A creative solution to a fishing dilemma a description of many of the best fishing lures ever made. That the new design at first looks odd is usually beside the point. If it catches fish, the fishing lures appearance becomes irrelevant. Imagine what anglers must have thought when they saw the first safety-pin spinnerbait.
Or consider the Flying Lure a funky looking doodad that once out-sold every other lure on the planet. Inventor Alex Langer was a young tournament angler when he realized that the biggest bass nobody could catch lurked beneath overhead cover, where no conventional lure could travel. Dreams of catching these hawgs became an obsession, leading to drawings of a lure that solved the problem; something that backed into cover, rather than moving forward and away from it, like every other jig then available. Although Langer's finished product looked goofy, it was an ingenious solution, and a concept that's as relevant today. Anglers can relate to Langer's dilemma, drawing inspiration from local lunkers hiding in tricky settings.
#5 Havoc Back Slide by Berkley
- The apparent simplicity of Berkley's latest Havoc softbait can be deceiving. When I first opened a pack of these little creatures, something intrigued me. Within hours, my hunch was confirmed, as I'd boated nearly 20 largemouths and burned through my only pack. Designed by BASS Elite Series angler Mike Iaconelli, the Back Slide is a French-fry style bait built to 'slide ' backwards on the fall in the tradition of Langer's Flying Lure. Berkley calls it a dual-density bait. The head of the Back Slide is soft and light, tapering to a bulkier tail loaded with salt. The tail's density causes it to glide backward and away from the angler, under docks, trees, and other shallow cover. A flat underside enhances the gliding motion, while fine legs along the body quiver and kick.
In shallow water, Iaconelli rigs the Back Slide with an offset-shank 2/0 worm hook, Texas-rigged on 8- or 10-pound-test fluorocarbon. In deeper areas, he inserts a nail weight into the tail for a faster fall and more pronounced glide. On deep weedlines, I've done well rigging it on a 1/16-ounce Gopher Mushroom Head Jig. Weighted at both ends, you can get the Back Slide to do all kinds of tantalizing tail- and head-shakes. It looks plain, but stands to be a winner for Berkley.
#3 ZX Series Blade by Ecogear
- Ecogear's ZX series is a bladebait that mimics a crayfish or shrimp while generating subtle vibration with the slightest rod tip movement. With each lift, dual antennae, armed with snelled hooks on colorful braid, wave and flap like a living crustacean, while other silicone appendages flutter and quiver.
This Japanese bait has proven itself for big smallmouths, as well as for perch, crappies, and walleyes on ice. The ZX represents a significant development in bladebait design. Munenori Kajiwara, a Chicagoland businessman and fishing fanatic, is working to bring several top Japanese brands to the U.S. market. At present, one source of Ecogear lures is Lee's Global Tackle in Chicago.
#9 VibraGRUB by Evolve Baits
- Calling the VibraGRUB a reaper on steroids is a clever descriptor, but it barely does justice to its rippling action. Evolve Baits has been building a following since early 2011, and VibraGRUB remains the company's crown jewel. Evolve president Derek Carr fishes the VibraGRUB on darter or ballhead jigs. He says it also can be fished like a fluke or a swimbait, impaled on a weighted wide-gap hook. Both methods allow its thin body to undulate and flutter. Offered in 2-, 3-, and 4-inch sizes, VibraGRUB also can be Texas rigged or danced on a drop-shot.
#6 Swamp Donkey by Hill Brand Hair Jigs
- There's something elegant about a fine hair jig. In water, it presents a seductive, naturalistic movement that fish rarely turn wise to. Such is the case with jigs tied by Gabe Hillebrand of Hill Brand Tackle.
A steelhead and salmon angler, Hillebrand offers many jig ties that cater to bass, walleye, pike, and muskie. He does a few with articulated shanks — jointed hair jigs that use a freely pivoting hinge to accentuate the movement of marabou and rabbit hair. Swamp Donkey is built on a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce ballhead, tied with a tapered deer hair and a marabou tail. 'Deer hair makes this jig hover and gives it more pep in the water, ' Hillebrand says, 'We're experimenting with articulated shanks. They enable a wide variety of retrieves, including soft jerkbait-like rod tip moves that make the tail ripple and undulate. '
Tied with a ram's wool head and rabbit strips on its abdomen and an articulated tail, his Sculptor looks like a sculpin or goby. Hillebrand says the ram's wool gives the jig a heavier sinking action, pinning it to bottom like those baitfish. Many of his ties blow your mind with their artistry and charisma.
#4 Upshot Crankbait by Luck-E-Strike
- The Upshot looks odd, which is fine with lure designer Bobby Dennis of Luck-E-Strike. But for suspended or schooled bass, this reverse crankbait can amaze. With a diving lip on its skull rather than the chin, Upshot is built to swim upward, rather than digging deeper on the retrieve.
Dennis, who started his career with Cotton Cordell four decades ago, spent over eight years on the Upshot. He suggests allowing the bait to slowly sink to the desired depth, and then working it like a jig, softly twitching the rod tip while retrieving slowly to moderately fast. This imparts a side-to-side motion that imitates a dying baitfish struggling toward the surface. On the fall, it wobbles slightly, while retaining a horizontal posture. Three inches long and 3/8 ounce, Upshot has a thin shad profile that houses two rattle chambers. Six colors allow for tailoring to local forage.
