Slider fishing revisited

The fuzzy yellow globe plastered in a hazy bluish-white sky promised a scorcher of a day ahead on Kentucky Lake. Sheltered under the marina's dock canopy, host Garry Mason was busy rigging rods when I arrived. Although our plans called for testing some new panfish lures, I was eager to talk bass with the third member of our party, Charlie Brewer Jr., president of the Slider Lure Co.

Charlie Jr. is the son of the company's famous founder, Charlie Brewer Sr. The senior Brewer helped change the face of bass fishing in the 1970s with his support of light-line angling. Charlie Sr. has passed on, but his legacy continues in the family owned business that carries his name.

The sight of Charlie Jr. walking onto the dock carrying a single rod and a small case of lures was reminiscent of my first meeting with his father a quarter-century ago. During the 1970s and early 1980s, Charlie Sr. carved a place in fishing history by toting a short spinning rod and a handful of 4-inch worms to battle bass across the nation.

A proponent of lightweight spinning tackle, Brewer developed a simple bait called the Slider — a small, slender plastic worm coupled with a specially designed flat-bottom leadhead — and fished it with a simple do-nothing retrieve. The "Slider System" was this country's introduction to finesse bass fishing, and bass anglers of the '70s who understood the need to go light for nonaggressive fish included Sliders in their tackleboxes.

Like father, like son

Mason, a family friend of the Brewers, introduced Charlie Jr. as Chuck. Following a welcoming handshake, I immediately verified that Chuck had included some Original Sliders in the minimal tackle he brought onboard.

"Just like Dad, I'm never without them," he responded. "Everything I need to catch bass and panfish is right here in these small plastic cases."

And to prove the point, he tied a 4-inch Slider on his 6-pound line and fired several casts out the back of the boat toward the riprap shoreline. Utilizing a slow but steady retrieve, he contoured the sloping rocks. In short order, Chuck had a largemouth in the boat, ready for a photo.

As we idled out of the marina, Chuck refreshed my memory on how the Slider came about. "Dad didn't set out to be a tackle manufacturer. He simply loved to fish as much as possible. Although he operated a radio and television shop in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., he was constantly experimenting with tackle — trying to figure out better approaches to catching fish."

The popular bass lures of the '50s and '60s were large, noisy and flashy. They were fished on heavy-duty baitcasting outfits. The senior Brewer took a different approach, favoring newly introduced spinning gear that made an appearance after WWII. Furthermore, based on years of cleaning bass and rarely finding minnows more than a few inches long in their stomachs, Charlie knew bass of all sizes ate more little minnows than any other size forage. He studied these small minnows in creeks and reservoirs, observing that they moved through water with a gliding motion, rather than with wild gyrations.

Chuck explains, "Dad believed small, straight-tail worms best represented the size of minnows found in the stomachs. He kept tinkering with leadhead designs until he came up with a flat-bottom jighead that provided a barely noticeable quiver to the worm when reeled slowly through the water. He made these heads in 1/16-, 1/8- and 1/4-ounce sizes. Yet he insisted it wasn't the lure but the retrieve that was the secret to the system. 'A Slider is not a magic lure,' Dad repeated time and time again. 'The technique is what it's all about. Slow and steady, just like a minnow in nature — that's what appeals to nonaggressive bass.' "

Chuck said his Dad got razzed quite a bit about using "toy tackle" — 6-pound test (or sometimes even 4-pound-test line) and a light action spinning rod initially made from a fly rod tip. But time and time again, he would show nonbelievers exactly how bass could be caught on light tackle with a sweeping hook set and by slowly playing the fish, rather than crossing their eyes and horsing them in. He was a pioneer in directing anglers to suspended bass, the niche that his Slider System was particularly geared to.

The name of the company changed from Crazy Head Lure Co., to Slider Co. as the elder Brewer continued to experiment with new jighead and hook designs. There was the Super Slider Head and Snagless Slider Head built on early offset worm hooks. But it was the streamlined bullet-shaped Spider Slider Head — introduced in the early 1980s — that really won favor with anglers, pushing the Original Slider swimming-style head into the background.

Additional soft plastic baits were introduced. During the late '80s and '90s, much of the market emphasis for the Slider Co. focused on Japanese anglers as they embraced finesse fishing on their country's highly pressured waters.

Way back in 1970, it was the Original Slider that had initiated the light tackle approach to bassin' in the United States. Slider fishing was a finesse system that helped many North American anglers appreciate the position of small baits and light tackle. Tying on a Slider and following the "do-nothing" method of lure retrieve was practically a guarantee for catching some bass on days when the fish weren't striking other baits.

Casual angling vs. competition

Charlie Sr. was not a tournament angler, and didn't design Sliders with tournament fishing in mind. He believed in the fun of fishing, and promoted the sporting aspects of light tackle for anglers of all ages.

Yet, many competitive anglers can recount stories of finishing in the money at tournaments because Sliders produced when all else failed. Most tournament fishermen — from amateur to pro — have a little red Slider case tucked away in a boat compartment.

Typical of Slider users is Rob Genter of Tidioute, Pa., a tournament fanatic for well over two decades. Having fished club and regional competitions, Genter is now fishing the Bassmaster Northern Open Trail.

"The Slider was the first finesse lure I was introduced to," explains Genter. "I use it for tough-to-catch bass. Sliders have been in my box for years, and will be there in the future. For a tournament fisherman, a Slider isn't a search lure. It is, however, a lure I can count on to fill out a limit or occasionally even get that kicker fish on a really tough day. Remarkably, a Slider — with changes in retrieve speed and depth — is a lure for all seasons and all water temperatures. And it's equally effective on both largemouth and smallmouth bass.

