THE SHALLOW running minnow has become a refined fishing tool and its family includes twitchbaits (jerkbaits), wakebaits and troll minnows. It’s common for a lure to have the ability to perform the functions of more than one category.
Let’s look at a few styles and scenarios that are applicable to freshwater and saltwater applications on the east coast of Australia.
Wakebaits have near-vertical bibs that cause the lures to wobble but not to dive (maybe they’ll dive to a maximum of 30cm – but they really shouldn’t dive at all). Some shallow runners can be fished as wakebaits by retrieving them very slowly while keeping the rod tip up very high – thus the lure doesn’t get a chance to dive and it wobbles along in the top few centimetres of the water. A large ‘V’ of surface ripples emanates from the lure as it mooches along.
Floating wakebaits are ideal for mixing in with your topwater lures during a surface luring session. They can be the ace in the deck if you’re targeting fish like Australian bass which have seen far too many surface lures, small spinnerbaits or buzzbaits.
This category of lure includes the long skinny minnows that glide from side to side when twitched and paused during the retrieve. Some of them will also swim when retrieved with the basic approach of ‘just winding the handle’. But because the pause is when most of the bites are registered, some top-end twitchbaits are designed not to handle much in the way of retrieve speed. This discourages anglers from simply winding the lure back and forces them to work the lure properly. The same characteristic that makes the lure dart off course from side to side makes them poor troll lures.
In some cases it takes a skilled hand to make a swimming minnow ‘dance’, but anybody can sassy a well-designed twitchbait from side to side.
Minnow lures that can handle fast retrieve speeds and are stable in the water make good trolling lures. It’s hard to single out shallow-running minnows from deep divers in the trolling application. A good hard-bodied troll spread on the open sea will consist of a mixture of shallow runners and deep divers.
It’s common knowledge that topwater bassing on a few of our lakes can be at its best just before sunup. And on these lakes the next hour after the sun rises is often twitchbait time – the Twitchin’ Hour, if you like.
Using the twitchbait retrieve that sees the suspending lure glide from side to side between pauses can prolong the length of your morning ‘hardbodied’ bassing session. Even though the bass may become more reluctant to hit surface lures as the sun rises, they’ll still whack your subsurface lures for about an hour after the sun hits the water’s surface. Some days you can twitchbait in relatively deep water with good effect and the bass will rise to the lure.
The best twitchbaiting scenario is when you’re fishing where the tops of the weeds come within a metre of the surface. In this situation a deep diver would foul in the weed, making each cast unproductive. Assuming you’ve only got a 60-minute window, there’s not much to be gained from wasting precious fishing time.
Accordingly it makes sense to have a quiver of lures including your twitchbaits and jerkbaits at the ready, even rigged on spare rods to maximise the fishing time and minimise the downtime. A typical sub-surface session would see me start with a Sugoi Twitchbait, Rapala HJ08 and Lucky Craft B’Freeze. Then I’d go to a deeper diving Lucky Craft Staysee 80SP (all the colours seem to work) and then, for the real deep diving applications, I’d elect the Next One Strange Shad.
The same approach, but in reverse, is ideal for the afternoon and evening sessions.
Incidentally, it never hurts to give your hard-bodied lures a spray with gel type scent. I reckon it can make the difference in encouraging a fish to return for another go after a missed strike.
There are days when jerkbaiting will last all day. Sometimes the bass will enjoy the flash of sunlight from a reflective lure; other times, particularly when it’s overcast, they’ll hold higher in the water. Most commonly, in lakes like Cressbrook, when the garfish are active on the surface the bass will have their heads up when looking for a feed.
Shallow runners have simple bibs. They are characterised by being short in length and often protrude from the front of the lure’s body just under the nose at approximately 45% to the axis. Bibs with rounded ends tend to give a better swimming action, while square ends are common (but not essential) on jerkbaits and minnows designed to be used around submerged structure. Some bibs are interchangeable, like those found on the Stump Jumper.
Adding weight to minnow style lures is par for the course amongst keen lure anglers, and many articles have dealt with this over recent times. The ideal scenario is to add heavier trebles to a floating lure and then add some weight to the front half of the lure so that the head floats downwards. A head-down attitude means that the bib is always ready to start the lure working and the lure will then wobble with the slightest twitch from the rod. The objective is for the combined mass of the added weight and heavier trebles to turn the lure from a floater to a slow riser or a suspender.
