Saturday, December 12, 2009

On Loan for $25: The Rapala Shad Rap Story

By Sean Ostruszka

It has no rattles or weight transfer system. No mold-injected body or laser-engraved color schemes. No hard-wobbling action or even 3-D eyes. Nothing of any technological significance. It’s just balsa, wire, zinc, Lexan and a paint job. It’s simpler than a Kellogg’s Pop-Tart. And it will be catching fish long after we are all gone.

It’s a Rapala Shad Rap.

Compared to the newest crankbaits, which feature most of the above-mentioned features, Shad Raps are dinosaurs. Yet even the most quasi walleye angler owns at least a dozen Shad Raps, while most pros own two dozen in each color. Why? Because they still catch fish better than almost any crankbait out there, and they have been doing so from the moment they were designed more than 20 years ago. And I do mean from the very beginning. When the crankbait first came out in 1982, it was so popular, yet hard to find, bait shops on Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota rented out individual Shad Raps for the day for $25 – with a $25 deposit.

The lure is quite a bit easier to find now, yet it hasn’t lost its mojo. So, being a lure nut, I wanted to know what makes this lure so incredible. Rapala Director of Field Promotions Mark Fisher filled me in.

“The No. 1 issue is it is made from balsa,” Fisher said. “Balsa gives the lure the most delicate and lively action. The lure almost slides through the water. No other material can do that. We have experimented with various plastics, but plastic just doesn’t have the ballast and buoyancy.”

Balsa has a density ranging from about 0.1 to 0.13 g/cm3 (water has a maximum density of 1 g/cm3), making it the lightest and most buoyant of all hardwoods. It is even more buoyant than cork. That unique property creates a sharp action when combined with the zinc ballast and the right shape, but we will get to that later. For now, know the balsa construction of a Shad Rap means it takes very little forward motion to get action out of it. That, combined with its subtle rolling action, is why it is the top lure in cold water for so many pros.

The shape of the body also plays a key role.

“If you look at the lure straight on, you’ll see it is in the shape of a compressed oval,” Fisher said. “That is what gives the tight, rolling action. The flatter and narrower the sides of a crankbait, the faster the action will snap back to vertical. The rounder the sides, the more it will want to roll.”

The Shad Rap combines the best of both actions with the buoyancy of balsa. No other lure can claim the same.

Anglers may also notice a Shad Rap swims on a level plane. This was also by design. The Shad Rap was originally created to be used for trout and northern pike in the shallow rivers and streams of Europe. In order to not get hung up, the lure had to swim level while still having the desired action. That is the reason the lip is on an angle instead of straight out. Of course, this is also why the lure is not the best at bumping cover. It wasn’t created for it.

Beyond that, there is not much more to the lure. I wish it was more complicated, but it is just that simple. However, the Shad Rap has spawned numerous more complicated lures. Though, the transformation wasn’t always easy.

In 2000, Rapala set out to make a jointed version of the Shad Rap from plastic. Knowing now what you do about the importance of balsa to this lure, the plastic lure gave the designers headaches.

“They knew they would be giving up some delicacy by going with plastic,” Fisher said. “But it was giving up a lot more than they wanted.”

Eventually, one of the designers realized that jointed lures have aggressive actions anyway, so there was little reason to keep trying to make the jointed model subtle. Instead, Rapala put in a rattle and created a lure that rivals many lipless crankbaits for noise – the Jointed Shad Rap.

Along with the jointed model, Rapala has taken the basic Shad Rap design and created lures like the Glass Shad Rap, X-Rap Shad and Minnow Rap, which is actually a combination of a Shad Rap and Original Floater.

“Including colors, sizes and variations, I’d say there are probably 2 million pieces that have come out of the Shad Rap,” Fisher said. “And of those 2 million, half the ones out there are the same six lures: No.5, No.7 and No. 9 Shad Raps and Shallow Shad Raps. And I bet the majority of those are in the same three colors: silver and black, gold and black, and firetiger. It is incredible when you think about it.”

Not bad for one of the simplest lures on the market.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wet Shoes and Electricty

By Sean Ostruszka

It was a night you praise the inventor of rain gear.

A couple weeks ago, Mike Steuck of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources invited me and FLW Walleye Tour pro Chris Burns of Davenport, Iowa, out to watch the Iowa DNR do its annual fall electrofishing – aka. shocking.

Having never watched this before, I was pretty excited. I mean, how often does an angler get a chance to watch walleyes suddenly float up all around the boat?

All and all, it was a great time. Steuck explained how the tool used for electrofishing works on the same principle as a police stun gun. Every electrofishing boat is equipped with a generator. In the case of the Iowa DNR, their boats’ generators pump out 220 volts, or enough to power some refrigerators. Attached to the generator is a dropper, which is lowered into the water and releases an electrical field. While water is a great conductor for electricity, the field given off by the dropper only reaches 5 to 6 feet in any direction.

For fish farther away from the dropper, the electricity will cause a slight tingle. However, for fish that swim into the field, it is instant incapacitation. When electricity comes in contact with the muscles of a fish, or any animal, it causes the muscles to contract. And if there is enough electricity, every muscle in the body will contract at the same time, completely incapacitating the fish. While the phenomenon isn’t the most pleasant of experiences, the contraction does no damage to the fish. It simply becomes rigid and, because of its air bladder, floats to the surface. From there, Burns and I got to net them up and drop them into a livewell.

Of course, not everything went smoothly. A weather front moved in the second I arrived in Davenport and didn’t leave until I left (something I found a little eerie). That weather system drenched us all night long. My rain gear took it like a champ. My boots, not so much.

Still, some wet feet were easily worth getting a chance to be on the boat. Here are a few pictures I managed to take that night while hunkered underneath a rain coat.







Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pounders = Ouch

I hate "pounders."

It's been five days since I took a trip with my dad to Cave Run Lake for some fall muskie fishing. I woke up this morning and parts of me still hurt. My hands are raw. My back aches. And my left tricep is still very upset. If today was the day after the trip I'd think nothing of it. Fall muskie fishing for me always involves giant lures that can make an angler sore. But this is five days later, and last I checked I'm not 60.

Hence why I hate "pounders."

To be more specific, "pounder" is the affectionate nickname given to the Musky Innovations Super Magnum Bulldawg. Basically, the lure is 16 ounces of pain. You read that right, 16 ounces. Launching a cast with one of those things requires physics I'm not smart enough to figure out. Forget loading up the rod. All you can do is swing the lure back, and when it starts swinging forward, use that momentum to get it airborne. Some 25 feet later, it will hit the surface of the water like a goat dropped from an airplane.

Why did I throw that monstrosity you ask? Partly because the guys I was fishing with, longtime friends and guides Tony Grant and Scott Salchli, wanted to see how long I would throw it, and partly because they catch fish… though not for me. I threw that thing around a fair amount over two days, resting often to check for hernias, and never moved a fish. Luckily, there are the "lighter" Magnum Bulldawgs (7.8 ounces) and Chaos Tackle Medussas (8.25 ounces). Now those lures did the trick. Over the weekend I had four bites and two follows between the two, along with boating a 37-incher on the Medussa.



