Picking the Right Lure

Knowing How Fish Feed Helps When Choosing a Lure.

The oft-used fishing term, "Match the Hatch" can refer to either fresh bait or lures. It refers to an angler being aware of what the favorite (and most availble) food is of a particular species that is the target of the angler's efforts.

For example, for Red Drum aka "redfish," most anglers swear by a piece of a Blue crab, shrimp or pinfish for live bait.

For artificial or lure-fishing for "reds", many anglers live-and-die by the gold spoon, others only use a top-water plug.

But regardless of your level of experience, all anglers can benefit greatly by knowing what type of "feeder" a particular fish may be -- Superior, Inferior, Terminal or Protusable. Understanding an animal's eating habits and especially -- their limitations -- helps when choosing the proper lure. 

This article explains that information in an easily digestable format so you can better understand how a certain species of fish eats -- and how you can offer it what it wants.

Picking the Right Lure

Picking the right lure is easy for some people. "Topwater works great on snook on those grass flats!" says one popular guy on the forums. He's known as a snook hunter par excellent. He catches them on days when nobody else does, and if the guy says to use a topwater tomorrow on the grass flats outside Neighborhood-A (wherever that is), you use a topwater. It's a matter of relying on proven knowledge; of drawing from his years of experience catching those snook when other people weren't catching a cold.He knows the fish. He knows where they live, he knows when they move to different places to eat, he knows what they're eating (or likely to eat, because he also knows rules relative to fish get deeper), and he knows if they're gonna hit topwater or they're gonna be more likely to hit a bait swimming above them when they're sitting in 12 feet of water and not 2. He knows that in the first situation you would use a swimming plug that only went down about 8', and a splashy topwater for the same fish sitting in a pothole on a grass flat underneath a noon sun in 86° water.

The experience that forum members brings to the table is time on the water, and in inherent knowledge of how fish eat, and where they are looking when they're hungry. And even that experienced angler with thirty years of big snook under his belt might not know why fish behave the way they do. It's all related, you see, to their mouths. Or more accurately, how the mouth is structured for all boney fish. If you're gonna chase tuna in open water, you're not gonna be as effective dropping big stinky dead bait to the bottom near the open water where they're clearly feeding. They are chasing bait in front of their faces.


Why Fish Prefer Certain Lures

There are four types of mouths that God or some weird random mixture of hydrogen and oxygen atoms without any assistance created. We're way more into the invisible beings side of the Creative equation, but that's for a much bigger book. For now, let's look at the four different fish mouths. How they're structured determines how they eat. And how they eat determines what lures you should use, and where you need to put them to increase the odds of a strike. The same thing – where the food is – applies, of course, to live bait as well as artificial.

The four types of mouths boney fish display are:

  • Superior:  The fish look up and eat stuff above them for the most part.
  • Inferior:  The fish eat stuff on the bottom.
  • Terminal:  The fish eat other fish in front of them
  • Protusable:  The mouth sticks out like a tube, and is used to create suction for the feed.

The top three – the Superior, Inferior, and Terminal – are most common, with the fourth reserved for a few fish we do chase, like Hogfish, whose mouth is definitely stuck out in front of their bodies, and sucks stuff off the reefs they feed on. But for the most part it's understanding the first three mouth types, and how they can determine your choice of lures or bait, that will make you better at the sport.


The ugly (OK - cute) Sea Robin (above) is often caught on the flats where we're fishing for redfish. Their extended mouth puts them into the fourth and least common of the four mouth structures -- the Protusable, and one that's shared with a fish we love to eat: the Hogfish. They suck food into their mouths.

Superior Feeders

Superior fish have upturned mouths shaped a lot like a scoop. This structure makes it easiest for them to eat fish swimming above them; or even on the surface. It's the Superior structure of a snook's mouth that makes them prey to a well-worked popping cork, too. They are built to look up. Tarpon, too. In fact, if you look closely at a "Superior" fish, you can see they have lower lips that extend beyond their upper jaw. One of our most popular target species – the Silver King, or Tarpon – is a Superior Feeder. And their lower jaws extend past their upper jaw. It does not mean they feed on the surface, mind you – only that they're more likely to see and strike a bait or lure presented above wherever they happen to be in the water column when you're fishing for them.

Superior feeders we seek most are Tarpon, Snook, and Speckled Trout. They all look up. So, too, do Cobia. Superior feeders like live bait, will eat topwater lures, and look up for their food. They have an excellent sense of smell, although their eyes are more important and they have long distance sight. To grab a bait, they open their mouths quickly and flare their gill plates. This causes an incredible intake of air, water, and food. The water and air is ejected out their gills and the food filtered into their stomachs.


