Louisiana Sportsman takes a look at what baits are becoming hot, and why.
I remember 8th grade like it was yesterday. The only problem is there are a lot of things about 8th grade that I don’t want to remember. Toughskin jeans are a great example. While everybody else was walking around in Jordache jeans, I looked like an old Sears ad from the 1970s.By the time I convinced my dad to buy me a pair of designer jeans with a horse head on the back pocket, everybody else had moved on to jeans with those stinking Girbaud tags on the fly.
That’s the story of my life, though — wrong label at the wrong time and on the wrong side.
The problem with trends is that just as soon as most of us catch up with them, the trendsetters have already moved on to something else. The rest of us are relegated to wandering the world in bellbottoms and parachute pants trying to figure out why everybody is laughing.
Trends have a way of filtering into every aspect of our lives. They cling to our clothing. They take over our television sets. And they even hook on to our hobbies. Don’t think so? Check out all those Helicopter Lures and Banjo Minnows in your shed, and get back with me.
Trends abound in the world of outdoor sports, and there’s no trendier sport than bass fishing. Anglers constantly try to stay on the cutting edge to get one up on the competition.
Sometimes, what comes out dies just as quickly as it started — Dance’s Eel anyone? However, some trends become solidified in the soul of bass fishing forevermore.
Two fanatical bass anglers who have to stay abreast of the latest trends are Lonnie Stanley and Randy Howell.
Stanley, the owner of Stanley Jigs and former Bassmasters Classic qualifier, has to stay up-to-date on the latest bass trends so he can offer lures that maximize their potential.
Howell, a BASS Elite Series champion and former Classic qualifier, has to stay up-to-date so he can continue to catch fish and cash checks.
Some of the most recent trends these pros have witnessed are shaky-head worms, drop-shots and the swimming-style jigs most commonly referred to as chatter baits. These trends have stuck, and they are still as productive today as they were at their inception.
Stanley and Howell see some new trends on the horizon that they think stand a chance of sticking. Some are new, and some, like bellbottoms, are new twists on old favorites.
“These jigs have been around 20 years,” said Stanley. “We were using them in the 1984 U.S. Open at Lake Mead. We brought them back to Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend, and discovered that they were great on the outside edges of the bushes.”
While the football jig itself isn’t anything new, Stanley said the way anglers are starting to fish the jig and apply it to different situations makes it one of the top trends for 2008. The primary reason for the shift to football jigheads is the lack of water in the local lakes and reservoirs.
According to Stanley, low water has kept fish out of the typical shallow-water cover like flooded buck brush, and it has pushed them out to open-water cover like the outside grass edges, humps and drop-offs. Football jigs excel when bass aren’t holed up in the thick stuff.
While the low water has brought the football jig into the limelight, the craving of anglers to try something different is forcing them to try these jigs in sparse shallow-water stuff as well.
“A football-head jig like the Stanley Bug Eye Jig isn’t designed to go through grass and brush,” said Stanley. “In other words, it’s not something I would be throwing in 4 feet of water on Toledo Bend or Black Lake. Where a football jig shines is when you can jerk it up and let it settle back down. It stays in one place longer (than other jighead styles).”
The key to finding good water for fishing a football jig, according to Stanley, is looking for edges. The edges of brush, grass edges, channel drops, the edges of humps and even the edges of wooden cover like piers and docks.
“One thing the Bugeye Jig will do that other jigs can’t is stand straight up off the bottom,” Stanley explained. “It’s kind of like fishing a shaky head with the worm sticking straight up off the bottom. A football jig with some kind of trailer will do the same thing.”
According to Stanley, anglers looking to shake things up in shallow water can tie on a heavy football jig and throw it around cypress trees that don’t have a lot of cover around them. The big jig will crawl around the cypress knees and knock off the wood with a vengeance, often drawing aggressive strikes from nearby bass.
Swimming chatter jigs
Louisiana bass anglers have been slow to warm up to the bass jigs with the big metal spoons or blades in front of their heads. Swimming jigs gained popularity when tournament pro Rick Morris used them to finish second in the 2005 Bassmasters Classic. Collectively, they are frequently referred to as chatter baits because of their violent swimming action when pulled through the water.
“Chatter-type baits are already a big thing in most of the country,” Howell said. “We’ve been fishing with them a while )on the tournament trail). They might not be as big news as some of the other stuff, but they’re worth looking into if you haven’t fished them yet.”
The ChatterBait made by Rad Lures was designed to have the profile of a jig, the flash of a spinnerbait and the vibration of a crankbait. When retrieved at moderate to high speeds, the erratic action mimics fleeing prey like shad and crawfish, which results in awesome reaction strikes.
Wanting to stay on top of the swimming-jig craze, Stanley, along with every other major fishing lure manufacture, introduced his own version of the bait. Stanley’s version is called the Swim Jig. His tips for the Swim Jig would apply to all of the swimming jigs on the market.
“The chatterbait stuff seems to work better in spring and summer than it does the rest of the year,” Stanley explained. “I think the reason is that is has such a violent action that it works better in warm water when bass are more likely to respond to aggressive movement. Another good situation is muddy or off-colored water.”
Stanley was quick to say that swimming jigs don’t take the place of regular jigs because they aren’t designed to do the same thing. Whereas a regular jig is best crawled or hopped on bottom, the swimming jigs are made to be reeled back with a fast retrieve.
“But even though you fish them kind of fast, they don’t take the place of a spinnerbait either,” Stanley said. “They’re halfway between a jig and a spinnerbait. Our Swim Jig has a weed guard on it to keep from getting hung around heavy cover.”
The most productive way to fish the swimming jigs is to throw them out past cover like buck brush and swim them back past the cover. Since it’s a straight pull, the depth can be adjusted on the fly simply by reeling faster or slower. One of Stanley’s favorite tricks is to swim it next to the cover then let it fall.
