Besides the fact a red-hot soft plastic is the go-to artificial lure whenever he goes fishing — putting speckled trout and redfish in the boat when it counts — there’s another good reason the Hackberry Hustler is a runaway favorite for veteran guide Kirk Stansel and his brothers Bobby and Guy.
It’s personal. Their father Buzz Stansel helped design it and manufactured it for years before Texas Tackle Factory took it over and started producing it in March. Since August, one of the hottest saltwater fishing soft plastics has been on shelves in Academy stores from Brownsville, Texas, to New Orleans.
“We are all proud of the bait, especially proud of Dad,” Stansel said. “He has a lot of blood, sweat and tears in the bait. For him to get recognition (for the soft plastic’s success) makes us proud. They’ve taken off and are doing real well.
“We used it a lot and marketed it through our Website. That’s one reason a major manufacturer came in and picked it up.”
Buzz Stansel hand-poured the Hackberry Hustlers he created for six years after the Stansels introduced them to fish and saltwater fishermen in 2004, Kirk said.
“He’d sit all winter pouring baits, and then when spring got here he couldn’t keep up,” he said, noting that was a key factor in turning the product over to TTF. “It got too much for us. They can do thousands a day. My dad 400 to 600 a day. He spent hours and hours making baits. TTF has done a great job of manufacturing and marketing this line. The quality’s still there.”
Saltwater fishermen in their charter boats and everywhere else on Calcasieu Lake, where the Stansels own Hackberry Rod & Gun Club, know the Hackberry Hustler was crafted with one thing in mind — to get fish to bite an eel-shaped soft plastic.
He remembers vividly how it was born.
“That thing started when we had a lure designer come in,” Kirk said. “Eel baits were coming in and were real effective. We had an idea for an eel-type bait, like a Norton Sand Eel, (but) with a paddletail. One lure designer was down fishing with us and our dad, and we got together and came up with the design. He helped with this bait.”
That was Bob Warner, he said, the Arkansas artificial lure designer who propelled the Boo-Ya line of artificial lures to prominence in the U.S.
The Hackberry Hustler is 4 1/2 inches long with two “bug eyes,” two slits in the middle and a tubular tail ending with a paddle.
“This particular design keeps this bait from twisting on the retrieve,” Stansel said. “We find we catch a lot bigger fish on it. We find it a bigger bait. Those bug eyes give it different appearance, give it a shrimp/minnow imitation.”
Stansel, who celebrates his 51st birthday Oct. 28, has been guiding since he was 19. He’s caught fish big and small on countless artificial lures over the years.
But the Hackberry Hustler is special, and has caught fish all along the coast from Texas to Florida. Calcasieu Lake speckled trout and redfish gobble it up, both on the bottom and under a popping cork.
Stansel likes to fish it on a leadhead weighing 1/8- to 1/2-ounce, depending on the strength of the current.
“I would say 75 percent of the time I throw them on a 1/4-pounce with a 4/0 hook,” he said.
His favorite color is east beast. It’s a combination avocado/glow belly/chartreuse tail with red flake.
Other popular colors are morning glory (black/red flake), mumpy glo (glow/red), geaux gleaux (purple/glow/chartreuse), opening night (light purple/clear), who dat (gold/clear), pumpkinseed/chartreuse, glow/chartreuse, purple/chartreuse, phat Tuesday, black/chartreuse, avocado and salt/pepper.
For more information on the Hackberry Hustler and other TTF products, go to www.texastacklefactory.com.
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