There are three things I'll take away from the trip along with the pictures. The first was lure color. The first day, all the action on the giant soft plastics came on firetiger. However, on day two I never moved a fish on the bright lures and instead caught my fish on natural colors. The water temperatures didn't change. The sun was still shining both days. The locations were the same. Yet had I not switched between the two I may have never caught a fish.

No. 2 was watching the moon. Fall muskie action almost always comes in windows. And those windows often revolve around moonrise and moonset. Like clockwork both days, once we got within an hour of moonset the fish started showing up. Of the 14 fish my dad and I moved, eight came in two one-hour windows in the evenings around the moonsets.

However, the most important thing I took away was how to work the giant soft plastics over weeds. Salchli is one of, if not the best at working weeds with giant soft-plastic jerkbaits. And he showed me what he calls his "bunny hop." Instead of jerking or ripping the lures over the weeds, Salchi points his rod up and does a series of quick pulls to keep the lure just ticking the tops without getting fouled. It’s not easy and it takes some practice to feel the lure just ticking the tops, but once I got it down I caught fish.

Now it's time for more Advil. Man I love muskie fishing!

Slam the hooks!

Sean Ostruszka

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Crankbait “Dives-To” New Depths

By Jason Sealock

For some reason, crankbaits overtook other lures this year in the speck of cyberspace inside my head that is my attention span. My wife gets annoyed that I can’t hear other words when I’m singularly focused on one task or noise. The problem is compounded when it involves something to do with fishing.

Back to my original train of thought, this year we’ve caught so many fish in so many different scenarios on so many different crankbaits that it started me on this quest to understand what it is about my favorite crankbaits that has made them … well, my favorite crankbaits.

Some crankbaits I’ve been throwing for years. Some I only started throwing this year (like the Jackall MC/60 I wrote about earlier).

What is it, though, that compels us as anglers to stock a box full of similar looking crankbaits, yet reach for the same ones day in and day out. Obviously catching fish has something to do with it. The depth you’re trying to hit has something to do with it. I think, however, as we become better anglers, we learn to quickly assess when a crankbait will catch bass or just cramp our arms all day in given scenarios. In fact, I’d argue, all of fishing really boils down to that single premise – assessing the best tool for the given situation or scenario.

Rapala DT Series Background

David Fritts didn’t invent crankbait fishing, but he’s certainly in the discussion as one of the forefathers of it. I recently caught up with Mark Fisher, Director of Field Promotions, for Rapala. Mark has been with Rapala for 9 years now and was a pro-staffer for 12 years before that. So his mind houses more than 20 years of experience with their wide-range of products. We got on the subject of the Dives-To (DT) Series, a subject dear to his heart.

“The DT Series is an evolution of Fritts’ many years of experience and his intense study of the properties of Balsa and what you could do with it,” Fisher said. “The Fritts system of cranking employs 10 pound line and snap casts to achieve specific depths. All the crankbaits in the DT line were designed along this system. That’s why we say an actual depth and not a range.”

Some crankbait companies look for a certain shape and then figure out the depth range it runs. Rapala attacks bait design from the standpoint that they want to be sure a bait does what they say it will do. If they say it will run 20 feet, then anything shy of that is a failure to them. Fritts worked painfully long hours with Jarmo Rapala to get the baits in the DT line perfect.

Building on Reputation

One interesting note is that Rapala has the technology to basically take an existing balsa bait, scale it down 70 percent and reproduce the bait again at the reduce size. But Fisher pointed out several drawbacks to sizing baits.

“We have a basic silhouette, but we also have the capabilities to shoot an element and take it like you would in a copy machine and reduce it 50 or 75 percent,” Fisher said. “We lose some of the action just straight reducing though. The dynamics of the baits change, so we have to play with lip angles, body widths and where the pull point is on the lip. All those aspects impact the action of the bait. All the baits maintain a family appearance but each one is slightly modified and presents refined actions and characteristics that differentiate it in the family.”

Rapala has a tongue and cheek statement around the office – no one ever returns a lure because it won’t catch fish. But for them it’s the standard by which their designs live. There is a mystique about Rapala. They know several folks who literally took their father’s favorite Rapala to the grave, and it became a family heirloom.

“We think about that when we’re building our crankbaits,” Fisher said. “If we’re building a DT4, then it’s critical to us that the bait does what we say it will do. Our engineers are as good as the world’s best Swiss clock makers.”

The early DT 20 didn’t hit 20 feet consistently and had some swimming issues. A lot of that was just getting the designers to understand terminology in terms of what a crankbait does like hunting or kicking out. Turns out it was simply a problem with the pull point on the lip and now the baits hit their mark.

“When we build a bait to hit a specific depth in the Dives To line, not only do we hit that depth but we learn through the process of testing and tweaking what action is the best action at that depth,” Fisher said. “I love to crank. I did before I ever came to Rapala. We don’t ever knock any other crankbaits because there are a lot of great crankbaits out there. But so many things have been incorporated into the DT series that give me such a confidence that when I tie it on I’m going to hit the depths I need to and it’s going to look appealing to the bass when it gets down there.”

One of the most impressive things to me has been how consistent the baits are. Now there are some anglers I talk with that believe one rattles a little different than the others and will go through 50 DT’s to find the right noise in one. The baits are designed with a baritone rattle but to me that is not the key. The key is that almost every one I’ve ever thrown runs true right out of the box. These are mass-produced lures, but they still fish like handmade lures.

“The balance, action and depths are incredibly consistent,” Fisher said. “We’re rolling hundreds of thousands of these baits out. Part of that goes to the consistency of the balsa we use to maintain that tolerance in every bait. And it shows in the success people have with them. Fritts said the DT 6 is the finest grass crankbait ever made. We get calls from guys all the time to thank us for making the baits that won them so much money.”

Common Misconception

One of the things Fritts taught Fisher in their work together is that most people will put down their crankbaits when the fishing is slow and pick up some other lures. Fritts learned that by changing the depth, action and profile on certain days, you can get the fish triggered again. So when others reach for a spinnerbait, topwater or a worm, Fritts just picks up a flat-sided crankbait or a round-belly bait or a deeper or shallower model and keeps “plugging” away at it.

Cool Trick

I like to learn how people very fluent with a crankbait’s capabilities, work it to achieve a desired response from the bass. Fisher offered a great trick for fishing around grass. When he’s cranking around grass, he’ll reel the bait like normal, but occasionally, he’ll pop the rod tip and then throw slack back toward the bait by dropping his rod tip, much like you would while walking the dog. The slack allows the bait to pivot 180 degrees on its axis while still in its downward facing position.

Next, he reels up his slack and sets the hook. Most of the time, he never feels the bite, so he sets the hook to be sure. Then if he doesn’t have a fish, he’ll start reeling again. Most of the time the bass will engulf the bait while it pivots, but if not, the change in direction afterward often triggers them. This technique works better with the bigger DT’s like the DT 16 and DT 20 but will work with the others as well.

