"It's the 'V,'" said Arkansas guide Brad Wiegmann, rod tip high, steadily cranking, watching the wobbling baitfish imitation leave a broad victory symbol in its wake on Beaver Lake. "It's mesmerizing."
Our trance ended abruptly when the bait disappeared in a boil and Wiegmann's bronzeback went airborne. Minutes later, he jaw lifted 4-plus pounds of smallmouth bass.
That trip marked my epiphany — the week I woke to wake baits. Over five days, they cast their spell on largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass on three different lakes. Even my wife —a twice-a-year angler — tapped their magic, catching a 4-pound largemouth on her second cast on Table Rock Lake.
The wake bait phenomenon is a blend of new and déjà vu. Arkansas anglers have waked Cotton Cordell Red Fins for years and even modified baits to maximize their waking effectiveness. Bill Norman introduced a wake-worthy crank-style bait around 1970 that remained a secret of small water bass anglers until its reintroduction as The Wake in the late 1990s. Now, it seems, the entire tackle industry has awakened to them, introducing new models custom-tailored to waking, adding new touches and finishes to boot. Recent releases like the XCalibur Wake Bait, Deps Buzzjet, Lucky Craft GDS Mini SSR, and River2Sea's V-Crank and V-Joint Wake Minnow have expanded waking opportunity, adding speed, performance and versatility to the category.
Jackall, the Japanese tackle company headed by lure designer and bass pro Seiji Kato, has brought five Japanese wake baits to the American market: the Cherry 0 Footer and Aragon SSR crankbait-style wakers and the Dagored, Mikey and Mikey Jr. swimbait-style baits. Bassmaster Elite California angler Fred Roumbanis designed the pudgy Roumba bait for ima Japan, scheduled for 2008 release.
The new generation has brought subtle changes in wake, wobble and tail including erratic or side-swimming models like River2Sea's S-Waver, Tru-Tungsten's Tru-Life, and Daiwa's Dead or Alive. Some have a wider range of retrieval speeds at which they can function without breaking into a dive.
Baits that pioneered waking are enjoying a renaissance, as well, as evidenced in the Cotton Cordell Red Fin revival and Mann's recent release of the Baby 1-Minus Elite Series. Some anglers are discovering that the simplest and often most deadly method of working them is a steady, surface-bulging, V-tracking retrieve.
WHAT'S THE APPEAL?
"When you see a shad separated from a school, you will see a little wake," explains Elite Ozark pro Brian Snowden. "The bass thinks the waking bait is an injured or separated baitfish. To a feeding bass, that's an easy meal."
Yet wake baits seem to tease a bass' curiosity as much as its predatory instinct. Bass often nose in at the point of the V and follow it to the boat, as captivated by the baits a cobra is by a snake charmer.
Wake baits come in all sizes from the 1.5-inch Tiny 1-Minus and 2-inch Lucky Craft GDS Mini SSR to the 9-inch Optimum A.C. Minnow. The mini-wakers have been popular since their inception, but the angling masses have yet to grasp the big-fish potential of the magnum members of the category.
"The Baby 1-Minus has been awesome. Everyone has one in his tacklebox, and it has won me a lot of money," says crankbait guru Paul Elias. "But the original in the series, the 1-Minus ... people don't know how good it really is. It is more of a 'wake' bait than the smaller versions."
Byron Velvick, who waked swimbaits for his 83-pound, 5-ounce winning total on Clear Lake at the 2000 California Invitational, also thinks anglers are missing the boat on jumbo wakers. "Guys lose confidence when they throw baits of 6 inches or better," he says.
California Delta pro Jim Davis, who once waked his way to a 40-pound-plus five-fish limit on Lake Casitas, also thinks bigger is better — at times, at least. The topwater expert and 2005 Elite qualifier often opts for Optimum's 9-inch A.C. Minnow and, occasionally, for the 3:16 Lure Company's Armageddon line of wake-able swimbaits that range in price from $79 to $250.
WHEN TO WAKE?
To wake or crank? That's the question. Due to the nature of the beast, relatively calm conditions on clear waters are generally best — at least for deeper waking.
"If it's overcast, you want it flat. If it's sunny, you want a little ripple," says Davis, emphasizing that too much wave action negates the wake altogether. "Overall, a light ripple is best."
Wake baits range widely in colors, patterns and finishes. Although matching the hatch of the local forage is good advice, some adhere to an even simpler guideline: Fish nonreflective patterns on very clear bodies of water. A bright chrome or other gaudy flashing finish just seems too flashy for bass in a crystalline lake. With that said, here are nine proven methods of when, where and how to make wake baits work for you.
