Perfecting the pause
  |  First Published: August 2004

WHEN LUREFISHING, or even when baitfishing, using pauses in the retrieve can make the difference between a dog day and a good one. There are innumerable ways to retrieve lures and no one type will suit every situation, but the pause is universal in its appeal to the fish I’ve lure caught over the years – from freshwater right through to the depths of the Great Barrier Reef.

The pause works with all lure types, from poppers to heavy metal jigs. The technique varies slightly with each lure type and the action of each lure also varies when using the pause.


Surface luring is one of the best ways to enjoy explosive action on a wide range of fish. The aim is to imitate struggling prey to encourage the predators to smash the living daylights out of the lure.

Surface fishing usually involves poppers or stick baits, and both lures respond well to the retrieve pause. Picture a struggling baitfish, lizard or insect on the surface. They don’t move around the whole time – there are short periods of frantic struggling interspersed with rest periods. The pause imitates the rest period, and that’s often the time when a predator strikes. Strikes also often happen just after a rest, as the prey starts to struggle again.

A few issues ago I described catching barra on stick lures in Teemburra Dam. Those strikes all came while the lure was doing nothing other than bobbing on the surface. The lure was the Owner Tango Dancer and it’s now one of my favourite lures for surface fishing for barra. Editor Stephen Booth has also written articles on how to get better use out of these lures, which most anglers seem to use with the ‘walk the dog’ retrieve.

Boothy used a slightly different approach from the one I use, but it’s just as effective. I like to use these lures with sweeps of the rod on a tight line, causing them to splash like a ‘flicking’ bony bream. This seems to attract the barra’s attention, and when the lure is ‘resting’ and bobbing on the surface the hits came.

With poppers, I use a modified form of the pause. Most poppers I use are small, and one of my favourites is a cup-faced Surecatch that’s about 70mm long – small enough for sooties but big enough to attract barra. This particular popper can also be retrieved fast – it dives just under the surface and stays stable at quite good pace while putting out a bow bulge and a small bubble trail. I have used this short burst of speed interspersed with pauses and the fish go for it.

Another way I use poppers is to slow the retrieve right down and barely move the lure a few inches before stopping completely for up to 30 seconds. Then I just nudge the popper along a few more inches with a discreet pop on the surface before stopping again. The lure tends to glide forward a short way and then stops, while sending out ripples to attract attention. If there are predators around the hits are usually not far away, and are always spectacular.

Jeff Eales, one of MAFSA’s hard workers, uses this type of retrieve to good effect on Teemburra’s barra and sooties. It also works just as well down in the saltwater creeks for barra, jacks, trevally, flathead, pikey bream and small barracuda.

One other variation of the pause that works well when sooty fishing with poppers is to cast to the snag and simply let the lure sit there and do nothing. This can also work with short, fatter-bodied lures like the Fat Raps, and often the hit comes just as the lure touches down or just after, when the ripples are going out in circles. This probably helps the sooty to locate its ‘prey’.

Shallow divers

Most shallow divers are floaters which rise to the surface when the retrieve is stopped. This is useful when fishing snaggy country as the lure can be floated over logs, rocks and suchlike. It will also float if you have a bust-off and you can often find it and get it back.

This trait can also be used to good effect when you’re trying to entice a strike from an interested but uncommitted fish. Crank the lure down to its working depth and then give the rod a short, sharp stab that makes the lure rush forwards, then stop altogether so the lure rises as though trying to escape. Usually I start retrieving again just before the lure breaks the surface. You have to pay close attention to what your lure is doing but that’s half the fun of lure fishing.

Recently my son Lachlan and I spent a great couple of days camping in the Pioneer River valley and had the opportunity to observe sooties and forktail catfish in very clear, shallow water. They responded to our lures but were hesitant in the gin clear water.

On one retrieve I saw a forkie coming in at right angles to my Fat Rap and he took up station just under the lure and shadowed it for a foot or so. He was interested but not enough to strike, so I stopped the retrieve and the lure started to rise towards the surface. The forkie stopped hesitating and hammered it. I’m sure if I had just continued to retrieve the fish wouldn’t have hit the lure. To see this in water only 600mm deep and about 3m from the boat was terrific.