#10 Inch-Zic by Megabass
- This bizarre softbait has a suction cup-like paddletail that anglers have dubbed an 'elephant nose. ' Although this salt-laden worm comes in various sizes, the heavy 8-incher is a big bass favorite for Megabass. A popular Japanese design, Inch-Zic can be rigged wacky-style or on a drop-shot rig. I've also found it effective for punching surface matted vegetation with a 1/2-ounce bullet sinker and an 8/0 wide-gap hook. Or remove the sinker and slither the bait over pads and vegetation and let it flutter into holes. With a fat body and slim extremities, the Inch-Zic's paddletail waggles with minimal rod tip movement. Shrimp flavor and salt gel add taste and density while Megabass Vios Mineral Plastic provides durability.
#2 Drop Spin Slab by Moreau Baits
- A gifted taxidermist and duck decoy carver, Kevin Moreau has funneled his passion for fishing into unorthodox bait designs. While his early patterns like the Topwater Walking Frog swam on the surface, Moreau felt he needed a lure that showed fish in deeper water the same realistic features as his shallower offerings. The resulting Drop Spin Slab exceeded all expectations.
'I've had a thing for little crappie and bluegill baits for years, ' Moreau says. 'Big bass and other predators eat tons of little panfish. But most of these lures aren't thin enough in profile. The Drop Spin sits flat in your hand, just like a live baby crappie. ' When you fish this slow-sinking tailspinner and watch its action, you've got to say this lure's a winner.
Its slim profile reminds you of a lifelike lipless crankbait, but it's more versatile. 'Count it down as it falls at 1 foot per second, ' he says. 'It maintains a natural horizontal position as it sinks. You can yo-yo it in deep water or wake it on the surface. And it walks the dog beautifully under water. ' With a slow to medium retrieve, it has a subtle wobble, while the tail spinner thumps and flashes behind. At the end of your line, it looks and feels right. Wielding the Drop Spin, Moreau and customers have landed many big northern-strain bass. The 3-inch bait comes in six hand-painted patterns. Two other versions — the Drop Spin Vicious Strike and Drop Spin Tournament Series — feature wider profiles with different actions. The Drop Spin Slab seems well worth its $30 price tag.
#7 Shrilpin by Nories
- In the early 1990s, Japanese bass pro Norio Tanabe came to America to try his hand. He won the Kentucky Lake Bassmaster Invitational in 1993 and earned six more Top 10 finishes in Bassmaster competition, including 6th place at the 2000 Bassmaster Classic. Over the years, Tanabe, who's as famous in Japan as KVD is in the U.S., developed bass lures.
Among many offerings, including the new Nories Frog, I've had exceptional results with the Shrilpin — a finesse softbait he calls the 'fusion of a shrimp and a sculpin/goby '. Shrilpin is a top-selling Japanese design that shines as a drop-shot bait, as well as for Neko-rigging and on a shaky-head jig. Its curious stinger tail sports alternating thick to thin sections that produce unique subtle movements. The bait's made with varying density and stiffness between body and tail, allowing each to move independently.
I keep a small 'panic box ' in my boat, reserved for the most difficult bass bites. One of its 10 compartments is filled with 4-inch Shrilpins in green pumpkin. Rigged on a shaky-head, it rarely fails to score a bite during desperate times. Four sizes are available, including 2-, 4-, 5-, and 6.5-inchers.
#1 Mr. Whiggley by River2Sea
- For over a decade, lure artisan and TV host Larry Dahlberg kept a trick up his sleeve. He calls it Mr. Whiggley, a unique softbait with slick moves. He's crafted baits for many years and eventually teamed with River2Sea, which replicated his designs including Whopper Plopper, Wideglide, and Clackin' Crayfish.
'Mr. Whiggley was the first design I brought to River2Sea a number of years ago, ' he says. 'I wanted something that would glide and dart, as well as swim, and not slow down and drop head-first on slack line. ' Dahlberg says the River2Sea version has a sliding, through-bait harness connected to a single treble hook. 'When something grabs a Whiggley, it gets stung by the single hook, minimizing damage to fish, while the bait slides up the line out of the way. It makes for a long-lasting lure — even among toothy critters. '
He calls it 'the most versatile bait for pike, stripers, muskies, and peacock bass I've ever used. It has a random action when twitched, or fished stop-and-go. As a result, it works differently for each angler. It has a realistic swimming action when reeled fast, yet it can be fished at almost an infinite range of speeds. ' Although he's hand-poured Whiggleys from 6 to 24 inches — he recently caught a big tarpon on a 24-incher in Trinidad — the new River2Sea rendition is a 10½-inch soft slab sized for big predators.
#8 ElaZTech Baits by Z-Man
- I owe a debt of gratitude to In-Fisherman contributor and fellow Field Editor Ned Kehde. A couple years back, he suggested I give a new breed of softbaits a serious workout. It's proven to be priceless advice. ElaZTech, made by Z-Man Fishing, is an amazingly soft, yet nearly tear-proof material that contains no toxic PVC, plastisol, or phthalates. The material is buoyant, too, so you can do all sorts of different riggings to alter drop speed and action.
Early trials with the Finesse WormZ were impressive. During a trip to South Dakota's Enemy Swim Lake, I caught 17 smallmouth bass on a single Z-Man bait. I found that after being in the water, baits became tacky and slightly slimy. They seemed to get softer with use, enhancing their appeal.
Kehde has used a half ZinkerZ — a heavily salted stick bait — rigged on a light jighead for several years. Between 2010 and 2012, he and partners boated close to 15,000 bass on this and other Z Man combos. Kehde also reports that he's caught as many as 136 largemouth bass on a single ZinkerZ and Gopher jighead. Each year the South Carolina based company adds shapes. New favorites include Turbo CrawZ, a jig trailer, LeechZ, a buoyant 3-inch drop-shot bait, and Diesel MinnowZ, a 4-inch paddletail bait.