September 21, 2021
By Pete Robbins
In 1980, for my 10th birthday, I got a three-tray Plano tackle box, but by three years later my growing tackle collection exceeded its limitations. I upgraded to the good old-fashioned “possum belly” with six accordion trays, three on each side. That box still sits on a shelf in my garage, loaded with tackle, but many of the lures that were in the box during Reagan’s first term in the White House are no longer there.
That’s not because I lost them all to snags, although that’s the case in a few instances, but rather because they’re in my boat, ready to go. Yes, I’m a complete tackle junkie who falls for just about everything promising. I don’t really care to share how much I own, or how much I paid for some of it, but the truth is that when bites are tough, I tend to go back to tried-and-true options, and a lot of those were in play during those early 80s wonder years.
Here are five you should own as well.
1. Lure: Stanley Vibra-Wedge Spinnerbait
Why I Picked It: Thanks to it’s vibrashaft wire and tapered “wedge” blades, this sucker produces a ton of thump in the water, and that calls bass from a distance. I own hundreds of spinnerbaits, but when I really need a double willow bite, I go to Stanley’s Golden Bream or Mouse Flash. During a recent Susquehanna River trip, my two partners and I caught 90 percent of our hard-hitting smallmouths on these lures, nearly 100 total, and the baits ran true all day. Some of my most prized models were given to me by the late Lonnie Stanley himself, and while I’m tempted to frame them I know he’d rather I put them to good use in the water.
Suggested Post-1985 Modification: Add a premium, razor-sharp trailer hook whenever the cover allows. I didn’t use one in the 80s, and I shudder to think of how many fish I lost because of it.
2. Lure: Heddon Tiny Torpedo
Why I Picked It: This stubby cigar-shaped topwater gets unfairly derided as a “pond lure,” but it’s deadly any time bass are feeding on small bait on top. Despite it’s small size, at 1/4 ounce and compact it still casts like a bullet. There are tons of “premium” prop baits available today aimed at fishing the bluegill spawn, but this one runs true at any speed, so whether you’re twitching it or buzzing it steadily it’ll draw strikes.
Suggested Post-1985 Modification: Add a split ring to the belly hook. Otherwise a jumping, gyrating fish can use the hook hanger to twist off.
3. Lure: Original Floating Rapala
Why I Picked It: This simple minnow bait—the forerunner of most modern jerkbaits, albeit in a shallower-running package—predates even me by more than a generation, but it still catches fish. That’s especially true in the calmest possible conditions, when a more aggressive approach may turn them off. Twitch it gently, let it bob back to the surface, and the buoyant balsa wood does all the work.
Suggested Post-1985 Modification: Upgrade your treble hooks, but make sure you don’t disrupt the lure’s delicate balance.
4. Lure: Cotton Cordell Big-O
Why I Picked It: I never owned one of the original Big-O crankbaits that designer Fred Young carried around in egg cartons, but I later invested hard-earned chore money in three of them – Smoky Joe, a crawdad color, and firetiger to cover all of my cranking bases. The great thing was that you could worm them through cover or burn them on your blazing fast (for then) 5.3:1 reel, and they’d deflect right into the mouth of a waiting bass. There are certainly older balsa crankbaits that are coveted, and newer ones that are more consistent, but at this price point you won’t hesitate to throw the Big-O into the nastiest cover you can find, places others only cast a jig.
Suggested Post-1985 Modification: Fish it on fluorocarbon. It’ll help it get down a little deeper and is more abrasion resistant around stumps and brush.
Why I Picked It: For utter versatility, from 6 inches deep down to 60 or more feet, nothing beats a plastic worm. Berkley has “upgraded” their olfactory efforts to “Maxscent,” but I’m convinced that the original formulation cannot be beat. From New York to Minnesota to California to Mexico, I’ve caught bass on them, and there’s nothing more old school than a Texas Rig.
Suggested Post-1985 Modification: Store them in a garage, in a double-wrapped Ziploc bag. As an early teen, I kept them in my tackle box in my childhood bedroom, and my mother sent an exterminator, convinced something had died in there.
There you go. None of them will break the bank but every single one will catch bass anywhere they swim, today, tomorrow or back to the future.