The Poes were on the fish big time but the Big Lake Guide Service's founder and co-owner wasn't getting bit. He had an eel-shaped soft plastic tied on to the business end of his fishing rod.
"I was sitting there watching him catch fish," Jeff recalled recently, "and I wasn't catching a thing. He threw me a pack of those."
He put one of the cone-shaped soft plastics on and the rest is speckled trout catching history. Today MirrOlure's Lil John made by L&S Bait Co., Inc. in Largo, Fla., is Jeff Poe's "go-to" bait on Calcasieu Lake.
Several years ago, Poe said, L&S Bait Co. sent him a varied supply of the new soft plastics just getting onto the market. But he ignored the newbies and "let them sit for a long time." Then "one of the guys" — Clay LeMaire, who has worked for Big Lake Guide Service, started fishing with them, he said.
"Then Nick started using them a bunch. Then he got me going," he said, noting that fateful day in the speckled trout hotspot when the fish were mauling the Lil Johns.
"I don't know if it's the bait, the smell, or what... But it's got a really good action," Poe said. "It doesn't look like it'll do anything but it looks really good in the water. It really darts when you twitch it."
Needless to say, Poe and his son and countless other saltwater fishermen are big, big fans of the Lil John. It's a scented 3 3/4-inch "twitch bait" that has won him over big time.
"I like anything they like and they like 'em! And it does have a scent in it," he said.
He has a hunch they'd catch fish even sans the scent because one day a couple of years ago he fished and caught speckled trout on scent-less prototypes while fishing alongside L&S Bait Co. sales manager Michael Tennian. That alone convinced him it must be the action in the soft plastic that triggers strikes from speckled trout, redfish, flounder and other saltwater species.
Nick Poe has caught on it in redfish tournaments as far away as Florida on the Atlantic side, where he caught consistently last summer when other competitors struggled to put a redfish in the boat. His father remains amazed at the Lil Johns' productivity.
His favorite colors are "opening night" and "golden bream," he said.
"It's a good bait. I've been using them pretty good for the last year, all the time when I throw a jig (leadhead with a soft plastic)," he said. "It'll work wherever you've got speckled trout and redfish. When you can catch them down in Florida out of Jacksonville, where you can see the bottom in 12 feet of water, you can catch them anywhere on that."
Tennian, the L&S Bait Co. sales manager, agreed with Poe. Lil Johns will put saltwater fish in the boat wherever they're given an opportunity, he said. He has been with the 75-year-old company nine years and worked with CEO Eric Bachnik, who has been with the company nearly two decades, on the design and production of the Lil John.
"We decided we wanted to design a new soft plastic bait that's cast without helicoptering. It was a matter of working with it until we had the right one. We worked until we got it right," he said about those days about three years ago.
Since Lil Johns went on the market approximately two years ago, they have sold consistently in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, naturally, and up the East Coast, especially the Carolinas.
Of the 14 colors, Tennian said his favorites are golden bream, like Jeff Poe, and watermelon/copper/glitter, which happen to both be best-sellers.
They seem to be most effective on a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce leadhead, he said. The soft plastic is durable, which means many fish can be caught on one.
Lil Johns can be hooked on either end, he confided, and have erratic, fish-catching motion either way.
"Really, you can hook it any way," Tennian said. "You don't have a top or bottom to it. It casts very well that way and it has great action in the water.
"It's something different than the other stuff on the market. We wanted to come up with something a little different."
For more information on Lil Johns and other MirrOlure products, like the new MirrOdene, go to http://www.mirrolure.com/ or write to 1415 East Bay Drive, Largo, Fla. 33771.