There is a small coterie of Midwest finesse anglers who is always in search of soft-plastic finesse baits, and in November of 2015 one member of this group wondered if we were ever going to publish a gear guide that focused on Maniac Custom Lures. This FNN colleague hinted that we have been remiss in not publishing one.
To rectify this failure, we called and emailed James Bradshaw of Bear River City, Utah, on Jan. 12. He is the proprietor of Maniac Custom Lures. Across a course of a week, we exchanged a number of emails in which he provided many insights on how and why he entered the tackle trade, as well as where and how he fishes.
He noted straightaway that he still works fulltime for Autoliv North America in Brigham City, Utah, where he tests air bags and safety constraint components and systems. He has worked there for 23 years.
In one email, Bradshaw described a typical workday. This one occurred on Jan. 12. His shift at Autoliv began at 5:45 a.m. and ended at 2:00 p.m. Then he drove 7 1/2 miles to his home, and at 2:30 p.m. he walked to his Maniac Custom Lures' shop, which is adjacent to his home, and he began manufacturing 2,500 four-inch Paddle Tail Worms. After he completed his Paddle Tail Worm chores, he read emails, listened to telephone messages, and packed and shipped orders. He noted that ice-fishing season can be the busiest time of the year for Maniac; its small jigs and soft-plastic baits - - such as the 1 1/2-inch Cut'r Bug, three-quarters-of-an-inch Gizzy Bug, and 1 1/4-inch Gizzilla -- are in great demand with ice fishermen in Utah and other Western states, and he was pleased to note that they are showing signs of catching the fancy with the ice anglers in the Eastern locales of the nation, too.
As a youngster, he was a multispecies angler, but when his stepfather joined a bass club in the mid-1970s and began competing in bass tournaments, James became infatuated with fishing for largemouth bass and smallmouth bass. During his teenage years, he fished a lot. What's more, he and his stepfather were constantly in search for the newest and best bass jigs and spinnerbaits, and because the local tackle stores rarely had the jigs and spinnerbaits that they wanted to use, they decided to craft their own.
To this day, James Bradshaw, who turns 51 on Feb. 26, tries to fish for black bass five to eight times a month, but he acknowledged that there is a lot going on in his life nowadays, and his ability to find the time to fish pivots around his family, Autoliv, and the lure business. Because of those important duties, he doesn't fish for black bass as much as he yearns to fish for them.
When he does fish, the bulk of those outings occur at small local reservoirs, such as Willard Bay, which is about 10 miles from his home; Mantua Reservoir, which is 15 miles from his home; Hyrum Reservoir, which is a 24-mile jaunt; and Pineview Reservoir, which is a 40-mile drive. But there will be a day when he will make the one-hour-and-45-minute drive to the boat ramp of the Snake River, and within 15 minutes after he launches his bass boat, he will be catching either smallmouth bass or trout. On other special occasions, he will make the 3 1/2-hour drive to Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which is endowed with smallmouth bass as hefty as six pounds, but to his chagrin their numbers are declining. At other times, he travels to Lake Powell, which lies about six hours from his home.
He is primarily a finesse angler who employs split-shot rigs and stand-up-head jigs that he dresses with one of the soft-plastic baits that he manufactures. But there are a few spells, when he wields a crankbait or a homemade spinnerbait. His favorite combo, however, is one of his jigs rigged with a Maniac Custom Lures' Cut'r Bug.
Here is an edited and condensed version of the many emails that James Bradshaw wrote about the history of Maniac Custom Lures:
In 2004 I decided to make my own soft-plastic lures for ice fishing. But I soon realized that hand-pouring small soft baits with tiny arms and other types of appendages were extremely difficult to do in an open mold. Once I arrived at that realization, I started pouring soft-plastic baits for black bass fishing. Then I decided I should try to sell some of them to other anglers, and that would pay for my supplies. Shortly after that I was spending many evenings and weekends pouring baits in my garage.
When we were in the stage of finding a name for the company, I was having a conversation with my wife about going fishing during the upcoming weekend, and she said: "You are a maniac when it comes to fishing." I said: "that's it!" She replied: "What do you mean by that's it?" I said: "Maniac. We will call the company Maniac Custom Lures." I searched Maniac on the Web, and since no one was using it, we registered Maniac for anything fishing related.
We started hand-pouring all of our baits, but we soon found that we could not keep up with demand. Therefore, we acquired a small high-volume injection machine.
The Maniac Minnow was one of the first molds that I had machined. The reason that we started making it was because it is so effective for all species of fish. Anglers can catch fish on it when nothing else will allure them.
The origins of the Maniac Minnow stretches back into the 1980s, which was when I used Wham Lures' Fisheze and Lil Fisheze. Back then largemouth bass anglers who regularly plied Castaic Lake in southern California affixed the Fisheze to a darter jig heralded it as the state-of-the-art finesse bait. Wham Lures went out of business in the middle of the 1990s. Nowadays, the former owner of Wham buys the Maniac Minnow online from us for his personal use, as does one of his friends. And his friend told us that the Maniac Minnow has better action and colors than the old Fisheze and Lil Fisheze.
The sales of the Maniac Minnow have dropped dramatically. Until five years ago, we sold a lot of them to anglers in California, but we suspect that the drought has adversely affected that market. In addition, a couple of companies have a similar minnow bait, and they have them manufactured in Mexico and China, which allows these companies to sell them at a lower price than we can afford to sell them. We are not going to produce them for nothing, and we will not manufacture our lures outside of the United States.
I do not understand why the popularity of the Maniac Minnow or similar minnow-baits is waning. I have not seen anything that can replace it. It does not make any sense that anglers would stop using such an effective lure. Perhaps we are going through one of those fashion moments or spells, which are somewhat irrational, and once it runs its course, anglers will regain their senses and begin using it again and again. (See endnote No.4 for more insights about the history of swimming-minnow baits.)
