April 12, 2012
By John Neporadny Jr
In recent years, soft-body swimbaits have been luring lunkers and making headlines with their tantalizing wiggle. But the biggest bass ever caught, at least in the U.S., fell for the alluring moves of a jointed hardbait. A Creek Chub Bait Company Wiggle Fish is the lure George Perry reportedly used to catch his giant back in 1932. The Wiggle Fish and other golden oldies, such as Heddon's Game Fisher (1923) and Jointed Vamp (1927), Shakespeare's Tantalizer (1928) and Pflueger's Jointed Pal-O-Mine (1936), demonstrate the popularity of this style during the early days of bass fishing.
Despite producing a record catch, the jointed hardbait's popularity waned over the decades. But they've experienced a recent renaissance as anglers have found them ideal for emulating offshore, suspending baitfish like blueback herring and gizzard shad. The Spoonbill Rebel, Cotton Cordell Jointed Red Fin, Bomber Jointed Long A, and Jointed Rapala are old reliables that knowledgeable anglers clung to, often guarding them as secret baits for particular situations.
Baits that began the jointed hardbait comeback include the SPRO BBZ-1; Strike King King Shad; Lucky Craft Live Pointer; Sebile Magic Swimmer; Strike Pro Flex Phantom; River2Sea V-Crank and V-Joint Minnow; and Jackall Mikey. They were joined by the ABT Lures Banshee Swimbait; Koppers Livetarget Blueback Herring; Lucky Craft Pointer Smasher; Roman Made Negotiator and Mother, and more.
Roman Mades are hand-crafted of wood near Lake Biwa, Japan. Toshinori Takeyama balances each one for superb action. Mother measures 12 inches and 10 ounces. You need to watch these baits in a swimming pool to appreciate their allure.
Jointed Baits in Action
During the blueback herring spawn, Texas pro Todd Faircloth fishes a Sebile Magic Swimmer 165 over the shallows of main-lake and secondary points and saddles. "It's one of the most effective lures where blueback herring are primary prey," he says. "It resembles them better than anything I've seen in the water." Faircloth notes that shad dart or jump whereas bluebacks exhibit a steadier swimming action that the Magic Swimmer imitates nicely.
He favors the slow-sinking model as he typically uses a fast retrieve to keep the bait high in the water column. "You can work it as fast as you want and it won't roll," he says. "I fish it on 17-pound fluorocarbon with a 7-foot 2-inch Castaway medium-heavy rod and 7.1:1 gear-ratio baitcast reel. "I don't give bass much time to look at it, which makes it easier to fool 'em."
When fishing the big bass waters of Amistad on the Texas-Mexico border or California's Clear Lake, Faircloth uses the larger Magic Swimmer 228. While practicing for the 2008 Bassmaster Elite event at Amistad that he won, he used that lure as a search bait to pinpoint prespawn fish staging in deep water. "I fished it over 20 to 30 feet of water, above deep standing timber," he recalls. "In clear waterways, bass come a long way to look at a big-profile lure like that."
Touring pro Brian Snowden of Missouri opts for a 7-inch Bass Pro Shops Z9R when he wants a lure to imitate blueback herring or large gizzard shad. When fishing for spotted bass on his home waters of Table Rock Lake in Missouri, however, he uses the 4-inch Mini Z9R. "You can fish it numerous ways," he notes. "It's a good wakebait because it hugs the surface, even at a fast retrieve."
Since the Z9R is a slow-sinker, Snowden can also fish it just below a choppy surface on windy days and draw more strikes than he could with a jointed floater. If he spots a bass following his bait, he pauses it, then twitches it to begin a side-to-side motion similar to walking a Zara Spook. He fishes the Z9R on a 7-foot St. Croix Legend Tournament rod and Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Signature Series 6.4:1 baitcast reel with 17-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon.
Beaver Lake, Arkansas, guide Brad Wiegmann wakes a Cordell Jointed Red Fin to imitate gizzard shad on his home lake and other clear Ozark reservoirs. During fall, he works it across large pea-gravel flats where gizzard shad gather to feed. The jointed wakebait also produces for him during the postspawn along main and secondary points where bass sometimes suspend over depths of 100 feet or more.
Wiegmann's clients can easily work the Jointed Red Fin since it requires only a slow, methodical retrieve to keep it waking on the surface. "If it dips below the surface they won't bite it," he says. Wiegmann equips clients with 7-foot medium-heavy spinning tackle and 12-pound monofilament.
Jointed Bait Job Description
Strike King's line of jointed hardbaits represent versatile tools for Kentucky pro Mark Menendez. "The King Shad family is part jerkbait, part swimbait, and part crankbait, so they're versatile," he says. "One key asset is the ability to work around cover, such as corners of a dock, isolated wood, or stumps. Near such high-percentage areas, I stop it and twitch the rod, manipulating it like a jerkbait. These lures are bulky and stay in the strike zone a long time."
When fishing around large baitfish, Menendez fishes the 4-inch King Shad with a 7-foot medium-heavy Power Tackle rod and Lew's Tournament Pro Series (6.4:1) baitcast reel with 15- to 20-pound mono. He uses the 3-inch Baby King Shad in rivers or when targeting spotted bass. He fishes these jointed swimbaits at a moderate pace, employing a stop-and-go retrieve with an occasional twitch to increase flash.
During the postspawn, when walking topwater baits lose their pizzazz, Menendez turns to the King Shad Wake Bait, fishing it on 20-pound test mono, to draw bass to the surface. He reels it at a moderate to slow pace, creating as much wake as possible. His favorite targets for waking the King Shad Wake Bait are floating docks and shallow points.
California swimbait aficionado Bill Siemantel has been developing jointed hardbaits in various sizes for SPRO for several years but couldn't find the right one to use on Southern California lakes from July to February when bass feed on small threadfin shad. "I spent years trying to figure out what bait to use, trying small softbaits on dart heads and everything else," he says.
After a good deal of tinkering, he came up with the design for SPRO's 4-piece Baby Shad, the only sinking model in the BBZ-1 line. It's intended for waking across the surface when bass bust shad in late fall. After making a long cast, he can make this 21„2-inch sinking bait wake the surface by keeping his rod tip just above the surface on a medium to fast retrieve. He fishes it on a Lamiglas Drop Shot Special II spinning rod and Shimano 2500 Stradic reel and 15-pound PowerPro braided line, finished with a leader of 6-pound test monofilament.
Siemantel found his creation capable of multi-tasking. During a two-day winter tournament at a San Diego reservoir, he found bass deep in the backs of creeks feeding on tiny threadfin shad. He tried bottom-bouncing the Baby Shad as one might fish a big football jig. "I fished it along deep creek channel bends. It took about a minute to get down 40 to 50 feet," he says. "When it hit the bottom I engaged the reel and tightened up the line. Then I'd give that Baby Shad a hop of about a foot with my rod tip and let it flutter back down."
His first two casts produced 5-pounders. "We caught 52 pounds for two days popping that Baby Shad in 40 to 50 feet of water," says Siemantel. "We dominated the field in that tournament." A few months later when the water warmed in early spring and bass moved up to stage during the Prespawn Period, Siemantel found that he could draw strikes by counting it down to a particular depth and reeling steadily through schools of staging fish.
Savvy pros and lure designers have rediscovered the allure of baits connected by one or more joints to impart realistic action. With today's lifelike lure finishes and novel materials, there's no better time to join the jointed bait fraternity and get in on the action.
*John Neporadny Jr, Lake Ozark, Missouri, is an avid angler and veteran outdoor writer. He has contributed many articles to In-Fisherman publications.