Bait and Switch

A classic strategy, borrowed from devious salesmen, pays handsome dividends on the water.

Field & Stream Online Editors

The old bait-and-switch scam is a shady salesman's classic -- now generally illegal -- that was notorious on used-car lots nationwide. Advertise a nonexistent but flashy special at a superlow price to get customers excited and coming in the door. Then sell 'em on that old mouse-brown sedan, which is what they really need anyway.

Now think of those "customers" as bass, trout, pike, or even stripers or redfish. As a fisherman, you're the "salesman" showing them a variety of lures or flies. The bait-and-switch concept can work for you as well. It's perfectly legal, and you don't even need a plaid suit.

** The Basic Method**
This kind of trickery depends on the tendency of many gamefish to respond with a slashing, reflexive strike to a fast-moving, often wiggly lure. Because fish react so rapidly in these instances, such strikes are often misses. But you can often score on the same fish by quickly switching to a slowly fished, imitative lure and casting immediately to the same spot.

The method depends on being able to see strikes at your lure or fly, so it applies only to surface or near-surface fishing. In some cases -- most notably in bass fishing -- it's helpful to have two rods rigged with different lures so you can make the switch and the all-important follow-up cast very quickly. Otherwise, just be aware of the need to change lures or flies in a hurry and keep the follow-up lure close at hand. Here's how to make the technique work for you in some common fishing situations.

** Bass Fishing**
Bait and switch for bass works best in moderately thick cover: Beds of lily pads, scattered logs or standing timber, or patches of dense milfoil or hydrilla mixed with small pockets of open water are all good examples.

First, you need to get a bass excited, so tie on a weedless spoon like a Moss Boss or Johnson Silver Minnow. Retrieve the lure rapidly in skips and skitters over the tops of lily pads, along log edges, and above the weeds. This kind of retrieve often brings a splashing, explosive strike -- a strike so fast that the bass usually misses the lure entirely.

When that happens, cast immediately back to the same spot with an unweighted, soft-plastic frog or worm. Fish it with ultraslow, enticing twitches. The bass that you agitated seconds before will often take the slow-moving, imitative lure with a hard, confident swirl. And you've just become a con artist of the first order.

** Trout Fishing**
The same theory applies in trout fishing and can be made to work with either flies or lures. Flyfishermen should try alternating between large, gaudy attractor-style streamers and streamer patterns that are small, slim, and imitative. This is a killer approach for jumbo brown trout.

Don't be wimpy in your fly choices. A really big Marabou Muddler -- meaning one about 4 to 5 inches long -- in white, yellow, or black is an ideal attractor. These are the kinds of wiggly flies at which big browns sometimes slash wildly but often don't hit solidly.

In times like these, change flies immediately with your now shaking fingers to something smaller and more imitative: a size 6 Black-Nose Dace or Dark Spruce, for example. Fish the new fly carefully through the same spot, and try not to be so pumped that you break the fish off when it finally comes a second time -- as it often will.

Lure fishermen, meanwhile, can accomplish essentially the same thing with a large, rapidly retrieved floating-minnow plug. That fast retrieve will often move trout that ultimately miss the lure. On the next cast, either slow the retrieve rate substantially with the same lure, or make your follow-up cast with a small and drab trout jig fished carefully through the same holding water.

** Pike and Stripers, Too**
Pickerel, pike, and even muskies can all turn into suckers for a bait-and-switch routine. Fast-moving buzzbaits that spit, sputter, and throw lots of surface spray are one type of lure that draws slashing surface strikes that are often misses. In that respect, they are fish-locators perhaps more than fish-catchers.

But once you understand how this lure-changing system works, then you're ready to score. When that kind of slashing, missed strike from a pike occurs, quickly change to a large, floating-minnow-style plug and cast to the same spot. A slow twitch-and-wiggle retrieve is now the key. You'll find that this drives an already excited pike absolutely nuts, so be ready and hang on.

Stripers in both freshwater and saltwater can be worked in similar fashion but with different lures. The Pencil Popper is a favorite topwater lure for stripers because its erratic wiggle can pull fish from 20 or more feet away. But that same lure sometimes produces no more than a heavy swirl or splash behind the plug -- meaning the striper is excited but not fooled.

In this situation, switch quickly to a slightly smaller, imitative plug that can be fished more slowly: a Cordell Red Fin, for example. Here again, a slow and enticing retrieve usually works best, giving an adrenaline-charged striper its lunch on a silver platter. turn into suckers for a bait-and-switch routine. Fast-moving buzzbaits that spit, sputter, and throw lots of surface spray are one type of lure that draws slashing surface strikes that are often misses. In that respect, they are fish-locators perhaps more than fish-catchers.

But once you understand how this lure-changing system works, then you're ready to score. When that kind of slashing, missed strike from a pike occurs, quickly change to a large, floating-minnow-style plug and cast to the same spot. A slow twitch-and-wiggle retrieve is now the key. You'll find that this drives an already excited pike absolutely nuts, so be ready and hang on.

Stripers in both freshwater and saltwater can be worked in similar fashion but with different lures. The Pencil Popper is a favorite topwater lure for stripers because its erratic wiggle can pull fish from 20 or more feet away. But that same lure sometimes produces no more than a heavy swirl or splash behind the plug -- meaning the striper is excited but not fooled.

In this situation, switch quickly to a slightly smaller, imitative plug that can be fished more slowly: a Cordell Red Fin, for example. Here again, a slow and enticing retrieve usually works best, giving an adrenaline-charged striper its lunch on a silver platter.