Finesse anglers need to give our Cut'r Bugs -- especially the 3 1/2-inchers — a whirl. It is one of the most versatile soft-plastic baits on the market. It can be rigged in a variety of ways: on a split-shot rig, drop-shot rig, Carolina rig, slip-sinker rig, and affixed to all kinds of jigs. The tail can be split to create a different look and added action. When we started the design for the Cut'r Bug, we wanted to design the best reaper-style or leech-style bait on the market, and now we believe that we achieved that goal and even more. In fact, these baits are more effective than we expected to be. But in the eyes of the average angler and even the seasoned angler, they are not impressive looking, but when an angler puts them to work on the correct rig for the conditions he is fishing, the Cut'r Bug will show some impressive results.
We do not sell stand-up or shaky- head jigs, but we are working on one. I have not found a stand- up or shaky-head jig that meets all of the needs for our 3 1/2-inch Cut'r Bug.
There are a few shaky-head jigs that do the job for the Paddle Tail Worm, and we also use it on a stand-up jig, split-shot rig, and slip-sinker rig. But most anglers hereabouts employ the Paddle Tail Worm on a drop-shot rig.
The 2 1/2-inch Cut'r Bug affixed to a drop-shot rig catches oodles of smallmouth bass and spotted bass. And it works well on a small jig, too.
We have some unique colors that consistently catch fish in all conditions. We only produce colors that catch fish. But the Changeable Craw is my all-time favorite color for any soft-plastic lure. I can catch fish on it everywhere and anywhere. It is even a great ice-fishing color. I use a Changeable Craw Maniac Minnow, Salt Stick, Cut'r Bug, and Paddle Tail Worm. Day in and day out it is the most fruitful color for the 3 1/2-inch Cut'r Bug, but there are spells when these five hues are more effective: River Craw, Mother Craw, Changeable Craw/Chartreuse Laminate, Watermelon Brown /Multi, Watermelon Green /Red/Black/ Flake. The most effective colors for the three-inch Maniac Minnow are Changeable Craw, Holographic Shad, Blue Magic, and Flash Minnow.
Our Salt Sticks are here to stay, but our Pro-Sink Stick Worm is being discontinued. Five years ago, we were asked by Gander Mountain and Sportsman's Warehouse to manufacture a stick-style bait that was not impregnated with salt and scent, but they wanted one that would sink like the salted versions on the market. Essentially we were making the Pro-Sink Stick Worm for Colorado anglers who were fishing waterways where it was illegal to use soft-plastic baits that were impregnated with salt and scent. After several months and a lot of testing, we came up with a stick-style bait that was salt and scent free. Not only did it possess a good sinking rate, it was more durable and exhibited better action than the salt impregnated stick-style baits. But shortly after we got the Pro-Sink Stick Worms into the stores, the Colorado Fish and Game changed the rules, which allowed anglers to use salt-impregnated soft-plastic baits in waterways where they were prohibited before the new rules were implemented. It is a sad story for us, but perhaps a good one for anglers in Colorado.
In essence, we see problems in tackle and try to fix those problems -- just like our salt-free stick-bait endeavor. Another example is our Vertigo Jig Head, which solved the two problems that confounds many anglers when they employ vertical presentations. One of those problems is the jig and soft-plastic bait hangs at an acute angle. The other one is that the knot slides around on the eye of the hook, which adversely affects the presentation and hooking abilities of the jig. We fixed those woes with the 1/16-ounce Vertigo Jig Head, and we are working on a version of it for smaller size jigs.
(1) Here are several of the soft-plastic baits that James Bradshaw manufactures which should catch the fancy of some Midwest finesse anglers and their quarries:
(a) The 2 1/2-inch Cut'r Bug is available in 22 colors. A Midwest finesse angler can purchase a package of 10 for $4.39. The 3 1/2-incher is available in 26 colors. A package of 10 can be purchased for $4.79.
(b) The Maniac Minnow is made in three sizes: two, three, and six inches. The three-incher is the one that will fit the needs of most Midwest finesse anglers. It is available in 14 colors. A package of 10 sells for $3.99.
(c) The Manaic Salt Stick is a stick-style bait, which is made in three sizes: a three-incher, four-incher, and five-incher. The three-incher is available in 13 colors, and a package of eight sells for $3.79. The four-incher is available in 14 colors, and a package of eight sells for $4.59. The five-incher is created in six colors, and a package of eight sells for $5.59.
(d) The four-inch Paddle Tail Worm is available in 16 colors. A package of 10 can be purchased for $4.59.
(2) Here is the link to Maniac's Web site: http://www.maniaccustomlures.com/zen/.
(3) Here is the link to Maniac's Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/maniaccustomlures.
(4) It is interesting to note that Bradshaw was not aware that the late Gene Larew of Cape Fair, Missouri, created his three-inch Swimmin Minnow back in the 1970s. It was the fountainhead of baits like Wham's Fisheze and Maniac Minnow. And for three decades, the Swimmin Minnow was a very popular bait with knowledgeable and talented black bass anglers in the Ozarks, such as Stacey King of Reeds Spring, Missouri. In a telephone conversation on Jan. 16, King said that he has caught untold numbers of largemouth bass and spotted bass on Larew's Swimmin Minnow. Its popularity, however, has waned in the Ozarks. In fact, Gene Larew Lures, which is now in Tulsa, Oklahoma, only makes a two-inch model that is for crappie anglers. Brian Snowden of Reeds Spring, Missouri, says that finesse anglers are using three-inch boot-tail swimbaits -- such as Keitech's Swing Impact --nowadays rather than Gene Larew's classic Swimmin Minnow.