“I fish it kind of like a Rat-L-Trap,” he said. “Swim it up to something, and let it fall. Shake it a little bit on the bottom, then rip it up 2 or 3 feet, and let it fall back down. I think people fish them way too fast. Add a crawfish trailer to it, and slow it down. And don’t be afraid to throw it where you haven’t thrown it — in the thick stuff. It’s also the perfect follow-up bait for a frog like the Ribbit.”
Born out West where bass grow big in the small reservoirs by feeding on the stocked rainbow trout, swim baits have slowly made their way east. Like most anything born in California, though, swim baits have struggled to gain acceptance by southern anglers.
“Swim baits are probably the hottest ticket going on the trail where things usually trickle down to the consumer,” Howell said. “Steve Kennedy won on the tour last year out in California, and set the weight record with swim baits, and that got everybody talking about them.”
Kennedy, as southern as an angler can be, hails from Auburn, Ala., and he shattered the BASS record for the heaviest four-day catch at California’s Clear Lake. His total weight was 122 pound, 14 ounces, and he caught every fish on a variety of swim baits.
“That got everybody trying swim baits back at their home lakes,” Howell said. “Anglers started catching good fish on them in lakes that weren’t considered good-fish lakes. Tackle companies noticed the trend, and they rushed to make smaller and more applicable swim baits for most lakes and rivers without them being too big. Most of these baits were big monsters, but there are a lot of 4- and 6-inch swim baits out now.”
Howell went on to say that he had never fished them until last year. However, he’s now throwing them more and more as he gains confidence in the baits. While there are a lot of swim baits out on the market now, Howell has had the opportunity to test one that Berkley is coming out with, and he is excited about fishing this year.
“These baits are going to be 4 to 6 inches,” he said, “and they will be prerigged with the head inside the plastic and an open hook. The other is a fish-shaped bait you can put on a weighted hook like a soft-plastic jerkbait.”
Howell has learned that it takes a little patience to learn how to effectively fish swim baits. The trouble seems to be that bass strike the lures so aggressively that anglers want to set the hook instantly rather than waiting for the fish to get the large lure in its mouth.
“When you get a bite on a swim bait, you should try to keep winding the bait back like normal until you feel the weight of the fish,” Howell explained. “It’s hard to do because they just knock the fire out of these things. The time to set the hook is when you feel the fish swimming with it. At that point, wind down and set the hook hard. You’ll hook them most of the time like this rather than 50 percent of the time if you instantly set the hook.”
Howell said that swim baits would work great in Louisiana because anglers fish shallow water and grass beds all across the state. He recommended brighter colors like orange/chartreuse in dirty water, and he said that matching the size of the forage on which bass are feeding would be critical to getting lots of bites.
While these three techniques are definite trends that Louisiana bass anglers should be monitoring, there are some others that might pop up quickly this year. Most involve new baits or new modifications to old baits.
Howell mentioned one jig he’s seen more anglers throwing is one made by Vertical Lures in South Carolina. This jig requires the main line to pass through the jig head and tie to the backside. Howell explained this design makes it easier to punch jigs through grass, a technique with which nearly all Louisiana anglers are familiar.
Anglers who have trouble hooking bass on jigs might want to take a look at the new Bass Grabber Jig from Snag Proof. This new jig sports not one but two Gamakatsu Extra Wide Gap hooks. According to Connie Fuller at Snag Proof, the double hooks give the lure added stability, better balance and a split weedguard. If one hook misses, the other is positioned to connect.
The new Bi-You Buzz from BOOYAH features counter-rotating blades that help the lure get up quickly and stay on stop at any retrieve speed. This should come in handy for anglers fishing around grass mats, hyacinths and other forms of thick vegetation thanks to a triangle-shaped head that slices through vegetation with ease.
Xcalibur has brought back one of the oldest secrets of many professional anglers, the Cotton Cordell One-Knocker Spots. This new version is called the Xrk75 One-Knocker, and it features a single forged tungsten/lead ball that creates a distinct sound that could be the difference when other anglers are throwing rattle baits.
Shallow-diving crankbaits have always been popular for anglers looking to catch pressured spinnerbait fish. Most of these lures dive to at least 12 inches, though.
Mann’s Bait Company has introduced the Walker Elite Series, which makes the Baby 1-Minus seem like a deep diver. The lure is designed to run only 1 to 3 inches beneath the surface no matter how fast it is reeled.
Looking to find anything that is just a little bit different, anglers have been flocking to the new soft plastics that feature flapping appendages that taper from thick to narrow as they attach to the main body of the bait. Berkley’s version, called the PowerBait Chigger Craw, took first and second places in the 2007 Bassmaster Classic. The claws spastically flap and flop as the lure is pulled through the water.
Scented baits are proven winners, and the Berkley Gulp! series has become one of the more popular scented baits on the market. Now Berkley has introduced the Gulp! Alive! Baits that are packaged in a tub of “Gulp” juice. According to Pure Fishing senior marketer Eric Naig, the Gulp! Alive! baits soak up extra scent while “swimming” in the Gulp! Juice, and they can actually be recharged with scent by putting them back in the tub.
Japanese-style hard baits have become extremely popular in recent years, and Diawa has two new suspending models, the DB Minnow SP and the DC Classic Shad SP. The DB Minnow SP is a suspending jerkbait that dives to 3 feet, and the DC Classic Shad SP is a suspending plug that dives to 6 or 9 feet, and can be cranked slowly for a wide, rolling action.
Will these new trends go the way of parachute pants? Or will they stick around a while like a well-worn denim jacket? Only time will tell, but at least in the meantime, trying these trends will mean you aren’t fishing the wrong bait at the wrong time on the wrong end of the lake.
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