Top lures for Victorian salt waters

Vibes work particularly well on snapper due to the vibration they emit in the water.

by Jarrod Day •

Three decades ago, when I was a young jetty grommet, bait fishing was the preferred method of fishing for all the species I targeted. It certainly wasn’t any trouble to catch a feed but when it came to owning lures, the selection was quite limited.

I still remember my first three lures I purchased – a Yo-Zuri Squid jig, a blue metal slug and a green hexagon shaped metal lure. These three lures travelled everywhere I fished from Gippsland to Portsea Pier and to this day, I can’t remember ever catching a fish with them!

These days, tackle store walls are littered with lures; the lure selection actually far exceeds bait options. With advances in technology, lures these days are just as realistic as the actual animal, bird or insect they represent. What can be daunting is knowing what lure to use for what species. With the myriad that is available, choosing the wrong lure can cost you dearly in dollars and success and maybe even turn you off lure fishing altogether.

Many brands of lures come stock standard with hooks such as VMC, Owner, Gamakatsu, Mustad or just generic Chinese or Korean made hooks. Lures fitted using Korean or Chinese hooks tend to be at more affordable prices ranging $5-$15, while higher end branded lures often retro fit their lures using upmarket hook brands and thus tend to be much more expensive. Regardless of the hook on a lure, anglers tend to be quite brand orientated and even if buying an upmarket lure with a certain brand of hooks, they will often change the hooks to the brand they are confident in using based on previous experience.

Lures can work straight from the packet, however many anglers choose to modify them to ensure that fish will get solidly hooked or to change the lure’s original action to entice a strike. Doing this comes with being an experienced lure angler and is only done depending on how the fish are feeding at the time.

Take a floating lure as an example. If you upgrade the hooks from a 1x to a 3x strength hook, it can potentially change the action from floating to suspending. Then again, if you added a set of 4x strong hooks, it could turn the lure into a sinking model.

Regardless of which lure you have purchased, it pays to play around with it and rig it accordingly to the specific species and situation you want it to work in.

Snapper can be caught on a range of lures from metal and soft vibes, soft plastics and sliding kabura-style jigs.
Kingfish jigs come in a wide range of styles, colours and weights. In Port Phillip Bay, 150-210g is the ideal weight range.
Tuna are typically caught trolling skirted and deep diving lures, but more anglers are choosing to target them on topwater with stickbaits.
Jigs that shine in the water with a chrome finish are irresistible to kings.
Chasing tuna on stickbaits is more fun than you can imagine! Just remember to change the hooks from trebles to singles.
Targeting mulloway on lures is a lot of fun but you do need to have a good selection to cover all bases.
Having a selection of soft plastics and varying weighted jigheads allows you to be versatile when targeting flathead, snapper and salmon.
There is no doubt that red foil jigs are the undoing of calamari.
Salmon can be fussy if they are focused on a specific size or type of baitfish, so it is important to have a range of metals to choose from.
Skirted tuna lures come in a range of colours but those with black in them tend to get a lot of attention from big tuna.
Left to right: From old to new, jigs have certainly changed over the years. Technology has surpassed expectations of anglers, as fish are now fooled very easily.

SHORE-BASED CASTING

Shore-based casting is a popular affair for many anglers and while it is not limited to those flicking the surf for salmon or an estuary bank for bream and perch, walking any beach while flicking a lure can lead to a variety of fish being caught.

Selecting lures for shore-based casting will depend on the species being targeted and knowing about those species will allow you to select an appropriate range of lures. Most shore-based casting in Victoria tends to be focused on Australian salmon along the surf beaches, however a few anglers also enjoy flicking for flathead.

Salmon are quite energetic, often swimming in large schools and terrorising baitfish. Anglers attempting to catch salmon can easily do so using metal slugs. Of course, these are available in various forms and while different profiles may be similar, it is the position of their weight that differs and causes the lure to have a different action. Some metal lures are weighted in the head near the tow point, some are centre weighted, and others are rear weighted. All have a different advantage over the other.

Head weighted slugs are ideal if you are casting into rough surf conditions and you need the lure to sink to work it in a deep gutter, whereas a mid-weighted slug may not cast as far but has a flutter action of a dying baitfish as it sinks to the bottom. In most cases though, rear weighted slugs are the most popular because they allow anglers to cast further and cover more distance. When retrieved, they sit high in the water column just under the surface and act like a baitfish trying to flee.

Nearly all metal slugs come retro fitted with a treble hook at purchase and as salmon are meticulous for throwing a treble once hooked, swapping the treble to a single inline hook will ensure a solid hook set.

