When to Crank Like Crazy

Five top skippers reveal when to skip the finesse retrieve, instead burning lures back to the boat at top speed.

Talk to some pros whose livelihood relies on knowing how anglers should retrieve lures, and you’ll pick up on one common theme about when to “burn” lures back to the boat at top speed: When predators are competing for prey. Five pros I spoke with all agreed that there are situations when the best retrieve is the fastest retrieve anglers can manage — lures ripped back to the boat, nonstop. And in all cases, they employ this technique when casting toward or into schooling fish.

Fact Mackerel Fishing Action

Mackerel and bonito feeding frenzy
A mackerel and bonito feeding frenzy is a great spot to cast and rip a topwater lure. John Frazier

For Capt. Jot Owens of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, that means when fishing for Atlantic bonito, Spanish mackerel and false albacore — all fast-moving, schooling predators. A metal lure like the locally made Big Nic Spanish Candy gets nailed when moving fast. “Back when reel makers first came out with super-high-speed spinning reels, I sort of wondered what use that would be,” Owens says. Then he discovered that anglers who had a hard time reeling fast enough to put real speed on their lure did it successfully with high-retrieve-ratio reels.

Beyond flashy metal jigs, Owens goes for a MirrOlure Heavy Dine Sinking Twitchbait. This heavy, sinking hard-bait minnow retains its action. “It actually swims even while rushing through the water,” Owen says, and it’s his primary weapon for the larger (4- and 5-pound) Spanish mackerel and bonito. “I’ve even caught kings this way,” he adds. The key is to let it sink a bit, then burn it back.”

Surface Fishing Tactics

Jacks are hardy, but deserve careful resuscitation.
Big jack crevalle have small teeth, but coarse lips and very strong jaws, so don’t try to lip them. Also, they fight like a stubborn mule. Ben Holtzclaw

Off east central Florida’s Sebastian Inlet, predators chasing baitfish outside the inlet and up and down the Atlantic beaches provide ideal targets for fast-moving lures, says Capt. Glyn Austin. When big, bruising jack crevalle are roaming the beaches in schools. “Retrieve a lure at very high speed, and lots of times a big part of the school will break off to chase the bait, all of them trying to be the first to get to it and eat it.” Big bluefish in winter and spring provide a similar opportunity, here, as do false albacore (little tunny) in late spring and earlier summer when feeding on anchovies. Then, Austin says, the high-speed offering should be small — whether a small hard lure, jig or even a soft bait.

But for Austin, the most exciting fishing with a high-speed retrieve involves sharks — blacktips and spinners, that prowl the beaches spring and fall. Like jacks and blues, they’re very competitive. Sometimes, Austin acknowledges, a more finessed pause-and-crank retrieve is optimal. “But sometimes the sharks will turn away from the baits when they’re paused. When that starts happening, we’ll rip the lures back at high speed,” especially with large stick baits (with trebles replaced by inline single hooks).

Far to the north, off Rhode Island where Capt. Eric Thomas fishes, it’s a similar story, minus schools of sharks, with bluefish and false albacore action receptive to fast-moving lures. Thomas says he rips lures hard when schools are feeding in a straight line on top. Especially in the fall, the fish come out greyhounding, submerge and come back up nearby moments later where peanut bunker or silversides are balling up. Topwater plugs or metal lures are the ticket. “Small tuna will track a bait and launch out of the water to hit the lure when they’re coming down. You have to be disciplined not to strike when you see that, or you’ll pull the lure away from them,” he says.

Rip Lures on Top for Schooling Red Drum

Red drum topwater bite
Bull reds off the beaches and in the bays are the best time to switch from a slower finesse retrieve to an all-out crank of the handle. Doug Olander

In the upper Gulf of Mexico off Mississippi, it’s a similar story but with a difference. Capt. Sonny Schindler is all about high speed when casting lures to jacks or sharks. But, here, he adds bull red drum to the mix, on the same basis: when they’re schooled up. That, Schindler says, is about the only time when he’ll switch from a slower finesse retrieve for redfish to an all-out retrieve. But, he says, when reds’ “pack mentality” kicks in, look out: “I’ve watched 10 fish trying to chase down the same lure.”

Another skipper who advocates a supercharged retrieve for red drum, Capt. Richard Andrews at times encounters reds from slots to bulls feeding in schools on top around Hatteras, North Carolina. Ditto when bluefish, Spanish, false albies and even stripers are feeding in schools. Andrews has his anglers past cast the fish — so the lure doesn’t land on their heads — then “rip it back as fast as they can turn the reel handle.” A 2-ounce bucktail works well, Andrews says, as do suspending hard jerk baits such as various MirrOlures and Yo-Zuri minnows. Those with small lips might stay beneath the surface at high speed better than lipless models, he says.