1. Points and high-bank creek channels in clear lakes — Bass often suspend over creek channels and main lake points. When those channels abut high banks and bluffs, bass become vulnerable to the 'V.'
Both Wiegmann and Snowden "wake" largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass in the clear water impoundments of the White River chain in Arkansas and Missouri. "Bass will come up from 10 to 18 feet or more over water that may be 25 to 90 feet deep," says Wiegmann.
Both opt for the Red Fin in clear calm water or a slight chop and prefer wider-wobble wakers like the XCalibur Wake Bait in choppier conditions or stained water.
2. Tops of standing timber — Bass suspended in standing timber are prime candidates for a wake take.
"Six or seven years ago, guys from Kansas City bought eight dozen 1-Minus baits for their bass club," recalls Lanny Deal, who helped design the bait for Mann's. "They were fishing over trees in 20 to 25 feet of water, burning it with that rod tip up."
3. Deep wood and rock —The best place to wake is around wood, trees, rocky points and rockpiles, says Davis. The buzz from the tail propeller of the Deps Buzzjet draws fish from deeper water than other wake baits will, Davis believes. But the most consistent action comes when bass are within 10 feet of the surface.
"We've destroyed 'em on the Delta with the small Buzzjet," says Davis. "Bass beat the tar out of it. ... It's great, too, for people who don't fish a lot. It's simple to work— the perfect cast-and-retrieve bait."
4. Schooling bass — The waves of a wake bait resemble those of an injured baitfish. "When bass are schooling, waking is very effective," says Elite Series pro Gerald Swindle.
"If you can get one bass out of a school to hit one on the surface, they will all hit," says Deal. "The fish go into a feeding frenzy!"
5. Grass skimming— From Florida to California, the most popular place for wakin' is over the top of emerging vegetation.
Elias likes waking the 1-Minus on Lake Guntersville. Davis throws Optimum's A.C. Minnow and the Deps Buzzjet across beds of vegetation and down the sides of tule beds in the California Delta.
"Pockets behind weedbeds may be 4 to 5 feet deep when the surrounding vegetation rises to within a foot of the surface," he explains. "Fish them in the same places you would fish a buzzbait."
6. Postspawn dock bass — Swindle wakes the Lucky Craft GDS Mini SSR or its sister, the Fat CB BDS Zero, around boat docks. "Worked along the side of foam or pontoon boats, they are extremely effective," he says.
The buoyancy of the GDS allows him to work faster retrieves than with other wake baits.
Velvick likes to key on females staging under boat docks in clear California waters. The big girls are especially apt to gather near docks that extend into deep water.
7. Shallow wood —Spring bass can be suckers for a waking minnow-style bait. Snowden likes to reach back to an old favorite —a small jointed Bomber Long A. The bait shines in the spring in 10 feet of water or less when the bass are preparing to spawn, as they're spawning and for a week after they spawn. "I usually fish next to shallow timber or rock," he says. "The smaller profile is good at close range for spooky fish."
Elias wakes shallow wood. "I like to run over the tops of very shallow stumps," he says. "Not a lot of guys think of doing that."
8. Riprap — Sick and tired of the back-of-the-boat blues? Wiegmann believes co-anglers need techniques that give them the edge. Two of his favorite tools are the XCalibur Wake Bait and Cotton Cordell Red Fin.
"Riprap is one of the first places I think of for a wake bait," says Wiegmann. "Some days, the fish are hugging tight to the rock. While the angler running the boat is hogging the casting lanes at the front, I cast behind and slowly reel while the boat is moving, dragging the bait behind. The fish move out as the boat comes through, but they swing back as the boat passes. Let the bait wake right back in among the rocks."
9. Postspawn bass in natural lakes — Postspawn bass tend to suspend on clear deep impoundments and natural lakes over deep beds of vegetation or under open water forage. They may rise from 10 to 20 feet down over 30- to 90-foot depths to take a waking swimbait or jointed minnow, as they do in June at southern Wisconsin's Geneva Lake.
Elias, an Alabama pro, found waking effective on Yankee bass. "Bass will come up from the depths on real clear waters like the Great Lakes," he says. "I fished up north for smallmouth over deep vegetation on Lake Champlain and Lake St. Clair. While others were throwing spinnerbaits, I was getting a lot more bites waking."
Guide To The Waking Life
"Waking" is a simple technique that can be explained and executed in two minutes — which means your 8-year-old nephew and sunbathing wife may catch on to it more quickly than you will.
