Perhaps we’re eternal optimists. If we fish all day to catch a couple dinks, miss a fish or two, and dump a toad, do we stow the tackle, resigned to defeat? Indeed not. To the amazement of spouses and friends, no sooner is the boat parked than we’re in the cellar, searching for a magic bait, a new rig that might have turned the day’s frustration into precious memories.
Every fishing dilemma has an answer. If 95 out of 96 tournament anglers approach the scales with skimpy sacks, one guy will be requesting a net to support his bulging bag.
It can’t be luck. And we hate to think the guy’s a better caster or flipper, or that he knows the ways of the wily largemouth better than we do. Has to be some hot new bait he’s throwing. Maybe it’s . . .
The following list of hot baits is compiled by the In-Fisherman staff with consultation from bass fishing authorities across the continent. We wouldn’t presume to have encompassed all the top bass waters, surveyed all tournament winners, or compiled this listing in any but an inherently biased way.
If we missed the hottest deal in Pocatello, Idaho, maybe you won’t have to share your secret bait. If we didn’t include your product, Mr. Manufacturer, the one that’s the scourge of Lake Tobesofkee and likely to be banned at Lake Bistineau, sorry, but you didn’t share the news. We are open to spreading the word.
This was a hot year for spinnerbaits, as several novel designs, colors, and even materials emerged. The hottest news came from the Terminator, from the Horizon Lure Company, the second most famous of three spinnerbait manufacturers in the East Texas town of Huntington. Almost simultaneous with the release of a television infomercial with Jimmy Houston and Terry Bradshaw touting the merits of the bait, bass pro Ricky Green garnered two wins on the new high-dollar Forrest L. Wood (FLW) bass tour. Jimmy Houston lent credence to his TV testimonials by also finishing high with the Terminator.
It’s the first bait to incorporate the alloy of titanium and nickel, called nitnol, into its wire frame. Amazing flexibility allows it to run straight at the fastest retrieve speeds, as the arm bends closer to the hook instead of rolling. Also, the resilient material resists any bending by mean critters like bowfin, pike, and gar that often take a liking to flashing blades. Add the body detail and beveled Vibra Light Blades of Horizon’s Ghost Minnow for a fine and functional bait.
A little slower off the block, the Blade Clacker also has demonstrated success, attributable to a unique design. Parallel willowleaf blades clack together every fifth or sixth revolution, creating an underwater flash that can be created on other spinnerbaits only by bumping an object. The blade contact also creates underwater sounds and changes in vibration cadence that trigger strikes when slow rolled through deep cover or over flats. Success with the Clacker has been reported when other blades catch little.
Meanwhile, the success of young bass pro Mike McClelland, winning consecutive BASSMASTER Invitationals on the Arkansas River and Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi, highlighted the War Eagle Tackle Company’s spinnerbaits. He fished their tandem willow models in thick weedbeds (Arkansas River) and through stump fields (Ross Barnett) for the titles, a feat unprecedented in the modern tournament era. Luremaker and veteran pro Lonnie Stanley also kept his line of spinners in the news with a win at Sam Rayburn in the BASSMASTER Texas Invitational, relying heavily on his tapered Wedge Blade.
Another hot blade has been Keystone Lures’ Picasso Spinnerbait, combining the attraction of realistically painted blades with a balanced head design. And bass pro Mark Menendez set the new B.A.S.S. tournament record last March on Richland-Chambers Reservoir in Texas with a 13-pound 9-ouncer, caught on a 1/2-ounce Oldham’s cantaloupe-color spinnerbait. The uncanny attraction of this hue had been the well kept secret of Rick Clunn and other pros, but since the story of the record bass, Terry Oldham hasn’t been able to keep that color in stock.
As for buzzbaits, Hildebrandt’s Head Banger, designed by bass pro Bernie Schultz, made a splash this year. The bait’s delta blade whacks the tin head on every turn, creating a high-pitched sound to supplement its flash and gurgle.
During the last few years, crankbaits have hogged the limelight, leaving spinners in the shadows, but the reverse has been true this year. Still, several models have jumped to the forefront, with new releases promising excitement this year.
Normark released its latest crankbait, the Risto Rap, a finely detailed medium-runner with a straight tight wiggle right out of the box. Development of the lure had been rumored since last spring, and as crankbait impresario David Fritts switched official allegiance from Poe’s to Normark, observers reported he was using a “special new bait” to make his amazing catches.
