The old bait that won’t die

This is the Optimum Baits Boom Boom swimbait designed by Fred Roumbanis.

This is the latest chapter in the continuing saga entitled, “The Last Secret Bait Of The Pros.” It’s the story of the discontinued Bass Pro Shops XPS swimbait. Its roots run deep and have spread throughout the history of the Bassmaster Elite Series.

The legend of this swimbait was born before the Bassmaster Elite Series began in March 2006 at Texas’ Lake Amistad. If Fred Roumbanis hadn’t shared some information then with a couple of his fellow anglers, there’s no telling how Elite Series history might have been altered. Takahiro Omori might not have won the recent Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Wheeler Lake. Steve Kennedy might not have won the Elite Series tournament at California’s Clear Lake in 2007 or the Elite Series tournament at Georgia’s West Point Lake in 2011.

A key lure in those three $100,000 titles was found in the bargain bins at Bass Pro Shops stores. The story of the discontinued Bass Pro Shops XPS 6-inch soft plastic swimbait has been simmering under the surface for over a decade now. And thanks to Roumbanis, it might finally boil to the top in the form of a new lure with a new name by a different company ­– the Optimum Baits Boom Boom swimbait.

But let’s begin at the beginning, which pre-dates the Bassmaster Elite Series. Roumbanis, a native Californian and a longtime swimbait expert, led on the second day of the Western Open on Lake Shasta and finished second in the tournament that concluded on Nov. 19, 2005. He was using the Bass Pro swimbait.

Then – in the first-ever Bassmaster Elite Series tournament – Roumbanis finished second to Ish Monroe on March 12, 2006, at Lake Amistad with a four-day total of 101-13 to Monroe’s 104-8. And he was again relying on the old Bass Pro swimbait. That’s when he shared his knowledge of the swimbait with Kennedy and Omori, and actually handed one to Kennedy – one. The bait had already been removed from the catalog at Bass Pro Shops.

“I wouldn’t have told anybody about it if I’d known they could get any of them,” laughed Roumbanis in a phone interview recently.

First, Kennedy’s father found them in the Macon, Ga., Bass Pro Shops bargain bin as a closeout item.

“He called and told me they had them for $1.99,” Kennedy recalled. “I’m like, ‘Are you sure they’re the right ones? Well, buy them all.’ So he bought a shopping cart full. Takahiro apparently got a shopping cart full somewhere else.”

Yep. At a Bass Pro Shops bargain bin in Texas.

“Takahiro called me,” Roumbanis said. “He said, ‘Was that swimbait you were using (at Amistad) the six-inch one?’ I told him, yes, buy every one of them and I’ll pay you for them.”

Before Roumbanis could get there, Omori fished with a few and found out how well they worked. He still sold Roumbanis some, but nowhere near all of the Bass Pro Shops XPS swimbaits he bought that day.

“I have maybe a hundred,” Omori said after his win at Wheeler Lake. “When they were discontinued, they were like $1.99. They had about 250 of them. I bought every one of them.”

Here’s the key to the old swimbait: It only works in knowledgeable hands.

“It wasn’t a good seller,” Kennedy said. “It doesn’t swim that great. If you reel too fast, they roll up on their sides. There’s (Bassmaster TV show) video of Fred finishing second at Amistad on that bait. It’s rolling upside down and stuff.”

And some versions of the swimbait were better than others.

“Sometimes you just got a couple of bad ones,” Roumbanis said. “They were inconsistent.”

But Roumbanis figured out the proper retrieve rate for the good ones.

“I’ve always fished swimbaits,” Roumbanis said. “The reason why it’s so much better than other swimbaits is because the head has a really tight vibration that mimics a baitfish. In most of the other swimbaits, all the action is in the tail.”

Kennedy concurs, saying, “It swims slower than everything else. That’s where it’s good. If you reel it slow, the way it rolls, you can speed it up just a little bit and make it look just like a shad. I can trigger strikes doing that. It’s kind of like a crankbait that hunts. You’ve just got to know what to do with it.”

And once you learn how to work it, the old Bass Pro Shops XPS swimbait stays atop your list of possible lures in any tournament. Kennedy said he weighed two bass caught on it at Wheeler, where he finished fourth. Omori didn’t break out the swimbait until the third day, but it was a major component in him weighing 22-9 on Day 3 and the tournament’s big bag of 25-3 on Day 4.

“I’ve caught so many fish on that bait at Lake Fork,” Omori said. “A bunch of 5- and 6-pounders. I have a lot of confidence in that bait. After I had a big bag on Day 2, I thought I might catch some big ones on that swimbait, and sure enough!”

If you noticed on Bassmaster LIVE, the swimbait had often slipped several feet up Omori’s line from the treble hook as he reeled a bass to the boat. Roumbanis suspects that Omori is bypassing the harness system in the lure with a direct line tie to the treble hook in order to try and preserve the swimbaits he has left. Kennedy doesn’t have many remaining.

“I got 300 baits originally,” Kennedy said. “I don’t have any more of the best colors. I’ve only got like five of those good ones left, and they’re all so shredded and faded. I throw the black back with the white belly all the time now. I’ve got confidence in it. But it’s not the best one.”

Roumbanis thinks he’s found a solution to that shortage. He’s spent years working with various companies trying to produce a lure that mimics the bass-catching characteristics of that old Bass Pro Shops XPS swimbait. Roumbanis believes the original molds for that lure were destroyed in a fire at the Chinese factory where they were made. So, working from scratch with Optimum Baits, a new lure is in production. Referencing Roumbanis’s nickname, it will be called the Optimum Boom Boom swimbait.

“It’s got an even better action than that old swimbait,” Roumbanis said. “It’s got that tight vibration of the head that makes it so special. The head quivers. It mimics the panic of a baitfish.”

The Optimum Boom Boom swimbait will be unveiled at ICAST this summer. It will come in two models – one with an internal harness that connects the nose tie to a belly treble hook and the other a weed-less version.

With Omori’s win at Wheeler using the discontinued Bass Pro Shops swimbait, the timing couldn’t be better. What has been sort of a “secret bait of the pros” for the past decade has been exposed, and a new version of it will soon be available.

“It’s one of those things that has been kept quiet for so long, it’s pretty cool,” Roumbanis said. “But I’d bet there’s not one guy on the tour that hasn’t known about it.”

The other guys just couldn’t find any of them.