Peek into the rod lockers of top anglers and you'll spot some unusual baits, cinched up and ready to throw. Many pros rarely use a bait they haven't tuned. Tinkering ranges from minor alterations like changing skirts on spinnerbaits, bending out treble hooks on crankbaits, coloring soft plastics, and trimming jig skirts, to novel looks lure manufacturers might hardly recognize.
In 25 years of tournament bass fishing, I've seen some of the oddest alterations. But every time I think I've seen it all, I see a new one.
Speedy Spinners -- Extra-heavy spinnerbaits are deadly for big smallmouths in wind-blown waters. Adding a Water Gremlin Pinch-Grip or Rubbercor sinker (with the rubber removed and weighing from 3/8 to 1 ounce) behind the head of a spinnerbait makes a bait that can be cast far to spooky fish and retrieved fast while running true, spurring the fish's predacious instincts. Try switching the standard #4 or #5 willowleaf blade to a #3 or #3 1/2 blade to reduce water resistance and increase depth at speed, while increasing casting distance. Also trim the skirt to the bend of the hook to reduce drag and prevent short strikes; shorten the skirt and thin the strands as well. Pinching a smaller weight on a single-blade Colorado spinnerbait makes a great tool for fishing areas with current, to get the lure deeper into cover.
Slow Rolling -- To make a better slow-rolling spinnerbait, reduce the size of the rear blade by one or even one and a half sizes. With a smaller blade, the bait runs deeper to barely tick bottom cover. And the reduced flash can be a plus. This modification especially improves lighter spinnerbaits. To make a spinnerbait run deeper, bend the arm to ride closer to the hook, which also increases snag resistance.
Trailer Hook Tips -- Adding a single trailer hook to spinnerbaits and buzzbaits is common practice. Some anglers secure large-eyed hooks over the main hook with a section of surgical tubing around the hook eye on the trailer. Use a silicon ring or a round piece of hard plastic (cut up coffee lids from the quickie store with a hole punch) to secure the trailer hook, while allowing it to swing freely. I've caught bass on a second trailer hook, and sometimes I've even heard of deploying a third for particularly late strikers.
In many cases, a double-hook stinger works better and remains straight behind the main hook. Cut the bottom tine from a #4 treble hook so the hook eye is flat and centered between the two remaining tines. Insert the eye through a section of tubing and impale the tube on the main hook so it rides up. Its V-shape avoids weeds and brush better than a larger single hook.
Teaser Tails -- Tease extra strikes with a "tailgunner" spinner. Attach a #2 or #3 Colorado blade to a ball bearing swivel and insert the other end into a section of surgical tubing. Slip the tube over the spinnerbait hook to secure it.
Thumper Blades -- Bass pro Jay Yelas adds one of Storm's SuspenStrips to one side of a willow-leaf blade, which throws it a bit off balance, changing its underwater thump. Placing the silver strip on a gold, copper, or painted blade also creates a two-tone flash. Create a different thump by punching a 1/8-inch hole in a Colorado blade. Several companies use this trick in their production models.
Bent Blades -- Long before Lonnie Stanley founded Stanley Jigs, he was a lure tinkerer. He bends the trailing edge of a willow-leaf blade out 90 degrees to give the lure a crazy flash and unique thumping action. The bent blade also provides lift to keep the spinner near the surface on a slow retrieve or allow it to slowly helicopter down when the retrieve is stopped. Another trick to keeping a spinnerbait riding higher or making it fall slowly is to add an extra skirt.
Cut Blades -- Stanley also takes tin snips to a Colorado or Indiana blade, cutting it down the middle to the halfway point. Bend each half in the opposite direction to create a propellerlike blade with lots of lift, similar to the old buzzbait blades like Burke's Dedly Dudly.
Topwaters are fun to fish, even more so when you tune baits for special attractions.
Tail Weighting -- Some topwaters are built so the tail hangs below the surface with the head above. This enables the lure to "walk" back and forth during the retrieve, an irresistible motion at times. Tail-weighted prop baits rock back and forth, adding to their turbulence. Eddie Nuckols of Float 'n' Fly fame switches to a heavier tail hook to get the bait deeper and give the tail prop a different sputtering action, also letting it work in one spot longer. Speaking of tail action, replacing the standard rear treble of prop baits and walkers with a feathered model adds the same teasing action that makes poppers so deadly.