Then, early last summer, Jim Moynagh, a young bass pro from Minnesota, won the Forrest L. Wood tournament on Lake Minnetonka, pocketing $200,000 for the win, the highest payout in bass tournament annals. Instrumental in his win, we were told, was the Risto Rap. Yet the clamors of the bassin’ populace for the bait went unsatiated, due to limited quantities available until late summer.
Other less publicized baits made their mark. A line of shallow, medium, and deep divers from Bandit Lures have made their way into the tackle boxes of many top anglers. The phrase “caught it on a Bandit” no longer raises eyebrows. The true running, loud rattle, and imaginative paint schemes have propelled the bait, even in the absence of a national marketing strategy.
Another deep diver that quickly made its way into every serious cranker’s box is Bomber’s Fat Free Shad, with the original 3-inch 3/4-ounce bait joined by 2- and 21⁄2-inch divers and a pair of suspending models. Anglers appreciate its long casting, deep diving, and straight-running characteristics, with its loud rattle chamber and finely painted and coated finish.
Certainly suspending minnowbaits earned a berth in every angler’s box, with national giants Normark offering the Husky Jerk and PRADCO the classic Smithwick Suspending Rogue. PRADCO’s line of Mystic Minnows gained an immediate following, as has the Suspending Excalibur Long A designed by Kevin VanDam. Reef Runner Tackle’s Ripstick also made a huge hit, fanning out from the smallmouth-infested reefs of Lake Erie to wherever bronzebacks roam. Reservoir anglers farther south have discovered its application for largemouths.
A resurgence of topwater activity occurred this year, for perhaps the 20th time in the the last 100 years, as the classic raps against them were cast aside—being bad hookers and attractive only in spring or during low-light hours. Prop baits like Heddon’s Dying Flutter and Tiny Torpedo gained mainstream use.
Poppers, too, were hot, with several Japanese imports like Buddha Baits’ Pop Fire, Lobina Lures’ Rico Grande, and Yamamoto’s Sugoi Splash putting a sore mouth on largemouth and smallmouth bass alike. Storm’s Rattlin’ Chug Bug hasn’t missed a step, and its big and little brothers, the Big Bug and Baby Bug, have found their niche.
Walking baits have become a mainstream topwater selection since introduction of the first imports about four years ago. These baits sashay like a Zara Spook but with a smaller profile and a gentler walk than the venerable Spook. Sammy from Lucky Craft Lures, Viva’s Pencil, Owner’s Zip’N’Ziggy, and Buddha Baits’ Samurai have become confidence baits for anglers across the country.
As weedgrowth expands in lakes and reservoirs, slop bassing is in vogue. Mann’s Rat, Southern Lures’ Scum Frog, and the venerable Heddon Moss Boss experienced success from the Cal Delta to the Hudson River. And Lunker City’s Salad Spoon, a soft plastic slop bait, has gained a fast following.
The Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap has been a hot bait for several decades, but the 1/4-ounce size made headlines last year. In reservoirs from Indiana to Georgia, burning a little shad or chrome-color Trap became a killer tactic during cold-water conditions in spring and fall. Bass apparently key on young-of-the-year shad or herring less than 2 inches long, pursuing them into shallow coves and along plain banks.
The Trap provided monster catches at Indiana’s Lake Monroe last fall during the BASSMASTER Northern Divisional Tournament. And at the BASSMASTER Eastern Division Invitation on Lake Hartwell in November, Larry Laymon and Bob Hale took the top two spots with the little Trap.
Certainly the hottest style of jig this past year was the football head. With this success, I expect their use to expand in 1998. In-Fisherman’s article on the special characteristics and applications of a football head and grub combo, focusing on the development and use of Walker Fishing System’s Roll’R Jig, did much to publicize this style nationwide.
As a result, longtime makers of football heads, like Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits and Don Iovino Baits have seen sales climb. Other companies have new football styles, from small hair jig tiers like Steve Hacker, Paul Jensen, and Ray Price; to jig-of-all-types molders like Apex Tackle and Gopher Tackle; to giants like Kalin’s and Lunker City Fishing Specialties.
All are selling well.
