Shaye Baker noticed during Day Two of last week's Bassmaster Classic Wild Card Tournament that his jig and Strike King Rage Craw trailer combo was getting bites, but no hookups. For one period of the day, he was frequently changing the soft plastic crawfish imitations on his jig after the trailer came back with a pincer claw missing. He still caught 19-6 to go with his 29-8 the first day.
Jeff Kriet and Greg Hackney had their boats banked side-by-side before take-off on Day Three at Lake Okeechobee. I'd asked Kriet to show me the Big Bite Baits Real Craw that he'd given rave reviews all week. "The best flipping bait I've ever used," Kriet said of the Russ Lane-designed soft plastic crawfish imitation.
But the bait Kriet showed me had a pincer missing from when he last used it the previous day, so he put a new one on the hook.
Then Kriet, who enjoys sharing a good story, told one about an experiment he was part of involving live crawfish dropped in a tank with bass in it.
"We pulled the pincers off about 20 of them, and those got eaten first," Kriet said.
Hackney laughed and said, "But what do we do when a bait comes back with a pincer missing? We put a new one on every time."
Kriet then offered another crawfish clue: "If you find one that's molting, that's what they really want."
I've had some experience with that while fishing for big trout in Arkansas' White River below Bull Shoals Dam. There was a guide there named Elwin Weaver (now deceased), who was well-known for helping his clients catch the biggest trout of a lifetime. Soft-shell (molting) crawfish were Weaver's secret weapon. He would stick his hands down into the moss beds near Cotter Trout Dock and find soft-shell crawfish.
Weaver showed me how he did it one day, leaning off the front of his fiberglass johnboat with both arms buried to his biceps in the moss beds, searching for soft-shells.
"If I'm after big fish, I use a soft-shell crawfish," said Weaver, who had a 25-pound brown trout, two 16-9 rainbows and a 9-pound cutthroat to his credit.
"I've seen trout go right up to a soft-shell and instantly take it," he said. "A hard-shell crawfish can be right next to it, and they'll never even pick it up. I've always thought it was because they have a different color, but a soft-shell may give off a different smell, too."
The soft-shells in the White River have a light gray color to them, but with the wide variations in the colors of crawfish from region to region, soft-shells might have a different color in, say, Florida.
But all that crawfish talk did get me thinking: Would a bass angler have more success fishing with a one- or none-pincered crawfish imitation than one with both claws intact? And would a soft-shell color make a difference, or is it something bass can smell rather than see that attracts them?
It's something to think about anyway, especially in a tournament like the one at Okeechobee last week, when almost all the bass were caught on a flipping bait that imitated a crawfish.
That reminds me of a Native American expression Rick Clunn once told me: "To understand the owl, study the mouse."
Applied to bass fishing it would be: Study the shad or, in this case, study the crawfish, or in the case of the Mississippi River at La Crosse, Wis., two years ago, it would be study the mayfly. Those mayfly hatches are infrequent enough that you could skip over that one for now. But maybe we haven't studied the crawfish enough.