Being outspoken and opinionated is something I am known for, but not necessarily when it comes to baits or rods or even equipment. But I have started to grow into my own regarding baits and other fishing equipment. I used to be that person who would make posts online to benefit my sponsors, but not necessarily because I was sold about the product I was pushing. This weighed heavily on me. That is not the angler I feel comfortable being. I want the public to know that if I post something, I mean it; and if they ask what bait, rod or reel I am throwing, the answer they receive is honest.
I may be a bait sponsor’s worst nightmare for setting out to become a transparent angler but I feel it is the path for me. When I decided to no longer be associated with one single lure company last winter, I was scared to death I was committing career suicide. Lucky for me, Hi’s Tackle Box Shop in San Francisco stepped up and has helped me with lure expenses. Hi’s has been a blessing and has allowed me to improve my fishing game and to expand my lure horizons especially in the area of swimbaits and Japanese tackle.
Below are the lure staples and obsessions you would find if you were to sneak a peek into my Skeeter boat or open up my A.R.E. camper shell and rummage through the various tackle bins.
The topwater bite has sucked me in the past two months. Back when Lake Amistad was crazy good, I was introduced to a bait called the Lunker Punker. It is a monster 6- to 8-inch topwater bait that goes in a very wide Z-type walk. The best Punkers are the hand-carved wooden ones that are not sold in the big box stores. To this day, I do not understand how bass track the Punker or why they love it, but it is a bait I like more and more with each cast. I had not thrown a Punker in forever but decided to throw one at Lake Douglas during practice and the bass started moving on it. So I am obsessed with the Punker again! Another bait I cannot seem to put down is the Daiwa D-Frog. The plastic tends to get worn out quickly on this frog, but it excels in the mats and thick vegetation, and the hook-up ratio is the best I have seen. On the frog front, it is hard to find a frog that handles thicker vegetation as well. You can sit and walk it in a very small area back and forth without moving it too far, and it has got enough weight to move a lot of vegetation and water.
When it comes to flipping, I do not really care for an actual jig, except in the 3/8-ounce size which I will explain. Instead, I use a 6th-Sense peg-x to peg a Reins Tungsten Slip Sinker to a Gamakatsu Heavy Cover Worm hook. Most of the time, I am flipping a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver; otherwise, it is probably a Ragetail Craw, Missile Baits Craw or the Yamamoto Pyscho Dad.
The Sweet Beaver comes in some color options that really perform like the color “Juicy.” It has a flat-sided profile, which seems to create a better hook-up ratio than plastics that are round-bodied and tend to roll in a fish’s mouth. The salt content is also high in the Beaver which keeps the fishing holding on a little longer, and its size holds a 4/0 flipping hook well.
When I want a jig profile to flip with, instead of using a jig, I place a Paycheck Bait’s Punch Skirt of living rubber instead of silicone between the weight and hook. It adds true bulk to the profile and has a much better hook-up ratio than any of the heavier flipping jigs on the market.
The one jig I do flip with, and it shines in pressured situations, is the Strike King 3/8-ounce Bitsy Bug Flip. It is the only size and style of the Bitsy Bug I use. Why? The “flip” version has a much beefier hook than the others. Second, the 3/8-ounce size falls in a head down position. The other sizes in the “flip” version have the extra-weight carrier on the hook shank, which causes the bait to fall differently. The only trailer I use with this jig is the Zoom Super Chunk Jr.
I have always liked football jigs, but I had never had a true obsession with a particular deep jig until last year. Strike King came out with the Structure Jig. It was the first deep jig I really connected with and after Steve Parks (Ragetail’s Big-O) explained the angle and details of the jig, I was dead set on finding out what it could do. It definitely works. It is not a true football-head; it keeps the same posture the entire time, but it is the jig to throw in dragging conditions.
Earlier this year, I found another deep jig that ended up bolstering my strong performance the first day of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open at Douglas Lake. The Megabass Drunkfly is insane. It has a very odd shape; it is basically two balls connected at the top by an in-between bridge. The deadliness of the bait comes on the fall; it falls straight down, in just the right position. When you pick it up off the bottom, it stays right-side up and falls straight back down in the proper stance. It also has a good wobble on the retrieve and creates a bubble while falling.
Even better, it pegs big fish exactly how a true deep jig should hook them, in the roof of the mouth and not through the lip. Deep jigs are not for cracking the whip, but almost all deep jigs have such a big hook that you have to. Megabass nailed the Drunk Fly. Out of all the fish I have caught on the Drunk Fly paired with a Ragetail Craw, only one was under 4 pounds.
