SANDUSKY, Ohio — Goby baits have been popular on Lake Erie ever since the charismatic, bug-eyed invasives took over the lake in the 1990s. Since then, they’ve become the favorite food of smallmouth, and in turn the bass anglers’ favorite critter to hang on a hook, real or not.
Why did gobies become the food of choice for smallmouth? They’re packed with protein and are a heck of a lot easier for a smallie to catch than a shad or shiner. Gobies lack a swim bladder and simply “hop” around rockpiles, balancing on their laughably-sized pectoral fins.
Like all anglers, Joe Balog had been forced to use semi-convincing goby replicas until he got fed up with them.
Balog claims that he invented the first commerical goby bait, the Drop Shot Goby for Poor Boy’s Bait Co. in 2003, but wanted to improve upon it.
“The Drop Shot Goby revolutionized the drop shot world up here because the forage base is nearly 100 percent gobies,” he said. “After that I started looking at ways to make a better goby-looking bait that was heavy and wasn’t a crude piece of plastic.”
He reasoned that since there are ultra-realistic shad, bluegill and trout swimbaits on the market (among others), surely there’s room for a goby, and he wanted to be the one who made it.
After seven years and much trial and error, Balog found a manufacturer who specializes in swimbaits to pour his perfect goby, the 1.1-ounce Goby Replica.
First and foremost Balog wanted his bait to look like a goby. There are several colors available, each of which is best on a certain body of water or time of year.
The lightest colored is called Calypso. It’s best for when gobies blend in with a sandy bottom, like on Lake St. Clair. The darker, iridescent purple one looks like a male goby that is spawning. The fins are all anatomically correct, too.
Secondly, Balog wanted his bait to act like a goby. Though it sounds simple because they don’t move much, the bait had to sport large pectoral fins to support it and keep it upright. When twitched, it needed to flutter a bit. Lastly, it needed to stick smallmouth when they bit.
Balog frequently competes on Lake Erie and knows that in general, a 2-pound smallie isn’t much help to tournament anglers, so he made the Goby Replica almost too big for them.
“When a bass hits a goby, they sort of pin it to the rocks by the head and then slurp it up,” he said. “The Goby Replica is a somewhat sizeable bait, so it’s hard for the smaller fish to eat it. This is a true trophy smallmouth bait; I caught a 6-12 on Lake St. Clair with it this spring. That was one of five fish that totaled 28 pounds.”
If the bite is fickle, Balog will remove the top hook and attach a treble hook and a split ring to the line tie. You could also use both hooks if they’re really short-striking.
Balog typically uses the Goby Replica in the spring and fall, but also says it’s an excellent bed-fishing bait.
“It’s not designed to be fished like a traditional swimbait,” Balog said. “You don’t cast it out and retrieve it. It’s a dragging bait that you drop on the bottom. You can snap it up real fast when you’re bed fishing, but for the most part just drag it around.”
Unlike many baits on Lake Erie, the Goby Replica is not a finesse bait. Balog uses 17- or 20-pound-test fluorocarbon on casting gear when scrubbing the rocks with the Goby Replica.
“This is hand-to-hand combat technique with smallmouth,” he said. “I’ve had wild success with it, and I absolutely love it.”
For more information, visit GobyReplica.com.