Tinkering with confidence

Modify your favorite baits to make them work better in specific situations.

I had to look on the package to see if this would be OK or not. I mean, remove the hooks and put on red ones? Bend something, tweak this, and change that? Is it legal? No one ever told me I could do this before.

Well, the manufacturer did not say to keep away except for tying it on and casting it out, so it must be allowed, right?

Modifying your current stock of fishing lures may just be the most-important thing you do, ranking right up there with changing your line and cleaning your reels.

Sure, fishing is fishing, but we’ve all been there on days when our favorite lure just didn’t quite get the job done.

The idea of modified lures came from a good friend, Scott Louviere, who presented me with one as a going-away present last summer. Like me, Louviere likes to fish for bass in the Acadiana area.

The problem, he has learned, is that these very waters can be quite unforgiving. There are millions of trees and stumps, hydrilla, duckweed, lily pads, fluctuating water levels and big alligators. And bass seem to cling real close to much of the harshest structure.

Still, he does not take it easy on the bass. He is always trying to get an edge on the feisty fish.

A wizard of an engineer, Louviere hardly lets any simple thing go untouched or unmodified. He has a pickup truck that he can’t keep his hands off of, a bass boat that he fools with too much and a few of his favorite fishing lures that he has tweaked to tease those hard-to-get bass.

Like many fishermen, Louviere likes to throw topwater baits, but on grass- and structure-filled bodies like Martin, Henderson and Cow Island, it can be almost impossible to throw them.

That is until Scott designed “Frankenbait.” It was a Rattlin’ Chug Bug, treble hooks removed and two split rings holding one 3/0 Gamakatsu offset shank hook with a soft plastic impaled on it. What would have caught everything in the lake except fish was transformed into a weedless topwater monster.

“Basically, I got the idea while fishing in Cow Island,” he said. “In the areas we were fishing, we could see bass moving right along the tops of the (submerged) weeds. We tried throwing trick worms and Slug-Go’s but we couldn’t get them to take them. I wanted to try something that would have more action and vibration while still being weedless.”

The Chug Bug was a natural choice, a proven piece of his arsenal.

“That’s what I normally fish with on shallow flats right above the weed beds. Sometimes when the water drops, that grass is exposed. After I modified the Chug Bug, I had the same action, but it was weedless. I mean, you could throw it through anything.”

It wasn’t hideous, but it wouldn’t win any awards for beauty either. That’s OK for Louviere because his lure catches fish in the thickest muck. The Chug Bug has always been a confidence bait for Louviere. He modified it to work in an unfriendly environment for such a bait in its normal state.

All lures, be they topwater plugs, crankbaits, soft plastics or jigs to name a few, are expected to work right out of the package. Lure manufacturing companies wouldn’t make much money if all sorts of work had to be done before you could ever use the things.

The package, though, says nothing about keeping your fingers, needle-nosed pliers and Dremel tool off the lure either. A smart fisherman who masters a lure and believes it to be a truly great bait may often think of ways to make that favorite bait work even better.

Yamaha pro Ish Monroe is a serious competitor on the BASS and FLW circuits. The California angler rides the popular Western wave of the frog bait revolution, and he uses them throughout most of the year. Some of the frog lures that are coming out, like those produced by Snag Proof, are better than ever before, but they are still not beyond an occasional touchup.

“Sometimes I trim the legs to give it a different swimming action,” said the 11-year tour veteran. “I also like to put glass worm rattles inside of the frogs. Those glass beads make a bunch of noise, and bass like that.”

They also add weight that helps you get longer, more accurate casts needed for fishing heavy horizontal cover.

Monroe and other Western bass anglers are finding that frog baits don’t just work in the lilies and pond scum but in open water near structure too. Monroe has a remedy for frogs to ensure open-water hook sets.

“I bend the hooks out right at the bend on the hook shank,” he said. “That opens the gap a little bit. I have calculated a 25 percent hook set increase by doing that.”

Bending more than hooks, Monroe is bending rules to get an edge on bass. This doesn’t just apply to frog baits. He also makes slight modifications to some of his other baits.

“Another thing for me has been the Daiichi Bleeding Bait hooks,” he said. “I’ve been putting them on my crankbaits and topwater baits. It really makes a difference. I just think they’re stronger, sharper and better for catching fish.”

