It has been awhile since I put up a hard-core fishing blog post. Fish heads, pull up a chair, read closely.
I will always tell you that every bait or lure ever made will catch fish when used in the right place at the right time. But, there are no baits or lures that are magic, there are no baits or lures that will catch fish all the time. I try to think of all baits and lures as different tools to be used in different fishing situations. The challenge becomes choosing the right tool for the job. I could ramble on for several blog posts about presentation theory and choosing the right tools, the right baits and lures for different fishing situations. In fact, I probably will ramble on about that some time. In my mind it starts with something I learned from the teachings of Buck Perry, the “father of structure fishing”, years ago: It starts with depth control and speed control. You have to fish at the depth at which the fish are inhabiting and you have to fish at a speed that will attract those fish to your bait or lure and then trigger them to bite. I believe depth and speed of different baits, lures or presentations is fundamental; a person has to get that right before worrying about things like bait color, size, shape, action, smell, taste, rattles, etc., etc., etc.
Anyway, all of that is another discussion for another day. Let me focus on one particular tool or lure for the rest of this blog post. I try to use a variety of baits and lures, to be versatile depending on the situation. I try to use the right tool or tools for the job. One bait that works well in many situations, one that I have caught a darned lot of fish on over the years, would be a suspending, minnow-imitating crankbait. Some anglers, especially bass anglers, will call these baits “jerk baits”. I am talking about Husky Jerks, X-Raps, Smithwick Rogues, Suspending Bomber Long A’s, and any one of dozens of other brands and names of artificial lures in this category.
I believe these baits are particularly good tools in the right situations for a variety of reasons. First of all, the minnow-imitating profile imitates prey fish that are relatively long and slender. Think about it, predator fish love to eat meals that are easy to catch and handle ( http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2011/09/optimal-foraging-theory/ ), and those predator fish tend to figure out that long, slender prey fish tend to have soft rays, and are nice and oily, full of fat, protein and calories. Prey fish that are more round can be great food items as well, but those round-shaped prey tend to have more spines in their fins and can be harder to catch and handle. What I am saying is I believe that the long, slender profile of minnow-imitating crankbaits is particularly attractive to a variety of predator fish. I also believe these baits have a vibration, wobble or action that is particularly appealing to the lateral line sense of predator fish, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2011/04/feel-now/ .
Now let me “hearken back” to the days when there were a variety of minnow-imitating crankbaits on the market, but none of them were suspending baits. There was a time when a person could buy Countdown Rapalas that sunk, and a variety of similar crankbaits that floated at rest and then dived when retrieved. Those were great baits, but they were not very versatile in the speed control part of the presentation. Specifically, if a person slowed their retrieve or quit reeling those baits either sank (e.g. Countdown Rapala) or floated to the surface (e.g. original Rapala). Much of the time, those baits worked very well as they were designed, but there were anglers that discovered they could work much better at times if they were neutrally-buoyant.
When I say neutrally-buoyant I am talking about baits that suspend, that neither sink nor float when the retrieve is stopped. That suspension can be a tremendous trigger to get fish to bite, especially when the water is cool or cold. Natural prey fish tend to suspend in the water, they do not sink nor float when they pause or stop swimming. Some anglers tend to be particularly inventive; I have no idea who the first person might have been who tinkered or started doctoring their floating minnow-imitating crankbaits. I do know that I read about it years ago in the pages of Fishing Facts and later In-Fisherman magazines. My friend Doug Stange was writing stories a long time ago about doctoring floating Rapalas in order to make them neutrally-buoyant, and that is where I learned about it. Here are some of my old doctored Rapalas.
See the holes? I would drill holes in the side of brand new, perfectly good floating Rapalas and then epoxy some split shot into those holes. The trick was to add exactly the right amount of shot to make those baits neutrally-buoyant. Sure, I ruined some baits, but when I got one right, it was a fish-catching tool!
