Fall In the Ice Belt: The Season When Panfish Become Predators

When leaves are changing colors and temperatures start to drop in the Northwoods of the Ice Belt, we transition into that special time of the year when big crappies and bluegills start feeding heavily on minnows in preparation for the looming winter ahead. In fall when water temps drop below the 55-degree mark specifically, the Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe Mini becomes a staple hardbait that any panfish angler should consider as part of their arsenal.
Lure: At 1 5/8” and 3/16 oz, the Rattl’N Vibe Mini is a micro lipless hardbait which is a little bit bigger than a crappie minnow, but a little bit smaller than a fathead minnow. The Mini is arguably the most versatile hardbait available in today’s fishing market as it can be fished in any type of water; it can be jigged, drifted, trolled, or casted; and it brings in some incredible northern pike, walleyes, and even bass while chasing large panfish.
Line: Yo-Zuri 4 lb test Hybrid on an ultra-light rod and reel set up is a great choice for chasing big crappies and bluegills in fall. Another option to consider is to break out the ice rod and reel combos spooled up with Yo-Zuri 4 lb test Ice Hybrid or 4 lb test Ice Super Fluorocarbon as much of the fall is a precursor and foreshadowing to where large schools of the biggest panfish will be lurking once the ice forms. Using the ice rod and reel combos during the fall period is a great way to get practiced up in advance of the upcoming ice season.
Location: Suspended crappies and bluegills are prime targets for using the Rattl’N Vibe Minis as some of the largest fish of these species can be found roaming basins or basin edges. It is relatively common to find schools of panfish chasing minnows 15’ down in 25’ or more of water before and after the fall turnover. Hot Perch and Green Perch are great patterns for chasing suspended fish in clear water as they have are more natural patterns and can be preferred when large panfish are keying in on specific prey like baby perch in the middle of the water column in the middle of the day. If fishing in tannic-stained water or waters impacted by the mixing of oxygen throughout the water column during turnover, then the glow patterns (Luminescent or Luminescent Perch); UV patterns (UV Purple Tiger, UV Blue Tiger, and UV Pink Tiger); or metallic patterns (Black Silver or Gold Black) come into play. These glowing- and flashing-based patterns are meant for eliciting reaction strikes when water clarity is obscured.
Fishing the Mini: Two solid ways to fish the Rattl’N Vibe Mini include working the lures above and in front of schools of marauding panfish. Slow trolling or drifting and lifting 1-2’ above located schools of crappies and bluegills works great for suspended fish as the largest of each species will often come up several feet to up hit the lure. Jigging and even casting the Rattl’N Vibe Mini 8-10’ in front of moving fish can be another solid option to consider when working the lures because the voracious feeding instincts of the largest panfish will propel them ahead of smaller fish to pick off easy meals.
When panfish turn predators in fall, it is time to stock your gear boxes with the Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe Mini as you might just catch the biggest panfish of your open water season!
Tight lines and safe fishing!
– Mark Maule

