Back in the 1960s and 1970s, small and family-owned tackle manufacturers and tackle shops, such as Bass Buster Lure Company of Amsterdam, Missouri, Gopher Tackle of Deerwood, Minnesota, Fincke Fishing and Tackle of Rosedale, Kansas, and Mar-Lynn Lure Company of Blue Springs, Missouri, were the lifeblood of scores of Midwest finesse anglers.
And to this day, we remain intrigued and infatuated with the endeavors and creations of small and family-run manufacturers and retailers. Thus, whenever we encounter a small and family-owned tackle business that has items that Midwest finesse anglers can add to their repertoire, we like to publish a Midwest Finesse column about them.
Upon crossing paths with Jon Shook of New River, Arizona, and his family-run tackle business, which is called Arizona Custom Baits, we asked him if we could work with him to create a column that focuses on a short history about the business and feature some of the lures that he and his company created. To accomplish this feat, we exchanged numerous telephone conversations and emails.
He was born in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1980, and the outdoor world and fishing has fascinated him since he was a youngster. He credits his grandfather and grandmother, Willie and Geneva Shook, of instilling that passion into his mind, body, and soul. Until their death, they resided in two Arizona communities: Glendale and Pumpkin Center. And Pumpkin Center is adjacent to Roosevelt Lake.
Besides his grandparents, the late Kerry Yarborough of Tucson, Arizona, who was a family friend, used to pick up the young Jon Shook nearly every weekend, and they fished at some of the reservoirs that stipple the countryside of south-central Arizona. Shook credits Yarborough of teaching him the ins and outs of black bass fishing. For instance, when they struggled to elicit strikes from the black bass, Yarborough would say it was time to "go light," and they would pursue them with finesse techniques by wielding split-shot rigs.
Shook participated in his first fishing tournament at the age of seven and competed in his first black bass tournament at the age of 15. At that tournament, his partner was his uncle Delmar Branson of Gilbert, Arizona. He grew up watching In-Fisherman's television show and reading countless words in various In-Fisherman's publications. Jon and his wife, Mindy, fish together often, and in fact, they spent their honeymoon fishing in Minnesota. He still competes in tournaments, but since the advent of Arizona Custom Baits in 2015, he is not able to compete as much as he used to compete.
Before the establishment of Arizona Custom Baits, he was a manager of an automobile-repair shop for four years, and prior to those four years, he was a manager for a counseling company for 12 years.
During the infancy of Arizona Custom Baits, Shook worked 70 hours a week in the shop manufacturing lures and 25 to 30 hours on fulfilling orders and customer service.
In August of 2017, he began to focus 100 percent of his time on growing the company, and it is growing extremely fast. It sells baits to anglers in nearly every state and in Canada and Mexico. At times, it is so busy that many members of Shook's family extend a helping hand, and those hands include those of his mother Machelle, his dad Lloyd, his sister Jennifer Igna, his brother-in-law Cornell Igna, and his nieces Brianna Igna and Mallory Igna. The Ignas live in Surprise, Arizona, and so do Shook's parents. His cousin Ken Branson of Phoenix works at the shop every day. Mindy Shook handles all the finances, customer service, helps to bag and label the baits, and ship orders. He proclaims: "We are literally the family-owned and family-run small business. And we do it all by hand."
Shook said the word custom in Arizona Custom Baits stems from the fact that they create customized colors for anglers. And they have a significant number of anglers who request a customized color. As Arizona Custom Baits has dramatically grown, Shook says it takes a little longer nowadays to create a customized color and to manufacture these unique soft-plastic baits. Depending on the difficulty of a customized order, the minimum order ranges from 150 to 225 soft-plastic baits, and it takes four months to complete those orders.
All Arizona Custom Baits' swimbaits are hand poured and hand painted, but they use a hand-injection system to manufacture their other soft-plastic baits. Shook says that they use "a blended formula of different feel-ratio plastics to get the soft and supple feel" that graces their baits, and at the same time, these exceptionally soft and supple baits are durable enough to withstand multiple donnybrooks with largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass. He admitted that it took a lot of patience and testing to create what he calls the perfect mix, which he secretly guards. Shook's soft-plastic baits are also enhanced with an amazing array of colors. The baits are not impregnated with salt and scent, exclaiming that they are not necessary ingredients. But for anglers who want scented soft-plastic baits, Arizona Custom Baits will add scent for customized orders.
