On the surface, the difference between the weekend angler and the big league bass pro seems enormous.
After all, the tournament pros spend most of their waking hours on the water, experiencing everything those adaptable green fish can throw at them — while we struggle just to get a full day of fishing in during the workweek. Pro anglers travel the country in pursuit of fame and fortune, and in the process become knowledgeable about all types of bass waters, while most of us labor to improve our chances on our own home lake.
But in reality, it is the little things that most separate the big time tournament pro from the average fisherman.
"Probably the biggest difference between the pros and the weekend fishermen can be summed up in one word — resourcefulness," says Jimmy Houston, two time Bassmaster Angler of the Year and ESPN television-show host. "Through years and years of time spent on the water, we have developed tricks and back-up plans for just about any situation. Experience teaches you that stuff."
Resourcefulness: This trait is evident in the numerous ways the pros modify or "trick up" the lures they use to make them more productive.
"We all have our little lure tricks, things we do that make them more effective," veteran Ohio pro Joe Thomas adds. "And we don't usually share our little tricks with each other. These are the things that can give you an edge in certain tournaments."
In this first of a three part Bassmaster series, we will explore some of the lure modifications that ingenious pros make to get every ounce of bass-catching allure out of them.
General modification tips. Some pros, like Zell Rowland and Shaw Grigsby, have long carried a portable airbrush coloring system with them on the road. These systems are easy to use and allow them to instantly change the entire color of any lure — or just alter it slightly. The biggest advantage for the pros is the ability to instantly create a bait similar to the color that seems to be producing best.
And the pros have long discovered the wonderful world of Super Glue, or other adhesives developed with fishing in mind. Florida pro Steve Daniel uses the wonder glues to attach plastic trailers to spoons, spinnerbaits and jigheads. The trailer stays in place longer, which means more time fishing and less time re-rigging. And it saves money because a single grub will last for most of the day.
Crankbaits. Few types of lures have undergone as much tinkering with as crankbaits.
Here are some time-tested modifications:
David Ashcraft, a crankbait specialist and past Classic qualifier from Arkansas, often pulls out his pocketknife and begins whittling on the lip of his diving plugs. Some veteran tournament pros routinely shave the lip of crankbaits to gain a little added depth, but Ashcraft has a completely different goal in mind. He does it to transform a deep diver into a shallow runner. "I actually change the shape of the bill by cutting the end of the lip off closer to the line-tie," he explains. "This changes the flow of water over the lip, and that will make it run shallower. It also will add a little more side-to-side wiggle to the bait than you have with a big lip."
Cranking authority David Fritts is one of the pros that shaves bills to get maximum depth. "I just take a file and shave down the very bottom of the leading edge of the bill until the edge of the bill is real sharp," he says. "This makes the bill so sharp that it cuts through the water differently, makes a different sound and runs a little deeper."
Ashcraft also modifies the old flat-sided Storm Lightnin' Shad to create a lipless crankbait that looks and runs differently than conventional no-bill divers. When he is finished, the lure has a blunt nose and resembles a shad as much as any crankbait on the market. He starts by using cutters to remove the Lightnin' Shad's sizable bill. He then uses a pocketknife to smooth and round the plastic on the nose of the bait. Since the line-tie was manufactured on the lip, Ashcraft drills a small hole in the top of the lure (about 3/8 inch from the nose) to reposition the line-tie. He inserts 10 to 15 BBs through the hole into the body of the bait to get additional weight before sealing the hole with a hard epoxy that takes about 12 hours to cure.
Some alterations are made to enable cranks to better come through cover. Former CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Woo Daves routinely clips off the barbs of his hooks when fishing heavy timber and brush in an attempt to limit the number of hang-ups he will experience. And to combat especially thick cover, he removes the treble hooks and replaces them with a single 3/0 worm hook. Big bass expert Doug Hannon's weedless trick with a lipless crankbait involves removing the rear treble and strategically inserting a tiny piece of magnet into the belly of the bait. This keeps the remaining hook tight against the body of the lure as it comes through junglelike vegetation. And it doesn't seem to significantly hamper its hooking ability.
Speaking of lipless baits, Tennessee pro and guide Bill Bartlett has an unusual treatment that makes the lure move slower through the water. It involves actually boiling the bait in hot water to make it expand. This creates a lure that will slowly rise to the surface and can be fished effectively in supershallow water.