When fine tuning twitchbaits some anglers pry the front line tie eyelet slightly upwards to give the lure a wider arc with each sassy to the side. Tweaking an eyelet in this way is also likely to cause the lure to run deeper, so you may consider this when twitchbaiting as the sun rises. Lowering the tow point allows you to make a twitchbait wake on the surface, and adjusting the eyelet to the left or right stops the lure from being able to handle as much retrieve speed (a trick employed by guides on anglers who insist on winding too fast). Detuned eyelets are also handy when you want to run a lure under a jetty or into current to the left or right.
You may have noticed that European and American lures tend to be more dominant in the north of Australia, while Japanese-styled lures are gaining a stronghold in southern markets. There’s often a big difference between an American freshwater lure and a Japanese freshwater lure. In America the rivers are big and the current flows can be strong, certainly stronger than in most lakes. For this reason, American shallow running minnows are commonly designed to be able to cope with side currents, and this suits our northern river barramundi fisheries with their strong tidal flows.
The Japanese freshwater fishery is largely lake-based and their finely tuned ‘flat-sided’ lures are rarely called upon to perform in a side current. Some of these lures don’t like side pressures much at all – hence some aren’t suited to tropical river fishing, and often can’t cope with any increase in weight from an upgrade to barra-grade trebles.
Japanese openwater lures, such as their sea bass and bluewater minnows, are more suited to our tropical conditions. You can expect to see their influence on our shores increasing in coming seasons.
Across the world shallow running minnows are made from a variety of materials and by a variety of methods. A cross-section would include various woods, balsa, moulded hollow plastic (some with internal rattles) and injection-moulded solid polyurethane. A benefit of solid polyurethane lures is that they don’t leak when a toothy fish bites into it.
From time to time soft minnows (and soft hollow minnows) appear on the scene, although you have to wonder whether softness is really needed in a reaction lure. They do land nicely on the water but they haven’t proven common in recent years.
In the future you should expect to see the rear treble on many a shallow runner adorned with a feather or flashy fish-attracting material. Since a recent, almost year-long obsession with topwater lures in my household we’ve noted the benefits of tail ‘fuzz’ on our surface lures. A few months ago we started employing tail-feathered trebles on our shallow runners, especially jerkbaits. It’s working well for us, so try it out yourself.
Tackling up for hard-bodies is one area where you can save quite a bit of money. The lower modulus or graphite/glass composite rod that you have stored away in the cupboard is ideal for hard-bodied luring with shallow running minnows.
There are some benefits you can take advantage of with high-modulus graphite, particularly a little extra casting distance with lighter lures and being able to use monofilament lines if you desire while still getting some ‘feel’. If you’re going to purchase a high-end graphite stick for hard-bodied luring, go for something slightly less powerful than you would normally use. The theory is that when using small trebles the hooks can tear out of a fish quite easily so you want a rod with more cushion, especially on jumping fish. And you’ll be surprised how different the fight is.
If you’re on a budget, I recommend you have a look at the new range of Pflueger Trion rods. They’re not expensive and have established a strong following in the market. I quite like their 1.95m baitcaster for hard-bodies and reaction lures in the bass/barra class. In the threadline sticks, the 1.8m makes a great twitchbait rod, while the 2.1m serves well for breaming with hard-bodies.
1) This chopper tailor took a trolled shallow-running minnow near the rocks. The troll and jerkbait versions of these lures look the same but perform differently. Some jerkbaits, such as the Gold Bomber and Sugoi Minnow, will troll but others, like the Next One Twitchbait, often spin when trolled.
2) In many lakes there’s a great subsurface bite in the hour just after sunrise. Shallow running minnows like this Next One Twitchbait make great presentations to Aussie natives, like this bass.
3) Model 15A gold Bombers are used, often with a twitching retrieve, around drains, flats and beside snags. Don’t discount the deep-diving version either; I’ve seen the deep-diving 24A gold Bomber work when the shallow runner was unproductive.
4) This rainbow trout was taken in the morning during low-light conditions on a shallow running minnow.