Fall Snook Fishing

The start of the fall season in South Florida doesn’t come with falling leaves or dropping temperatures like the rest of the country. Instead, its marked by the start of Snook season. You can always tell when Snook season starts by the zombie like appearance of guys/gals on their third trip back from the coffee maker at work. Success can certainly be had during the day but for a large percentage of anglers Snook fishing is a night or pre-dawn game. Snook are very active at night throughout all phases of the moon and can be targeted with a variety of techniques. This write-up focuses on hard bait techniques for night fishing, particularly around structure like bridges and jetties.
The fall snook season, particularly on the east coast of Florida, can be broken down into three phases: pre-mullet run, mullet run and post mullet run. Each phase offers its own unique challenges and opportunities.
The pre-mullet phase typically features very hot and humid nights, with a limited amount of wind and the fish are often keyed in on small bait like sardines, pilchards and glass minnows. There is always resident mullet but not the giant schools you see during the mullet run. The challenge for this time of year is getting fish to bite that are keyed in on smaller profile bait, often in still and clear water conditions. One of my favorite baits for this time of year is the Yo-Zuri 3D Inshore Fingerling in the 4 inch (100mm) size. This bait was introduced at ICAST 2021 but was modeled with the exact same action and body design of the 3DS Minnow 100. The 3DS Minnow is a bait that has caught hundreds of thousands of Snook and been a favorite of fisherman for 10+ years. The issue was the hooks and split rings were designed for freshwater and needed to be switched out. The new 3D Inshore Fingerling comes with full saltwater terminal tackle that can handle most fishing conditions and Snook into the 40+ inch range. The Fingerling is especially effective at this time of year for a couple reasons. One its at the top end but not outside, the typical bait size for this part of the season. It has a shape similar to a sardine, and is close enough to the size of a small pilchard or glass minnow. It has a very tight swimming action that mirrors the swimming pattern of these prey species. The third and most unique feature of this bait is the diamond shaped lip. For land-based anglers like me this is extremely important. The first thing you notice with this bait is it stays in the water all the way back to your rod tip even when fishing from an elevated position.
One of my favorite places to fish this bait is at the bridges along the shadow lines where snook wait to ambush prey. Get on the up current side of the bridge and cast out into the light away from the bridge at roughly a 45-degree angle. Slowly retrieve the plug and let it swing into the shadow line with the current. The key is to get the bait to come into the Snook face right on or just outside (within 6 inches) of the shadow line. The angle of your cast will need to be adjusted based on the where in the phase of the tide you are/the speed of the current. For most of the tide a 45 degree cast is best but near the slack phase you can cast 6 to 12 inches outside the shadow line and work it down the edge of the line. Because the 3D Inshore Fingerling stays in the water longer than other lipped minnow baits, it allows you to cover more of the shadow line on each cast and I have caught fish that were sitting within a couple feet of where I am standing. Another great location for fishing this bait is along the rocks at the jetties. Early season Snook tend to be very close to the rocks at the jetty. Unlike other baits that come up and out of the water close to the jetty the Fingerling stays in the water all the way up to the rocks and many of the bites come with the leader in the rod tip.
Recommended tackle for the Yo-Zuri 3D Inshore Fingerling is a 7 to 9ft rod in the 15-30lb class, with 30 or 40lb Yo-Zuri SuperBraid and 40lb TopKnot fluorocarbon leader. This tackle is light enough to throw a four-inch plug but still allows you enough strength to pull fish away from structure. One tip I would give is trying white braid for night fishing. The white braid allows you better visibility on the angle of your line and since it’s the raw form of braid it never fades. I choose TopKnot Fluorocarbon for the Fingerling because it has a very thin diameter which allows the plug to have a better swimming action while still giving you the strength and abrasion resistance to land fish in tight spaces between rocks or pilings. My color selection for this bait and time of year tends to be as realistic as possible with top colors being Real Pilchard, Ayu, Peanut Bunker or on full moon nights Ghost Shad. I like a green or olive bait with light sides because it mirrors the color patterns of Sardines and Pilchards, two of the main prey species in early September.
The second phase of the fall snook season is the start of the mullet run. This yearly occurrence is truly a National Geographic level event that has to be seen with your own eyes to appreciate. The mullet schools can be found during the day but its at night when the real fireworks go off. The key with fishing the mullet run is finding areas where the Snook stage and wait on the waves of schools of mullet to come through. Snook will feed on mullet in open water but without structure to isolate your lure it becomes an extremely frustrating needle in a haystack scenario. Two of the most common areas for Snook to stage during the run are again shadow lines at bridges and the rock jetties at inlets. Figuring where the large concentrations are going to be at each stage of the tide is key for putting yourself in the best possible position to capitalize on your opportunities. Where and when can differ from bridge to bridge and jetty to jetty and you simply have to put your time in to figure out the pattern.
A couple of my favorite baits for fishing the mullet run at night are a pencil bait, either the 3D Inshore TopKnock Pencil 130 or the Hydro Pencil, and the Mag Darter. If I can get them to feed on it the topwater is my first choice because it’s the most enjoyable. The sound, feel and visual of a big Snook blowing up a topwater on a shadow line still gives me goosebumps just thinking about it, despite seeing it thousands of times over the last 30 years. The time when pencil baits are most effective is during the mullet run when Snook are popping mullet on the up current shadow line of the bridge. There are two main presentations that I have learned over the years. The first is a casting at a 45 degree angle into the light and having a slow and steady retrieve, no walking, as the current swings the bait into the shadow line. The plug will make a V in the water that looks very similar to the V that a mullet makes swimming along the surface. The other technique is to cast out into the light at a 45 angle or even straight out into the light and reeling very fast until the bait nears the shadow line, at which time you dead stick it. The plug will skip across the surface right up to the shadow line and then pause and float with the current into the shadow. This mirrors the action of mullet, which move very quickly in the light and tend to freeze when they hit a shadow line. The key with both techniques is to make sure the bait hits the shadow line right on the nose of the fish you’re targeting. Snook don’t want to move more than a couple inches to eat baits during the run because they don’t need to with millions of mullet pouring through the bridge.
