Don't Tell The Bass It's Old-Fashioned!
October 04, 2010
They may be old-fashioned lures, but the bass of today don't know that some baits are flashes from the past. Let's see what these experts say about catching bass with some of the old-time favorites. You could be surprised!
Some things never go out of style -- manners, rock and roll, old fishing lures and catching more bass than your buddies, to name only a few. They live on through the years, displaying a life of their own. If anything, they get better with age.
Old redheaded Jitterbugs can still fool bass. This largemouth didn't know the lure was out of style! Photo by Ed Harp.
We can't do much about manners and your appreciation for rock and roll. You either got 'em or you don't. We can, however, do something about old fishing lures and out-fishing your buddies. It's a matter of changing your perspective, of looking at the fish's world through its eyes -- eyes that haven't changed much for about 1,000 years or more.
To make that change, it's important to understand why lures run hot and cold, or why some catch fish for a while and then seem to lose their appeal. That's really not as complicated as it may sound. It really isn't so much that the lures lose their appeal as it is that circumstances change.
First there's marketing. The fishing industry offers new products on a continuous basis. We all think they are better than what we have. In many cases, that's true. They often are better and catch more fish. But there can be a place for older lures, as well.
We can't discount conditioning the fish either. Modern fishing pressure is heavy. The fish see nearly every lure on this planet every weekend. That's no small thing. They may not be as smart as us, but they do finally figure it out. It's a form of learning.
Throw the same lure in the same spot, retrieve it in the same way day after day and they finally get the message: "This isn't something to eat. My friends got stuck, and something happened to them. I'm not sure what it was, but it didn't look like fun to me. I'll avoid it next time."
And so we switch lures. That's not hard to do in our sport. There are bazillions of lures on the market; all we need to do is go to the local tackle shop or discount store.
The thing many anglers forget is that "new" to the fish means something different than it does to us. When it's new to them, it means that they haven't seen it before, haven't been stuck by the hooks and haven't watched their cousins go skyward. They learn only from what happens to them in the here and now, not by what others pass down to them from generation to generation.
And therein is the difference between them and us -- or maybe should be the difference is the better way to put it. Unfortunately, some of us learn no differently than the fish, in that we don't learn from past generations. But some people do learn. That's what makes them different. Professional bass angler Kevin VanDam is one of them. His experience at the 2005 CITGO BASS Masters Classic should teach us all a lesson. The fishing was real tough. Few limits were weighed and the fish were small.
VanDam understands that lures are tools and that the fish don't care if they are old or new. The fish only cares if a particular bait evokes a predator response. And so, to fool bass that were relating to current-breaking structure, he reached for a lure that was old, had been around for years and that he didn't use very often. It was old to him, but not to the fish.
It was a shallow-running Rattlin' Rogue, model RB1200 to be exact. It would do what he wanted it to do -- catch fish. Its Butyrate paddle was softer than most modern plastics and thus gave the lure a little more action off the sharp, violent jerks coming from VanDam's rod. Along with that, the rattles were lead -- almost a thing of the past -- which offered a duller, softer sound in the water.
Now, there are a lot of shallow-running jerkbaits on the market. Many of them made to more exacting standards and with better materials. For certain, most of them show the fish a more lifelike finish. But in this case, the old one got the job done. And as you might expect, that old Rogue is now being reintroduced and should be available by the time you read this.
VanDam isn't the only serious bass angler to appreciate the utility of old lures. Kevin Wirth, a successful touring pro in his own right, admits to owning "quite a few" old lures. They have served him well over the years. He is especially fond of the old wooden Poe crankbaits, the ones made before computers allowed every lure to look and run identically.
Most of Wirth's baits are in the 300 and 400 series. He likes the wood because, "There are no two wooden lures the same. They just aren't. All are different and unique." He typically practices with a dozen or more -- sometimes as many as 30 or 40 -- and selects only the very best, the ones he knows will catch the most fish. "I throw them all and then fine-tune the best to run exactly the way I want them to run," he said.
After that, he'll only throw that lure in tournaments. The reason is obvious: It can't be replaced, not only because it's old, but also because it's unique and can never be replaced no matter how advanced the manufacturing process or how many others he finds. Also, he practices and pre-fishes the tourney with those lures that didn't make the final cut.
To acquire a few of these old lures, you don't need to spend a fortune in the antique lure market. All you need to do is check old tackle boxes in your basement or your neighbor's garage.
Another group of favorites he keeps carefully secured in his boat is a collection of 25-year-old Bagley lures and a handful of original Rebel Wee-Rs. He likes them for the same reasons and treats them the same way -- tournament fishing with the best and practicing with the rest.
Note that none of these lures are considered "hot" now. When was the last time you saw an angler tie one on at the dock? But they all caught fish in their day and can do so again if given the chance. Professional anglers feed and support their families by catching fish. They don't throw old lures because they are antique freaks. They throw them because they catch fish.
Of course, consistency and quality control aren't all bad. They have made our fishing lives a lot better in many ways. Still, each lure being different and unique can have its advantages. It offers the fish something they haven't seen, heard or felt before.
