In the 1980s, the revolution was all about rods, reels, and boats. New lighter, stronger materials transformed our basic tools. In the 1990s, the greatest and fastest changes took place among fishing lines and electronics, where we went from line of sight to satellite.
In all that time, the things we use to actually hook fish–the plastics, crankbaits, and metal baits–changed little. The best-selling body bait in the country, the Rapala, was introduced in the 1960s. Suspending jerkbaits were first introduced in the 1970s. The plastic worm is more popular now than it was then. Certainly, lures have become slightly more streamlined. The finishes are more lifelike, more durable, and the hooks are light years ahead of what we had 30 years ago. New shapes and styles of plastics appear every year. Some stick, some don’t. “Magic lures” hawked on infomercials come and go. But major earth-shattering technological advances in lures have been slow in coming.
Scent-impregnated plastics first appeared over three decades ago. Mann’s was one of the first to bake scent right into the plastisol of the Jelly Worm, which remains a popular bait today. But when Johnson started the Chum line, incorporating actual “fish food” into artificial grubs and worms, the trend started on something entirely unique. Chum products were stiff, hard to set hooks through, melted in direct sunlight, and failed to inspire much consumer confidence. But Chum did catch fish, and more importantly, began to blur the line between artificials and “naturals.”
Berkley began to impregnate plastic baits with scent and taste in 1988. This was the first major lure project to incorporate constant laboratory testing with live fish. Berkley tweaked the Power Bait formula until they came up with a product that was: (1) soft and natural in appearance; (2) scent impregnated; (3) provided a taste element fish “bit and didn’t let go of,” and (4) didn’t break down, melt or harden in the tackle box. This formula created a new genre we call “softbaits,” as opposed to “plastics,” and was the first of its kind to inspire major consumer confidence. Power Bait also proved almost impossible for anyone to emulate until the recent development of the Mister Twister Exude and YUM lines of softbaits.
Cliff Soward, product development coordinator for YUM, described the manufacture of YUM softbaits as an expensive process that involves extracting minute amounts of natural enzymes from natural sources. “We are fingerprinting, as close as possible, individual enzymes found in crawfish and shad,”
Soward said. “While it’s a tiny amount, it’s much more than Mother Nature gives off from an individual minnow or crawfish as a scent trail predators can follow.
“When fishing for crappies with YUM on tubes and other plastics, we frequently outfish guides and experts using live shiners. With the spray-on version of YUM, you have a peak, quickly after spraying; and after 10 casts it’s still giving off a scent trail greater than a natural minnow. With the new YUM impregnated plastics, the scent trail lasts as long as the plastic endures.”
One Berkley scientist described the limitations of scent impregnation this way: “Just because you can smell it when you open the bag doesn’t mean a fish can smell it at the same distance. Since humans can’t smell underwater, it’s hard for us to know whether these ‘air volatile’ scents carry through a medium like water in the same manner, or that fish can smell them at all. We know they can taste it. When fish bite, they don’t let go of Power Bait. We proved that. It’s harder to prove what they can smell and at what distance. To make scent travel any distance underwater, the scent has to slowly dissolve, creating an actual trail of scent particles.”
So, with the rest of the field starting to catch up, Berkley raised the ante with Gulp!, a biodegradable line of softbaits. In theory, these “plastic” baits produce a much more “water volatile” scent that fish can smell throughout the usable life of the bait. “We’re using natural water-based polymers,” said John Prochnow, Berkley Product Development Manager. “Gulp! evolved from a water-based system instead of a petroleum-based system. These polymers can be derived from corn. Since it’s water based, the scents and flavor dissolve into the water for the fish to detect 400 times faster than plastic. The polymers in Gulp!, however, do not dissolve in water. Water permeates through it, actually flows through it. Only the scent and flavor dissolve at the molecular level. So you can, conceivably, fish the scent right out of these, but I’ve not yet been able to dissolve all the scent and flavor out after 8 hours of fishing. The longer you fish it, the weaker it gets. It peaks quite quickly at a dispersion of, say, a 6-foot detection zone that gradually diminishes to, say, a 3-foot zone after about 8 hours. After 8 hours of fishing, we can present it to tank fish and they eat it just as readily as when it was fresh.”
The Panfish Connection
My first experience with a Gulp! Earthworm was in the big In-Fisherman holding tank. Using an 8-pound high-vis Triple Fish leader and a #4 walleye hook (which was all I could find lying around), I pinched an Earthworm in half, ran it onto the hook, blunted the point, and dropped it in. It sank about a foot before the first bluegill, the smallest in the tank, ate it, hook and all. I pulled gently and the big hook popped out of its mouth, with the worm still attached. Immediately, the biggest bluegill in the tank engulfed it. I pulled gently again, and the hook came out, but not the worm. I watched in amazement as it disappeared like a strand of spaghetti into the bluegill’s mouth. He ate it–as in “did not spit it out.” As in “digested.”
Now, that’s impressive. The Gulp! Earthworm feels like the real thing, looks like the real thing, falls through the water like the real thing, and apparently tastes like the real thing. It means you never have to be without bait. It comes in jars that store nicely in the tackle box, where it won’t melt or break down until it comes in contact with water. In the water, it slowly degrades, leaving a microscopic scent and taste trail. The line between artificial and natural has blurred considerably since the early days of Chum. What could be wrong with that?
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