Ask a Bassmaster Elite Series pro what the most important quality is in becoming a better angler and you'll likely hear something about the ability to adapt and be versatile under all conditions. For someone competing on a playing field that is constantly changing, the difference between success and failure on the water can sometimes be measured in the width of a few strands of a spinnerbait's skirt.
Mississippi pro Cliff Pace is one Elite Series angler who has taken versatility to the next level when it comes to creating and modifying the skirts of his jigs and spinnerbaits. A self-confessed tinkerer, Pace is often seen hunched over in his Skeeter, creating and building skirts on the water.
"With the ability to build my own skirts, I can create any color combination that I want while I'm on the water," explains Pace. "Plus, it gives me the ability to have the right color skirt without having to carry thousands of jigs in my storage locker."
Pace believes that when fishing jigs and spinnerbaits, many anglers are narrow-minded about color selection.
"Almost every angler has 20 different colors of plastic baits in their boats, but how many different colors of jig and spinnerbait skirts do they carry? If color is important in plastic baits, it should be just as important when it comes to skirted baits," Pace points out.
As a pro staff member of FishingSkirts.com, Pace has had plenty of practice making jig and spinnerbait skirts on the water. With a little practice, he says any angler can create a skirt in less than 30 seconds.
"Most anglers have a box of skirted swim jigs, a box of flipping jigs and a box of football head jigs," explains Pace. "I carry one box of jigheads without skirts, and then I have about 75 different colors of skirt tabs that I keep in Tupperware containers along with my skirt-making tool." By building his own skirts on demand, Pace dramatically increases the quantity of jigs in his boat while at the same time reducing the space they occupy in his storage compartment.
Having the ability to build custom-colored skirts at a moment's notice paid big dividends for Pace during the final stop of the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series season on New York's Lake Oneida.
Unable to get bites on a spinnerbait during practice, Pace was skeptical when his co-angler on the first morning of the tournament started throwing what Pace calls "the most insane, crazy-colored spinnerbait that I had ever seen in my life," remembers Pace. Within the first 30 minutes, his co-angler had boated four smallmouth eclipsing the 3-pound mark on the obnoxiously colored spinnerbait.
"I sat down, looked at his bait, and proceeded to build one with the identical colors," says Pace. "The whole process took about a minute, but when I went back through the area with the new skirt color, I caught 14 pounds of smallmouth." The ability to create a custom skirt vaulted Pace to a Top 30 finish in the tournament.
Pace has also found that there are times, particularly when fishing clear water, that a very subtle color change in a skirt can garner additional strikes. When the bite begins to die in a productive area, Pace will simply add a few strands of a different color to his skirt and begin catching bass that ignored his initial offering. "I may add a few strands of brown to make the jig a little darker or a few strands of orange to make it look more like a perch. It's like having Spike-It (a die for soft plastics) for your skirted baits," he explains.
For Pace, it all boils down to being adaptable and versatile on the water, even when throwing the same style of bait all day. "When you are fishing in pressured water, subtle color changes can make all the difference in the world," he says. "Having that ability to make those adjustments and build your own colors while you are out on the water is a huge advantage."