Once found, flathead are willing lure takers. However, because they are a bottom dweller, lures have to be worked within a foot of the bottom. Walking the shoreline, you’re mainly casting into a metre of water and for most of the time there is significant weed growth on the bottom. This causes hardbodied lures to become snagged or pick up weed on the hooks, so soft plastics are a better option.

Softies can be rigged with an appropriately weighted jighead for the depth of water being cast into but the plastic itself gives off an exciting persona that flathead can’t resist. Still, weed can become an issue. In these cases, anglers can rig their plastics with a weedless hook to discourage weed from catching on the plastic as well as prevent the lure from becoming snagged. This technique is extremely effective and although you might have to walk a few kilometres, you will be rewarded.

Hunting Cephalopods

Calamari are as much a staple for Victorian anglers as pilchards are for snapper! While they may be the most abundant species year round, calamari can still be a challenge to catch at times. In recent years, a revolution of calamari lures has graced the fishing market, changing it forever. Where once a squid jig was vertically jigged using a pole on a pier, they have since evolved into highly technical lures.

Squid jigs come in a variety of sizes, with the more common ranging 1.6 to 3.5. They also come in different sinking rates. Calamari can be temperamental at times and a slow sinking jig can give off the persona of a fleeing or dying baitfish or prawn. Depending on how calamari are feeding at the time, an angler targeting them may have a wide selection of jigs to fool them into taking a jig. This may mean having the right colour for the time of day as well as requiring the right size and sink rate. When it comes to colour selection, the colour should be chosen based on the inner body or ‘foil’ colour.

Your selection of lures can be refined down to a half dozen assorted colours, sizes and sink rates. You should include sizes 2.5 and/or 3.0 in: purple, a good all-day searching colour; rainbow, which is good in low light; and red foil for night, low light and clear days, making it the go-to colour for many anglers. For most of winter, a 2.5 jig is preferred, while during spring and summer a 3.0 jig gets most of the attention. Jigs at 3.5 aren’t that popular amongst anglers unless they are fishing in depths greater than 5m. Due to the size of the jig and its sink rate, the deeper the water, the more relaxed the jig is while sinking, allowing deepwater calamari the chance to take the lure.

Even with jigs in the 2.5 and 3.0 size, varying sink rates are available but because you’re mainly fishing in 2-4m of water, a jig that sinks at around 2-2.2 seconds per metre gets a good result. This might change in windy conditions when you may need to have a faster sink rate jig so the wind and wave action doesn’t impact the sink rate as much. Then again, in windy conditions when the drift speed is fast, it may be best to rig a jig on a paternoster rig with a small 1/2oz sinker on the bottom. This will allow the jig to confidently reach the bottom while the jig hovers above the weed growth.

Luring Offshore giants

Snapper, mulloway, tuna and kingfish are also willing lure takers and when it comes to these bigger species, the lure selection can vary greatly.

Traditionally, snapper are targeted with bait in Victoria, but more and more anglers have been embracing sportfishing and using lures to entice them to bite. There is no doubt that a snapper caught on a lure fights tenfold that of one that is caught on a bait, as they have to chase down a lure to eat it rather than just swallowing an unweighted pilchard in a berley trail.

Snapper are hunters and will hunt down a feed given the chance. While they are used to hunting small fish, lures that impersonate baitfish with a fast darting action are favoured. Such lures include soft plastics ranging 4-6” in a jerkbait style profile, soft and metal vibe lures and jerkbait style hardbodied lures that can be trolled over the shallow reefs.

Another highly effective snapper luring technique that can be done in Western Port, Port Phillip Bay and offshore is the use of Japanese style Bay Rubber jigs. They are for bottom jigging and are a lead weight with assist hooks attached. They are highly successful when cast and jigged over reefs, or a simpler method is to lower to the bottom, wind up three or four turns and leave the rod in the boat’s rod holder, as when the boat rocks, the jig will work up and down. In Port Phillip Bay, there is very little current so a 60g jig is heavy enough. In Western Port, the heavier 80g and 100g jigs are ideal.

A new lure in this category is the Mustad InkVader. This lure blends a soft plastic with an internal weight that can be used in a similar way. What is so special about the InkVader is that it has small ink tablets that can be added into the soft body, which when placed into the water, disperse the black ink, making the squid lookalike lure smell like a squid. This is highly irresistible to snapper and the like and is going to revolutionise this style of jigging.

