BY GEORGE KRAMER
Because confidence in a lure (enhanced by news reporting, personal experience, paid or otherwise testimonials) gives it an advantage over any other bait in your arsenal at the moment, you’d be crazy not to tie it on. Most of us of an age, remember Hall of Fame and TV angler Bill Dance saying, “The most important thing you can carry in your tackle box is confidence.” And when I look at what I carry today (though it may change on some bodies of water) what Dance said remains true.
However, before we ever picked out “our” preferences, the black bass and its biological or physiological traits actually determined what was going to be in your box — or as we like to say — they were going to determine what “works.” Yet do we act on that?
Think about that for a moment. Pork rind goes back to pre-1900, wooden plugs about 1910, the spinnerbait in the mid-1940s, plastic worms in the late 1940s and subsequently, all the many variations of those lures — with only pork rind falling off the radar.
Yet, pork rind didn’t stop “working.” But more easy-to-care-for soft plastic cut into sales and when pork became relatively unprofitable, it went away — at least to a national market. That’s the only case that I can think of where a bait genre (not individual lure model with a sustained record of bass catching) is no longer available.
But everything else that is left — meaning the huge array of lures from every part of the world and in the most advanced iteration — is available and still works, or doesn’t work, depending on who you talk to.
So you have to applaud Pure Fishing or the Berkley Fish Research Center for attempting to quantify black bass responses to various stimuli provided by lures. Scents (or chemical sensitivity) were first to be tested, of course. Most anglers would think Power Bait formula (before the patented use of salt was not renewed) became a big deal in plastic worms. When you could find the right color and shape for local waters, which there were several in the West, you had a winner in the Power Worm.
Of course, that is the exact reason Berkley was interested. Science is great, but sales are even better. The marketing of the notion that fish would hold onto a Power Worm “X-amount longer” than regular plastic worms, was pretty hard to swallow. And more, that such was unnecessary. There isn’t a bass angler reading this article who wouldn’t swing within two seconds if he or she felt a bite — no matter what brand you were throwing.
But we’re kind of past that now. There is standard formula Power Bait and there is their super-duper strength, but in the end, even Berkley had to introduce a line of baits without cost-adding scents to compete with other soft plastic makers. But Berkley did do one key thing: they developed angler confidence with its promotions.
When Pure Fishing introduced “Frenzy” baits, however, it showed that lab work was not done. But to develop the shapes and actions of the Frenzy line, Berkley did something unique and wise. They began to test various hard baits to see how they moved through the water. The baits they chose, not surprisingly, were lures with long histories of productivity. Old favorites, you might say. They wanted to find out why these baits were successful, so they could then develop their own lures with productive actions.
Because I had contact with one of the scientists at the lab back in the day, I asked if he would test some of my old favorite wooden Bombers. He agreed, but the lures all needed to be painted black so the cameras could discern motion attributes such as roll, pitch, frequency and yaw. By the time my samples (I needed to send three different sizes) got examined, I had the sense the company had already decided what lures they were going to introduce. However, when I asked how my baits performed (meaning how comparable were they to the “best lures” out there), my contact said, “They did very well.”
So, whether because of issues with materials, labor, or marketing/sales, it appears that the wooden Bomber, not produced since around 1971, also disappeared. So here was another case of despite the fish being okay with it, manufacturers and anglers gave up on something that “worked.” The Bomber had good company in this regard as the same thing happened to the Rebel Pop R for a couple of years, but the little chugger eventually returned to production.
I did notice something interesting about my particular, extinct lures and what is now one of the hottest baits currently on the market. The blade of the patented Chatterbait (and the blades of lots of other, similar products) and its line connection are quite similar to the old Bomber (as you can see from the photos).
Yes, the vibrating jig is attached to the eye of the hook in the jighead, but the “yoke” to the bill, which is attached to the body of the wooden Bomber is very similar in concept. (And yes, I recognize that is essentially the same thing in an Arbogast Mud Bug).
The bill of a diving bait, however, moves the whole lure body in the water (as Berkley measured) while the blade on the vibrating jig has almost no effect on the lure motion. Instead it acts independently of the jig/skirt/trailer. That suggests to me that you can concentrate on certain motions, and not always be worried about other “life-like” components of a given lure.
But Berkley was not done, as noted by Keith A. Jones, PhD in his book, Knowing Bass, from 2002. In the section under Vision, he provided a chart demonstrating how laboratory bass responded to soft plastic shapes. Remembering that plastic “worms” have been around for some 50 years, still it was discovered that certain shapes got better responses than others.
The shapes tested included everything from one-inch by one-inch chunk cylinders to 10-inch by 5/16-inch snakes. Fascinating to me was that, just five years after the introduction of the Senko in 1997, the best response percentage to lure shapes was for a 4-inch, by half-inch cigar. Other shapes were still very good in testing, as long as they were three inches or longer.
But even if you were suspicious of the tank bass, most successful bass anglers I know would have to agree that those shapes and lengths pretty much match-up with those “confidence” baits in their tackle boxes.
Yes, I like to use science to whatever degree it helps me out there, and understand that bass fishing “stories” or bass fishermen theories, don’t add up to “scientific data.” On the other hand, billions of casts by millions of bass anglers matter to me. And if that anecdotal evidence along with the best info scientists can provide cross paths — and lift my confidence — I’m going with it.