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Thinking Outside the Box

by: Z-Man pro Mark Cowart

Last week my son and Redfish tournament partner Capt. Michael Cowart and I were in Hopedale, Louisiana for the IFA Redfish Tour's first event of the 2017 Louisiana Division season. Usually we try to get in 3 to 4 days of pre-fishing, but when it comes to tournaments in Louisiana we always try to get there at least the week before.

For those who have never experienced Redfishing in Louisiana, you need to make it a bucket list priority! To say that it's remarkable is an understatement and what we enjoy the most is getting to sight-fish for these incredible Redfish in the shallow ponds that make up the Louisiana marshes.

When we arrived at the ramp on our first morning of pre-fishing, a cold front had just passed through the day before and we had the dreaded bright blue bird skies, temps were in the mid to upper 50's, the wind was blowing out of the Northwest and the water was low and stained. We started our search for some isolated ponds that held some clearer water and after a couple of hours we identified an area that the water was clear and held fish.

While under typical conditions the Louisiana Redfish will hit virtually any artificial bait that is thrown near them. But when conditions change they react like fish everywhere and will all but shut down and it seems that no matter what you throw they will turn their noses up to it. This is when Michael and I like to "think outside the box" and start experimenting with different baits and presentations trying to come up with a combination that will work.

Keep in mind that the grass in these ponds is dense and thick with the fish normally floating just above the grass, but with the water low the fish were down in the grass so it was very difficult to make a good presentation without the bait disappearing or getting caught up in the grass. We knew we needed something that was weedless or could be rigged weedless that had a larger or flashy profile so the fish could see it.

As we slowly worked our way through the pond we threw gold spoons and copper spoons at about a half dozen fish without a single hook up, a few turned and a one bumped the copper spoon but we could not coax any of them into a strike.

We tried several different presentations and baits with no success, it seemed no matter what we did we just could not entice a strike. We started going through our Z-Man BinderZ to see what we thought could get these Redfish to bite. Michael decided to try the new weedless 3/8oz Project Z Chatterbait and I tied on one of Ralph Phillips Inshore new 1/8oz Weedless Eye jighead and paired it with a Z-Man MinnowZ.

It didn't take long before we spotted several Redfish sitting on the edge of a grass line and just as we eased closer the fish moved back into the grass. It was obvious that fish were skittish, we weren't sure if this was due to post cold front, low water level or both.

Michael threw the ProjectZ Chatterbait just on the edge of the grass line and one of the fish nosed out of the grass but didn't hit, I threw just inside the grass line and worked the MinnowZ through the grass but didn't get a reaction strike either.

We threw several more times without getting a fish to hit. We went back to the BinderZ and I pulled out a Turbo CrawZ and put it on the Weedless Eye Jig Head and added some Inshore Scent Pro Cure to it and Michael decided to try something a little more "Outside the Box" and added a TRD TubeZ trailer to the Project Z Chatterbait along with some Pro Cure on it as well.

Michael spotted another Red in the grass and he threw the Chatterbait just passed the fish and as soon as he worked it through the grass the Redfish attacked it and he was hooked up with a solid 26" 8lb pounder!

Before Michael got his to the boat, I got my chance to throw at a big Red barely visible in the grass. As I hopped the Weedless Eye jig head and Turbo CrawZ through the grass and let it settle right in front of the fish he inhaled it... just like that we here both hooked up!

Once we figured out a way to get these fish to hit, we caught a dozen over the next couple of hours trying several different combinations of baits and rigging combinations. The key was to find something that could be fished slow enough to keep it in the strike zone as long as possible AND it had to be weedless or rigged weedless.

With higher water, you can swim a bait above the grass but the water was so low that you had to work your bait on top of the grass or along the edges. I found the both the Turbo CrawZ and Palmetto BugZ worked great because they are buoyant enough with wide bodies that they stayed on top of the grass with much less effort and would fall slowly when dropped in front of Redfish. Pairing these baits with the new Weedless Eye Jig Head created a deadly combination that you could work in and out of the grass without getting hung up which is critical in heavy cover of any kind.

Michael whacked them on the Project Z Chatterbait and it being weedless was the perfect bait for working just along the grass lines. He would let the bait fall in the holes along the edges of the grass lines and trigger the strike. The TRD TubeZ was the perfect trailer to drive the fish to react, it made the bait come alive and adding the Pro Cure to tentacles created a more distinct scent trail.

We have forced ourselves over the past few years to try may different combinations of baits in all types of conditions. Learning to experiment with different baits under varying conditions will only make you a better angler.

So, the next time you find yourself on fish that are not cooperating, don't be afraid to "Think Outside the Box" and try some bait combinations that may seem unorthodox. You never know until you try and it might end up being just what the doctor ordered to cure a case of lock jaw!

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