Colors

It’s not feasible to make every color for every angler, so good lure manufacturers have a base of proven colors. Rapala believes that base is not only good colors nationally but also the hot regional colors that are specific to an area of the country.

“We find out that regionally a certain color might be the hot ticket and we look at that every year to make sure we have a good solid nuts and bolts offering,” Fisher said. “But then we also want to make sure we have those regional hot tickets for further acceptance of the baits. It’s cool to see the trends in color not necessarily on what baits sell the most but what baits you always see in good anglers tackle boxes. And honestly with David Fritts, Larry Nixon, Dave Lefebre, Terry Bolton, Tom Mann Jr. and the other pros, we have the knowledge to build the best crankbaits, and we wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Running the new Yamaha SHO V Max 250 LA

By Jason Sealock

Waking up to rain at 6:00 am didn’t dampen the excitement of testing the new Yamaha outboards. The air was cool but not cold, and the rain was spitting and misting on the 45-minute drive to the test facility in Bridgeport, Ala. A quick safety meeting got everyone on the same page, and then a run down of the SHO outboard came next.

SHO stands for Super High Output 4-stroke technology. The old 3.3L engine has been upgraded to a 4.2L engine. The outboard is 34 pounds lighter than the V MAX Series II 2-stroke engine it replaces in the Yamaha product line. No other outboard with the same horsepower is lighter in fact. At 505 pounds, the 250 purrs like a kitten at idle. Actually it sounds like the low rumble of a high performance sports car. But when it was time to hit the gas, the engine was surprisingly quiet, even without any muffler, a first for the Yamaha 4-strokes.

Many folks don’t realize that a 4-stroke means no oil reserve under the back deck. Owners can actually very easily change their own oil through a filter that is very easy to access. It is even tilted upward with a scoop under it to remove any of the drip problems (i.e. smoke from spilled oil) from the whole process.

I asked pro angler Dave Wolak how much oil he went through last season on tour with his 3.3L F225 4-stroke, and he changed his oil only twice. We’re talking maybe 12 quarts in a year of hardcore competitive fishing. That’s impressive and this engine is even better. That’s hundreds of dollars saved in oil if you fish and run your boat a lot, thousands over the life of the outboard.

You might hear the engine referred to as the VF250LA. The V is for VMAX, and F is for four-stroke. The LA stands for L shaft length which is the 20-inch model and A for the first generation of this outboard. But the thing to keep in mind here is we’re talking about a 4-stroke engine that has springs and cylinders and more parts than a 2-stroke. All these things add weight, yet these outboards are as light or lighter than 2-strokes.

Okay, the proof is in the pudding – namely how does it handle on the water in real life. Well two of us jumped in the boat. We idled past the no wake zone, and Wolak leaned over to ask, “Are you ready?” “Let it rip,” I said. In an instant we were on pad and rapidly approaching 60 mph. Then 65. Then 70, 71, 72, 73 and 74 mph. Wow. The Z520 is running 74 mph going up river against a heavy current. Unreal.

He came off pad for a second and then jumped back up on plane in an instant. Then back down to a low speed and we jump back into full speed. This was just a sick display of not only the incredible hole shot but also the mid-range power the outboard has.

One nice thing I noticed is there wasn’t that “clunk” when you went into and out of gear. I was also very impressed with the responsiveness of the motor. No hesitation and immediate power. It was smooth, quiet, and powerful, and it was a 4-stroke.

While coming back down the river, Wolak demonstrated a situation that any angler who has fished a shallow fishery has encountered at least once. You’re fishing a really shallow area or you have a problem while running and have to shutdown in shallow water. You can either idle for a long time to get to deep enough water again to get on pad or you can drive in a circle until you build up enough speed to get on plane.

In half a turn, the boat was buoyed up to the surface, and we were on plane. Unreal!

Anglers and boaters have a choice of 200, 225 and 250 hp models in the V MAX SHO line. All the technologies are the same just some different size and horsepower options.

The secret is in increased airflow, lighter weight and borrowed technology of plasma fused metals in the bored out cylinders. The result is increased displacement which means more power. But the other advantage is these metal powders are passed in front of a plasma arc and bonded to the cylinders to create an ultra thin layer on the actual cylinder that is 60% harder than steel.

A side effect is that microscopic pockets form in the metals. These pockets hold oil. The result is no more cylinder scrapes and greatly reduced friction, a natural thief of power. Also because the friction is down, the heat is down and the overall cooling in the engine is increased.

The thing is most folks won’t even see all the little things they fixed, lightened, redesigned, and designed from scratch to achieve this three-year-in-the-making motor. The overlying message I found while studying the engine is that there are so many things that make this engine a great investment and add to its performance that you can’t say it’s just one thing that makes it better.

Small things like retooled water intake to make sure the engine gets enough water pressure in all types of situations to the redesigned air intake and transfer system to make sure the air is not only cooler but more abundant. Engines run better on cooler mornings because the fuel and air are denser then. This is one thing that Yamaha can simulate to make the outboards perform better.

I think these engines will set a new bar. For those that don’t know, 2-strokes are going away. Manufacturers will stop producing 2-strokes very soon because of EPA regulations. In fact, Yamaha said only the 150 and 175 2-strokes will remain after January 1, 2010. The dealers who already have the other 2-strokes can continue to sell them, but no more are going to be manufactured.

I am seriously impressed with this 4-stroke outboard. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to test the motor on both a Ranger Z520 and the new Skeeter FX 21. The weather certainly won’t rain on this parade. Check the www.yamahagamechanger.com website later this week for a lot of technical information on all the new offerings from Yamaha for 2010. We’ll have more updates on the other products soon as well.

Hop over to our YouTube channel to see some videos from the outboard test this morning.

Monday, November 16, 2009

NEW YAMAHA VMAX SHO SNEAK PEAK

By Jason Sealock

Game Changer? It's definitely going to be a drool inducer. We were invited to an early viewing of the new 4-stroke outboards from Yamaha. Today we were only privy to images of the new outboards and tomorrow we'll actually get to put them through their paces on several different boats.

Most notably in their introduction to bass anglers is the all new YAMAHA V MAX SHO line of 200, 225 and 250 horsepower outboards. These are 4-stroke outboards but they completely reinvent what a 4-stroke outboard "can be." Most notably, the engines are 34 pounds lighter than their counterpart V MAX 2-stroke cousins. According to Yamaha engineers, no other V6 bass outboard of equal horsepower is lighter including two-strokes.

The engines incorporate the first marine application of plasma-fused sleeveless cylinders. This is basically a high-tech aeronautical and performance automobile technology that has been ported over and applied to marine technology for the first time. They get a larger bore which results in much more displacement, in fact the largest displacement in its class.

The result for bass anglers and boat owners is more response, power and the fastest hole shot acceleration in its class, even more than the V MAX Series 2 two-stroke models.