A Tarpon or a Snook is a Superior feeder – they're most likely to see and eat baits and lures presented above where they happen to be in the water column when you're fishing for them.

A Cobia is another of our favorite fish, and another of our Superior Feeders. Again, look at the shape and structure of the fish's mouth. The lower jaw extends beyond the upper jaw. They're made to look up and grab baits above them. Cobia are not the smartest fish in the game, though, so they're just as likely to pick up a sock that you throw at them as they are a perfectly-placed crab fly that smells like an old sock on purpose.


Inferior Feeders

Redfish are Inferior Feeders. So, too, are catfish and any fish that has its mouth below its body – where the upper jaw extends considerable above their lower jaw. A redfish is the first thing you're going to think about when you read this with good reason. They are bottom feeders, and they have those small barbs near their mouths, too. Closely related to the black drum, redfish will certainly roll over a topwater plug you're using to try to catch a snook, and act like a snook when it does, but they're designed naturally to smell stuff they move around and suck it into their heads when they feel or taste it.

Inferior Feeders include Redfish, Black Drum, and Flounder, which are in a gray area that makes them bottom feeders whose jaw -- rare in the subcategory -- extends past its upper jaw and lip. In a strange way, they are bottom-feeding predators similar in many ways to a Superior Feeder, in so far as they look up for the bait they eat on the bottom, and exhibit no barbs at their mouths -- a common characteristic of bottom feeding (mostly) Inferior species.

Redfish Todd

You can see that the bottom jaw of this 1850s drawing of the Red-Fish or Bass of the South (great tag for these challenging fighters, isn't it?) extends past its upper jaw and lip. That's because God made redfish an Inferior Feeder -- whose food comes mostly from the bottom. Why is this important if you're selecting lures or bait? Fish that are inferior feeders almost always include crabs, shrimp, and other crustaceans in their diets. That's why jigs bouncing off the bottom will work when a topwater might not (but might; rules break).

Terminal Feeders

Terminal Feeders are fish that eat things in front of them, and their jaws are positioned so when they close their mouths, it is aligned basically in the center line of their bodies. Tuna are terminal feeders. So are all the mackerels, including the Spanish and Kingfish we chase with a lot of passion, a lot of metal, and a lot of cuts and bruises every spring and fall when their huge schools swarm our coasts eating sardines and threadfin herring. They chase bait that's in front of them, and mostly all open water predators like them are, in fact, terminal feeders.

What Lure or Bait is Best for the Fish?

The answer to that question is simple: it depends. Since Superior feeders look up most of the time, and tend to draw water into their mouths, flushing the bait into their stomachs when they do it, the best lures you can choose for them are ones that are above them. If the water's calm or hardly snotty (wind-shaken and disturbed), try a topwater, or something that swims close to the top.

saltwater snookcom1

Our wonderful common snook (and all the others in the family) are Superior feeders. They look up and suck in a vast amount of water and air when they strike a bait. It's why they're really open to hitting a topwater on a calm day. Their lower jaws protrude out past their upper jaw. Tarpon have the same characteristic.

Lures for Inferior Feeders

Inferior Feeders eat on the bottom, or at least look down for their food. It's why redfish are more likely to eat a jig bouncing on the bottom than a mackerel is. They will, but not nearly as quickly as they would eat a spoon being dragged in front of them.

Fish RedDrum

Redfish eat from the bottom. Unlike the snook, they do not display a strongly contrasted lateral line that serves as a nose to capture scents. Instead, the fish displays barbels near their mouth -- used to taste, touch and determine the edibility of the crustaceans that inferior feeders often display. You see barbs on catfish, too.

Lures for Terminal Feeders

Since fish that are considered Terminal Feeders are designed to chase natural baits moving in front of them – and fast and in open water – the best way to catch terminal fish is with flashy lures – mostly metal – that are being moved pretty fast. It's why trolling works so well for kingfish. Once you find them, having baits anywhere in the water column where the fish's great eyesight (better than a superior or inferior, which rely more on smell and sound then they do sight) will put it in the target area.


This Spanish Mackerel is a Terminal Feeder. Like the tuna whose open waters it often shares, it chases bait that is running away from it or past it -- at the same level of the water column.

So, it's good to know what "type" of feeder the fish you're targeting is because it will help you choose lures or bait will work best for that fish. If you are fishing for superior feeders, it's generally good to try lures or bait that are swimming above them or at least level with them. If you're fishing for inferior feeders, try something on the bottom. Terminal feeders are going to be looking for food in the same water column they are in.

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