Prior to takeoff on Championship Sunday photographer Garrick Dixon and myself capture the photos and details of the top lures used by the finalists. This morning was like taking a step back in time when we arrived at the boat of Mark Menendez.
“Welcome to the week of retro,” he said.
Menendez, currently in 8th place on the leaderboard, was referring to a homemade spinnerbait added to his arsenal of discontinued Strike King Crankbaits. Those lures are now available with updated features from the original models.
The choices are the Strike King Series 3 Pro Model and Squarebill 1.5 crankbaits. Menendez also is using a 3/8-ounce Strike King All Purpose Jig with a Strike King Rage Craw for a trailer.
Menendez first used the homemade spinnerbait at the 1997 B.A.S.S. MegaBucks tournament on Richland Chambers Reservoir in Texas. Using the lure he caught a largemouth weighing 13 pounds, 9 ounces, to become the heaviest bass ever caught in B.A.S.S. competition at the time.
After weighing the epic catch he recalled what happened after leaving the weigh-in scales. None other than Rick Clunn recognized the spinnerbait’s peculiar skirt color as something special.
Menendez described the skirt color as cantaloupe, including some red that he added for extra strike appeal in the dirty water.
“That’s an Elroy color,” proclaimed Clunn.
Menendez was clueless about the “Elroy” significance and even more curious of Clunn’s excitement.
He then received a history lesson from Clunn, who informed him Elroy Kreuger first used the skirt color in the 1970s. The four-time world champion then explained he regarded Krueger as the greatest spinnerbait fisherman of all time.
“He took me from being a chunk and wind spinnerbait angler to understanding the art and science of using the lure, including its versatility,” Clunn told Menendez.
Kreuger, a native Texan like Clunn, fished the 1974 and 1975 Bassmaster Classic. He mentored Clunn and even allowed the young pro to share a motel room at B.A.S.S. tournaments. Kreuger was highly regarded in Texas for his intuitive fishing skills, wisdom and experience until his death in 2015.
Krueger taught Clunn about super-sizing willowleaf blades to create more torque, about increasing water displacement using large Indiana and Colorado blades for dirty water, and many more intricate details of using the lure.
“It was typical Clunn, deep diving into a topic beyond the surface of how a lure was designed to be used,” said Menendez. “That’s what made him one of the greatest anglers of all time.”
Menendez, obviously impressed by the shoreline seminar, applied what he learned later on.
“It’s all about the color,” said Menendez. “It’s a very special color for using in stained water conditions.
The lure brought more success to Menendez in 2001, where water conditions were ideal for using the skirt color on Wilson and Pickwick lakes. Menendez credits the skirt color and blade combination for helping him qualify for the Classic at that tournament.
And now here he is again. Menendez is currently within striking distance of stealing the lead from Takahiro Omori on Lake Martin, where the stained water is also perfect for the retro colored lure.
The original lure is hanging in the jaw of the replica mount of the record fish. Since then Menendez has piecemealed together the components to make more lures. He gets the skirts from longtime Texas lure maker Terry Oldham.
The lure in use by Menendez has a 1/2-ounce head with No. 2 and No. 5 Colorado blades. Like previous versions, he added red to the cantaloupe skirt for strike appeal.
“What’s also really unique about the lure are the copper blades,” he added. “Rarely do you see those used anymore.”
“I really like using this lure because nobody really ever uses a spinnerbait anymore,” said Menendez. “In recent years it’s seemingly become an old school lure."
Not so for Menendez, who is chunking and winding the lure to what could be a Bassmaster Elite Series win.