An under-utilized technique is fishing pencil baits at the jetty at night. It can be extremely frustrating fishing a swimming plug through millions of mullet on the beach side of jetties and watching explosion after explosion without a bite. When Snook are popping mullet on top you can make long casts over the school of bait and real in the plug with a slow and straight retrieve. Your plug will often part the school of mullet, isolating your bait and resulting in grenade like explosions. When using this technique make sure to real the plug all way back to the rock you are standing on as many of Snook wait for mullet to pin against the rocks making them easier to catch. Whether you’re fishing the bridge or the jetty with a pencil bait one of the most important things to remember is don’t react to the visual of the bite. Reel through the bite and let the rod start to load up with the weight of the fish before setting the hook. This is extremely important when fishing from an elevated position and will increase your hook up ratio and limit the number of times the plug comes flying back at your head (or the person next to you).
There are certain times during the mullet run when a swimming plug can be more effective than topwater. Its at these times that I turn to the Mag Darter. Darters are a northeast style bait used for targeting Striped Bass in the surf, back bays or on rips. There is no lip, instead the slanted head acts as the lip and gives the bait its action. Some darters are designed to dart side to side only with very little swimming action. That action works in certain situations for Striped Bass up north and Tarpon in Florida but is less effective on Snook. The Yo-Zuri Mag Darter is a swimming style darter that has a moderately wide swimming action and every few feet darts a few inches to one side or another. The action is extremely close to that of a scared mullet at night. The key for fishing this bait is fishing it cross current or against the current, when fished with the current it has very little action. One of my favorite places to throw this bait is from the side of the bridge on the up current side. You can stand on the seawall on the side of the bridge or anchor your boat outside the shadow line and cast out into light. A slow to moderate steady retrieve while letting the current swing your bait up against or just into (not more than 6 inches) the shadow line is most effective. You can adjust your retrieve speed and the angle of your position to make the bait travel in the perfect zone, 6 inches inside or outside the shadow line, down a large area of the bridge. That allows you to present the bait to large number of Snook and increases your chances of a bite. The Mag Darter is also effective when anchored or standing outside the shadow line and casting back into the dark and slow retrieving it out towards the shadow line. When fishing that technique, you can pause it in that key strike zone and let the current give the bait action, keeping your bait in the strike zone longer.
The Mag Darter is also very effective at the jetty. The main technique at most jetties is throwing it extremely close along the edge of the rocks and working it back slowly against the current. The darter doesn’t have a plastic lip to break so you can bounce it off the edges of the rocks without damaging it and get reaction bites that other baits don’t get. The patented magnetic weight transfer system in the Yo-Zuri darter gives you ability to make very long and extremely accurate casts. This is especially key fishing the jetty during the mullet run because the timing often coincides with Tropical Storms, Hurricanes and large northeast swells. The Mag Darter is very effective in crashing waves and white wash at the jetty where Snook feed on disoriented baitfish. In those conditions it stays in the water better than typical lipped plugs.
Tackle for fishing the Mag Darter, 3D Inshore TopKnock Pencil or Hydro Pencil in the mullet run is an 8 or 9ft rod with 40lb SuperBraid and 60lb HD Fluorocarbon leader. You need the heavier leader because 40+ inch fish are a real possibility and although the plug gives you some protection, they will choke it sometimes and the 60lb helps you from getting frayed off. The color selection for topwaters for the mullet run is very simple for me, either Bronze (Peanut Bunker) or Bone. I use either the bronze Hydro Pencil or the Peanut Bunker TopKnock 90% of the time. Bone is what I use on full moon or near full moon nights. The silhouette of the Bone pencil works well with a bright moon but on darker nights the nature bronze patterns are most effective. The pencil baits from Yo-Zuri come with 3X strength treble hooks that don’t need to be switched out and very importantly have only a single one knock cadence rattle, which is much more effective on Snook than baits with multiple loud BB rattles. My color patterns for the Mag Darter are very natural, either Bronze or Bronze Shiner.
The third phase of the fall snook season is marked by the arrival of strong cold fronts and the end of the mullet run. There are still opportunities for catching fish on topwaters and swimming plugs when you find the right conditions but this is the time of the year when flair hawks and paddle tail swimbaits become most effective. The water temps start to drop and fish begin moving to deeper holes at the bridges or out onto the ledges at the inlets. The key for this time of the season is keeping your bait as close to the bottom as possible, low and slow is the name of the game.
You can find quality flair hawk jigs at any local tackle shop from Miami to Melbourne on the east coast and up through Tampa on the west coast. They are a nylon jig with a longer bottom “tail” that comes in a variety of colors and sizes. For most applications the 1.5 oz size is best but in deeper water or heavier current a 2oz or even 3oz may be needed. In light current situations I tend to “swim” the jig cross current with a slow steady retrieve. In high current situations I tend to bounce the jig on the bottom cross current to ensure I stay in the strike zone and don’t get the jig up too high. My favorite colors for Snook are white body/green tail, white body/black tail, white body/blue tail or chartreuse body/blue tail. I tend to use white in cleaner water conditions and chartreuse on darker nights and darker water. Color isn’t as important as making sure you’re putting the jig in front of the fish on a consistent and repeated basis. At some jetties you can plan on losing a lot of jigs so be prepared to retie a lot, its just part of jig fishing. Paddle tail swim baits on 1.5-3oz jig heads can also be extremely effective this time of year. These are fished is similar locations, along the bottom at the bridge or jetty, and with similar techniques. There are several companies, local and national, making quality versions of this style bait. Color selection varies from person to person on their favorite and I have caught fish on everything from white, to lime green and orange or even dark purple. Jigs and swimbaits are pretty much all I throw after the mullet run ends but I also throw them from time to time during or even before the mullet run. One of my favorite times to throw them is during the mullet run under big silver mullet or black mullet schools. When the mullet are 8-15 inches or more a keeper Snook can eat them but they have to work for it. They tend to sit under the bait school and come up to ambush their prey rather than sitting on top on the shadow line like they do in finger mullet or smaller silver mullet (6-8inch) schools. During these conditions a jig or swimbait swam along the bottom into their face can be very effective and catch some of the biggest fish of the year.
For jig or swimbait fishing I throw a 9ft rod, again with 40lb white Yo-Zuri SuperBraid and 80lb Yo-Zuri TopKnot or HD Fluorocarbon. Snook choke the jig or swimbait a lot and many times you’re trying to bring them up over a ledge so the heavy fluorocarbon leader is very important. Also, these baits tend to get a lot of 40+ inch fish in heavy current. Long casts are key, especially at the jetty so I don’t like to go above 40lb braid because you begin to lose casting distance.
Hope this article helps you have a more successful fall Snook season this year. See you out there!
Christopher Bishop (Junochris)

