May 01, 2020
Bass anglers have a penchant for what’s new, a lust for the latest and a thirst for what’s fashionable—and I’m not talking about clothing. I’m talking about bass lures.
When was the last time you heard about a bass tournament being won on a single-spin spinnerbait? Did bass stop striking single spins all of a sudden? Of course not. But anglers stopped buying and using them. They traded them in for square-billed crankbaits, bladed jigs and other lures du jour.
You might think fish are fickle, but they have nothing on us, and that makes no sense. Bass have short lives and even shorter memories. If you last caught a bass using a Johnson Silver Minnow 20 years ago, rest assured that no bass in your state today is old enough to have witnessed it. But those same bass have the same genetic makeup that made the Silver Minnow a bass slayer almost 100 years ago and that keep it effective today.
Our list of old-school baits that are “new” again begins with the most popular weedless spoon of all-time.
Johnson Silver Minnow
The Johnson Silver Minnow turns 98 years old in 2020 but looks and works as good as new. Louis Johnson of Chicago built the first one in 1922 and patented his weedless spoon a year later. You could argue that no lure in the century since its introduction is any better at navigating heavy vegetation.
For generations, a pork rind strip was the standard trailer on the Silver Minnow. No more. It’s now difficult to find pork rind, but plastic worms and silicone skirts substitute nicely and add some extra action to the wobble and flash of the spoon.
If your fishery has aquatic vegetation, you know bass live there. While other anglers work the top with hollow-body frogs or pitch and punch to the bottom with heavy sinkers and soft plastics, consider going retro this season and giving the bass a look they probably haven’t seen before.
Rigged on heavy braided line, the spoon casts like a bullet and swims through just about anything. Work it quickly over the tops of weeds where bass will erupt through the cover to eat it. Or reel it steadily through the vegetation, pausing your retrieve to let it flutter into holes where bass will grab it on the fall.
Johnson is now part of the Pure Fishing corporation, and the venerable Minnow comes in sizes from 1/16- to 1 1/8-ounce and in 17 colors, though silver, gold and black are easily the most popular.
Hildebrandt Snagless Sally
In-line spinners have always been popular with trout and panfish anglers, and big spinners are in the tackle box of every serious pike and musky fisherman. They used to have a following in the bass crowd, but that was before safety-pin-style spinnerbaits took hold. By far, the most popular in-line spinner in bass history is the Hildebrandt Snagless Sally. John J. Hildebrandt began making spinners in Indiana in the 1880s.
What makes the Sally so effective is the flash of the high-quality Hildebrandt blade, the shimmy of the vinyl or silicone skirt and the weedguard that allows it to be cast into the kinds of places where bass live and feed. It’s a great springtime lure for the same reasons that spinnerbaits and bladed jigs are so effective, and it works in the same places.
Today, the Snagless Sally is made by Yakima Bait Company, and they’ve even added a “Super Sally” that features a bigger blade and stronger hook. Because the hook attaches to the main shaft using a large split ring, anglers can change out the weight, skirt and hook. Many are opting for a soft plastic swimbait, giving a different look to both an old lure and a newer one.
Twenty-five years ago, the companies that made spinnerbaits all made some models with a single blade. Today, few do, and the single spins that are available are usually marketed as “night-fishing” lures with black skirts and blades.
Single spins are still bass catchers, and you can take any tandem spin and turn it into a single spin with a pair of cutting pliers. When you do, you’ve made it more versatile, especially for springtime fishing.
A single-spin can do anything a tandem spin can do. You can still bulge the surface or fish the mid depths, but the single spin is far better for slow rolling, yo-yoing or for “killing” the bait next to bass-holding cover.
Slow rolling a single-spin is as effective a pre-spawn bass technique as any you can find. Simply cast the bait out, let it fall to the bottom and start reeling just fast enough to keep the blade turning—much slower than any tandem spin can turn. Because it’s relatively snag-free, the single spin will crawl over all sorts of cover where bass live and feed. When the bait stops, set the hook.
The jig is likely the oldest of bass lures, and using animal hair as a dressing dates back further than anyone can say. But over the past couple of decades, hair jigs have taken a back seat to silicone skirts and soft plastic bodies. Those are great, too, but they don’t have quite the same pulse and action as real or synthetic hair. Hair is just different, and in the bass fishing world, different is often better.
The old “fly and rind” (that’s Tennessean for a hair jig with a pork rind trailer) still catches bass, though you’ll need to exchange a soft plastic bait for the pork. On light line, few lures can rival a 1/16- to 1/4-ounce hair jig for catching big numbers of bass. The lure defines versatile. Use dark colors and fish it on or near the bottom to imitate a crayfish. Use light colors and swim it to mimic a baitfish. There is no time of year and perhaps no conditions when a hair jig is a bad lure choice.
The lures that caught bass a decade or even a century ago will still catch them today. Maybe they’re not as high-tech or as fashionable, but if you’ll tie them on and give them a cast, you’ll find they still work as well as when they were hot and new.
And you’ll be showing the bass a “new” look they’ve probably never seen before.
THE WORST LURES OF ALL TIME
Not every old bass lure deserves to be resurrected. Here are three that deserve to be forgotten.
Captivated Lures Lulu (1973)
The line-tie for the Lulu was on the tail of the bait. That was so a little propeller could pull it away from the angler and toward the bass—or so the theory went. Measuring 6 1/2 inches and 2 1/4 ounces, it was an underpowered heavyweight that struggled to move at all.
How bad was the Lulu? When it failed as a fishing lure, the company retooled and repackaged it as a fish-shaped cigarette lighter.
Presto Motor Lure (1962)
It’s possible that no fishing lure ever looked less “fishy” than the Presto Motor Lure. At 3 1/4 ounces and 5 1/2 inches long, it was as thick as an axe handle and would have looked more at home tracking toward a German U-Boat in World War II.
When activated, the battery-powered propeller would push the bait “like a live minnow” and make the “buzzing noise of a bee.” How could a bass resist that? Somehow, they did.
The Hover-Lure (1990s)
The part of the Hover-Lure designed to get a bass’ attention was a dragonfly imitation about two inches long. It obscured a little gold hook that would struggle to hold a crappie minnow, and the whole thing hovered above a hard plastic lily pad.
The “lure” didn’t even touch the water (“Never Fish Underwater Again” read the packaging because, perhaps, fishing underwater had become an ineffective technique?), and the whole mess was so frail and un-aerodynamic that it was impossible to cast. The angler had to gingerly place the contraption on the water’s surface and then peel line off the reel until he was far enough away that he could no longer hear the bass laughing at him. The Hover-Lure was billed as “the most unique fishing system on the market today.” For good reason, too.