As for the Roll’R Jig itself, public demands for new varieties, including skirted models, brushguard models, and different weights, have kept Pat Walker off the lake. Interestingly, this boom has come despite few reports from the pro ranks of wins or high finishes with this jig style, save Jim Moynagh’s use in several high-profile events in Minnesota.
Other bass jigs have been hot. Strike King’s Pro-Model Jig, with loud double rattle chamber has been endorsed and used successfully by Denny Brauer and his son Chad, along with other lesser luminaries. After developing the Rattleback and Triple Rattleback Jig with Lunker Lure, Brauer lent his input and endorsement to Strike King. Rattles are in, as Blue Fox’s Rattlin Flippin’ Fool has gained national recognition and good sales.
Hair is hot, both in traditional smallmouth bass applications and as finesse tools for largemouths. Pickwick smallmouth guide Steve Hacker has expanded his line, as sales zoom, while Paul Jensen, Appleton, Wisconsin, tries to get time on the water between filling orders for hair jigs built for muskies, bass, and stripers. Meanwhile, fox hair aficionado Bert Deener strives to keep up with demand, while working as a fishery biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Bucktail’s natural earth tones and smooth action display a new look to bass accustomed to silicone and rubber. It’s necessary to closely observe the delicate motion of fox, pooch, and other thin hairs to appreciate their subtle appeal.
With all the hot new hard baits, one might think the market for soft plastics had gone soft. It hasn’t, as avid anglers rush to add the latest colors and creations to already bulging worm bags. My basement holds greasy brown boxes stuffed with sacks of worms I once wouldn’t have launched the boat without. Sometimes I grab a bag and catch bass like crazy on ‘em. Bass hadn’t grown tired of them, but human whims change.
Worms—Plastic worms once meant worms. And though the field is broader now, with craws, lizards, grubs, globs, and other oddities, worms still are indispensable. Hand-poured worms are hot, as discerning anglers have no objection to paying more for the ultrasoft, salt-encrusted worms with layered natural coloration, not possible with injection molding.
This phenomenon developed in the West and has spread through the Midwest and East, where clear water, fishing pressure, and limited bass populations have anglers scratching for any advantage. Straight-tail hand-poured worms exhibit few negative cues to bass and can entice strikes where louder colors and more active worm shapes fail. Kalin’s, Don Iovino, Action Plastics, Roboworms, Buddha Baits, Angler’s Choice Preferred Plastics, Charlie’s Custom Lures, and others have benefited from the hand-pour blitz.
Ringworms are hot, descendants of the wonderful old Rebel bait of the 1970s that disappeared from the market. V & M’s Salty Ringer, Riverside’s Pro Rib, Buddha’s Pillar, Roboworms’ Zipper, Zetabait’s Ringo, and Guido’s Ringer from Luck “E” Strike have been hot catchers and sellers, as the ribbed form of the worm slows its fall and allows the bait to be skin hooked.
Injected straight-tail worms also are hot, namely V & M’s Needle Worm, which has reportedly brought nearly half a million dollars in tournament winnings to its users. Zoom’s Trick Worm and Zetabait’s Illusion also have scored well. The straight gliding action of this style almost resembles a skinny Slug-Go, in contrast to the fast vibrating tail of a swimming worm.
Another factor in straight-tail sales is their use in wacky rigging, worms impaled through the middle to drape and twitch over weedbeds, among stumps, or under docks. We’ll cover more on this and other hot techniques in the February issue of In-Fisherman. In this category, Riverside’s Sling Shot, a straight thick-body worm built for wacky rigging, with air pockets for high floating, has caught on fast.
But swimming-tail worms aren’t dead, as Berkley’s new 6-inch Ribbon Worm has proved a killer for largemouth and smallmouth bass. And out West, where straight worms had ruled, anglers have had success with curlytail models. Higher water levels in many western waters have flooded vegetation, moving bass shallow and into cover where action baits and flippin’ presentations work well.
Berkley’s uniquely shaped Sand Worm has year by year grown in popularity, reaching sold out status in many locations. Baits that shatter the shape mold for their genre, like the Blade Clacker and Lunker Lure Vibratron in the spinnerbait realm, typically take awhile to catch fire, as at first only the more experimental-minded anglers try the lure. Then word spreads to the skeptics. The Sand Worm’s undulating horizontal motion has made it a winner on educated bass when rigged Carolina or Texas-style, or for tipping a jig.