HARDCORE Crankbaits: How-To with Dustin Wilks

I’m a shallow water, visual angler at heart, but often the most and biggest fish are offshore, particularly in Summer. One tip I can give you for offshore fishing is to start is locate of creek and river channels and concentrate on areas of bends or intersections. Electronics are good these days and many spots are easy to find on GPS and a quick idle will let you know if fish are there. If you are new to the game, you don’t have to be in the middle of the lake either, many times the best spots are on the upper ends of lakes and creeks that have the most current.

Since Hardcore has introduced their extensive crankbait series (Crank 60 MR and Crank 2+, 3+ and 4+, and New Bullet Crank), I’ve really found off-shore fishing much easier and enjoyable. Each bait has a patented weight transfer system making them cast much farther and easier with no tumbling or spinning. Casting distance is crucial to deep cranking too, allowing the bait to achieve maximum depth longer, and cover more water. Often when off shore bass are feeding, it is actually done up on the flats adjacent to the actual drop of, so these long casts are so important to locate feeding fish.

The feel and pull of these cranks is not like pulling in a bucket as many older designs. They have thinner, narrower bills and a slimmer profile helping them to be easy lures to crank, even to deeper water. The finishes are unbelievably tough and check every box on the colors I need. I’ve got a couple of MR 60’s that I’ve caught over a hundred fish each on and the paint barely shows it.

I’ll quickly go through each bait with when and where I try them. Knowing a whole line of baits has really helped my cranking, I know exactly what bait to reach for for any set of conditions. When you are out fishing crank baits in the summer bottom contact is what triggers bites, so you want that bait to be hitting the bottom the vast majority of the time, keep that in mind as I discuss below to apply to your fishing.
MR Crank 60

This is a little workhorse. It dives about 6-7 feet on 14lb Fluorocarbon, a little deeper on lighter line. This is the smallest bodied bait in the line and I use it year round on shallow areas of creek channel ledges. It has become an overall confidence bait for me even just going down the bank. I’ve gotten into several schools of fish while fishing with other people using different baits, and all my buddies now have tackle boxes full of these baits if that says anything. Don’t look for anyone to mention this bait, because once discovered, fishermen have a tendency to stay quiet. It comes through cover good, but most importantly this little thing casts a mile. With any smaller lures, casting becomes an issue, but not with this one.
Crank 2+

Irreplaceable is the one word that comes to mind on this one. The 2+ means 2 meters and deeper, so about 6.5 feet. I find it is perfect if you want a bigger bodied bait with a nice body roll to hit water between 2 and 6 feet deep. This one fishes to me like an old balsa round wooden plug, except everyone of these runs perfect, casts like a bullet, and hits a deeper range. The bigger profile of this is really good if you are in a lake know for bigger fish or simple want to catch more bigger than average size fish. I use this bait in the same areas that I do the Crank 60, but when I want a bigger profile or the water is slightly shallower I often have both tied on, this one does a bit better in shallower water of 2-3 feet, but reaches 6.
Crank 3+

8 feet. What is so special about 8 feet? It is actually a hard to find a crankbait that fishes that zone well without going into really deep divers. This bait is designed to hit 10-11, but on 14lb Yo-Zuri T-7 fluorocarbon around stump filled channels it is hitting 9, making it tick the bottom just perfect in this range. The special thing about it — it’s really easy to crank, so it is fun to fish. The action is somewhat tight and fast which is great for burning by inactive fish getting action bites. Once you feel this bait on your rod, you will be addicted like me and find it much easier to cover this depth range fast. With this bait I’m typically sitting in 12-15 feet of water to a ledge or flat spot 7-9 feet.
Crank 4+

12 feet of easy cranking. Burning this bait around all kinds of structure around 10 to 11 feet is a killer. This is bait is much the same as the 3+ buts gets an extra 3 feet deep, on a standard cast. The body size on this bait is smaller and slimmer than most crank baits in this category, catching fish of all sizes quickly. We all know that deep crank baits tend to get pretty big, but this one fills a nice size void and catches big ones too. I’ve caught bass up to 9 lbs on this bait. I’ve had crazy days with this plug catching them schooled up on structure even catching them two fish on the same bait at the same time on multiple times to top that off. If you reduce line size to 10 or 12 and long line this bait, it will hit depths of 20 feet plus. Long lining is a special technique that allows you bait to reach much deeper depths than intended on a standard casts.
Bullet Crank

This is the grandaddy. This thing will hit 22 to 25 on a standard cast. Unlike the others in the series, this one will pull and requires a big long rod and high line capacity reel to fish it correctly. If you want big fish in that depth range on a standard cast this is your specialized bait. Have a bunch of these ready if you fish Tennessee river impoundments and lakes like Douglas in Tennessee and many others all over the country that are known for big fish that live really deep. I actually like this bait in the winter as well. When we first got prototypes it was the deal for deep cold water bass cranked slowly under bait. Typically this bait is for the summer though, you want to fish it really fast to trigger schools of fish. This is a bait you will want to know the fish are there before you cast, since it will give you a workout.