Tomorrow morning we'll be testing these outboards along with a slick new 70-hp, four-stroke that will be a sweet option for a lot of aluminum model boats. Just like its big brothers, this outboard is lighter, faster and more fuel and oil effecient.

I'm actually very excited to run the boats tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see the new Skeeter boats being unveiled tomorrow as well. We'll hopefully have video from the test runs along with tweets from the event tomorrow. Check back to see more or follow us on Twitter.

Until then, here are a few photos compliments of the great folks at Yamaha. I'm already drooling and scheming on how to get a Ranger with the new outboard next year.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Do You Know What Your Jig is Doing?

By Jason Sealock

I like to look at lures in the water. I constantly do this with new baits and we're going to be incorporating a "water-eye-view" into some of our product photography in future issues.

Today we took several jigs and dropped them into the tank along with a bunch of plastics to study their actions. It was pretty eye-opening.

Here are a few of our favorites:

A couple different football jigs

A flippin jig with a big Zoom Chunk


And our favorite of the day - The Talon Series Shibui Ookii Jig

Doesn't that look like a Venus Fly Trap or something. You should see it move in the water. Just unreal. We'll be doing a First Look on this jig soon! Very cool.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tackle Storage is a System

By Jason Sealock

My storage system for tackle is not complex, but it works really well. Being the editor for a fishing magazine means you fish a lot in “someone else’s boat.” That translates to me constantly being the “co-angler” and lugging tackle to and from different boats. Rods, reels, tackle, tools, and more have to get from my garage to some remote destination. And over the course of 25 years, I’ve collected what my wife terms a stupid amount of gear. I’m probably the worst about going to a tackle shop and buying something I already have because “I might run out.”

That leads to a lot more tackle than a person (or boat for that matter) can physically carry. So how does one keep it all organized yet have it readily accessible when heading out the door? Well obviously having some method to all this madness helps. Sure I’ve got unopened packages hanging on pegboard, and tubs full of plastics still in their bags. But that’s not very efficient to organize on the fly.

The key is being modular and organized from box to box. If you only have 20 crankbaits, put them all in a Plano StowAway® box labeled crankbaits. However, if you have 300 crankbaits, you might need to be a little more organized. I store all my crankbaits two different ways. I store them by brand (so I can easily grab all my Rapalas or all my Lucky Crafts if I want). But I also store them by running depths. I’ll have a Rapala box, a Bomber box and a Norman box. But I’ll also have a shallow box, a medium box, and a deep diver box. I even have a custom painted box.

I do the same for other lures like topwaters, spinnerbaits, swimbaits, jerkbaits and more.

The labeling can be something as simple as masking tape and black marker, or you can use a label maker to make them all easily legible. Certain boxes store baits better than others. I keep most of my big crankbaits in the staple Plano StowAway® ProLatchTM 2-3600 or a 2-3700. But recently the 2-3701 and 2-3601 have been even better for storing baits. They are the thin versions of the old standbys and neatly store baits in a low profile container. Of course you’ll need more but it saves having a tangled mess every time I reach for a shallow running crankbait.

I also really like the XL ProLatchTM StowAway®. It’s one big box perfect for storing tools, fishing line and bags of soft baits in bulk. I keep several under my work bench. One holds jumbo spools of line, one holds filler spools of line, one holds tools for making jigheads and skirts and others hold plastics in bulk. I can easily grab one and throw it in my truck when I head out the door.

But the key to the system is storing everything on shelves where they are easily seen. Plano’s Storage Shelving works perfectly in our tackle room at the office and took less than 10 minutes to put together. We use two of them as well as some standard shelves to store everything. One shelf holds six of the XL StowAways or a pile of the 3601 and 3701 StowAways.

Keep about six to eight empty StowAways on hand always. When we have a field assignment or just a fun trip where we want to put some new products through the paces, we load a few baits from several different boxes into the empty boxes and hit the road. Sometimes, however, like when we know there is a hot crankbait bite, we just grab whole boxes and go.

This system works the same for me at home. When I get ready to go, I generally do my research and know what I should take depending on season and fishery. So I load up what is needed and only end up most of the time needing one or two boxes and some plastics in my bag.

This is a modular system that has worked for me fishing all over the country and even locally. When it’s winter, I know the fish won’t be hitting my Spro Bronzeyes or Zoom Horny Toads. When I’m fishing muddy water I know I won’t need my Optimum swimbaits. So I travel with only what I need for the trip. That saves me from lugging whole boxes just because one or two baits from that box are needed.

Obviously it takes some time to build up to this system, but if you’re like me, asking me to throw out a pack of plastics is like asking me to throw out a tool I don’t use often. If there’s a chance that it may be the perfect tool for a certain situation, then I’m going to hang on to it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Fish that Indiana U Will Remember Forever

By Jason Selaock

This one bass turned around their whole tournament. They had a meager 4 pounds after day one. Then on Day two they went with their gut instincts and hit a spot that yielded a 3 and this fish that weighed nearly 5 pounds. We were fortunate enough to be filming Jesse as he fought the bass and Dustin as he netted it.

It was great to see their reaction and the other anglers fishing on the bank and in their boats clapping and cheering for them. It was an awesome thing to witness because this was the exact moment that turned the tournament around for them.

See it unfold here in these photos taken by Sean Ostruszka
(click the photos to see a larger version).




Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bass Fishing on the Today Show

Bass Fishing doesn't get a lot of mainstream media coverage. Usually I'm okay with that because fishing is a source. It's much like surfing in the way it provides a lot of people with motivation and desire that would not otherwise have it. And trying to force that on people is somewhat counter-productive to helping balance and enrich lives.

But occasionally bass fishing gets thrust into the limelight for a moment or two. We can only hope that it's for positive reasons. So I was happy to see FLW Outdoors, the National Guard, Ranger, Evinrude and other companies as well as personalities like Justin Lucas, David Dudley, and more shown positively on the TODAY Show on NBC this morning (Oct 22, 8 a.m. hour).

While several of the facts and mentions were inaccurate, the gist of the piece was about how much bass fishing has grown from the days of our grandfathers and how much the sport of professional competitive fishing has grown. I thought Lucas did a great job in the piece and it was a lot of fun to watch I thought.

See what you think

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cull-or Me Impressed

In the perfect tournament, an angler would make five casts, catch five 8-pounders, slip all of them in the livewell and practice his winning smile the rest of the day. In other words, there would be no need to ever worry about culling fish.

Reality, however, means an angler will ideally have to cull early and often throughout a tournament. This lends itself to the possibility of an angler culling the wrong fish or forgetting to cull and having too many fish in the livewell – neither of which is a winning strategy. Plus, there is the wasted time of trying to find the smallest fish in the livewell so it can be replaced.

Luckily, a handful of manufacturers have devised products to aid anglers in keeping their best five bass in a day. Here’s a look at a limit’s worth of those products tournaments anglers have to choose from.