Lizards—Has the heat waned on those 4-legged aquatic wonders? Not according to folks at Zoom, Berkley, Bass Assassin, V & M, Luck “E” Strike, and other major plastic pourers. In fact, sales of giant models like V & M’s 9-inch Big Hawg Lizard, Bass Assassin’s 9-incher, and Touchdown’s 9-inch Moo Mau Lizard have boomed. They’re still the thing to throw for a big bite on a Carolina rig, and also a fine flippin’ bait for lunkers in heavy cover.
Plastic Pork—Though folks at Strike King and Uncle Josh haven’t noted any decline in sales of pork hide trailers, one of the hottest sellers in the plastics field last year was the plastic version of a pork frog. Berkley’s Power Pork, Lunker City’s Piggy Back Trailer, V & M’s V-Chunk, Zoom’s Salty Chunk, and Larew’s Salt Chunk blazed the way, and Gambler’s Ninja Craw and Mojo’s Chub Chunk have carved their own sales niches. When impaled on a jig hook, bass whack ‘em, and color selection is broad. Plus, if a tail flips over the hook, you can set right through it
Pork diehards note that pork’s wavering action can’t be duplicated in plastic. No denying the flavor appeal of briny pork, though plastics have their own succulent flavors cooked in as well.
Spider Grubs—If plastic porks were hot this past year, spider grubs were hotter, as the wiggly invertebrates multiplied. But bass have been out to eradicate them, snapping spiders off football heads, Carolina rigs, on the back of bass jigs, and from ballhead jigs.
Dion Hibdon rigged his own design, Luck “E” Strike’s Dion’s Secret, on a 1/4-ounce ballhead and skipped it under docks to win the BASS Masters Classic at Lake Logan Martin late last summer, punctuating the success of this bait style.
Yamamoto’s Hula Grub, Bass Pro Shops Skirted Twin Tail Grub, Better Fishing Ways Hyper Double Tail Skirted Grub, Arkie’s Salty Crawlin Grub,V & M’s Spider Jig, Berkley’s Power Skirt Grub, and Kalin’s Mop Top enjoyed banner sales last year, with 1998 promising even more for the arachnid clan.
Swimming Baits—Hats off to the Castaic Soft Bait Company, for their development of a novel form of lure. Last winter, their realistic Sunfish sold out in hours across California, Texas, Louisiana, and other spots in big-bass country.
Production of the jumbo Rainbow Trout and Gizzard Shad served notice that this hybrid cross of crankbait and soft plastic is here to stay, as striper fishermen and bass anglers experienced success. These realistically colored, naturally wiggling lures have caught enough fish to convince anglers that their appeal far surpasses their price tag of about $15 each.
For those seeking bass of more modest proportions, release of the Castaic Threadfin Shad last summer was great news. The lure scored high finishes in several western tournaments last fall, and the line will expand further in 1998, with a bite-size crappie, tiny trout, and baby bass.
Boot-tail swimming baits like Fish Trap, Kalin Swim Bait, and Mister Twister Sassy
Shad scored well as anglers tried them as more palatable alternatives to crankbaits. The wiggling tail provides action and vibration, while a leadhead carries the lure as deep as needed. Sizes range from 2 to 10 inches, matched with heads from 1/8 to 1 ounce. V-tail grubs like Zoom’s Fluke, Kalin’s Super Floozy, and Lunker City’s Fin-S-Shad proved deadly as unweighted finesse baits and on Carolina rigs.
While a cadre of experienced anglers snicker at the million dollar sales of scent additives, no slack in their use or reported success has been witnessed over the last 15 years. Gambler’s Bang Scent, Riverside’s Real Craw, and Blue Fox’s Soft Shell Crawfish Formula remain hot, while Eidolon’s SLAM and Kick’n Bass jumped fast into the market. But development of long lasting waxy appliques is even hotter, with Bullet Lures’ Lure Doctor proving a smallmouth killer when applied to Float ’n’ Flies, minnowbaits, and jigs, joining Smelly Jelly as hot stinks that stick on baits for an hour.
Will baits from the hot bait hit list produce as well in 1998? Many will, since they’re based on a style alternate from the standard, or even a new concept. Some will work best in rivers, others better in lakes. Baits for largemouths, baits for spots, baits for smallmouths on spots, even baits for spots on spots on spots. Bet the farm, most pond bass have seen nary a one of them.