Northern Summer Time Multi-Species Jerk Bait Fishing Techniques

As the water temps reach and maintain their peak in mid to late summer, many anglers switch their presentation to live bait offerings or plastics to catch walleyes, largemouth bass, and northern pike. While these presentations absolutely catch fish during the dog days of summer, do not put away those hardbaits just yet as the 3DB Jerkbait 110 Deep can entice all predator species from their haunts throughout the summer months.
Lure: Yo-Zuri 3DB Jerkbait 110 Deep: At 4 3/8” and 1/2 oz., the Yo-Zuri 3DB Jerkbait 110 Deep can dive 8-12’ down in the water column. It is a superb choice for predator species as it is bigger than much of the young-of-the-year forage that is available in many bodies of water during the summer to late summer period. This is an important fact because the size difference the 110 Deep has from schools of 2-3” perch, for example, helps it stick out more and can lead to more hits when chasing walleyes, northern pike, or largemouth bass. The Yo-Zuri 3DB Jerkbait 110 Deep is great for use with long or short casts and its 3 treble hooks increase the percentage of hookups significantly once a fish bites.
Line: If you do not like using a leader when fishing, even when chasing northern pike over 30”, going with Yo-Zuri 20 lb Dark Green SuperBraid is an excellent option. This line is perfect when using the 3DB Jerkbait 110 Deep because its sensitivity allows for exceptional bite detection; it is abrasion resistant which is critical when fishing in and near weeds; and it can land fish well beyond the line test capacity listed on the spool.
Location: One of my favorite locations to fish for summer walleyes, northern pike, and largemouth bass is along and just inside weedlines in 8-12’ of water. This may sound shallow as a lot of fish move to deeper water when water temps reach 80 degrees, but the ones that stay in the densest weeds, are often the bigger and more aggressive fish which hunker down waiting for prey to pass in front of them. One of the keys to weedlines is to find more than one type of weed present. Cabbage mixed with grass, or even lily pads adjacent to grass or cabbage that are right at the first break into deeper water are prime spots. Once I have found these kinds of scenarios in a lake, regardless of the air or water temp or even time of day, I cast the 110 Deep parallel to the weedline and just inside the weedline to prompt strikes. If you are connecting with weeds every 3 or 4 casts, then you are casting where the bigger fish often lie in wait.
Retrieve/Cadence: When using the 3DB Jerkbait 110 Deep, I usually go with a qualitative and quantitative approach to the casts. When I cast it out, I wait for 3-5 seconds before beginning my retrieve. Then going with 1-4 twitches/jerks so that the lure moves 3-4’ forward and suspends is ideal. One wrinkle that I like to throw in the mix is to also crank the reel handle hard 1-4 times or gently pull the lure forward with 1 longer sweeping movement. Varying up the number of times the 110 Deep is moved as well as HOW it is moved can elicit some explosive strikes from any freshwater predator.
If you are looking for a “go-to” lure when chasing walleyes, northern pike, or largemouth bass around weedlines throughout the summer, then the Yo-Zuri 3DB Jerkbait 110 Deep is a top-notch choice to include in your gear box.
Tight lines and safe fishing!

Late Spring Topwater: Dustin Wilks

Topwater is the most fun of all fishing techniques. A bass eating a topwater with a sudden explosion is what it is all about. It is not only fun, it is also a great way to catch big fish.

In the late spring, a bunch of stuff is going on. There are bass still spawning, some guarding fry, some all done, and then there is the shad and blueback herring spawn. All of these scenarios are great for topwater making late April and all of May excellent for topwater.

Here I’ll briefly go through the ideal bait for each situation.

Spawning — The Hardcore Popper as a really tight walking action with tight twitches of the rod. It does not move very far forward on any given twitch. This makes bass on the bed really mad and explode on it. I’ve already caught some of my biggest bass this year on this bait. Remember to quickly release these bass, this is not the time to put them in the live well and show them off to your buddies, they need to lay those eggs.

Guarding Fry — Most of the time it is just the male bass still guarding the babies after they hatch, but every once in a while both bass will guard them or a large male. My favorite here is the Yo-Zuri 3DB Prop. This bait rips the surface looking like a something that is eating those fry — it drives them crazy and they eat it. Poppers work here too.
Feeding bass — The Yo-Zuri 3DB Popper. It has an extended body at 3″— a little longer than most poppers and has a nice fast walking action or you can just pop it along. I like to walk it, for fish outside of spawning pockets, typically on the first adjacent point or heavier cover is where you will find them when they first leave the nest.

The Shad Spawn — This is where the traditional walking baits are best. The Yo-Zuri 3DB Pencil in both 4 and 5 inch. The standard Pencil is my favorite for the shad spawn because Shad are not as fast as Blueback herring. Fish this bait early in the morning on rocky banks or clay banks, beside bushes, or floating docks and Marina’s. This does not last long, so be on the water early. I like the 5’’ when I’m specifically looking for bigger fish. The 4’’ Pencil is my most consistent topwater bait in my box. I like Bone or shad colors in this situation. If the water is really clear, some of the new colors like gizzard shad are exceptional at tricking the bass.
The Blueback Spawn. In many lakes in the Southeast U.S., Blueback herring are the dominant prey and bass have a distinct craving for these apparently tasty treats. Bluebacks are notorious for spawning on very shallow points and shoals. Long casts are often key. The Yo-Zuri 3DB Pencil Popper gets the nod here, though I mix it up with 4’’ Pencil and a soft jerk bait. The key to the Pencil Popper is it casts like a bullet, any schooling action can be met with a precise cast and a bait that not only looks natural, but has a really quick walking action. Bluebacks swim faster than shad, so use a faster retrieve.
This Spring, get geared up with these great baits for some serious topwater fun!