To be fair,
some of these old lures need a bit of work. Sometimes the hooks need sharpening, or complete replacements are necessary, thus the new Bleeding Bait Hooks are especially popular with some anglers. Some old baits need to be cleaned. Toothpaste and an old brush will do a fine job on that, and sometimes a little epoxy is required to keep the lip secure and in place.
If you fish plastics, you are no doubt impressed by all the new styles and designs that are available. Rigging choices are nearly as broad. It seems as if every day something new is introduced by someone, somewhere.
Still, the old Texas-rigged plastic 6-inch worm will catch its share of keeper bass. The origins of this bait are unclear, but the first commercially available plastic or "rubber" worm may have been produced by Nick CrÃ¨me around 1949. It was simple enough -- a night-crawler-looking lure rigged with a harness and hooks. Most models were dressed with a small spinner at the front. All you needed to do to fish with this rig was cast it out and crank it back. I'm sure that some anglers -- those ahead of their time -- allowed it to drop from time to time and maybe floated it through the water column, but it's doubtful that anything resembling a Texas rig was ever used with it.
But that was before tournament fishing. After that, Tom Mann surfaced as one of the true innovators in the sport. He made his own lures, fished with them and caught tons of bass. Sometime during the early to mid 1960s, Mann developed the Jelly Worm. They were radical in their time. Made with soft plastic and in a wide variety of colors with scented oils to match -- blueberry, strawberry, blackberry and the like -- they soon became the "must-have" lures with bass anglers in the know.
Once these worms were rigged Texas style, it seemed as if no bass was safe. Everyone and anyone with a stiff rod, a heavy line and a pool of water nearby could catch a bass. The plastics revolution was on, and at full speed. To this date, it hasn't slowed down.
Fancy plastics soon replaced the simple worm. Every known creature has been duplicated. Many look as if they came from the age of dinosaurs. It's not an exaggeration to say that it would be impossible to list or catalogue them all. They're made in major manufacturing plants and basements all over the world.
Somewhere, somehow along the way, the basic 6-inch worm got lost. Sure, some anglers still fished their plastics with nose weights, but few were throwing anything as simple as a long, thin cylindrical piece of plastic. That was considered old-fashioned.
But fish still like them. Mann's Jelly Worms may be hard to find, but there are plenty of similar products on the market today. The 6-inch size is a fine compromise between big worms for really big fish and small, finesse worms for smaller fish.
While discussing this subject, Kevin Wirth expressed surprise that Texas-rigged worms aren't as popular with weekend anglers as they once were. At the same time, however, he pointed out that Texas-rigged plastics -- especially worms -- are very popular among professional tournament anglers. "There are times and places when nothing else is as effective, especially in warmwater conditions," Wirth said.
Now, just like with hard crankbaits, modern improvements are often used in combination with plastic worms. Newer, better-designed and more efficient hooks are the most obvious improvement, but not the only one.
Nose sinkers have also come a long way in the last 40 years. Lead weights have been replaced in large measure by small, heavier products. Tungsten has become all the rage among professionals and weekenders alike, and is being marketed in a wide array of sizes, designs and even colors. Tru-Tungsten offers them in June bug, transparent chartreuse, blood red and black, among others.
So once again we get down to what counts -- catching fish. The fish that falls for your Texas-rigged worm doesn't know that her grandma committed the same mistake. She isn't conditioned to that bait, unless, of course, it's being used extensively on her lake and she has learned from experience. The pros and top amateurs know this. That's one of the reasons why they catch the most fish.
Another lure that deserves special mention is the Abrogast Jitterbug, designed and originally made by Fred Abrogast. Like many early luremakers, he didn't earn his living in the fishing industry. He was a full-time employee of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. Nevertheless, he had a passion for fishing. That passion led him to develop a number of lures, including the legendary Jitterbug.
It displays a short, fat body with a large, concave metal lip stretching horizontally across its face. When retrieved, it crawls across the water's surface with a loud, distinct plop, plop, plop sound that has attracted bass and other game fish for decades.
This one is still made and sold in a wide variety of sizes and colors -- although the old ones seem to float a bit higher. Much like VanDam's Rogue, the Jitterbug is a specialized tool. It allows for a surface commotion much like a buzzbait but at a much slower speed. It's at its best on calm, slick early-morning or late-evening water. And, unlike many lures, it seems to be most effective when retrieved with a steady cadence back to the boat or shoreline. It is more popular with recreational anglers than with the pros, although they all seem to know about it and praise its fish-catching abilities.
Another old lure that will catch a ton of bass is the Devil's Horse, a great surface lure with a thin body and props attached to each end. It's great for a subtle topwater presentation.
If the fish are deeper but still shallow, try a Lazy Ike. It has an action like no other lure on the market.
To get down deep and show them something they haven't seen before, dig out a Mud Bug or an old Bomber. They'll still catch fish.
To acquire a few of these old lures, you don't need to spend a fortune in the antique lure market. All you need to do is check old tackle boxes in your basement or your neighbor's garage. Once you find them, it's just a matter of cleaning them up a bit, replacing any necessary hardware and catching a few fish with your "new" lures -- new to the fish anyway. With a judicious mix of new and old lures, an angler can be outfitted for any circumstance. Both should have a place in the tackle box.
It is, however, important not to gloat at the dock. That shows a lack of manners. But you can play rock and roll as loud as you want at the dock!