saltwater-specific jigheads that rival the detail and performance of their freshwater colleagues. You likely own some freshwater winners, too, so don’t break the bank on a complete saltwater assortment until you’ve checked.

Size-wise, ¼-ounce is the defacto weight for most inshore fishing. Lighten up a taste in the hyper-shallows or if you’re jigging over vegetation, rocks, or oyster beds. Carry an assortment of sizes, colors, and styles. Here’s some guidance:

Z-Man Trout Eye Jigheads

These are forged for saltwater, and simply the best. The hooks are painfully sharp and tough as nails. The Trout Eye’s oversized orbs add realism, especially on a swimbait, where predators have time to examine the artificial prey. I like the Pearl Eye version – very natural and packages well with any swimbait or jerkbait color.

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Northland Mimic Swim Jig

We go to Yankee-ville for the best pure swimbait play. You’ll notice that the hook is saltwater stout and piercing. Its head is molded with accuracy and features a 60-degree line-tie for the perfect pull. A cluster of baitholders keep plastics in place, although a dot of Loctite is still recommended. You’ll only need Green Pumpkin and Bluegill to effectively match every plastics-color in the arsenal.

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Northland MVP Jig

Quit shaking your head. Yep, another pick from the north. It’s all about the hook with this baby. Northland’s MVP Jig sports a Gamakatsu Big River Hook that sticks saltwater fish like nothing else. The shape, wide gap, and sharpness galvanize into pure perfection. Never found a saltwater-specific jig with a hook as effective.

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Deathgrip XL Jighead

The baitholder texture runs nearly the length of the shank, and dang do they hold. Features a durable, sharp, and oversized hook. I haven’t found these in a shop, but they are available online. I strongly suggest ordering some.


Can’t think of a coastal species I haven’t caught on a jerkbait or swimbait. The list looks something like this: (one fish, two fish), redfish, bluefish, speckled trout, sand trout, flounder, croaker, snook, ladyfish, jack crevalle, blue runner, Spanish mackerel, rockfish, mangrove snapper, striped bass, puffer, gafftopsail catfish, black drum, sheepshead, cutlassfish, calico bass, spotted bay bass, and others I’m not recalling.

Bring select bass gear. Supplement with some of the abovementioned. And enjoy your tidy inshore tackle assortment.


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