In addition to the sales generated by Arizona Custom Baits' website, seven of their soft-plastic baits are sold by Tackle Warehouse, and they reorder more of them every other week. Arizona Custom Baits can be purchased at Cabelas in Glendale, Arizona, and The Hook Up Tackle of Peoria, Arizona.
In the weeks and months to come, we will focus several of our Midwest Finesse columns on some of Arizona Custom Baits' other soft-plastic finesse baits, such as their 4 1/2-inch Fat Worm, 4 1/2-inch Curly Tail Worm, and a new soft-plastic stick-style bait that Shook is currently creating.
Below are some details about eight soft-plastic finesse baits made by Arizona Custom Baits that will catch the eyes and stir the hearts of Midwest finesse anglers.
(1) Beginning in 1965, a reaper-style bait played a significant role in the repertoire of Midwest finesse anglers. Its role, however, began to wane in the 1980s. But a minor reaper renaissance has recently begun to unfold, and Shook's Drop Shot Reaper is playing a role in this rebirth.
His Reaper is 3 1/8 inches long.
Its head is cone-shaped and a quarter of an inch long. The end of the head is flat, which allows it to fit snuggly to the back of a mushroom-style jig. (Although Shook designed it for drop-shot applications, Midwest finesse anglers will opt to affix it to a small mushroom-style jig or an aspirin-head one with a small and exposed hook.) The skin or surface of the head is smooth.
The torso is round and 1 7/16 inches long. Its circumference is 1 1/16 inches at the torso's largest spot, and it is a quarter of an inch wide. As the torso approaches the junction with its tail, the circumference becomes smaller. The torso is encircled with 23 small ribs.
Its tail is flat and 1 1/4 inches long and nine-eighths of an inch wide. It is embellished with six small ribs where it joins the torso. There are a multitude of minuscule ribs adorning both sides of the tail, and one side has ACB imposed upon it.
It is available in the following colors: Cotton Candy, Green Pumpkin Pepper, Morning Dawn Madness, Orange Crawler, Oxblood Deluxe, Oxblood Red Flake, Scooters Special, Smoke Pumpkin, Smoke Purple Shad, Smoke Shad, and Watermelon Red. Customized colors are also available by contacting Jon Shook.
A package of 10 costs $4.49.
(2) The Tiny Weed Pig is 3 1/16 inches long when its two curly tails are curled, and it is 3 15/16 inches long when its tails are uncurled and straight.
The curly tails are thin and about 1 1/2 inches long when they are curled and 2 3/8 inches when they are fully extended.
Its round torso is 1 11/16 inches long. The circumference is three-quarters of an inch, and it is a quarter of an inch wide.
Four appendages radiate off of the sides of the torso; two on each side.
The two appendages at the junction of the torso and curly tails possess a lanceolate shape; some folks might call it leaf-shaped. They are flat and thin. They are about seven-eighths of an inch long and three-eighths of an inch wide at its widest spot.
The two front appendages are thin strands of soft-plastic that are U-shaped. One of the strands of the U is attached to the torso about a half of an inch from the front end of the torso. The other strand of the U is attached to the torso about thirteen-sixteenths inches from the bottom or back end of the torso. The farthest the U extends from the body is seven-sixteenths of an inch.
Across the years, soft-plastic baits similar to the Tiny Weed Pig have played asignificant role in the tactics that Midwest finesse anglers employ during the black bass' pre-spawn, spawn, and post-spawn periods.
The Tiny Weed Pig is available in the following colors: Black and Blue Flake, Black and Red Flake, Cotton Candy, Green Pumpkin Pepper, Light Oxblood Red Flake, Light Oxblood Red Flake/Purple Pearl, Morning Dawn, Orange Crawler, Oxblood Deluxe, Purple Prism, Scooters Special, Smoke Pumpkin, Watermelon Seed, and White. Customized colors are also available by contacting Jon Shook.
