It was obvious the day was going to get wet as Toledo Bend guide Glen Freeman pulled his boat away from the landing. A thick bank of dark clouds was on the northern horizon, evidence of an impending cold front.

That's what every angler wants to see, and it brought to mind the last trip Freeman and I had shared. That spring day on the water came the morning after a late Arctic blast had pushed through North Louisiana, dropping temperatures into the 30s.

We chuckled about that trip as we idled away from the landing, and Freeman admitted that I might actually be bad luck.

But he never worried about catching fish.

"You've got to have faith," Freeman said, pointing out that even on that frigid post-front day several years ago he was able to put fish in the boat.

Well, I couldn't argue with that, but I still had doubts.

It was at that moment that I remembered my rain suit, safely sitting in the back seat of my truck. I laughed about it to Freeman, who graciously offered to turn around so I could grab it.

I shrugged and told him that it wasn't a big deal. Pretty stupid.

Soon, Freeman was idling around in Lanana, eyes glued to his color Lowrance depth finder. I could see a clearly defined bottom contour, moving up and down slightly, with distinct arches interspersed among a lot of brightly colored dots.

Finally satisfied with what he saw, Freeman killed the boat and hopped onto the front deck. While I grabbed one of my rods, the veteran guide and tournament angler explained the plan.

"We're going to be using Rinky Dinks," he said.

What? I remembered him mentioning the lures years ago, but when he pulled one out, I was sort of mystified.

It looked like a painted weight with hook, and in all honesty, that's what the lure is. The 1 ½-inch-long, ¾-ounce body is solid lead vaguely shaped like a small fish, with a small spinner dangling off the tail end. Rounding it off is a small treble hook that isn't even attached to the lure.

Instead, the line is threaded through a hole in the body and tied directly to the hook's split ring. That means the weighted body can move up and down on the line.

It was just ridiculous-looking.

Freeman, however, was dead serious, adding that the lure is one of his best tools for putting clients on fish and finding bass during practice for tournaments.

"It catches everything — white bass, black bass, stripers, everything," he said. "If they were carried in Academy and Bass Pro Shops, people would walk down the aisle and look at the worms and spinnerbaits and crankbaits and not even glance at these.

"But they'll out-fish all those other baits."

The lure was developed in the early 1990s by local angler Hugh Rinkle, who enlisted Freeman's help in popping a mold off another local bait called a Wing Ding that had been discontinued. Rinkle had used the Wing Ding for years to humble other anglers.

"Hugh would go out with that Wing Ding and catch 30 to 40 bass on days when people would come in to the landing with three or four," Freeman explained.

The only condition Freeman set before agreeing to help perfect the mold was that Rinkle share the secret to the bait.

"It took about a month, but he finally showed me how to fish it," Freeman said. "We had 40 or 50 bass that day up to around 7 pounds. We had a lot of huge fish."

When the bait was put on the market, other anglers began learning just how effective it could be, and sales picked up.

Here's the only problem with the lure: It's not longer in production.

"Hugh sold the company, and the guys who bought it I don't think ever did anything with it," Freeman said.

However, there's still an option: the Norman Knock Off.

As the name implies, it's a copy of the Rinky Dink.

"I copied it as closely as I could. The only change I made was adding the prismatic eyes," Norman's Al Fisher said. "There was no one else making the bait, so I made one.

"It just catches so many fish."

The key to using the lures, whether some old Rinky Dinks Freeman still owns or the Knock Offs, is to find a contour change holding baitfish and bass.

"It's a structure bait," Freeman said of the diminutive lure. "And when I say structure, I mean bottom contour."

While that might bring to mind dramatic ledges in the main lake, Freeman said that's not at all what he means, especially during the fall and winter.

"In the fall on Toledo Bend, you can do what you want," he said. "You can catch them deep in the main lake, and you can catch them shallow in the creek channels."

While many anglers equate cooler temperatures with fish moving shallow to banks, Freeman said that's a big mistake.

"I'm not saying you can't go down the bank and catch fish, but your schools will be on the ledges and humps," he said.

And a productive contour change doesn't have to be dramatic. In fact, the contour we were readying to fish was almost nonexistent, with only a foot or two change.

"People will miss a lot of these," Freeman said. "They're looking for dramatic changes, but these small contour changes will hold fish. It's one of my secrets."

The water doesn't have to be deep, either.

"Let's say you've got 5 feet of water on top of a hump: That's plenty of water," he said. "Whether it's 5 feet dropping into 20 feet of water or 20 feet of water dropping into 40, the contour could hold fish."

Before I could even get rigged up, Freeman was fighting the first fish of the day to the boat. It was a white bass, and he said that's a great sign.