“Back in the day” there were a variety of plastic crankbaits on the market that were imitations of the original balsa-wood Rapala. Those baits would also catch fish, and I discovered that they were a lot easier to doctor–to make neutrally buoyant.
Take a close look at the tops of those baits. See anything unusual?
Those baits were made out of plastic with a hollow core. A person could straighten a paper clip, heat it in a candle and then melt a whole through the plastic. Once a hole was melted, a person could take a syringe full of water and inject water into those baits. With some water injection and testing in the kitchen sink, you could get those baits to be perfectly neutrally-buoyant. Then, it was a matter of heating up the ole paper clip again and re-sealing, melting the plastic back over the hole.
Why go to all the trouble? I mentioned that particularly in cool or cold water, slowing those baits to a crawl or even stopping them was the speed control that a person would need to get fish to hit. I love to fish in the fall, and have spent many evenings throwing suspending crankbaits. Typically, as the fall progresses and the water cools a person has to fish those baits slower and slower. I have caught a lot of walleyes, bass, pike, white bass and wipers on suspending crankbaits that were fished slower than I had the patience to reel or even on baits that were cranked down and then paused, just let ‘em hang in their faces. I can tell you of nights when I would have a little competition from other anglers, and with my “secret doctored baits” I would out-fish everyone else combined. I heard a lot of grumbling on some of those nights. (wink)
And then Rapala introduced the neutrally-buoyant Husky Jerk. I still do not know if I should be happy or angry about that development. On one hand, it is a darned lot easier to stroll through the tackle shop and purchase minnow-imitating crankbaits that are already neurtally-buoyant. On the other hand, there went an “edge” that I had on most other anglers. Today you can buy a variety of these neutrally-buoyant baits and they all can be great fish-catching tools. Take a closer look at these and let me mention one other tip.
If you look close you can see that I have “fine-tuned” the buoyancy of those baits by adding little strips or pieces of lead tape. Sometimes it is difficult to get a bait that is perfectly neutrally-buoyant. I can pull a Limnology textbook or two off my book shelf and tell you that water has different densities at different temperatures and that can affect the buoyancy of your baits. In that case you might need just a little more weight to keep those baits from floating. If you tie a bait on and test it in the water, you will be able to see if it floats a little or if it is perfectly neutrally-buoyant. When doing that also notice the orientation of the bait when it is sitting in the water. Some baits will tend to suspend with their noses or tails a little higher. Little details can make a huge difference and generally a bait that suspends perfectly horizontal will catch more fish. Again, if I need to alter that orientation a bit of lead tape will do the job. When fine-tuning baits, take into account the effect your lie will have on the baits orientation and buoyancy.
Storm sells “suspend strips” or “suspend dots” specifically for sticking onto crankbaits and you can see those on the baits in that photo just above.
Let me make a couple more comments before I quit rambling. First of all, I have mentioned that the neutral-buoyancy baits are particularly good when the water cools. That does not mean they are not good during late spring, summer and early fall. The baits I have showed in this blog post are best used in relatively shallow water, most of them run less than 6 feet deep, but at times fish will move up for some distance to eat them. When the water is warm they can be fished fast with erratic pauses, jerks, and rips, and those are great fish-triggering moves. With neutral buoyancy those baits will stay at their running depth even during an erratic retrieve. Secondly, at other times, especially when banging baits off of cover, I like a “neutrally-buoyant” crankbait that floats just slightly because I can use that buoyancy to keep from getting snagged. With the lead tape, a person can add or subtract weight and get the baits doing just exactly what is needed.
Finding fish and understanding what they are doing is the first hurdle to catching fish. Once a person gets that figured out they can select the best tools, baits and lures, presentations, for the job. The suspending, minnow-imitating crankbaits are not any more magic than any other baits, but they work particularly well in many situations. And remember that paying close attention to how those baits work, paying close attention to little presentation details, can make a HUGE difference!