The Best Lures for Inshore Species

Published on 05/17/2023 · 6 min readNever been inshore fishing before? Conventional Fishing Expert Michael Matey explains his top lure choices to help you target fish in different water column levels.
Michael Matey, Fishing Expert
By Fishing Expert Michael Matey

Photo by Anne Nygard

In many ways, inshore saltwater fishing may seem extremely complicated to a beginner. Whether you’re hung up on tides, location, what rod and reel to use, or what lures should be tossed, there are many variables to take into account. In this guide, I will break down the best lures to fish with, when to use them, and how to fish them. After reading this article, you will understand the “lure variable” out of this equation just a little bit better.

The Importance of an Inshore Fishing Lure

Choosing the right lure for the right situation is crucial for inshore fishing. Different fish will be more tuned into different lures at different times. If you’re using a top water lure mid-day while the fish are tuned in on crustaceans on the sea floor, you’ll be casting all day long without a bite Imitating the natural bait the fish are feeding on will greatly increase the odds of hooking up.

There are many different categories of inshore lures. They’re broken down into what part of the water column they target. Top-water lures focus on the surface of the water. Swimbaits, twitch baits, and spoons are designed to be used in between the surface of the water and the sea floor. Artificial shrimp are a great option for targeting fish feeding on the sea floor. Each lure has its place and it’s important to use the right lure for the right situation.

1. Heddon Zara Spook (Top Water)

Fishing with a top water lure is one of the most exciting ways to target inshore species. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of watching a big snook follow your bait out from under a mangrove and blow up on it as you retrieve it back towards the boat.

Top water lures are most effective in low-light situations. This is typically within an hour of sunrise or sunset. A good rule of thumb is to only throw a top water during the hours when you don’t need to wear sunglasses.

By far the most popular top water is the Heddon Super Spook, and for good reason: Heddon is one of the oldest lure companies in the country. The spook is a “walk-the-dog-style” lure. When you retrieve it, you’ll want to make continuous twitching motions with the rod to create the walk-the-dog action. The lure should move back and forth diagonally across the surface of the water. This emulates a dying bait fish similar to a mullet struggling to swim on the top of the water column. And fish simply can’t resist it.

2. Swimbait

The swim bait is my go-to fishing lure that I always have tied onto one of my rods. Specifically, I use a jig with a paddle tail—one of the most commonly used lures for inshore fishing. They’re super versatile and can be used in most conditions for almost all the predatory fish you’ll run into. Whether it be a snook, redfish, tarpon, or trout, you can always count on a swimbait to entice the fish to bite.

There are a few different ways to retrieve a swim bait. The most common technique is a straight retrieve: Cast the lure out and reel it in at a steady pace; the paddle tail will give the lure action similar to a bait fish swimming through the water column. The second method is a start/stop technique: when you’re reeling the bait in, stop every few seconds to make it appear as if the bait fish is struggling to swim—emulating an easy meal to any predator fish nearby. Lastly, you can tap the lure on the sea floor, which makes it look like a dying baitfish bouncing around on the bottom of the water column. It’s important to try all three of these techniques in any new waters to see what the fish are most interested in.

My personal favorite swim bait is the Zman Diezel Minnow. They come in many different colors, so try to match the color of your lure to the baitfish in your area—also known as “match the hatch”. Zman makes extremely high-quality soft-plastic lures. Their patented 10x tough ElaZtech material is quite literally 10x tougher than any other brand. These lures are stretchy and elastic, and can be used over and over again—even after catching multiple fish—without ripping or tearing. I like to rig my paddle tail either on a jig head as shown in the picture or on a weightless, weedless, screwlock hook if I’m fishing shallower water with grass.

3. Spoon

The spoon is an all-time classic for all types of fishing, whether it be saltwater or freshwater. And that holds true for inshore fishing as well. You don’t need any fancy colors; a simple gold or silver spoon like the Blue Fox Classic Casting Spoon works perfectly.

Spoons are a great lure to throw in clear water by beaches or passes. Almost any predator fish will find the flashing, vibrating lure irresistible as it swims past it. I also like to use a spoon when fishing oyster bars for redfish or trout. The best technique to use in this situation is a straight retrieve at a relatively fast pace to avoid getting hung up in the oysters. Spoons can also be used with a jigging motion that pulls the lure up fast and then allows it to flutter down slowly. More times than not, you’ll get a strike on that slow fall down.

4. Twitch Bait (Jerk Bait)

Twitch baits are a great option to try when the bite is slow and nothing else seems to be working. They can be worked very slow for finicky fish that aren't interested in a super fast-moving lure. One of my personal favorite twitch baits is the Rapala X-Rap. Rapala makes some of the best hard baits on the market which always feature more realistic action when compared to competitor brands.

When fishing with a twitch bait, you’ll want to cast it out towards where you think fish are held up. Then give the rod small twitches at different frequencies to create the appearance of a baitfish struggling to swim. You can experiment with small twitches as well as larger jerking motions to see what the fish are honed in on. Many times the fish will strike due to their instinctual reaction to the fast-moving twitches of a bait fish near them.

5. Artificial Shrimp

The artificial shrimp is a classic when it comes to inshore fishing, and, as the saying goes, “everything in the ocean will eat a shrimp”. There are many different artificial shrimp lures to choose from, but one of my favorite’s is the Zman EZ Shrimpz. Once again, this lure is made with ZMan’s ElaZtech material, so it's super tough and durable.

You’ll want to fish this lure super slow. Cast it around structures like docks or mangroves, and give it small taps on the bottom, so it looks like a real shrimp scurrying around. A shrimp lure can catch anything from a small snapper to a bull redfish, or even the elusive tarpon. So hold on tight, because you never know what you’ll hook into.

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Photo by Michael Matey

While inshore fishing, there are an endless amount of options when it comes to deciding what lures to place in the tackle box. Hopefully this guide will provide some guidance to anglers into a few of the best out there, as well as how and when to use them. Check out the Expert Journal here on Curated for more Fishing content.

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