A package of 10 costs from $4.49 to $5.99.
(3) The ACB Slim Shot was designed primarily for drop-shot applications.
But in the eyes of Midwest finesse anglers, who shun drop-shots, it is somewhat similar to a shad-shaped-worm-and-small-jig rig that Shin Fukae of Osaka, Japan, introduced us to on April 1, 2006, at Beaver Lake, Arkansas. And ever since then, a shad-shaped worm has played a critical part in the ways and means of scores of Midwest finesse anglers. Of course, when Midwest finesse anglers wield a Slim Shot, they will rig it onto a small mushroom-style jig with an exposed hook.
The Slim Shot is 4 1/4 inches long, and it is slimmer than the traditional Midwest finesse shad-shape worm. Before Midwest finesse anglers affix a Slim Shot to a small mushroom-style jig, they are apt to amputate a half of an inch from its head.
Its belly is flat, and many Midwest finesse anglers find that a flat belly accentuates the gliding function when they employ their swim-glide-and-shake presentation.
The front 2 3/4 inches of the Slim Shot is shaped somewhat like a missile. The circumference of the largest part of this section is about 1 1/8 inches, and its width is about three-eighths of an inch.
There is a half of an inch section that connects the 2 3/4-inch part of its body to its tail. This half-inch section is three-sixteenths of an inch wide, and its circumference is three-eighths of an inch.
The tail is about an inch long. Its circumference is about three-quarters of an inch at its biggest spot, and it is about a quarter of an inch wide. It exhibits the lanceolate shape of a small leaf.
The sides and dorsal or back of the entire Slim Shot have the shape of a semi-circle.
Its back, belly, and sides are encircled with hair-like ribs.
It is available in the following colors: Black and Blue Flake, Black and Blue Red Flake, Blue Madness, Cotton Candy, Earth Worm, Green Pumpkin, Hart Attack, Hologram Magic, Light Oxblood Red Flake, Morning Dawn Madness, Natural Blue Shiner, Orange Crawler, Oxblood Blue Vein, Oxblood Deluxe, Oxblood Purple Pearl Bottom, Patti Craw, Pearl Chartreuse, Pearl White, Red Hot Cinnamon, River Craw, Scooter Special, Sexy Shad, Smoked Pumpkin, and Watermelon Red. Customized colors are also available by contacting Jon Shook.
A package of eight costs $4.69. The Hart Attack and Sexy Shad Slim Shots costs $5.69.
(4) According to our measurements, the 4.5-inch Straight Tail Worm is 4 5/8 inches long.
It is an abstract rendition of an earthworm. Its body is smooth skinned. Its belly is flat from its mouth to its anus. Its sides and back have the shape of a semi-circle.
It has a clitellum or egg sack, which begins about an inch from the Straight Tail Worm's mouth. The clitellum is five-eighths of an inch long; it has the circumference of about thirteen-sixteenths of an inch; it is about a quarter of an inch wide.
Instead of a cone-shaped or pencil-point-shaped anus, it has a small, flat, and paddle-shaped tail. It is about a half of an inch long and three-sixteenths of an inch wide.
In the parlance of hardcore Midwest finesse anglers, the Straight Tail Worm would be categorized as an extreme-finesse or extra-finesse tool. Therefore, Midwest finesse anglers will affix it to a 1/32-ounce mushroom-style jig with a No. 6 hook and present it with an extremely slow swim-glide-and-subtle-shake retrieve that is occasionally punctuated with a deadstick moment or two.
It is available in these colors: ABC Magic, Bluegill, Blue Madness, Cotton Candy, Earthworm, Green Pumpkin Pepper, Light Oxblood Red Flake, Midnight Glow, Morning Dawn, Orange Crawler, Oxblood Blue Vein, Oxblood Deluxe, Oxblood/Purple Pearl, Patti Craw, Pearl Chartreuse, Pleasant Surprise, Prisim Shad, Purple Madness, Purple Prisim, Red Hot Cinnamon, River Craw, Scooters Special, Spring Craw, Watermelon Candy, Watermelon Red, and Watermelon Seed. A package of eight costs $4.29. Here are five other colors, which costs $5.29 for a package of eight: Bluegill Deluxe, Hart Attack, Morning Dawn Chartreuse Tail, Patti Craw Deluxe, and Sexy Shad. Customized colors are also available by contacting Jon Shook.