Bass aren’t the only fish to fall for tricked-out lures.

Capt. Jody Donewar, who runs a guide service out of Myrtle Grove, also does a little modifying of his own for redfish.

“The only lure that I doctor up is the Mann’s Baby Minus 1,” said Donewar. “It is my favorite bait to fish redfish with. I change the hooks to (Gamakatsu) 4Xstrong. If the split rings are the light copper ones, I change them to stainless steel ones.”

Donewar’s changes are subtle, but they make a difference.

Subtle, not a complete overhaul. A personal overhaul should be done before any major work on a lure should be done. If you are willing and have the spare time, make minor changes to proven baits. These changes simply modify or enhance what the lure was intentionally built for.

Lafayette native Cliff Soward knows fishing lures inside and out. The Bass Pro Shops lure designer has helped raise the bar. His job is to make lures run right out of the box, and everyone from the average Bayou State angler right up to Jimmy Houston gets the same product.

Knowing the intricacies of lures has helped him get an edge with a tacklebox full of confidence.

“Topwater baits, crankbaits and even soft plastics can be changed,” he said.. “Most lures run pretty good right out of the package because of the introduction of computer technology, electronic lathe cutting and uniform body halves. But there is that occasion when you just bought that lure you liked or the one you heard your buddies were tearing up the fish on but it didn’t reach its maximum potential.”

Here is the point where many anglers will start to fiddle with the eye/pull point and make a situation worse.

“Like a post in the ground,” continued Soward, “if you move it back and forth, a hole larger than the diameter of the post starts to form, and eventually the post becomes easily removed.

“There is a better way. Slightly trim the paddle side opposite from the direction that you want the lure retrieved. If the lure runs to the right, then slowly take a little off the paddle on the opposite side of the tracking direction.”

Just with this knowledge, anglers with a cordless Dremel can change the tracking angle and either center the lure better or take off a little paddle and make it run far to the left or right depending on what kind of structure they are fishing. Soon they can have it operating like a remote-controlled car.

“By modifying your lures, you help build confidence,” Soward said. “If you know the way the bait is running and you have confidence — because that’s the No. 1 thing in the tacklebox — that will help. The more you fool with your lures, the more you can see what they can do.”

The confidence factor is usually based off of a lure that you know works.

“You know what the lure is doing first of all,” added Soward. “You know how to modify the lure to make it behave a certain way.

“You see more of it with your average to upper-crust fishermen trying to modify their lures. The more that they throw a certain type of lure, the more that they play with what that lure can do.”

Another thing Soward likes to do is add feathers to the back hook on baits like the Rebel Pop-R. The standard buck tail that comes on the back treble hook is replaced with a new hook dressed with real feathers of varying colors. To meet this end, Soward employs skills he learned as a designer and time spent fly fishing in the Northeast.

“The buck tail is real stiff. That material doesn’t have a lot of natural action. If you put a feather in the water it will actually undulate and look like its breathing almost.

“It’s almost like a baitfish on top that’s injured and trying to swim. That feather just gives it a lot more action where that buck tail will just sit there real stiff.”

“I never knew that feathers could do so many different things until I started getting into fly-tying and reading about it and watching the tapes. You can make those feathers flare and do all kinds of things to make it look natural.

“And color too. I always like to put a red feather mixed in with the other feathers. A little bit of red gives that gill flash or “bleeding” look that sometimes triggers a strike. A little red always helps. Even on crankbaits, topwaters, everything.”

Modifications are best for lures you know well and have the most confidence in.

“Bass aren’t that complicated,” Monroe said. “I don’t fool with paints and all kinds of complicated stuff. I use most lures right out of the package. Why try to make it more complicated? It’s not a complicated thing. If you’ve got to change all of your lures, you’ve got bigger problems than that.”

The key is to modify your confidence baits only when you’ve mastered them under regular conditions. When you reach that master stage, you can toy around with them to make them meet your needs in a wider range of situations that you may not always be able to hit with a stock bait.

There are no warnings against modifying your favorite baits so tweak a few of them today. Think outside the box, and soon you may be landing more fish on your regular outings.

About Marty Cannon 21 Articles
Marty Cannon is a teacher and varsity football coach in Iberia Parish. He enjoys spending time in the outdoors with his family and friends.