Ivan Martin: the wizard of Grand Lake and Salt Flick'R
June 20, 2012
Ivan Martin is the piscatorial world's jack-of-all-trades. And when he has time, he relishes tinkering with lures, developing new ways to use them and even creating new ones.
Martin is 63 years old and a multispecies angler and guide, who pursues black bass, crappie, and white bass on Grand Lake, Oklahoma, for at least seven months a year. In years past, he often spent late September fishing and guiding for smallmouth bass at Lake Champlain, N.Y.After that he was at Lake Fork,Texas, in pursuit of crappie and largemouth bass during October and November, and from December through February, he was afloat at Lake El Cuchillo, Mexico, chasing largemouth bass. Nowadays he doesn't go to Champlain, but he still chases the crappie at Lake Fork. Instead of traipsing into Mexico, he spends December through February on the Texas-Mexico border, fishing Falcon International Reservoir. He recently enjoyed a fly-in escapade to chase northern pike and walleye in Canada.
Martin of Afton, Oklahoma, has been guiding for more two decades. Across those years he has become such a versatile and skillful angler and guide that he can spend part of each outing on Grand Lake fishing for black bass, crappie and white bass.
In addition to his piscatorial skills and endeavors, he has worked for Zebco, Quantum and MotorGuide. In 1995, he built and managed Martin Landing Resort at Grand Lake's Monkey Island, and it quickly became one of the largest tournament sites in the Heartland.
He readily confesses that his "sole business is fishing."
Martin's Newest Creation
Five years ago, when the shaky-head jig and worm combo was at the height of its popularity in bass angling circles, Martin began working on another approach for employing a jig-and-soft-plastic combination. The origin of his method stems from watching the way some Table Rock Lake bass anglers, such as Tim Sainato of Walnut Shade, Missouri, utilized a soft-plastic French fry affixed to a jig. From those observations, he spent nearly four years creating and refining the soft-plastic component for the jig and developing the best way to retrieve it.
Ultimately he created a tactic that some observers describe as cranking a jigworm. Others call it reeling. Some others call it scuffing. Martin calls it dragging. But no matter what anglers call it, Martin says that it is a marvelous and relatively simple way to allure incredible numbers of largemouth bass.
By 2009 and 2010, a few other anglers in eastern Oklahoma began cranking a variety of soft-plastic lures on a jig. For example, Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Oklahoma, won the Ft. Gibson Bassmaster Elite Series by cranking a watermelon-red/dark-back Gene Larew Biffle Bug that adorned hinged 5/16- 7/16- and 9/16 -ounce football-head jigs on June 20, 2010. Gary Dollahon of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, who knows both Biffle and Martin through his marketing role at Gene Larew Lures, said "Biffle was unaware of Ivan's efforts, specifically, but Biffle had some friends using the homemade football head with free-swinging hook attached, and were cranking the bait with great success. He tried it and quickly became a believer, too."
Nowadays, Martin finds that the most fruitful dragging rig for him and the anglers that he guides is a quarter-ounce jig and Gene Larew 6" Salt Flick'R, which is a creature-styled stick bait rather than the traditional thin worm that bedecks most shaky-head jigs. In addition, because of the heavy salt impregnation, it weighs more and sinks faster than most 6" worms.
Martin also had a hand in developing the Salt Flick'R. "Ivan came to us with the concept of what he was doing and asked that we consider making a bait specifically for this purpose," said Dollahon. "It was his idea to put Larew's two unique swimming legs near the head. He was adamant about the bait's length being what it is. The folks at Larew came up with the Salt Flick'Rs unique look and shape. While Ivan calls his technique dragging, we think it's more about flickering a bait across the bottom because that's what's happening as this head and lure bump into and ricochets off of rocks and other obstacles. That's where the name 'Flick'R' comes from."
Matching the forage
The shad population is often abundant in Grand Lake. But even when significant concentrations of shad mill about in the areas that Martin is fishing and some of the bass are foraging upon them, he doesn't ascribe to the popular notion of matching his lure and presentation to mimic the shad. Instead, he merely keeps cranking and dragging the jig and Salt Flick'R and entices an impressive array of bass.
Equipment and Presentation
Martin says that the quarter-ounce jig allows him to easily ply depths of 15 feet, and at times he has used it to plumb 20 feet of water. But at the deeper lairs, he has to crank the reel handle at a slower pace than he cranks it when he is fishing in three to ten feet of water. For plying deep water, Dollahon thinks Martin and others might reap some significant dividends by rigging the Salt Flick'R to Larew's new HardHead jig, which is a hinged football jig similar to the one that Biffle wielded at Ft. Gibson.
As of August 2010, Martin began experimenting with them and found that they work well.
Most of the time he employed a 5/16-ounce HardHead jig, which sports a 4/0 Owner J hook, but when he plied extremely shallow water, he opted for the 3/16-ouncer that has a 3/0 J hook.