Lachlan had the same experience with a sooty that went 475mm – a top fish in a river environment.

Deep divers

Deep divers can be floaters, sinkers or neutral buoyancy. All respond to the pause in different ways.

The floaters perform much like the shallow divers and are worked the same way, i.e. the lure floats upwards when the retrieve stops. This can happen at depths up to around 8m, depending on the lure, and you may let the lure rise only a metre or so before continuing the retrieve. This can be difficult to judge so, if possible, you might want to try it out in a swimming pool (just don’t expect to catch any fish).

A neutral buoyancy lure responds to a pause by gliding forward a short way before suspending at the same depth. This type of lure can be very effective when worked along the face of weeds or rocks, as well as in timbered areas. When the lure suspends, short stabs of the rod without retrieving can make it dart forward before stopping again. This usually takes place well down in the water column so you have to stay focused and ‘feel’ the lure along.

When you pause the retrieve of a sinking type lure, it responds by sinking lower in the water. This can be useful when you know (from a low tide inspection or past experience) there is a rock, snag or weeds below the lure. In this scenario the lure can be made to sink towards the ‘protection’ of the structure, and this often entices a strike. Even over sand or rubble this can be effective, as many small fish rest close to or on the bottom and the predators know this. Prawns, yabbies and suchlike are also found near the bottom.

Deep divers are effective on a wide range of fish. As well as the species you can catch on shallow divers, you can add mackerel, tuna, queenfish, salmon, cobia, reef fish, fingermark and more.


Unlike hard-bodied lures, plastics don’t always depend on forward retrieving to give them action. Sometimes you get the best action when you’re doing nothing at all! Plastics are normally fished with a weight to assist in casting and action. This weight is usually at the front of the lure, which allows the tail – either a paddle, shad, or worm style – to work vigorously as the lure sinks when you pause the retrieve. You’re doing nothing but there is still action from the lure, unlike the minnow types that just sit, float or sink when you pause the retrieve.

One advantage of the plastics is that the lure works the whole time it’s in the water, from when it starts to sink to the retrieve, the pause, and the climb up to the rod at the end of the retrieve. The pause can be as long or as short as you like, and you can have the lure sink a couple of centimetres or several metres. Plastics can be used just about everywhere, from around rocks and snags to down the face of drop-offs.

The pause works well with plastics over sand for flathead, as is evident by the dozens of articles that describe the ‘kick then rest on the bottom’ action. The versatility of plastics lends them to the use of the pause, and they will catch all the species I’ve mentioned as well as a few others.

Heavy metal lures

Many anglers look on these lures as predominately a cast and retrieve lure, but the pause works well with them also.

Jig type lures, such as Raiders, are most often retrieved either flat out or slowly. A better option is to mix up the retrieve speed and use the pause. The pause results in the lure diving towards the bottom, and because they’re usually chromed or brightly finished the ‘fluttering’ of the lure attracts attention from predators.

The action when the pause is used depends on where the weight bias is on the lure – whether it’s in the front, the back or in the middle like some ice jigs. Either way, the pause lets the lure do something different, which hopefully will get the attention of the predator.

Spinnerbaits can be included in this category although they are mainly used in freshwater. The ABT tournaments have helped popularise these lures, and heaps has been written on their use. The pause when using these lures gets the ‘helicopter’ effect going, and to the fish this looks as though the prey is diving towards sanctuary. This can often result in a strike.

All the species I’ve mentioned can be caught on heavy metals of one type or another. These lures are almost as versatile as the plastics, and they deserve a place in every angler’s tacklebox.


Although this article is aimed primarily at lurefishing, the principles can be applied to baitfishing as well. It’s accepted that a moving bait is more attractive than a bait just sitting on the bottom, and these lure techniques can be adapted for use with bait. They’ll help produce the goods when the fish aren’t right on the chew.

As you can see, the pause is an integral part of my fishing program and it has helped me to score fish on many days when the fish weren’t cooperating. Give it a try and I am sure you will be pleased with the results. Good fishing!



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