Jigs. Seven time BASS winner Ron Shuffield has found a way to quickly transform a silent jig into a noisemaker. The Arkansas pro begins by cutting a piece of plastic worm that is 1/4- to 1/2-inch in length. After inserting a small glass rattling chamber into one end of the worm, Shuffield threads the jig hook through the same end of the plastic. This positioning keeps the rattle from having an exit hole through which to escape. It takes just seconds and holds the rattle securely in place. And Shuffield suggests using a worm color that matches the look of the jig's skirt.
Red-hot pro Greg Hackney is a jig expert. He modifies all jigs straight out of the package. It begins with the lure's weedguard, which he trims in stair-step fashion. Another modification involves trimming the skirt to make it resemble the shape of a forage fish. "I always trim mine at an angle so that when the trailer hangs, it Vs over the hook, it's thin on the sides, flows over the hook and covers up the hook point. This kind of gives it a look where when it comes through the water, the front of the body will be big and the tail is tapered. It resembles the body shape of a bream. Most of my jig fishing is when I think they're feeding on bream, not crawfish."
To keep his trailer from moving up the hook, as well as a little added visual appeal, 22 time Classic contender Gary Klein places a 1-inch piece of a chartreuse plastic worm on the hook shank. It shows when the skirt bellows while descending through the water.
One of his other tricks includes using fingernail polish to paint the sound chambers on his Triple Rattleback jig either chartreuse, red or orange. "This really makes a difference," Klein emphasizes. "Again, when it opens up it just gives the fish something different to look at."
Ohio pro Frank Scalish adds to the allure of small, low profile jigs like the Booyah Boo Bug by wrapping a strand of rubber around the skirt area to hold a clump of bear hair underneath it. The simple addition of this piece of fly tying material makes a big difference with the little jig by creating "a more buoyant look to the jig without adding a lot of bulk."
Zell Rowland has a neat trick for effectively adding fish attractant to jigs. He uses a little foam ring that he fashions from the 1/4-inch-thick black or gray foam used in air conditioner filters. The Texas pro traces a dime to create several small circles on the foam and then uses the sharpened end of a piece of small metal tubing to punch them out. "I slide that piece of foam up behind my jig skirt and secure it in place with a drop of Super Glue," he notes. "I then squirt fish scent on that foam, and it stays on it all day."
Jerkbaits. Oklahoma pro Kenyon Hill was introduced to his favorite jerkbait modification by a tournament partner from Missouri, where it had long been a standard tactic on the clear, deep Ozark lakes.
It involves modifying any of several 5- to 7-inch small-lipped, jointed jerkbaits to make them ride on the surface with a wide, erratic wobble that suggests the presence of a large, injured gizzard shad. The first step involves changing the lip of the jerkbait designed to dive 5 to 8 feet below the surface. Using a cigarette lighter, Hill carefully warms the plastic lip and then uses pliers to bend it downward (toward the belly of the bait) about 1/16 inch. That minor change in the position of the bill will inhibit the lure from diving, as well as make it wobble along the surface (leaving a sizable wake).
Missouri angler Jeff Fletcher has long relied on a jerkbait trick he learned as a youngster — from the guides working for his family's fishing resort on Table Rock Lake. Fletcher and friends refer to it as the "Holy Rogue." Fletcher drills two or three holes into the plastic body of a Smithwick Rattlin' Rogue around the front hook-holder to create the ultimate weighted jerkbait (which he uses to trigger strikes from stubborn largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass in clear water situations). The lure fills up partially with water and falls to the bottom with an interesting action.
"You may have to give it 10 seconds to fill up and start to sink," Fletcher explains. "After you throw it a few times, it doesn't take nearly as long to start to sink. When it starts to sink, I'll count it down to, say, 15 to 20 feet, and then start ripping it back up. Then when I stop it, it will fall again, which is when the fish seem to hit it."
Next issue: We will examine pro tips for enhancing spinnerbaits, topwaters, buzzbaits and jigging spoons.
Tim Tucker recently released Volume 2 of the Bass Pro Workshop: How to Promote Yourself and Attract Sponsors. The three-volume audio set is available for $69.95 from his Bass Catalog at www.timtuckeroutdoors.com or by calling 800-252-FISH.