Multi-Species, Multi-Seasonal Hardbaits for 2021: Mark Maule

Living in the Ice Belt can pose a series of seasonal fishing challenges. Drastic temperature changes and high and dirty water are expected from the spring through the fall season. When the snow flies and ice forms, it is without question that we will see ice up to 3’ (or more) thick and actual temps down to -40. Having a host of multi-species, multi-seasonal lures can be what keeps you on fish during the most challenging of conditions, and Yo-Zuri has got it covered. Here are some of my recommendations for the upcoming 2021 kayak and ice fishing seasons.
3DB Props
The 3DB Prop will be a must have lure for me in 2021 from spring to fall as it helped me win the 2020 AOY kayak championship tournament as well as the AOY overall for my region in the tournament series in which I took part. It is a multi-species lure in that it can produce everything from largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, and even muskies. The Bone and Prism Frog pattern Props are probably the most universal colors that I throw in that they can be effective in every weather and water conditions imaginable and catch fish. Other great pattern options include the Prism Gold Black and Prism Silver Black for tannic or dark-stained waters and Prism Clown or Prism Ayu for clear waters on sunny days. The key when chasing any predators with 3DB Props is listening and watching for dragonflies. The plastic prop included in the design of the lure shows Yo-Zuri’s innovative technology in its hardbaits because of how it simulates a dragonfly flapping its wings on the surface…vary the cadence with 1 to 4 cranks of the reel handle and the fish simply cannot refuse!
3DB Jerkbait 110 and 3DB Jerkbait 110 Deep
Every single trip I make in my kayak in 2021 will include the Yo-Zuri 3DB Jerkbait and 3DB Jerkbait 110 deep as they were responsible for helping me land my biggest northern pike and biggest largemouth bass of the entire 2020 kayak season. The 3DB Jerkbait 110 and 110 Deep are another exceptional multi-species, multi-seasonal lure series as they regularly can bring in northern pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and walleyes from the time the ice melts in spring until the first ice forms in late fall. The Ghost Sexy Shad, Natural Tennessee Shad, and Natural Ayu are all solid patterns whether fishing in clear or stained water for any of the mentioned fish species due to their long build, realistic patterning, and the ability to work the 110’s to 4’ down and 110 Deeps to 12’ down in the water column.
Rattl’N Vibe Mini

The Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe Mini will be in my gear boxes on every kayak trip I take in 2021 as it was responsible for helping me land my biggest walleye EVER in my kayak in 2020. It is arguable that the Mini is the most versatile multi-species lure I use because I have caught everything from 4” perch to northern pike over 30” on it. The Rattl’N Vibe Mini’s versatility not only is demonstrated with the number of species that can be caught, but it can be used year-round in open water and on ice. Some of my favorite patterns are the new Luminescents because of how they glow, the UV Tigers (Purple, Pink, and Blue) because of their visibility in the water column, and Gold Black and Silver Black because of their metallic finishes. All of these patterns work great in tannic or clear water throughout the kayak season or in winter when light penetration is limited below the ice.
If you are looking for some solid multi-species, multi-seasonal hardbaits to get the most bang for your buck on your next open water or ice adventure in 2021, then look no further than the Yo-Zuri 3DB Prop, Yo-Zuri 3DB Jerkbait 110 and 110 Deep, and Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe Mini.

Good luck, be safe, and tight lines in 2021!

Rattl’N Vibe- my all time favorite lure

If you told me I was going to be stranded in a remote area with only two lures to catch fish, I would without a doubt choose the Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe in Matte Craw and Golden Shiner. These two have performed for me in almost every condition- and across a variety of lakes and ponds. The 3/4 oz is my absolute favorite size (although I have caught tons of fish on the 5/8 as well) There’s something special about this lure!
You can fish this lure with so much versatility too. Burn it through the water, rip it through grass, yo yo it off the bottom or even a slow and steady retrieve. It covers water quickly and is a fantastic choice for when you are fishing a new spot. It will do the work for you. I’ll send it out and pop it a few times and the weight distribution of the lure itself resembles a dying baitfish. The Golden Shiner even flashes like bait fish do. It really is fun to fish the Vibe!


I have shared this lure with beginner Anglers and even a few seasoned ones and they all sing its praises. With so many color options, sizes and it’s ease of use, I recommend keeping them stocked up in your tackle box.

There’s nothing quite like a big bass breaking the water, shaking its head back & forth and you hearing that rattle hooked up in its mouth.

Big or small, this lure catches them all!

Happy Vibing!

Micro Lines for Macro Midwinter Panfish

Depending on your location in the Ice Belt, midwinter fishing patterns can start sometime around the second or third week of January and run well into March. Midwinter often means thick ice on lakes, deep snow decreasing light penetration to the depths below, and a host of panfish that just as easily sniff and swim by a less natural-looking bait than eat it. Yo-Zuri has come out with two ice lines that can help combat the negative moods panfish are in during the midwinter ice period and turn finicky fish into fish that bite…the Yo-Zuri 1 lb. test TopKnot Ice Super Fluorocarbon and Yo-Zuri 1 lb. test Ice Hybrid.
Yo-Zuri 1 lb. Test TopKnot Ice Super Fluorocarbon
The Ice Super Fluoro is extremely sensitive and it has an exceptionally thin diameter (.005”). It is the perfect line when chasing big bluegills from deep weedlines to basins in 20’ of water or more because these fish are notorious during midwinter for hitting and spitting a bait faster than an angler can blink. The super sensitivity the Yo-Zuri 1 lb. test TopKnot Ice Super Fluoro allows anglers to detect even the slightest of bites, which of course can lead to higher percentages of hookups.
Another feature of the Ice Super Fluorocarbon that really makes this a special ice line is that it is abrasion resistant. Pound for pound, big bluegills are renown for their fighting prowess. When they swim in circles at or near the bottom of the ice hole, having an abrasion resistant line like the 1 lb. test Ice Super Fluoro can oftentimes be the difference between landing these brutes and losing them.
Yo-Zuri 1 lb. Test Hybrid Ice Line
Similar to the 1 lb. test Ice Super Fluoro, the 1 lb. test Hybrid Ice Line has an incredibly thing diameter at .005” and is highly sensitive. One important difference is that it has a little more give when it comes to stretch, so this will be a line that I will use when I am after slab crappies roaming 25’ down in 40’ basins. The little extra stretch that the 1 lb. test Hybrid Ice Line offers can help with getting a softer hookset as is often needed with big crappies. In addition to big crappies, the 1 lb. test Hybrid Ice Line can be loaded with lures up to 1/16 oz. for jumbo perch in everywhere from 10-20’ of water over flats containing gravel and sand or long points jutting out into a lake.
Do not let the more challenging midwinter bites get the best of you! Going with the Yo-Zuri 1 lb. test TopKnot Super Fluorocarbon or Hybrid Ice Lines allow for natural presentations with durability and sensitivity needed for big panfish. It is time to go micro with your lines for macro midwinter panfish!
Tight lines and stay safe!