Depending on what structure and depth I am fishing, my worm choice varies. In deep water, hands down, it is a big Zoom Ol’ Monster in either Green Pumpkin or Candy Apple, Texas rigged with a pegged Reins Tungsten. When working vegetation, I like a Zoom Ultra-vibe Speed Worm pegged with a 1/8-ounce tungsten and a Fina (Hayabusa) offset hook. The hook and this worm are a match made in heaven; I am not sure a better hook exists for it. The worm excels when swimming through vegetation, something I learned while on the James River last year. On a Shake Head, I use a Reaction Innovations Flirt; I especially like it paired with an Owner Shaky Ultrahead.
If you open up my crankbait box, I am pretty religious in what I use. KVD 1.5 is the squarebill I am throwing 75% of the time in Summer Sexy Shad, Green Gizzard or Chartreuse Perch. For a rattling and bigger profile, the Storm Arashi has replaced the KVD 2.5s in my squarebill arsenal. After that, you will find Rapala DT-6s and DT-20s, Storm Wiggle Warts, and the Strike King 3xd and 6xd. Call me boring, but the times that other crankbaits shine, I am probably not throwing a crankbait.
There are three soft swimbaits you will find in my tackle: the Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper, the Keitech Fat Swing Impact, and the 6th-Sense Hollow Core X Swimbait. These baits cover all of my soft swimbait needs – from what I use on Swim Jigs, ¾-ounce swimbait jig heads, weightless, on an A-rig and even sometimes what I drop shot. The Skinny Dipper is 5 inches, a solid body that can hold a decent-sized offset hook thanks to the way the baits chin is formed; it also displaces a good amount of water at the tail. The Keitech is a soft-ribbed plastic, and while it does not hold up the greatest once a bass eats it, beacuse of how soft the Fat Impact’s plastic is, the bait reacts to the slightest movement or current change excelling in clear water situations. The 6-Sense hollow swimbait is big and thumps hard. Deep or shallow, the 6th Sense hollow belly is deadly with monster bass.
Only two jerkbaits are in my boat, one is hard and one is soft. The soft one is a Reaction Innovations’ Skinny Dipper and probably not considered a jerkbait by most. The Dipper does not have a tail like the Fluke, but I fish it like a jerkbait with 12-pound line, a G.Loomis JBR 812 jerkbait rod and have experienced more bites on this bait than anything in my arsenal. The hard jerkbait is a Megabass Vision 110 – hands down, the best jerkbait made. Megabass owns this market for a reason; they nailed the 110 and set the bar high for other jerkbaits.
In the spinnerbait category, the majority of my spinnerbaits are from O.S.P. out of Japan. Their High Pitcher spinnerbaits have a thump that I have yet to find in any other small profiled spinnerbait. High Pitchers are light-wired, available in all the necessary colors, hand-tied, have a perfect strand count, a solid hook, and they make each size in both Colorado/willow combinations and double willow combinations. My jaw dropped the first time I used these spinnerbaits. The 5/16th size paired on my G Loomis NRX 843 MBR rod is one finesse spinnerbait setup I may never replace.
As for chatterbaits, the only one I throw is from Japan, the Fish Arrow DK Chatter. The DK has a tungsten head, so the head is smaller than most, very sensitive, and has a great shape. It also has a thin blade, which is something I judge all chatterbaits by. The DK hunts like no other chatterbait I have thrown; it almost moves like a squarebill in certain situations. Again, this is a bait I cannot function without.
When it comes to drop shots and tubes, I do not venture out too much. In my drop shotting box, you will find Roboworms, Jackall Crosstail Shads, and some random Japanese-made mini plastics. For tubing, I use one type and only one head, ISG tubes and Bite Me heads. The ISG Tubes hold up, are the perfect size, have the right colors, have a solid salt content, and they hold the Bite Me Big Dude Goby tube head. Not to inflate Mark Zona’s ego, but this tube head is hands-down the best on the market and paired with the ISG tube, a deadly setup.
While I may be at the beginning of my tournament career, I’m quickly tackling the learning curve. And equipment is something I enjoy talking about. Like a lot of you, I learn as I go. And in the beginning of my career, I had to trust other people to suggest which equipment was best for different techniques. To this day, I continue to rely on other people in areas I am unfamiliar with. If I can help someone, or show someone a bait that they fall in love with, it’s a win-win.