"For me, Sliders have been particularly effective on clear water reservoirs, such as Raystown Lake in south-central Pennsylvania. I position the boat off a steep bank, sitting in anywhere from 40 to 100 feet of water. I cast at an angle to the shore and slowly swim the Slider through the brush and stumps clinging to the rocky bluff. The bass eat up this presentation when they refuse to hit bigger baits. The subdued colors of Slider Worms are realistic imitations of natural food. I can match the size of the smallest minnows bass are feeding on by pinching the worm down to 3 or even 2 inches."

Genter, who grew up fishing light tackle for smallmouth bass on a shallow river, wasn't intimidated using 6-pound test in cover-laden reservoirs.

However, he does admit to losing more big bass with light line and Sliders in cover situations than he cares to count.

"The thin wire hooks in Slider Heads are perfect for hook sets with light line. But those same light wire hooks became a drawback when I switched to braided line a few years ago to prevent breaking off in brush. The braided line held up to the cover, but with no stretch in the line, the hooks would bend out under pressure. I understand that a professional grade Slider Head with a stronger Mustad Ultra Point Hook will soon be available. I'll be stocking up on them, because they will be very useful in my style of fishing."

Genter alternates between the Original Slider head and the Spider Slider Head, depending on the conditions he confronts. He rigs small worms (as well as other manufacturers' new finesse minnows and crawfish) on both styles of Slider Heads in the Tex-posed position.

"The Original Head can be utilized with a countdown swimming retrieve, particularly when bass are holding in open water off a steep bank or over a submerged hump," notes Genter. "The Original Head is suited for rocky bottom areas. But it's not the best brush and stump head. On the other hand, the Spider Slider Head is perfect for dragging small worms through brush and yo-yoing over limbs. The Spider Slider Head is the finesse lure for cover."

Constantly tinkering to get that perfect presentation, Genter will use a knife to pare down Slider Heads to a precise weight. It's the same customizing of heads that Charlie Sr. was well-known for. Trimming the weight from these already lightweight heads allows for an even slower descent.

Eric Marsh, one of Genter's fishing partners, was only recently introduced to Sliders, but now considers them a must-have bait. "The Original Head is great for open water, and the snag-resistant Spider Slider head allows me to snake a small worm through emerging weedbeds on natural lakes with a steady swimming retrieve.

"And I'm particularly fond of the polishing the rocks technique in the spring at Pymatuning Reservoir," continues Marsh. "This relatively shallow lake receives intense tournament pressure, and bass can become pretty lure-shy.

I drag a Spider Slider Head with a 4-inch black/chartreuse tail or motor oil worm across the bottom on bland-looking banks to bump every rock and stump that potentially holds a bass."

More than meets the eye

Slider fishing is deceptively simple and complex at the same time. In its most basic approach, Slider fishing is casting to a likely structure, counting it down at roughly a 1-foot drop per second, and retrieving at a very slow, steady pace without adding any extra action. This uncomplicated do-nothing presentation will catch some fish even for beginners, and the same presentation can be undertaken in the shallows as well as in deeper water.

But experienced anglers know the better bass catches during tough times are a matter of precise depth and speed control. That demands more detailed consideration. How much slower does the 1/8-ounce head fall versus the ¼-ounce head? If you alter the head by flattening it out or trimming lead, how much slower does it fall?

Anyone can cast into the shallows, give the lure a two-count and begin a retrieve. But do you have the patience to count a lightweight head down to 20 or 25 feet and swim it back at that depth?

How do you determine what is a slow retrieve to maintain the exact depth? It's done by how fast you turn the reel handle. Is one second per turn of the reel handle correct? Two seconds per turn? Three seconds per turn? Can you force yourself to make only one turn of the reel handle in four seconds? An expert Slider fisherman can.

What is the right speed of retrieve? Let the fish tell you what they want, by experimentation. Experimentation with speed and depth is a critical aspect of Slider fishing.

"The information and techniques that Dad taught are still valid today," says Charlie Jr. "There is a new generation of fishermen out there who are seeking the basics. We will continue with Dad's philosophy of producing lures and promoting techniques that catch fish, not fishermen."

I guess you can't be more basic than that.

The perfect slider rod?

Charlie Brewer Sr. was adamant about the type of light tackle rod for Slider fishing — not the specific brand name, but the action and power. He insisted on a rod with a flexible tip and strong butt section, referring to it as a light action rather than an ultralight. He also preferred a rod that was only 4 to 5 feet in length. Because this style of rod was not readily available, his company eventually marketed custom-made Slider Rods.

For many bass anglers, a short rod is not desirable. The majority of casual Slider users typically make do with any medium or medium-light spinning rod spooled with 8- or 10-pound test. But an all-purpose rod action is not as effective as a specialized rod, especially when dropping down to 6-pound test.

During the 1970s, I custom-built my initial Slider rod from a Fenwick fiberglass blank — perhaps too soft throughout the blank, but I caught a lot of bass on it. The first graphite rod I used for Sliders around 1980 was an Original Billy Westmorland Signature Rod from Bass Pro Shops — tip too stiff. Then in the mid-'80s, I acquired a G.Loomis Spin Jig Rod (SJ721) that to me was perfect for Slider fishing. It was 6 feet long, light in weight, and sensitive with a moderate-fast tip but with guts in the butt section. I also like another recent Shimano V rod acquisition (VST66ML) for Sliders.

From my point of view, steady do-nothing retrieves are more similar to fishing a crankbait than a jig. Stiff tips are great for slack line hook sets with bottom bouncing jigs or worms. But for constant tension baits (including Sliders), a slightly softer tip is a better choice for sweeping hook sets with light line. Rod length? For casting the lightest baits, a little added length makes it easier. The same applies when it comes to sweeping hook sets — a 6- to 6 ½-foot rod is more effective than a 4-foot rod.

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