Hard-To-Beat Hardbaits For Early Ice Panfish

While there are a multitude of different ways to catch panfish on early ice, few methods can compare to using mini hardbaits. The Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe Mini is a great example of a mini hardbait that can lead to fast and furious action with explosive strikes from some of the largest panfish in a given body of water. Large crappies, perch, and bluegills strike the Mini with the veracity of apex predators.
The Lure:
At 1 5/8” and 3/16 oz., the Rattl’N Vibe Mini is a perfect size hardwater panfish lure as it is a little bit bigger than the average crappie minnow, but a little bit smaller than the average fathead minnow. This in-between size makes the Mini an ideal lure choice for enticing some of the bigger fish which may be hesitant to bite out of a respective school.
The numerous color schemes that the Rattl’N Vibe Mini comes in makes it an exceptional choice on any body of water as the variety virtually covers any situation that may be encountered. For example, the metallic patterns (Blue Chrome, Gold Black, and Black Silver) work perfectly for tannic-stained water due to the amount of light and flash that they reflect when jigged. Green Perch, Hot Perch, and Matte Crawfish Minis are all solid choices for clear bodies of water with high visibility due to the naturalistic appearance they have to prey panfish feed upon. Lastly, the Luminescent, Luminescent Perch, and UV Tiger patterns are all great selections during low light periods at the beginning and end of the day due to their glow and UV presence.

The Line:
The new Yo-Zuri ice lines are strong beyond their pound test listed, they are abrasion resistant when fish go on runs and rub the line on the bottom of the ice, and they have a very thin diameter which is paramount for increased sensitivity to feeling the bite. As a general rule of thumb the new Yo-Zuri TopKnot Fluorocarbon or Hybrid Ice lines in 3lb or 4lb test are good bets when using the Mini for panfish at early ice. The 3lb or 4lb test of either line allows for the Rattl’N Vibe Mini to be fished effectively with varied cadences to prompt the rattles within to click, but they also are strong enough lines to hold bass or northern pike when hooked as these predators are often found in the same vicinity as large panfish.
If an early ice fishing trip is on the docket, then stocking up on a variety of Yo-Zuri Rattl’N Vibe Minis and new ice lines is highly recommended to improve your odds of landing some great bull bluegills, slab crappies, and jumbo perch.
Good luck, tight lines, and stay safe!