Ardent SmartCull Professional Culling System

Along with reels, Ardent makes a host of accessories for anglers, one of which being the SmartCull Professional Culling System. Basically, Ardent has taken a set of clips and attached a floating, colored ball to them – nothing new there. However, each ball has a set of numbered dials that allow the angler to show the pounds and ounces of each individual fish up to 15 pounds, 15 ounces. It’s a simple, “why didn’t I think of that” feature that ends the hassle of digging through fish to find the smallest one. The system comes with six clips and retails for $39.99. (ardentoutdoors.com)

Cull-Buddy

The beauty of the Cull-Buddy system is storage. The six colored buoys neatly hang in a holder, which can be mounted on any livewell or storage lid larger than 9 inches by 9 inches. The holder is made from a durable PVC-like material, and it’s easily installed with the included mounting hardware. Aside from convenience, the system also means no more loose clips rattling and tangling in storage compartments. The system retails for $34.99. (cull-buddy.com)


Berkley Tournament Culling System with 15lb Scale

For the technology buffs, the Tournament Culling System with 15lb Scale is as cutting edge as it gets when it comes to culling. Along with eight color-coded culling clips, the system includes a digital scale that stores and sorts fish as an angler weighs them. Not only does this help with quickly culling the smallest bass, it will also add up the weight so the angler knows roughly where they stand. Batteries are included for this system, which retails for $44.95. (berkley-fishing.com)

Accu-Cull Culling System

Similarly to the Ardent SmartCull, the Accu-Cull system utilizes dials to note the weight of each individual fish up to 9.99 pounds. Yes, you can actually note the hundredths of an ounce, which is great for tournaments where small fish rule the system. The system itself doesn’t actually come with clips, but it mounts to the lid of the livewell and works with clips you may already own thanks to both numbered and color-coded dials. The retail price is $35.99. (accucull.com)

XTools xCull Manual Cull Kit

Most buoys use a flexible cord, which can get tangled both in storage and when hooked to a fish. The floating xCull buoys are solid plastic, minimizing the problem. The xClips are also easy to use as they don’t have to be run through the gills. While a grease board and pencil do come in the kit, the system is perfectly complimented by the Accu-Cull system. xTools also make the gripNweigh Pro Series Automatic Culling System similar to the Berkley model. The retail price for the manual kit is $18.99. (xtools.us)

-- Sean Ostruszka

Friday, October 9, 2009

Learning Concentration through Skeet Shooting

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time in my grandmother’s backyard shooting trap with my dad. We used a simple thrower like is available from Walmart and shot only for fun. I did the same thing in high school with my friends, and eventually graduated to an actual trap range in college. After about a two-year hiatus, I recently got back into the shooting sports by joining a local skeet club. Most of the members compete across the state and even the country, and they are all talented and more experienced than me. But from them, my love of the shooting sports has fired back up to the point that I can’t keep clay pigeons and double-barrel shotguns out of my easily distracted head.

If you are not familiar with skeet, visit http://www.shotgunworld.com/bbs/viewtopic.php?t=49004 for way more information than you need and to introduce you to the complexities of what should be a simple game.

Skeet has helped me tremendously with developing mental strengths that I can apply to fishing or any task. In my writing, it is often difficult to relay the mental aspects of fishing that so many pros have mastered. While I can explain how to rig a weedless lure, skills like concentration, confidence, determination and discipline are best learned through experience. Those experiences, however, can come from any part of life, like I have learned through skeet.
For example, when I step up to the first and second stations on a skeet field to begin a round, I am focused on the steps I need to take to break the target and can usually hold the focus through the shot. By the time I reach stations three and four, however, I often find myself thinking about a missed shot, admiring another shooter’s shotgun or wondering if the clouds are going to bring rain. When I step up to shoot, lack of concentration causes me to miss as much as, if not more than, poor form and fundamentals.

The same is true in fishing. When I start out a day flipping, I am totally in tune with my casts and lure through the first hour or so. But as the day progresses, my mind starts to wander. I may begin making poor pitches and hang the lure or splash too much. I may miss a subtle bite that I should have felt. Or I end up overfishing each cast and wasting time.

As I progress as a shooter and an angler, I have learned that when distractions work their way into the scene, I can overcome them by slowing down and reviewing the fundamentals. I think about my lure scraping every rock and about the exact place where I want the cast to land. I don’t do it as well as the pros, but those skills come with time. Concentration at least makes my execution better and my reaction time faster.

Another lesson I have learned is one of confidence. When I step to the line to shoot skeet, I know that I will break the target. Of course, I don’t break every target, but before I shoot, I tell myself I will. I believe that I will. In fishing, I have to rely on my experiences and gut instincts and tell myself that if it feels right, it will be right, and I will catch fish.

If I miss a shot in skeet, I don’t dwell on it and take a hit to my confidence. I study the situation and try to determine what I did wrong. Back to fishing, if a lure or area doesn’t work, I think about why, but I don’t criticize myself, which would rob me of trust in my instincts. I try to grow my confidence by analyzing the situation and making a change. I have to believe that every move I make is the right one.

Don’t be afraid to look to other aspects of life to strengthen your mental skills and competitive abilities for fishing. You’ll be surprised where they show up.

-- Curt Niedermier

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Awful First Rule

It was told to me by a friend and longtime musky guide, and I wish he never mentioned it.

Probably five years ago, I was fishing with Tony Grant when I hooked a giant. I'm talking 40-plus pounds of behemoth musky. And the best part about it: I had her hooked good. Then it happened. I felt her move beneath the water to attempt to jump, I leaned my rod a little to try and stop her, and then nothing. No weight, no jump, no anything. She was just gone. I will never forget that awful feeling, or what followed it.

After crumbling to my knees on the deck, I looked to Grant in hopes he would inform me of what went wrong. He just looked back and said, "Nothing. The first rule of musky fishing is muskies get off."

I wish he was wrong, but he's absolutely accurate. I have no idea how they are able to dislodge massive hooks like surgeons, but they do. And they were in rare form this past weekend.

Having scored pretty well on a fall trip to Kinkaid last November, and hearing of a hot bite, my co-worker, Alan, his friend and I again made the trek into southern Illinois to chase some slime. And just like last fall, we got the net wet. Little after 2 p.m. I had a 45 1/2-incher rush a nickel-and-black Shumway Flasher and get just enough of the hook to allow us to get some pictures.

A trophy like that should have made the trip an incredible success, and don't get me wrong, it was a successful trip. But the four other muskies we didn't get pictures of sure left us with sour tastes in our mouths.

For some reason – and I don't know a single person who knows why – muskies will sometimes get in the habit of nipping at lures. They will launch up to lures like hook-seeking torpedoes, looking like they're about to not just eat, but destroy what they see. Then right before they close their mouths, they slow down and daintily nip the back. On the frustration scale, it ranks right up there with the popcorn kernel stuck between your back two molars. Again, why they do this is unknown, but when they get in that mood there is little an angler can do to get them out of it. I have recently been told burning smaller lures will sometimes get them to commit, but that is the first I have heard of any remedy.