(5) The Wacky Bug Junior is a unique creature bait that is 4 5/8 inches long.
It is endowed with a bulbous head that is three-eighths of an inch wide with a circumference of about 1 1/4 inches. Two thin antennae radiate from the top of its head, and they are seven-sixteenths of an inch long. The head is where anglers affix the hook of a wacky jig. The bulbous head, Shook says, was created to make it more durable than the traditional wacky worm, and it has proven to be more durable. At times, an angler will affix an O-ring around the bulbous head, and by affixing the hook of the wacky jig onto the O-ring, the durability quotient improves.
Two stout appendages extend from each side of its head. They are equipped with eight segments or ribs. The segment or rib adjacent to the bulbous head has a circumference of about three-eighths of an inch. The eighth segment or rib has a circumference of an inch. The end of the eighth segment is capped with a dome, which is adorned with eight thin appendages. There four appendages on each side of the dome, and the longest one is about seventh-eighths of an inch long, and the shortest is a half of an inch. The stout and segmented appendages, including the lengths of the eight thin appendages, are about 2 3/16 inches long.
Shook says it is a very effective rig in Arizona and other Western waterways.
It is important to note, however, that wacky rigs are not a preeminent tool in the repertoire of Midwest finesse anglers. But there are spells throughout the year when it necessary to wield one. During those periodic spells, when the Wacky Bug Junior becomes too tattered and torn to stay securely affixed to a Midwest finesse angler's wacky jig, he will save it and eventually use part of it by amputating one of the 2 3/16-inch appendages, and he will affix it to a small mushroom-style jig the way Midwest finesse anglers affix a short stick-style bait to a jig, which is a unique stick-style bait, indeed.
It is available in these colors: Green Pumpkin Pepper, Green Pumpkin Pepper Purple, Green Pumpkin Pepper Red, Junebug, Light Oxblood Red Flake, Light Oxblood Red Flake Purple Pearl Bottom, Morning Dawn Madness, Oxblood Deluxe, Spring Craw, and Watermelon Seed. Customized colors are also available by contacting Jon Shook.
A package of 10 cost $5.39.
(6) The ACB Limit Out Craw appeals to the heart and soul of many veteran Midwest finesse anglers, who learned about the manifold virtues of soft-plastic crayfish from the late and great Guido Hibdon of the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. It was back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Hibdon taught us about how, when, and where to use a soft-plastic cayfish.
From the end of its abdomen to the tip of its two antennae, Shook's soft-plastic crayfish is 3 3/4 inches long. It is an abstract rendition of a crayfish.
The Limit Out Craw's cephalothorax or head is about nine-sixteenths of an inch long and seven-sixteenths of an inch wide with a circumference of about 1 1/16 inches. The antennae extend from near the tip of the cephalothorax. There are two small eye sockets near the union of the antennae on the cephalothorax. On each side of the cephalothorax, there is a walking leg, which is tipped with a chelipod or a claw. Some folks call the chelipod a pincher. Each walking leg and chelipod is 1 1/2 inches long.
The abdomen contains four segments. The first segment, which joins the cephalothorax, is three-sixteenths of an inch long. The second segment is a quarter of an inch long. The third one is a quarter of an inch long. The fourth one is seven-sixteenths of an inch long. All four of the segments are about five-sixteenths of an inch wide with a circumference of about 1 1/8 inches.
Three walking legs endow each side of the abdomen. The front two are straight and about three-eighths of an inch long. The middle and back two are somewhat L-shaped and about seven-sixteenths of an inch long when they are straightened out.
In sum, it is a super-finesse soft-plastic craw, which Midwest finesse anglers will affix to a small mushroom-style jig with an exposed hook, and this rig can be employ with all six of the standard Midwest finesse retrieves and variations of those retrieves.