Martin's 1/4-ounce football-head and ball-headed jigs are poured around either a 4/0 or a 5/0 hook. Lately he has acquired an affection A and M Baits' quarter-ounce Hooker Head Round Jig, which sports a 4/0 hook.
As for colors, the lead portions of his jigs are painted black, copper, or brown. His three most productive colors for the Salt Flick'R are Watermelon Pepper, Dark Watermelon Neon/Watermelon Neon, and Green Pumpkin Candy.
In regard to the best depth to drag his jig combo, Martin says that he and other eastern Oklahoma bass anglers regularly find bass abiding in three to 10 feet of water — even in mid-summer.
Lairs that are graced with rough rocky ledges and rock piles are his most prolific sites, while smooth and featureless locales that consist of gravel, mud and clay aren't as rewarding. This is what Biffle experienced at Ft. Gibson, too.
When a rocky shoreline, point or hump is graced with an occasional log, stump, laydown and brush pile, Martin still cranks the quarter-ounce jig and Salt Flick'R along the rocky bottom adjacent to those objects. But if he has to directly probe those objects in order to elicit a bass strike, he opts for another lure that doesn't become snagged as readily as the jig and Salt Flick'R becomes snagged. Martin suspects that as the jig and Salt Flick'R bounces noisily along a rocky terrain that it allures a goodly number of bass that are abiding within the confines of a brush pile, laydown or labyrinth of roots around a stump.
Martin prefers to wield this combo on spinning tackle, consisting of a High Standard Rod Company seven-foot, medium-action Carbon Pro spinning rod, KT30PTi-B Quantum Kinetic reel spooled with 10-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon line.
When Martin probes a rocky shoreline with his spinning outfit, he likes his jig and Salt Flick'R to land slightly ahead of the boat and near the water's edge or at a particular target along the shoreline. If he is plying a massive point, a ledge on a hump, or a series of rock piles on a rocky flat, his casts are extremely long ones, and he notes that these long casts don't have an adverse affect on his ability to properly execute his cranking and dragging retrieve.
Upon completing a cast, Martin doesn't shake his rod and lure as it plummets to the bottom. But as soon as it hits the bottom, he commences cranking the reel handle at a pace that allows the bait to drag, bounce, tick, and ricochet off the rocks and boulders. He notes that it is essential for the bait to be constantly moving and smacking the bottom. Therefore, he adjusts the speed of the retrieve accordingly, which is the way Tommy Biffle employed his jig and Biffle Bug during the Ft. Gibson tourney. What's more, Martin never shakes his rod to create additional action nor does he deadstick it. The only time that he stops rotating the reel handle is when his lure isn't dragging the bottom.
In order to probe deep lairs, Martin will customize the Salt Flick'R by removing its two side appendages or legs. This allows it to sink faster and hug the bottom.
During the retrieve, Martin holds his rod steadily at the three o'clock position while he turns the reel handle at the appropriate speed.
Because Martin occasionally guides novice anglers who possess marginal angling skills, he has found that the best tactics that these anglers can employ is to drag or stroll the jig and Salt Flick'R behind the boat. Until his clients began utilizing the jig-and-Salt-Flick'R combo, Martin had never encountered a lure that the angler in the back of the boat could employ so easily and catch so many good-sized bass, catching even more and bigger bass at times than the angler in the front of the boat. In addition, there seems to be something about the physics of strolling or dragging the bait behind the boat that makes it a simpler task for an angler to identify a strike and hook a bass than it does when an angler casts and retrieves the lure by cranking the reel handle.
Strikes and hook sets
When Martin detects a strike, he executes a sweeping-style hook set, moving the rod either left or right, depending on his position in the bow of his boat. It's not a violent sweep of the rod; instead, it's firmly executed so that the hook that is implanted in the body of the Salt Flick'R becomes exposed and penetrates the flesh of the bass' mouth. The force of Martin's hook set lies about halfway between the vigorous hook set that power anglers often employ and the mild-mannered one that finesse anglers use.
At times, bass strike the bait voraciously. At other times the strike is so subtle that many anglers have a difficult time deciphering if the bait is oddly careening off a rock or being gently engulfed by a bass. Therefore, he suggests that anglers should set the hook whenever there is an odd sensation, loss of feel or subtle line movement. Once an angler gradually becomes attuned to making the correct presentation with the jig and Salt Flick'R, Martin says he will develop an intuitive ability to differentiate between the tick and thump of the rocks and boulders and the sudden weight, movement, sensation or thud that comes with a bite.
Seasonal, water levels, water clarity factors and favorite locations
At Grand Lake, Martin's quarter-ounce jig and Salt Flick'r combo is effective from late March through late November, reaching its prime when the water temperature surpasses 55 degrees. When the surface temperature reaches the high 80s in early August and the bass fishing becomes more problematic for most anglers, Martin says the jig and Flick'R is his most potent option. At clear waterways, such as Table Rock Lake, it works well when water temperature is below 55 degrees. In the winter at Grand, Martin recommends downsizing the combo, trimming the Salt Flick'R or using a 4" soft-plastic French fry and affixing them to either a 1/8- to 3/16-ounce jig on 8-pound-test line to drag depths of 6 to 15 feet.