If you couldn't guess, the muskies at Kinkaid were severely in the nipping funk, and unfortunately it cost Alan the trophy of a lifetime. Prior to the giant, we had three muskies between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. that all hit our lures, but didn't grab hooks. Regardless, the action had us pretty optimistic. Then just before 2 p.m. we motored into a small cut I had fished previously and had success. Sure enough, about midway into it Alan made a cast back to an area with an orange-and-black Musky Mayhem Tackle Double Cowgirl and had a 50-plus-inch musky eat the lure no more than 10 feet from the boat. Unfortunately, like the previous three, she only got a taste. She thrashed her head one time and the Cowgirl was air born, with the fish sinking back to the depths, surely with a smirk.

Just thinking back on those two seconds still makes me sick. Luckily, I know where she lives, and maybe, just maybe, later this year we might get to see her again to break the rule.

Slam the hooks!


- Sean Ostruszka

Monday, October 5, 2009

Getting Schooled on the Wacky Rig

By Sean Ostruszka

Up until last Saturday, a wacky rig ranked down there with 12-inch swimbaits and dough balls as a viable option for me to catch bass. To be fair, I'd never really given it a time to shine. Then again, I never really had a situation to use it. In fact, it was so low on my list of productive techniques that when one of the other editors here asked if he could have any packs of a particular brand of worm, I obliged.

Then Brian Lindberg, FLW Outdoors Magazine's creative director, went about whupping me Saturday with the same worms rigged wacky-style. Needless to say, I wish I had my worms back.

How he rigged the worm and other techniques regarding the wacky rig will be covered in-depth in some of the upcoming issues of FLW Outdoors Magazine, so I won't expound on them here. However, I did want to talk about one thing I found interesting while Brain went about throttling me.

Wacky rigs usually utilize a soft-plastic stick bait, and most stick baits have predominantly the same pen-like shape. However, the shape and flexibility of the worm can be much more important to the success of the rig than many may give credit. We both were using the same color, but different worms. Brian caught fish; I didn't. The second I switched to the other type of worm, my line started getting tugged on too. This wasn't just a fluke occurrence either. A few days after our trip, Brian went out again with a co-worker and experienced the same thing. What we noticed was how the different shapes produced different fluttering actions and different rates of fall. On a rig that doesn't have much action to begin with, those two aspects are very key. Remember that the next time you're not getting bit on a wacky rig. A simple switch to a different worm may be all that's necessary.

Slam the hooks!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Going Deep: Crankbaits

Part One: Cranking Cover with the Jackall MC/60
By Jason Sealock

Reading FLW Outdoors Magazines on a regular basis, you’ve probably noticed numerous articles on crankbaits – choosing the right ones, where and when to fish them, what the differences are between different properties and more. For some great crankbait tips go back and check out our March 2009 issue, May 2009 issue and our July 2009 issue.

One particular subject of interest to us personally that we’ve not covered much has been cranking shallow cover. We ran a piece on shallow cranking in general a couple years ago, but we’ve been doing quite a bit of shallow cranking this year on stump flats, around laydowns and other various shallow cover with great success and we’ve familiarized ourselves with a few new baits since then.

I have several favorites when it comes to shallow cranking. A Bomber Flat A, a Lucky Craft RC 1.5, and a Rapala DT6 are staples in my tackle box, and I throw them often when I’m fishing shallow. I’ve found certain banks, areas and even lakes where the fish just seem to bite one better than the other, so none of them are indispensable.

But one new lure I’ve found a new appreciation for this year is a Jackall MC/60. I’ve thrown both the SR (shallow runner) and MR (medium runner) a lot this year, and I was able to pull David Swendseid, Product Specialist Manager at Jackall – someone who thoroughly understands the science behind bait design, aside at ICAST and in several interviews since then, and he broke down this particular bait.

The Basics of Design

Crankbaits are tools. They can plow deep grass beds or rattle the bark off shallow logs. They can be burned, slow rolled, ripped and waked. They range in size from a thumbnail up to the size of your hand. And color offerings between all the manufacturers run the spectrum. What separates one tool from another is functionality.

The MC/60 was designed to be an all-terrain crankbait by lure-design mastermind, Seiji Kato. “The desire in building this crankbait was three fold,” Swendseid said. “First, Kato had to create a crankbait with actions similar to a perfectly balanced wood crankbait. But next, it had to have displacement characteristics able to push a significant amount of water. And last, it had to be capable of instantly regaining trajectory after colliding with an object.”

If you know anything about design theory, making a “vehicle” with a perfectly balanced action that can collide into something and then return to that perfect balance the instant it collides is not an easy task. Put that difficulty underwater, and now the designers have to contend with hydrodynamics compounded by an already erratic action.

“Many crankbaits inherit a problem known as ‘sliding’ or ‘jogging’ when colliding with cover,” Swendseid said. “The impact hinders the bait’s swim motion, fouling the lures tracking and oftentimes causes it to roll over axis with no return.”

So what’s that mean in laymen’s terms? Anyone who has fished crankbaits around shallow wood has seen it. The bait hits something. It kicks over on it’s side, and scoots along sideways, even rolling over and coming to the surface before getting the train back on the rails so to speak. The reason is most crankbaits are made to swim straight in open water. Bumping the bottom is something we as anglers do because we’ve all heard that the erratic action is what triggers fish into biting.

But it’s not just erratic action that triggers fish into feeding and that thought process drove the design of MC/60.

The MC/60 has a certain and specific circumference in the first third of the head region. Internally, there is an incorporated ballast system that rests directly on the lower floor of the bait’s keel. When the bait impacts an object, the force changes its trajectory along the object. However, when it is in the free space beyond the object, the weighted keel forces the bait back down and tracking true. The missing “meat” in the tail also allows for better hydrodynamics and less drag against the form and improved obstacle resistance.”

Simply put the bait rolls with the “hard knocks.”

Hyper Swimming -vs. Erratic Action

Crankbaits are as different as species of fish. They can have different designs, materials, shapes and sizes. To gain performance in a crankbait, however many factors come into play. Ballasts, surface planes, wall thicknesses and bill shapes all factor heavily into how the crankbait will track, balance, vibrate and swim. Sometimes the design creates an erratic action. Sometimes the way anglers fish a crankbait creates erratic action. Most anglers have been taught that the erratic action or change in action triggers strikes. Swendseid believes otherwise.

“Erratic action may not be the most effective movement of a crankbait,” Swendseid said. “It is one quality that may attract fish to bite, but it’s certainly not the only one. If a bass discovers a school of crappie or shad or singles out a tiny red ear or a rainbow trout, those prey swim linearly although in a hyper state. It is not erratic action, but rather quick intense movement in which bass key.”

Swendseid calls the ideal replication of this action in a crankbait Psycho-motor Agitation. Evolved predators can easily detect nervous micro-movements in prey. Because the flicker rate is so much faster in a bass’s eye than in a human eye, they see frames of movement in a much more still life captures where we see everything as a blur of movement. So a crankbait that has a rapid tight vibration will attract fish without the erratic action. Add an excellent wobble and vibration along with an uncanny ability to re-align tracking after collision, and the combination resulted in the Jackall MC/60.

