ATLANTA, Ga. — Confronted with the realization that he was about to run out of one his favorite baits — a lure not made anymore — Mike Bucca took drastic measures.
Now other anglers are benefitting from the ingenuity of the Georgia guide and luremaker. They are buying and catching bass with the solid balsa walking baits that he reverse engineered from the legendary Balsa Pro, also known as the Ichiban Minnow.
Bucca’s version is the Balsa Bull, its name a variation of Bull Shad, the unique jointed swimbait that he created several years ago. The Balsa Bull weighs 1/2 ounce, measures 4 inches long, and is available in two colors (lightning shad and shimmer shad).
“I gave some of my baits to guys who fished the Balsa Pros originally, and the feedback was very positive,” the luremaker said. “Needless to say, they kept the prototypes.”
That’s not surprising. Just a few thousand of the Balsa Pros were sold in the United States, with production ending in the late 1990s. But they earned an almost cult following as the go-to bait in the clear waters of the West. And today a Balsa Pro might sell for $100 or more — if you can find one for sale.
“It (Balsa Pro) was responsible for a number of wins at one of the toughest tournaments in bass fishing, the U.S. Open, held annually on Nevada’s Lake Mead,” Bucca said.
But what separates the Balsa Bull from the multitude of other walking baits on the market? In a word: rattles.
“Every hard bait manufacturer has a walking bait, but they all have rattles,” Bucca said. “The allure of the Balsa Pro is that it’s a silent bait because it’s made of solid balsa wood.”
That solid construction also means it casts like a bullet. Thus, anglers can stay farther away from where fish are holding or feeding, a real advantage in clear water.
Plus, it is exceptionally buoyant, making it easy to walk, a necessity with long casts.
“It is absolutely perfect for those schoolers that like to surface up to 50 to 60 yards away from the boat,” the Georgia angler added.
Bucca, who fishes often for spotted bass in the clear waters of lakes Lanier and Allatoona, likes to start throwing the Balsa Bull in the spring, when water temperatures hit the 60s. It remains one of his go-to baits until mid fall, when bass start following shad toward the backs of creeks.
“It is good in anywhere from slightly stained to ultra clear water, but it really sets itself apart in those clearer water situations,” he said.
“When working the Balsa Bull, I do a steady walk-the-dog retrieve and vary my aggressiveness throughout the retrieve to see what cadence interests the fish the most,” Bucca added. “Most times if they clobber the bait and miss it, they will come back multiple times.
“The key for those short strikers is to keep the bait moving and wait until you feel the rod load up before setting the hook, especially with spotted bass, which are notable for their short strikes.”
To make certain that the Balsa Bull would draw those strikes in the same way as its predecessor, Bucca knew that his creation had to be similarly constructed. Aided by a few of the originals, he did just that, using 3D scanning, X-ray investigation, and other types of engineering analysis.
“The bait has every attribute of the original, including its triple-foil finish and through-wire construction and weighting,” he said.