Cat's outta the bag: Pipkens' darter

When you’re competing in a major bass tournament on a fishery as gigantic as Lake St. Clair with the option of branching out even further to Lakes Erie and Huron, the last thing you want to do is make things more complicated than they have to be.

So when it comes to tackle and techniques, most anglers try to keep things simple.

The most successful pros at last week’s Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair spent the majority of their time drop shotting and hurling smaller versions of the giant swimbaits that ruled Elite Series events earlier this year on Lake Guntersville and the California Delta.

And while that doesn’t let many new cats out of the bag on the lure and technique front, there was one interesting bait used by Michigan pro Chad Pipkens that anglers should consider adding to their arsenals.

It’s called the Erie Darter, and it’s made by one of Pipkens’ sponsors, Poor Boys Baits. He used mainly the smoked pepper and stone color patterns.

Naturally, he fished it on a drop shot rig.

“At 10 o’clock on the first day of the tournament, I’d caught one big one on the (Damiki DC 300) crankbait, then nothing,” said Pipkens, who made daily runs to Lake Erie via the Detroit River. “I started drop-shotting the Erie Darter, and that’s how I caught all my fish the rest of the tournament.”

Considering Pipkens finished fourth with a four-day total of 77-2, that means the Darter did a real number on the Great Lakes smallmouth.

Pipkens told veteran Steve Wright that he used the lure with a 3/8-ounce drop shot weight most of the time, but switched to a 1/2-ounce when the winds got stronger. The water he was fishing was 28 to 30 feet deep.

“The last day, when they were really biting, I’d just open my bail, let it drop to the bottom and move it, or they’d already have it before I moved it,” Pipkens said.

It’s hard to say what the bait really looks like sitting on the deck of a boat. It has a thick, ribbed, oblong-shaped body with a tiny tail that’s so small it looks like it might have been molded onto the lure by mistake.

But it’s easy to see why bass like it in the water, because it’s a killer imitation of a smallmouth’s favorite forage, the goby.

Besides being used on a drop shot rig, the lure can also be fished like a tube, on a Carolina or Texas rig and even weightless. It'll draw bites from crawfish-hungry largemouth, just like it will from goby-crazed smallies.

Poor Boys Baits, the Indiana-based company that markets the lure, bills the Erie Darter as the “best-kept secret in tournament fishing.”

Well…not anymore.