Real-world applications

The editors have been throwing the MC/60 for several months now, and as you can see from some of the photos and signs of wear, the baits have been producing. From fish on stump flats, to bass around rock piles, to bass on points and humps and especially around rip rap, the bait has produced. The key is definitely in having a tight subtle wiggle around cover. It just feels like the bait comes over and around cover with a steady track and the bass really responded to our presentations.

Our favorite episode happened just this past weekend. We located some fish schooling on the surface in one of the bays on Kentucky Lake. We went over immediately and started catching the fish on poppers, walking topwaters and even a soft jerkbait. But we were seeing ten times as many fish as we were catching both on the surface on our graph. I picked up the Jackall MC/60 MR which runs maybe 7 feet. The bottom was 11 feet where we were and dropped off into 20 feet. What I noticed, however, is all the bass were streaking up into clouds of bait on the depth finder. I figured if I could run it by the bass just over their heads it might produce.

That proved to be a dramatic understatement when we boated our 50th fish. Three of us fishing, we literally argued over who got the one pair of pliers next. It was a race to get your bait back out there because we had three MC/60s going at once, and we caught them nearly every cast. While we did cull through a lot of short fish, we managed some nice 3- and 4-pound bass.

We experimented with other crankbaits but this one crankbait in this one depth was the ticket to consistent catches on that spot on that day. That’s not to say another crankbait wouldn’t work in another situation similar to that on another day. That’s the point to be made about crankbaits. They are tools. No one tool does every job and no one tool works everyday.

Just like tools, crankbaits are made very differently. Some tools work better than others. Some don’t work at all. And some work in places where there really hasn’t been a tool designed yet for that very specific task. It’s all about having the toolbox full of the “right tools” so that when the situation presents itself, we’re prepared.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I'm Loving ... the Yellow Magic Popper

By Sean Ostruszka

Having recently cleaned off the lure shelf in my office, I thought it might be about time I start a new series of blogs -- one that hopefully will keep my office a little cleaner. So I give you the "I'm Loving the ..." series. Basically, if there's a lure, reel, rod, etc that is really helping me leave the lake with my hands smelling fishy, I'm calling it out here.

Which brings me to my first contestant: the Yellow Magic Popper. After the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup, I was tracking down lures the top finishers used so we could showcase them in the magazine. One of those anglers was Folgers pro Scott Suggs of Bryant, Ark. And one of those lures he was using was the Yellow Magic Popper.

Having heard some good rumblings about this little topwater, I asked him what made it so special. His response was simple: the "BLOOP!" He wasn't lying. That little lure creates the deepest and loudest "bloop" I've heard. I've watched how bass react to it, and they don't know what to do. It freaks them out for a second before they crush it. Suggs also told me his trick of increasing the size of the belly hook to make it even louder. It's incredible. You can hear the noise from the very start of the cast, and better yet, it doesn't take much of a rod twitch to make the lure mouth off. The noisy action does hurt the lure's walking ability, even when using a loop knot, but it still walks a little. However, around cover it's lights out. The lure comes with a long, feathered trailer hook that, when combined with one or two pops next to a piece of cover, bass love. I've had bass hit the lure so violently they shot themselves completely out of the water. And that's just fun!

Slam the hooks!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

College Fishing

By Curt Niedermier

For the past few weeks I have been working on a feature story about the top colleges for bass anglers. Through a survey, hours on the phone and quite a bit more research on top of that, I have developed a list of the top 25 colleges in the country where a bass angler will feel right at home.

For the results, you’ll have to wait until the January/February 2010 issue of FLW Outdoors Magazine comes out, and when it does I hope you’ll take the time to send us your thoughts on schools that should have made the list, those that shouldn’t have and any other comments you may want to share. After all, college rankings are as much about debate and bragging rights as anything.

Right now, I want to share a few things I have learned while putting all this together. First off, it is a great time to be a college angler. Most clubs fish anywhere from three to six club qualifiers each semester, as well as traveling to invitational events held by nearby schools and the major national events. From those I have talked to, there is so much interest that clubs that are only a year or two old have doubled, tripled or increased their membership even more in the last year to the point that there aren’t enough boaters to carry along co-anglers. I’ll get to that point in a second.

Much of the increase in interest is thanks to National Guard FLW College Fishing. No, I am not trying to toot the horn of FLW Outdoors. Rather, the format that FLW and the National Guard have put together is simply the best and most convenient for college anglers due to the two biggest hindrances club members face, as relayed to me in their interviews: lack of boats and lack of money. College anglers have neither. Sure, there are schools out there with a dozen anglers with boats, including some impressive rigs owned by anglers who also fish BFL and local team tournament series, but many are simple johnboats or older bass boast, which are perfect for fishing locally but not the best for national tournaments.

Thanks to National Guard FLW College Fishing, no one needs to own a boat. Anglers don’t even need a wad of cash. FLW provides a travel allowance and puts student competitors in Stren Series pros' boats for tournaments. Many northern schools were especially thrilled with the system. There hadn’t been many opportunities to compete on the national collegiate level for them in the past because of the distance of travel and boat requirements. With divisions closer to home and boats provided, some of that pain has been alleviated.

Another thing I learned is that many of these college anglers are highly skilled, and all are highly motivated. As mentioned, some club anglers across the country are both collegiate competitors and BFL competitors. Most who fit that mold grew up around tournament fishing, and they have fished events with their parents in the past. For those who grew up simply loving the outdoors and fishing, that’s where the motivation comes in. They raise money, volunteer for charities and beat the banks of any water near campus, just happy to be wetting a line.

For those of us in the fishing industry, especially those of us closely linked to bass tournaments, their enthusiasm is reassuring. Enthusiasm is contagious, and college fishing is growing, which means in the next 10 years there will be a wave of recent college graduates hooked on fishing who now have time and money to put back into fishing.

So, if for some reason the economy and current state of bass fishing has you down, go visit a college campus, talk to college anglers or take in a National Guard FLW College Fishing weigh-in, because the future is looking good.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pond Perfect

By Sean Ostruszka

If you’re like me, you didn’t make your first cast from a $50,000 bass boat on a trophy lake. No, if you’re like me, you made your first cast standing on the bank of some dinky pond while trying not to hook any trees behind you. Ahh, memories.

For the vast majority of my life I lived on a pond. So, invariably, most of my firsts in fishing have come from the tiny waters. I caught my first fish from a pond, I tested my first lures in a pond and I even lost my first rod in a pond (luckily I was able to snag it and get it back, with the fish still on the line no less. That will teach carp to try and steal my stuff).

So while I’ve since graduated to fishing from nice boats and better waters, there is still a part of me that loves fishing a pond. Don’t get me wrong, if I had my choice I’m taking the boat and the big lake over fishing a pond 99 times out of 100. But after work, when I just want to get away and not have to put too much effort into my fishing, a pond works perfectly. Better yet, I’ve caught some pretty big fish from ponds no bigger than public pools.