In Search of a Sleeper

By: Steve Wayne
The retention pond was teaming with life! I stared down into the clear water and watched as a giant tilapia and a small 1 lb. bass swam lazily by my vantage point. A school of finger mullet darted nervously past the wary bass which indicated that the retention pond was in some way connected to the nearby Indian River Lagoon in Brevard County. I was targeting largemouth bass but welcomed any of the various species of brackish water fish such as snook, tarpon or redfish that might inhabit the pond. My bait of choice for this adventure was a Yo-Zuri 3D Jerkbait, a lure that would likely catch any type of predator fish that swam in either freshwater or salt. I surveyed the pond and spotted my intended target, a large grass bed that formed a point at the mouth of a nearby ditch that emptied into the retention pond. I casted the Yo-Zuri 3D Jerkbit well past the grassy point and slowly retrieved the bait along with the direction of a slight current coming out of the ditch. As the bait neared the point I watched as an attacking fish swirled at my bait! I instantly felt a hit and then set the hook on a decent size fish. The fish surged to the left easily taking drag. After a short battle I stared down into the clear water trying to decipher what was on the end of my line. The olive brown fish looked like a cross between snakehead and some type of goby. As I dragged the fish up the muddy bank, I realized that I had caught a rare catch, a bigmouth sleeper!
Bigmouth sleepers, Gobiomorus dormitor are a torpedo shaped fish with dull coloration that can vary from a light or dark brown to olive. They have a short broad head with a blunt snout. This species of fish has a large cavernous mouth-hence the name “Bigmouth” and can often swallow surprisingly large prey. The bigmouth sleeper has 2 dorsal fins as well as a broad and round caudal fin. According Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Research Administrator, Dr. Richard Paperno, bigmouth sleepers vary in length and can grow to almost 3 feet. They are found in rivers and bays on the Atlantic coast normally south of Melbourne. They inhabit the Sebastian River, St. Lucie River, Loxahatchee River as well as other brackish water canals and creeks in central and south Florida. Dr. Paperno advises that bigmouth sleepers are not abundant north of the Sebastian River, however the FWC has occasionally collected several samplings from as far north as the Jacksonville area. “Bigmouth sleepers do occur elsewhere in Florida, just not in very great numbers. They are in a group of fishes collectively referred to as tropical peripherals. Their center of abundance occurs in more tropical areas south of Florida, but they have managed to get a foothold in Florida, existing on the periphery of their normal habitat range” advises FWC’s Dr. Paperno. In addition to Florida, bigmouth sleepers are commonly found in the Mississippi River and along the rivers and bays of coastal Texas.
Bigmouth Sleepers spend most of their time in freshwater and are believed to travel to the brackish estuaries or marine waters to spawn. After spawning the juveniles move back into the freshwater tributaries. In some places where they have been trapped in freshwater due to development, they have been able to adapt and complete their entire life cycle in freshwater. Bigmouth sleepers are predator fish and feed on smaller fish, shrimp and crustaceans. The bigmouth sleeper lies on the bottom with slow moving currents to blend in to the bottom with its sluggish behavior and dull coloration. Brevard County angler, Gil Tompkins regularly catches big mouth sleepers while fishing brackish water spillways along the space coast and treasure coast. “I’m usually targeting bass or snook in front of the spillways but frequently catch bigmouth sleepers” explain Tompkins. “They are fun to catch!”
Bigmouth Sleepers will readily attack minnow type jerkbaits, lipless crankbaits, small swimbaits and flukes fished in the middle of the water column. Keep your color selection simple by matching the forage of the area that you are fishing. Basic chrome, silver and white are often good choices as they will imitate small finger mullet or minnows. Although bigmouth sleepers have a large mouth keeping your bait choice to under 4” will increase the chance of a good hookup. Yo-Zuri’s 3D line of jerkbaits are excellent producers and come in a 3 ½” size that easily imitate a finger mullet. Cast your lure in and around the mouth of spillways and areas with current making sure to retrieve your bait in the direction of the current in a natural manner. Slow and steady is the key as bigmouth sleepers are ambush predators that won’t swim very far to chase down a meal. Don’t be afraid to cast up tight to the bank as bigmouth sleepers will get very shallow in anticipation for an unsuspecting baitfish to drift by in the current. “I’ve caught fish right up against the rocks” exclaims Tompkins.
Live baits such as shiners, finger mullet, mud minnows and shrimp are excellent choices to fool bigmouth sleepers. As with lures, keeping the size of your baits to under 4 inches will increase the chance for a successful hookup. Freelining live baits as well as using a float are affective techniques. Bigmouth sleepers generally run in the 1 to 2 lb. range however, a 20 to 30 lb. Yo-Zuri Top Knot fluorocarbon leader is recommended in case you encounter a larger brackish water species. “I always use a leader because you never know when you might hook into a snook, tarpon or a big gar!” explains Tompkins. “I’ve caught bass, snook, redfish, tarpon, gar, speckled perch and mangrove snapper all in the same areas with the bigmouth sleeper” boasts Tompkins.
Bigmouth sleepers can be targeted year-round with the best months occurring during the warmer periods of spring summer and fall. Focus on smaller brackish water spillways in central and south Florida with minimal but steady current. Avoid large spillways with fast and rolling current as bigmouth sleepers prefer quiet areas to lay on the bottom while awaiting an easy meal to drift by in the mild current. To scout out a prospective spillway, make sure that spillway flows from freshwater into salt or brackish water. The presence of freshwater species of fish at the mouth of the spillway such as bass, bluegill or tilapia are a good indication that bigmouth sleepers may be present!
The FWC designates the bigmouth sleeper as a “restricted species of marine life” along with other species of ornamental tropical fish. Many fishermen targeting bigmouth sleepers value them as a rare and unique fish and immediately release any fish back into the water. There is no size limit with a daily bag limit of no more than 5 of any one “restricted species of marine life”, which includes the bigmouth sleeper. Any fish harvested (kept) must be maintained alive as part of FWC’s “restricted species of marine life” requirement. The FWC does not maintain a state record for the bigmouth sleeper, however the International Game Fish Association has documented a world record of 4 lbs. 6 oz. caught in 2001 in Costa Rica.
Bucket list anglers may want to add the bigmouth sleeper to their list of unique Florida catches such as with the Suwanee bass, clown knifefish, peacock bass and the bullseye snakehead. Due to the bigmouth sleeper’s specific habitat and range in Florida, they are indeed an uncommon species and the envy of any angler desiring on a rare catch!
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Targeting Bigmouth Sleepers:
• Focus on warm months when bigmouth sleepers are more active.
• Locate brackish water spillways in central and south Florida.
• Favor small spillways with mild current.
• Avoid large spillways with fast or rolling current.
• Artificial lures used should be less than 4 inches in length to ensure a solid hookset.
• Try jerkbaits, lipless crankbaits, small swimbaits or flukes fished in the middle of the water column.
• Live bait can be excellent for bigmouth sleepers. Try finger mullet or shiners freelined or fished under a cork.
• Always use a 20 to 30 lb. fluorocarbon leader in case of snook or other toothy fish.
• Once a bigmouth sleeper is landed, there is the likelihood that there are others present. Keep casting!
• Practice catch, photograph and release!