Mulloway will take similar lures to those used for snapper, with soft plastics, soft and hard vibes and small hardbody crankbaits getting most of the action. When choosing mulloway lures, it pays to keep them on the smaller side, usually in the 40-90mm length range. This also includes jerkbaits if you’re flicking off riverbanks.

Lures that give off sound such as vibes and hardbodies with internal rattles work exceptionally well; however, don’t underestimate the power of a soft plastic. Grub and shad style plastics are top options provided you use an appropriately weighted jighead for the depth of water you’re flicking in.

Offshore, lures get very different, especially if you’re targeting kingfish or southern bluefin tuna. While both species are schooling fish, tuna are more prone to taking a lure on the troll while kingfish are often taken on a jig.

SBTs are well known for taking a trolled hardbodied or skirted lure and while the options are endless, Victorian anglers do have their favourites. While Queensland, Western Australia and NSW fishers are Halco fanatics, Rapala X-Rap 30 and Zerek Pelagic Z 180 are the top hardbody choices for Victorians.

As these two hardbodies usually come retro fitted with treble hooks, anglers often upgrade the hooks with something like the super strong Mustad Kaiju Inline single hook due to its 7x strength. Both lures can be trolled over 9 knots, but anywhere between 7-9 knots is ample for tuna. These lures can dive to 30ft, which is more than enough when trolling throughout the Southern Ocean. In fact, trolling diving hardbodies is often done in conjunction with skirted lures to cover different levels of the water columns. Most of the time, hardbodies are kept in close to the boat where they’ll dive their deepest due to the water pressure on their bib.

Skirted lures are the more popular option for tuna, and the Richter Soft Grassy, KYKY, Splash Medium, Jelly Babe and Soft Oscar are the pick of the bunch followed by Pakula Sprocket, Cockroach and Bullet Jet. All are rigged the same, with a minimum leader length of 2.5m of 100-150lb along with a Mustad Southern and Tuna hook set inside the skirt. When setting the hook, it is imperative that the hook is in the right position. If fishing by IGFA rules, the hook must be within the confines of the skirt. If not, it is good practice to have the hook set so the bend of the hook is just inside the skirt. In my experience, the further the hook is towards the tail end of the skirt, the better the hook-up rate.

As opportunistic feeders, southern bluefin tuna are also suckers for a high-speed retrieved stickbait. More anglers are choosing this style of fishing and while it’s challenging, it is very rewarding. Casting for tuna is no different than casting for salmon, except for the fact your gear is much heavier and you have to chase the fish a lot more to get within casting range. Stickbait lures need to be long casting to cover distance, which leads them to either being rear weighted or containing a sliding (ball bearing) internal weight. Stickbaits such as the Molix SB120, Yakamito Skinny Dipper and Rapala X-Rap Long Cast Shallow have built their reputation as SBT lollies. While most are fitted with trebles, fitting them with single hooks is a better alternative to maximise the hook set and prevent fish from throwing the hooks during a long fight.

Kingfish can also be caught on the troll, with hardbodied lures favoured, although they will take skirted lures. Zerek Pelagic Z 140s and Rapala X-Rap 15s take the cake. If you want to stickbait, kingfish will also feed on the surface like tuna and you can cast for them using the same lures.

Even though kings love eating fast moving lures, they can’t resist a high-speed jig. Jigging is probably one of the oldest kingfish fishing techniques when it comes to lure fishing for them and one that is still popular amongst anglers today. While jigging is an energetic method, the jigs themselves are quite simple in that they are just a coloured piece of moulded lead of varying weights.

The different styles of jig can create a different action on the drop and retrieve. For instance, slim profile jigs tend to shoot to the bottom quite fast without giving off much of an exciting action, while shorter wider profile jigs tend to have a more slicing action on free fall with fast action on the retrieve. These leaf/wider profile jigs really get the attention of kings and spur them into attack mode.

Jigs come in varying weights and colours and while colour might not play an important role, keep in mind that kingfish are inquisitive and respond quickly to sharp movements and flashing colours such as silvers, blues and greens. The weight of the jig should be based on the depth of water being fished. For instance, if jigging the Rip in Port Phillip Bay, you’ll be battling against the current and possibly rough conditions that can affect the action of the jig. Given the drift/current speed, the weight of the jig is vital so it is worked in the correct vertical angle to get the desired action and kingfish will strike it.

While there are many other lures available, the ones mentioned have proven their worth amongst anglers of the last decade and continue to do so. Even though your newly purchased lure will work straight off the shelf, it does pay to change the hooks and tweak it a little, as this could make the difference in getting fish to strike.