The ’80s rock band Devo likely wasn’t thinking about fishing when they recorded their well-known song “Whip It.” But inshore fishermen should take the song title to heart when casting and retrieving lures (and sometimes even natural baits) for a variety of inshore species.
Whoever dubbed this basic, but deadly, retrieve the “Florida whip” is lost in the long and rich history of inshore fishing. But it’s safe to assume the tactic has its roots in the Sunshine State, where the water is warm, and the fish often desire a snappy retrieve. But the whip is useful to marine anglers everywhere.
The Florida whip is a simple technique with many variations and subtle nuances that can make big differences in its effectiveness. Essentially a normal cast is made, then the angler “whips” his rod to one side or the other (tip down, level to water), retrieving quickly to keep slack out of the line. Then another rod whip is made to activate a lure and so on. The motion is much like setting a hook hard and fast, except an angler “sets” a hook constantly throughout the retrieve.
Artificials retrieved this way zip through the water and are turn-ons for many species, especially fish that prefer quick-moving baits. Bluefish, striped bass, barracuda, mackerel, snook, seatrout, jacks, redfish and others frequently strike whipped lures while refusing other retrieves.
A whip retrieve imparts a sawtooth action to many lures, particularly jigs and spoons. During a rod whip the lure darts forward and up, but as line is retrieved prior to another whip, the lure hesitates and dives. Then another whip motion is made, and the lure rises and increases speed, often an irresistible strike trigger for gamefish.
One important key to using a whip retrieve successfully is keeping the line taut between rapid rod motions. Most of the time strikes come following the whip. If slack line is allowed between whips, fish are either lost or never even felt by the angler. Many whip fishermen develop a rhythmic cadence during the retrieve, which helps keep the line tight between rod movements and in detecting strikes. It also helps to use a quick-retrieve reel with a good-size spool, since it’s easiest to gain line in a hurry with this gear following each whip.
Temper the Tempo
Whip retrieves need not be hell-bent races to get the lure back to the boat (though sometimes that works on fish when nothing else does). Whip retrieves can be made with quick or moderate tempos. Experienced hands often skillfully break up a whip retrieve with fast whips when the lure first lands, slowing to moderate-speed whips, then finishing the retrieve with increased zip.
It helps to envision the motion of the lure as a whip retrieve is practiced. A Johnson Sprite spoon, for example, flashes and wobbles quickly up and forward during a whip. Then, between rod whips during the retrieve, the lure falls, tumbling and sparkling like a wounded baitfish. Some anglers purposely hesitate between whips when fishing over deep holes or when a lure leaves a grass bed for a dropoff.
Soft-plastic jerkbaits can be deadly when fished with a whip retrieve, as can some models of hard jerkbaits with small diving lips. So-called twitchbaits or stroking lures are superb whip-retrieve plugs. MirrOlure’s Catch 5 and Catch 2000 are remarkable whip-retrieve lures, as they run just under the surface and give off plenty of fish-appealing flash as they dart during a whip.
About the only two types of lures that do not trigger strikes with a whip retrieve are deep-diving and surface plugs because they have too much water resistance.
So next time the fishing is slow, but you’re casting in good water, remember the Devo song and “Whip it, whip it good.”