That brings me to my point: I realized the other day when heading to a new pond that there are roughly six lures that I take with me any time I go to a pond. I take hundreds when I head to a lake. Yet if I bring the same six lures to any pond I’m beyond confident I’ll catch fish. Obviously pond fish are generally easier to catch, but it’s still pretty amazing how most ponds can be effectively attacked with just six lures that easily fit in a small container that I can put in my pocket.

The first is a small, shallow crankbait, my favorite being a Mann’s Baby 1-Minus. It covers water and runs shallow enough to avoid snags or weeds. Better yet, it’s just the right size that any bass can eat it. This choice can be substituted for a small spinnerbait if the pond is overly weedy, not that most ponds are scummy or anything …

No. 2 on the list is a small, mid-depth crankbait. A Rapala DT6 or Norman Deep Baby N can get down deep enough to effectively fish most ponds. However, be aware that it’s much harder to free a snagged crankbait from shore than in a boat. I usually bring two of these.

The third choice is a topwater, and no, not just because they’re fun. OK, so it mainly is. A small popper or a tiny hollow frog is a blast with pond fish. Better yet, the majority of my bigger pond bass have come on topwaters.

Numero cuatro is a soft-plastic jerkbait. I’m pretty sure I caught every bass inhabiting a particular pond one evening on a 3-inch Bass Assassin Freshwater Shad Assassin. Then I did it again the next night. Now that’s just fun.

For the thumb, I have to bring a small jerkbait. No matter the pond, I know I can take a perch-colored 3 1/2-inch Rapala Original Floater there and catch fish. Try twitching it and letting it rise back up to the surface, then twitching it again. Bass love this around cover.

And finally, when all else fails I break out the Reaction Innovations Smallie Beaver. Hopped or dragged, it's awesome. And like the rest of the lures on this list, it's just the right size to help me get that fish smell on my hands.

Feel free to comment below if you’ve got a favorite pond lure that you feel needs to be called out. I’d love to hear what other anglers are using on their local ponds.

Slam the hooks!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Down to One

By Jason Sealock

Fishing is about mindsets, and mental fortitude often exceeds equipment in terms of importance. One of the biggest “psych-outs” in fishing occurs when an angler runs out of a lure that the fish are readily annihilating at that moment. Get the fish going, catching one after the other, and then it happens. Frantically reach into the tackle bag, flip open the tackle box full of plastics, and it’s not there. You start pulling out bags and bags of plastics. None left. This can’t be happening. The one thing the bass would eat, and there aren’t any more of them.

You make the switch to another lure but you’re second guessing yourself the whole time and your confidence starts to waiver. That leads to fishing faster, running spots and an overall anxiousness that derails your focus.

That happened to me this year, and the day on the water was a nightmare. I later realized that was because my jig fishing had become so simplified, that missing one component left me empty handed. The whole system boiled down to one football jig and one simple trailer – a 3-inch Berkley PowerBait Chigger Craw. I’m quite certain, worms not withstanding, that I could live with just that trailer. Now don’t get me wrong; I still love a Zoom Super Chunk Jr. on my finesse jigs in cold water or a Yum Craw Papi threaded on my flipping jigs on occasion when I need to mix and match a skirt and trailer better. But if I can only have one bag in my pocket, nine times out of ten it’s going to be a pack of green pumpkin 3-inch PowerBait Chigger Craws.

The reason is simple. After hundreds, more likely into the thousands, of bass caught on this trailer, I don’t see the point in changing a good thing. As some anglers can relate, I’ve fostered paranoia in thinking about a jig without that trailer. Now, if I’m not getting bit on the jig with a different trailer, the first thing I switch is the trailer. It does not matter what color jig or what color the water is. The first thing I do is revert back to my confidence trailer.

Big bass were eating the PowerBait Chigger Craw so good in the spring, I was catching 20 to 40 bass on a ragged nub of a trailer – no claws or tentacles, just the tattered mass threaded up the hook shank. By the time it finally fell off it was impossible to lace a hook through it.

I’ve tried various jigs and trailers over the years, but I’ve never caught so many fish on any one trailer as I’ve now caught on the PowerBait Chigger Craw. So now I’ve spent the year stock piling my supply. When the bite is really on at Kentucky Lake, it’s nothing to go through 6 to 10 packs of trailers between me and my partner. That’s a lot of PowerBait Chigger Craws when you’re jig fishing. I wish I had a mold of one so I could melt all this PowerBait back down and mold it again!

Now, some guys like the PowerBait Chigger Chunks and other guys like the 4-inch PowerBait Crazy Legs Chigger Craw, but I’ve settled on the 3-inch PowerBait Chigger Craw for several reasons. It’s not too bulky on a lighter jig. I can spider cut my skirts and thread the trailer up the shank of my jig hook and have a real small profile. I can bite (or cut because PowerBait doesn’t taste as good as garlic) the end off a trailer and run the hook through the middle like a chunk and give it a longer profile. When the fish bite one of the paddle arms off, I will unthread it, turn it so that one paddle is more like a keel on my jig and use just the one until another fish pulls that one off.

Sometimes when I’m casting big worms or other plastics, I’ll swap them out for the PowerBait Chigger Craw and pick up another keeper on a spot where they had been biting bigger plastics. It’s been a limit getter for me on occasion.

It can be a great punch bait for flipping heavy cover because of it’s small profile. I’ve caught countless bass out of the buck brush on them.

So you can say I’m officially a PowerBait Chigger Craw convert. My affliction is so bad now, that I feel naked when I can’t recall exactly where I have a pack of them. It’s that same feeling you have when you slam your locked car door shut, and you can’t feel your keys in your pocket.

So the question is why that bait. I know the PowerBait has something to do with it. I know the shape has something to do with it. And I know the action has something to do with it. But honestly it’s my personality more than anything. After using literally thousands of soft baits over the years, the choices got dizzying. So a few years ago, I started to simplify my choices – partly for my own sanity and partly because we fish in so many other people’s boats that packing a 40-gallon tub of soft baits wasn’t practical.

In fact, I’ve simplified the art of tackle storage, but I’ll save that for another blog this month. But basically now I have two boxes called boat boxes. One has the worms, trailers, and creatures I use most on my home waters in the colors I’ve proven work over the years. And one of those compartments is always completely full of PowerBait Chigger Craws.

I caught my personal best largemouth this year on a homemade football jig and PowerBait Chigger Craw. So maybe that’s why I’m stuck on just one trailer for now. The point being that we all get indecisive when we aren’t catching fish. Part of fighting through that is picking up something you have proven works and just plowing through those fishless periods.

It doesn’t mean we should quit experimenting with other soft baits and presentations. But I’ll continue to experiment with PowerBait Chigger Craws as well because they fit my fishing style and produce in a lot of situations. Perhaps I have yet to unlock their true potential, but I also know I won’t get psyched out with just that one trailer like I can with 50 trailers.