When Steve Kennedy won the Golden State Shootout on Clear Lake last spring, the first thing he did before leaving California was invest $3,000 for swimbaits from West Coast retail outlets.
One-third of that was spent on 6-inch Basstrix Paddle Tail Tubes.
"I had a hunch that bait was going to be this year's ChatterBait and I was right," says the Alabama pro, referring to 2006's hot selling lure that was gobbled up faster than the company could produce them. "I didn't want to be caught where I couldn't get more when I needed them."
It was a good move. The Basstrix has won him and other pros a lot of money this summer, and supplies are limited. The slender, soft plastic swimbait with a vibrating paddle-tail has become the hottest lure this season on tournament trails nationwide.
To make matters worse, the soft-bodied baits tear easily and are good for only a couple of fish before they need to be replaced.
"I used to give some out to the guys, but not anymore," laughs Kennedy. "I don't know when I'm going to be able to get more."
The lure has flat sides with a rounded back and belly, a holographic finish and realistic eyes. A hollow cavity adds buoyancy and the body has an outer "skin" that enhances its lifelike scale finish.
The 6-inch version was designed to be rigged on a 5/0 weighted hook, Texas style, which makes it weedless.
Anglers swim it slowly through shallow water and around cover, where its vibrating tail and lifelike body give the appearance of a shimmying baitfish. You can use a heavier hook for fishing deeper, but the Paddle Tail Tube has made its name in shallow water.
"It's so good that some guys think it will make the spinnerbait obsolete," says Elite pro Kelly Jordon. "It doesn't require any special skills. You just throw it out and reel it in — and hang on."
Is it as good as the Senko stickworm, which has won the hearts of recreational anglers nationwide?
"That's yet to be determined," offers Alabama pro Tim Horton. "But it definitely has that kind of potential."
Kennedy's experience with the Basstrix at the Bassmaster Memorial on Lake Onondaga this summer is a case in point. After catching a big limit on the Kinami Flash, a cousin to the Senko, he returned to the same areas in the finals.
"I caught a couple of fish, but couldn't get much going," he relates. "I picked up the Basstrix and caught 3-pounder after 3-pounder in the same places I had just fished the Flash."
He weighed in nearly 19 pounds that day and missed winning by 2 ounces.
Kennedy says one of his first eye-opening experiences on eastern lakes occurred at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia. He cast the Basstrix to one area and had 10 fish over 3 pounds stalk it back to the boat.
"I put it down and threw a jig, drop shot and all of the other standard baits we throw and never got a bite," he describes. "I picked up the Basstrix, threw it out, and here comes that big school of fish again. It's incredible how it will show you fish that you don't know are there. You get this bait within 10 or 20 feet of bass and they come after it."
Kennedy rigs the bait on a 1/6-ounce Falcon weighted hook, noting that the weight under the belly works as a keel to help it swim better. He winds it slowly next to cover on 15-pound fluorocarbon line and makes repeated casts toward likely targets.
"The bass swim up behind it and inhale it," he says. "It's incredible to see the strikes, and if they don't get it the first time, you can get them to hit it again."
You'll miss some fish, too, he adds, especially strikes from smaller bass. He advises anglers not to set the hook until the rod loads up from the weight of the fish.
"The small fish will hit it, but they generally have to be around 3 pounds to eat it," Kennedy says. "For me, it's best suited for bass in the 3- to 7-pound range."
Horton says that's why the swimbait craze has swept the Elite Series this year.
"Everyone on tour is so good that you no longer can go catch a limit and then go after the big fish," he says.
"You've got to start looking for five or six quality bites to be successful, and the swimbaits are helping us do that."
Like most swimbaits, the Basstrix is best suited for clear water and when the bass are shallow, such as spring and fall.
"It's become the flipping technique for clear water lakes," offers Jordon. "If you can get bites on it, the quality will be there."
Paddle Tail Tubes are in short supply because they are so labor intensive to make. Basstrix owner Bruce Porter of California says each lure requires at least 15 minutes to build and finish. Hence, he's behind on production with no end in sight.