"When you start catching white bass, you know the fish are here," he explained. "The bass will feed on those white bass."

The little hump produced only a couple of very small black bass, so Freeman decided to move on.

"I want to get on the main lake before that weather moves in and it gets too rough," he said.

As we turned out of the creek and headed north into the main lake's 1215 area, the dark bank of clouds had moved decidedly closer. I was really regretting leaving my rain suit in the truck.

Ten minutes later, we were again idling over a contour change. This was one of the distinct changes along the main river channel, and the graph showed great balls of bait with arches of various sizes underneath.

Freeman took the opportunity to teach me how to read a depth finder.

"The way you tell how big a fish is is not by how long the arch (on the screen) is, but by how thick it is," he said, pointing to a couple of examples of thick curves on the graph.

As rain began falling, Freeman schooled me on how to work the lure.

It looks like it would work great dropping it vertically and jigging it like a spoon, but Freeman makes long casts.

"You want to let it go to the bottom, but you want to tight-line it down," he said. "If you give it slack, the hook will wrap over the top of the lure and get tangled with the line."

That's because the body will move up the line and away from the hook.

"A fish won't touch it if it's tangled," he said.

I quickly found out that accomplishing a clean cast takes some practice. The best bet was to thumb my spool just before the lure hit the water, which pulls the body tightly to the hook.

Freeman said he's got another trick to mastering the lure.

"You want to make a smooth cast," he said. "As soon as it hits the water, pull on it and that hook is straight."

Adding that short pull as the lure made its initial decent removed most of my remaining problems.

Once the lure hits the bottom, Freeman pulls the lure up by raising his rod tip to 12 or 1 o'clock before tight-lining it back to the bottom.

"Instead of popping it up off the bottom, you want to pull it off the bottom," he said. "If you pop it, that hook will wrap."

Continuing to tight-line the lure isn't only to keep the hook from tangling, however.

"Believe it or not, the fish won't hit this bait free falling," Freeman said. "When you tight-line the bait, it's running straight and that blade is turning."

The bite normally doesn't come when the bait is moving, however.

"When you're running that bait, the fish is looking at it," Freeman said. "When you pause it, that's when they nail it."

The lure also is deadly for suspended fish: Freeman just makes one change to how he fishes it.

"If I'm seeing a lot of fish at 10 feet, what I'll do is count down to about 8 and fish it just like I do on the bottom. I'll just count down and pull it up, count down and pull it up. I let it fall a second or two before pulling it up again."

The bite often is extremely subtle.

"The bigger fish will just pick it up," he said. "If you feel something that's just not right, set the hook. It's probably a fish."

Of course, the exposed treble hook can cause problems when fished around wood scattered along the contour changes.

"It actually works better around logs and brushpiles than standing timber," Freeman said. "It tends to get hung up more on standing timber."

However, the very design of the lure makes it easier to free hooks during inevitable hang-ups.

"It's like fishing with a plug knocker," Fisher said.

Freeman agreed.

"If you get hung up, give it slack and pop the rod tip up and down," he said. "The body will bounce up and down and knock that hook loose."

If a hook stubbornly refuses to give, troll over the area so the line is vertical. This worked on a couple of my hang-ups during the day.

Freeman said it's imperative to have the right tackle setup to effectively fish the Rinky Dink or Knock Off.

It's definitely not a power bait.

"I usually use 12-pound line," he said. "I think using lighter line makes a difference in the number of bites."

His line preference is fluorocarbon.

"I can feel that spinner (turning) a lot better," Freeman said. "I can feel when it stops."

He matches the line with a medium to medium-light rod.

"When the fish hits, with that lighter rod, you can get a better hookset," Freeman said. "You can't rip the lure out of its mouth."

And that's when the purpose behind the lure's design — its separate body and hook — really comes into focus.

"Normally, he's going to spit that thing out, but the hook is going to stay in his mouth," Freeman said. "And as he's fighting and jumping out of the water, he can't shake the hook because he can't get any leverage with that body moving around."

If he's catching bass and the bite stops, Freeman said it's often possible to switch lures and continue putting bass in the boat.

"The fish are still there," he said. "If I'm catching fish on a Rinky Dink (or a Knock Off) and they stop, I'll go to a worm."

When it comes to fishing a tournament, Freeman usually will put up his Rinky Dink. That's not because he doesn't think it would put bass in the boat, but because he wants to concentrate on largemouth.

"I use the Rinky Dink to locate schools of fish during practice," he said. "I may not come back during a tournament and use it. I might use a crankbait or something so that I don't catch the other (species of) fish."

 

Glen Freeman can be reached at (318) 567-1086.