In regard to water clarity, he doesn't like it when Grand Lake becomes riled and muddy. He prefers it to be slightly stained.
Many of the shorelines on Grand Lake are cluttered with docks, and many of them are bass magnets. But when Martin is fishing the rocky terrains adjacent to the docks, he doesn't seriously probe the confines of the docks with his jig and Salt Flick'R, noting that it isn't suitable for fishing docks. Therefore, he merely executes several perfunctory pitches of his bait at the front corners of the docks as he is quickly maneuvering around them with his trolling motor, and to his delight he has caught numerous bass from these corners.
In April, May and early June, Martin finds that the lower section of Grand Lake, which is the clearest area, is the most fruitful. Once spring ends, the middle third of the lake yields the best catches.
Before the spawn, Martin focuses on secondary points and 45-degree chunk-rock shorelines in coves. After the spawn, his attention is centered on gradual-sloping rocky points and humps in the main lake.
His most productive spots are massive flats that are rock-and-boulder laden and adjacent to deepwater. He dissects them casting and retrieving the jig and Salt Flick'r at a variety of depths and angles. He notes that there will be spells when one angle and depth is more productive than other angles and depths.
When high water floods the galaxy of willow trees that grace some parts of Grand Lake's shorelines, scores of bass anglers usually spend their outings pitching and flipping lures into the maze of branches and tree trunks. Martin and the anglers he guides, however, don't join them. Instead, they spend their hours afloat wielding the jig and Salt Flick'R across a plethora of rock-laden lairs, which are often more fruitful than the flooded willows.
Not only does Martin's method entice incredible numbers of Grand Lake's largemouth bass, it accomplishes the same feat on the smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass at Table Rock Lake. What's more, he reports that it "works great in Mexico if we are in an area without too much brush." He has not tested it at Lake Champlain because he hasn't ventured there for a few years, but at Lake Fork, he says that aren't any rocks and there's too much shallow aquatic vegetation for it to work well, and Falcon Reservoir is too brushy.
Even though it isn't effective at every venue, Martin's creation bridges the wide divide that separates the power angling and finesse angling fraternities. By bridging this gap, he has discovered a way to pinpoint and allure bass that other anglers haven't been unable able to locate.
Ivan Martin and I began working on this blog in the summer of 2010.
Straightaway, we realized that his Salt-Flick'R-and-jig routine is an ideal combo and presentation for bass anglers who aren't comfortable with the 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ-and-Gopher-jig tactics that Midwest finesse angler employ and the Biffle-Bug-and-Biffle Hardhead-jig methods that Tommy Biffle and some his friends created in 2010.
Since then, a number of magazines and Web sites have featured the Salt-Flick'R, as well as Martin's ways at employing this bait.
For example, In-Fisherman's senior editor, Steve Quinn, used some of what we assembled in an In-Fisherman magazine feature entitled "New Wave Jig Tactics" in the Oct./Nov. 2011 issue. In that article, Quinn also explored the way Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Oklahoma, wields his Biffle-Bug combo.
After some reports about Martin were circulated on the Finesse News Network, several FNN members became intrigued with Martin's ideas about cranking, reeling, dragging or scuffing a jig and soft-plastic bait.
Mike Poe of Siler City, North Carolina, was one of the FNN members who worked with Martin's methods.
Poe focused his piscatorial attentions on the largemouth bass that abide in several North Carolina reservoirs. These reservoirs range in size from 300 to 2,000 surface acres.
Throughout the summer of 2011, Poe made several more modifications to what is often called the Ivan Rig. He opted for Owner's Shaky Head jig with a TwistLOCK Centering-Pin-Spring rather than A and M Baits' quarter-ounce Hooker Head Round Jig that Martin prefers. Poe employed the 1/8- and 1/4 — ounce jigs.
Like Martin, Poe found that the rig worked best on rocky terrains that were windblown. For Poe, the most fruitful lairs were covered with less than eight feet of water.
But Poe found that the Salt Flick'R was too heavy for his taste. He said on spinning tackle it "felt like a log." Ultimately, he substituted either a small lizard or a five-inch Senko-style bait. Green pumpkin was the most alluring hue that Poe used.
In a June 19 e-mail, Martin wrote that Grand Lake's largemouth bass fishing was slowest that he has ever seen it for mid-June. The Ivan Rig has failed to allure the numbers and quality of largemouth bass that it normally does this time of the year. He and his clients have been able to catch some largemouth bass early in the morning on a weightless Salt Flick'R in six inches of water. But during the rest of the day, they have struggled to garner a bite on any bait.
(It is interesting to note that several Midwest finesse anglers in northeastern Kansas have found this June's largemouth bass fishing to be problematic, but it has not been as problematic as the bass fishing that has confronted Martin.)
If there any changes in the way Martin, Poe and other anglers employ the Ivan Rig, we will post updates during the summer and fall of 2012.