Old School Baits

About the author

Lee Sisson

Lee Sisson

Lee Sisson built the first deep-diving crankbaits and has designed lures for dozens of companies over the years. At the age of 63 he became an Elite Series rookie. Now retired from the Elites, Lee consults for Bagley Bait Company from his shop in Winter Haven, Fla.

Look in almost any successful angler’s boat and you'll find a select group of well-fished old lures squirreled away in some special place. Don’t even think about reaching for one unless you can fish with one arm. These old school lures are the lures which have proven themselves over years of tournament fishing. Ask any of the Elite anglers, they all have their go-to baits.

In my article “What makes Crankbaits Tick?,” I discussed some of the things which make a crankbait good, but we all know there are lures in the same style and color which out-fish the others. What most anglers look for is a lure which does something a little different —one that has a little different action or a little different sound.

Over the years I've watched lures evolve. While some “improvements” make lures better, many do not. I could go on and on with lures which were very productive and then the company tried to improve them only to kill what made them so good.

One lure that comes to mind is the Storm Wiggle Wart. A slight mold change made a world of difference. You now have anglers searching for the old Warts because they prefer them to the new ones. The same is true for plenty of other companies and baits, too. The longer you make a bait, the less likely it is to be identical to the first one that came off the line. Sometimes it means the baits get better, but often they get away from what made them great in the first place.

In many cases it's just a lack of knowledge which causes the change. I watched as each new owner of Bagley’s moved farther away from what we had produced in earlier years. Each was trying to make a better lure.

Building balsa lures has its own set of challenges. Every wood body is a little different. Some wood blanks weigh three times as much as others in the same body style. The shape varies slightly, causing the lures to fit into the fixtures a little differently. That can make minute changes in lip angle and lip depth. Each one of these differences will affect the lure.

Back ”in the good ol' days” we were building tens of thousands of lures a week, but every once in while I would find one that was just right ... and it went into my box. In fact, it got to where I had to take a decoy tackle box to tournaments to give lures out of, so I could keep the good ones for myself. Each of these lures had something a little different which made them great. Many times I couldn't tell you why — just that they did.

What about plastic baits? They all come out of the same mold, right? Well, in the old days most lures were made out of butyrate. This is a softer plastic than the polycarbonate which is used in most lures today.

Lures used to be welded together by placing each side face down on a pad containing a solvent which melted the surfaces to be glued together just a little. Then they were put into a clamp which pushed them together and held them until they dried. Many times one side would melt just a little more than the other and a little different lure was produced.

Today plastic lures are ultrasonic welded. This is a precise method where the parts are vibrated very fast creating heat which melts the two surfaces together. This means better welding and more precise parts, but no differences.

Another difference in plastic lures is the sound. In the old days, the butyrate was softer and many of the weights making the noise were lead. Polycarbonate and steel or tungsten weights make a completely different sound.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good lures being made today both in plastic and wood.. Many more lures run true right out of the box. There are finishes which we only dreamed of in the old days.

I'm just pointing out differences over the years and how they affect lures and their ability to entice fish.

I'm retired now, but I can't stop building lures. There's always a new challenge, a lure to do a certain job or something I believe can be better. Now I'm building lures I want to fish — lures I take to the lake and test in real fishing situations so I can get the action just right. I call them Old School Baits. They are all built for my tackle box, made of wood and have the action I want to fish.

It just so happens others want to fish them, too. Hmmm. Seems like this is where I started 40 years ago!

You can check out Old School Lures right here.

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