Nose Jobs -- Texas veteran Jack Lewis makes a minor alteration in baits like the Zara Spook and Baby Torpedo by bending down the line tie slightly and adding a split ring. This causes the nose to dive more as the bait is pulled. It adds a darting action and keeps the bait working in a productive area longer.
Zell Rowland and Rick Clunn were among the first to alter Rebel's Pop-R, to create more spit and a faster, more-frantic action. They shaved the lower lip of the popper mouth and removed about 1/16 inch of plastic with a knife and file to increase spitting action and side-to-side motion. To increase buoyancy, some anglers also sand the 1/4-ounce body, removing all the cross-hatching from the original Pop-R. It adds bounce to the bait, but makes it fragile and difficult to cast with a baitcaster. Several manufacturers have, of course, shaped their poppers like an altered Pop-R.
Groovin' -- Baits like the Zara Spook walk more crisply if the line is tied to the bottom of the line tie. To keep the knot from slipping, Georgia pro Jackie Hambric files a groove in the line tie with a carbide or diamond file.
Bass Ackwards -- Legendary lunker hunter Doug Hannon reverses a Rapala Floating Minnow. He switches the rear treble to the lure's line tie and ties it onto the tail of the three-hook #11 or #13 model, for a wacky action bass can't resist.
Lipless Rap -- After accidentally breaking the lip off a #11 Floating Rapala during a fruitless fishing day, I removed the front treble hook and tied the line to the wire hanger. The result was an erratic and unpredictable gliding action that drew more strikes than the unaltered bait had. Try it when bass merely boil on standard minnowbaits or topwaters.
Though countless lures rattle, many top anglers like to add rattles to quieter baits like soft plastics, hair jigs, and spinnerbaits.
Insert Rattles -- Small glass and plastic chambers can be inserted into soft plastic baits to provide a soft rattle when the bait's moved. Place them horizontally in Texas-rigged or Carolina-rigged worms, lizards, craws, and grubs, or into the tail section of soft stickbaits, to allow the most lure movement.
External Rattles -- For sound unimpeded by plastic, attach larger rattlers like Woodies Versatile Rattler to the outside of the hook shank with super glue. These rattles also can be strung onto fishing line or glued to spinnerbait arms.
Cuttin' Up -- With a tool like Don Iovino's Grub Cutter, remove a plug of plastic to house a rattler. Mid-South Tackle's pork-shape plastic trailer comes with a hollowed-out area, to accommodate their plastic rattle chamber that has a loop on one end to secure the rattling trailer to the hook of a jig.
Scent Pockets -- With coring tools, a tinkerer can hollow a bait and fill the cavity with foam to create a floating bait, or place scent-flavor products within for extended sensory output.
Minor alterations can give plastic baits a different look and action. The key, of course, is reading the mood of the fish and tuning your rig to the fish's mood.
Floater Rigs -- We've described floating a tube with foam. Betts' Carolina Floater will do the same with lizards, craws, or other plastics. Floaters are shaped like a bullet sinker, so they slide on the line. Peg one in front of a Texas-rigged worm to make a true floating worm. Or reverse the float to create a poppin' bait. Rig one in front of a Carolina-rigged bait to float it above the sinker. Pull the sinker into the nest, then yo-yo the bait up and down and watch the bass breathe fire.
Reverse Rigging -- A simple trick for Carolina-rigging or Texas-rigging involves reversing the bullet weight so the concave end digs into the bottom to create extra disturbance.
Brass and Glass -- To increase the noise of a Carolina rig, place one or more glass beads and a brass clacker between the sinker and the swivel.
Pegging Weights -- A toothpick was the classic method for pegging sinkers, though Gambler's Florida Rig now dominates that scene. Mojo Tackle's threading tool and rubber strips also peg sinkers, and the system holds better than a toothpick. Top Brass Tackle's rubber Peg-It is another device for pegging sinkers.
Spoon Tuning -- When fishing a weedless spoon like the Johnson Silver Minnow, snip off the last half inch of the wire weedguard. Then impale a large grub on the weedguard and stick the single hook into the grub body for extra action and even a more-weedless retrieve.