"All of the baits are built and painted by hand so it takes time," Porter explains. "We're very particular about how each one is finished, and we make sure they swim properly before they leave this place."
He's producing about 260 packages a day and working on a 90-day back order (as of mid-August). When new orders come in, they go to the bottom of the pile.
The lure is offered in five sizes, from 2 1/2 to 6 inches, with the 6-incher being the most in demand. They come in 13 airbrushed colors.
"I appreciate everyone's patience over this thing," he says. "The manufacturing process is very tedious, and very stressful for me because everyone is wanting them. I'm doing my best."
Quality lure design isn't new to Porter, who produced saltwater flies that accounted for several world records in the 1970s. He began making soft-bodied swimbaits for saltwater anglers about 10 years ago, and when he noticed the trend moving into freshwater in 2000, he began experimenting with lifelike appearances that appeal to bass.
"When I'm fishing, I'm studying baits in the water, seeing what fish are eating and making notes," he describes.
"I love to create lures; that's my passion. I get my satisfaction when people do well with my baits. That's what this is all about."
Elite angler Byron Velvick, who essentially introduced the eastern bass world to swimbaits when he set a BASS record at the 2000 California Invitational, credits Porter with pioneering swimbait development. He says the lure designer is a bit eccentric, yet strives for perfection.
"The man is incredible— he's like a mad scientist when it comes to lure design," says Velvick. "He's not interested in publicity or attention. He just loves to make baits that work."
The birth of the Paddle Tail Tube exemplifies that. The concept remained buried in Porter's notebook filled with ideas until a couple of years ago, when Porter came across Mustad's Ultra Point 91768 hook. The wide gap hook has a weighted shaft and a prong-like keeper on the eyelet to secure the bait to the hook.
"I always knew the lure would work, but I hadn't seen a hook that would make it work properly," he says.
"When I saw that Mustad, it encouraged me to bring it out."
He learned just how deadly it was the first time he fished a prototype.
"I was on a lake where we couldn't get a bite in the morning, so I tied on the Paddle Tail Tube and caught a fish the first cast," he recalls. "We proceeded to catch several fish that were suspended 20 feet down, yet they were coming up to get that bait."
That's also when he realized it was vibration in the tail that got the bass' attention.
"The secret to the lure is in the vibration of the tail," he insists. "The vibration calls the fish to the bait — and the profile, scale pattern and lifelike eyes make them hit it."
Given the difficulty in meeting demand and the growing popularity of the lure, look for larger manufacturers to copy it.
"Oh, I don't think there's any doubt," says Horton. "In fact, I guarantee you they're being developed as we speak."
Porter says he's already seen one knockoff, but isn't too concerned. He doesn't believe companies can mass produce the lure and retain its inherent characteristics.
"It took me 10 years to come up with my process, get the coloration and shapes just right," he explains.
"Companies aren't willing to invest that kind of time and detail to get it right or for the kind of profit margin that exists in a lure like this."
In the meantime, anglers are guarding their dwindling supplies.
Where To Get Them (If You're Lucky)
The Basstrix Paddle Tail Tube swimbait is offered by a handful of Internet tackle retailers and West Coast stores, but good luck trying to get one as most are often out of stock.
Owner Bruce Porter says Basstrix has some 425 retail customers worldwide but doesn't sell direct. He ships only about 260 packages a day.
Internet sites that offer the lure include Swimbait Nation, Tackle Warehouse, Backwaters and CharkBait.
A spokesman for Swimbait Nation said the best way to get the baits from his company is to call 800-591-7171 at 10 a.m. (PCT).
"We get an order every day and they go fast," he said. "We get 300 calls a day and that number is rising as more people hear about it. One day we got 150 packs in and they were gone in six minutes."
The Paddle Tail Tube sells for around $6.99 for a pack of three at retail level, although demand is driving the price higher.
Another option is to post a bid on eBay, where you will pay a premium price. Sellers are getting $20 or more for a pack of the lures.