It is available in the following colors: Black and Blue Flake, Black and Blue Red Flake, Chartreuse, Cotton Candy, Green Pumpkin Pepper, Green Pumpkin Pepper Purple/Copper Flake, Light Oxblood Red Flake, Light Oxblood Red Flake Purple Pearl, Orange Crawler, Oxblood Deluxe, Oxblood Purple Pearl Bottom, Patti Craw, Scooters Special, Smoked Pumpkin, Watermelon Candy, Watermelon Red, and White. Customized colors are also available by contacting Jon Shook.
A package of 10 costs $5.99.
(7) The Drop Shot Minnow is 3 9/16 inches long.
Some anglers describe its head as being somewhat bulbous. It is five-sixteenths of an inch wide and half of an inch long. It has a circumference of 1 1/4 inches. The top of its head is domed, and the bottom is flat. Each side is graced with a three-dimensional eye. The skin of the head is smooth.
Its torso is about 1 3/4 inches long. Its belly is flat. Its sides and dorsal possess the shape of a semi-circle. There is a slight hump along the dorsal in the middle section of the torso, and this section of the torso has a circumference of about fifteen-sixteenths of an inch. At the widest spot of the torso, it is five-sixteenths of an inch wide.
It is adorned with a flat and paddle-like tail that is five-sixteenths of an inch wide and three-quarters of an inch long.
The thin junction that connects the torso to the tail is about nine-sixteenths of an inch long. The width of this junction is one-eighth of an inch.
Minute ribs encircle the torso, junction section, and tail of the Drop Shot Minnow.
It is available in the following colors: Baby Bass, Black and Blue Flake, Bluegill Deluxe, Cotton Candy, Green Pumpkin Pepper, Light Oxblood Red Flake, Morning Dawn Madness, Morning Dawn Madness Chartreuse, Orange Crawler, Oxblood Deluxe, Pleasant Surprise, Purple Prism, Red Eye Pearl, Scooters Surprise, Silver Shad, Smoke Pumpkin, and Watermelon Seed. Customized colors are also available by contacting Jon Shook.
A package of 10 costs $5.99, and ones without eyes cost $3.99.
(8) The Drop Shot Curly Tail Minnow is 3 1/2 inches long when its tail is curled or at rest, and it becomes 3 3/4 inches long when its tail is uncurled and swimming.
The tail is seven-sixteenths of an inch wide at is widest spot. When it is fully extended, the tail is 1 7/8 inches long.
Except for its tail, it possesses the same features and dimensions as the Drop Shot Minnow, which is detailed above.
A curly-tailed grub affixed to a jig has been a meritorious tool in the hands of scores of Midwest finesse anglers for decades on end, and it looks as if Shook's state-of-the-art grub will add a new dimension to the art-and-science of employing a curly-tailed grub.
It is available in the following colors: Baby Bass, Bluegill Deluxe, Cotton Candy, Light Oxblood Red Flake, Morning Dawn Madness, Morning Dawn Madness Chartreuse, Oxblood Deluxe, Pleasant Surprise, Red Eye Pearl, Scooters Surprise, Silver Shad, and Smoke Pumpkin. Customized colors are also available by contacting Jon Shook.
A package of eight costs $5.99. The Bluegill Deluxe and Morning Dawn Madness Chartreuse cost $6.99.
(1) Here is a link to Arizona Custom Baits; website: http://www.arizonacustombaits.com/store/index.php/about-us.html.
(2) Shook has assembled a pro staff of four anglers: Justin Patti of Phoenix; John Scooter Griffith of Mesa, Arizona; Davis Hart of Phoenix; and Joseph Dwyer of Phoenix. Here is a link to the biographical information for Arizona Custom Baits' pro staff: http://www.arizonacustombaits.com/store/index.php/prostaff/.
(3) This is a link to a Midwest Finesse column about the six standard Midwest finesse retrieves: https://www.in-fisherman.com/midwest-finesse/six-midwest-finesse-retrieves/.