They have no habits to break.
Hold your rod tip high in the 10 or 11 o'clock position— however high it takes to keep the bait on top —and retrieve at a speed that maintains action yet keeps the lure from diving beneath the surface.
Resist the impulse to crank the bait down. Obviously, there are times and places to crank, jerk and twitch 'em, but you will be amazed at how consistently effective a simple, steady, surface-bulging, V-making retrieve can be, particularly on deep, clear lakes.
Velvick, an Elite Series West Coast pro, prefers to let the bait sit motionless for several seconds after the cast.
"Let the rings dissipate, then give it a twitch or pop," he says. "The fish are drawn to the splash, and they are going to crush that thing."
After the pause, he advises anglers to lift as much line out of the water as they can and begin reeling — and to watch for the V! "The bait will likely dive slightly as you begin the retrieve. That's okay. The first dip often provokes a strike. If it's not in the fish's mouth, continue reeling, especially on a missed strike."
Wake baits differ with respect to the range of retrieve speed they can operate at without flipping on their sides or going submarine. Test your baits within this range until you find the most tempting tempo.
Then watch the bass dance!
Breaking The Wake Barrier
No doubt a waddling crankbait fished lazily by a high-sticking neophyte was the harbinger of the modern wake bait. But wake baits have better documented roots, as well.
Waking a Cotton Cordell Red Fin has long had a cult following in the deep, clear Ozark reservoirs. But Japanese anglers point to the old Budweiser beer can bait as the bait that opened their door to the waking life. Elite pro Kota Kiriyama has credited Big Bud with inspiring wake bait creations in Japan.
Crankbait legend Paul Elias is another trailblazer.
"I was on my way to Mann's after a second-place finish on Lake Okeechobee thinking I could have won with a shallower runner," recalls the man who made "kneel-and-reel" the mantra of deep cranking. "I thought, 'We have the deepest running crankbait. How about making the shallowest?'"
Mann's 1-Minus was designed to run in that narrow band of water between the surface and high-riding weeds.
"We would start fishing it a foot or less under the surface over the tops of emerging vegetation," recalls Lanny Deal, who helped design and test 1-Minus prototypes for Mann's Bait Co. "But if we thought the fish weren't responding, we'd keep the rod tip up high and bring it in with a good steady retrieve. The fish can't stand it!"
Both men advise anglers to try the 1-Minus, which many overlook in favor of the versatile and more popular Baby 1-Minus.
"At a tournament on Richland Chambers in Texas, I had people begging me for a red 1-Minus," Elias laughs.
DRESS THE JOINT
Brian Snowden prefers jointed over one-piece wake baits. "The jointed have more side-to-side action," he says. Snowden also replaces the rear treble with a dress treble to exaggerate the side-to-side action. "They trigger more strikes due to the added movement of the feather."
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES: THE WAKE BAIT FAMILY TREE:
SWIMBAIT-STYLE WAKE BAITS
A.C. Plug Minnow, Optimum Baits — This jointed wooden swimbait with a soft plastic tail is deadly as a waker. The magnum 9-inch model weighs 3 1/2 ounces. www.optimumbaits.com
T's Reflex, Optimum Baits — The large double-jointed swimbait calls fish from depths when waked. www.optimumbaits.com
Cotton Cordell Red Fin, Cotton Cordell —This pioneer is still deadly in both jointed and solid-body models. www.CottonCordell Lures.com
Bomber Long A, Bomber Lures — Try smaller sizes when fish are shallow in the spring. www.bomber lures.com
Silent Killer, Deps Co. Ltd. —This swimbait features a soft silicone skin over a hard plastic body and a large waking tail. www.optimumbaits.com
V-Joint Wake Minnow, River2Sea LLC —This double-jointed swimbait can be waked at a wide range of speeds. www.river2sea.com
S-Waver, River2Sea LLC—The jointed bait swims in a lazy, imperfect "S" pattern. It comes with a replacement tail. www.river2sea.com
Mikey and Mikey Jr., Jackall —The double-jointer has smooth swimming action. www.jackall-lures.com
Tru-Life Swimbait, Tru-Tungsten— Pros Matt Newman and Ish Monroe designed this handsome swimmer, which can be waked even with the rod tip held low.
Dead or Alive, Daiwa Corp. — The side-swimming action mimics wounded baitfish. www.daiwa.com
King Shad, Strike King — The jointed 4-inch waker is available in five new color patterns. www.strike king.com
King Kong, Strike King — The buoyant, four-segment swim wake bait comes in 6- and 8-inch sizes. www.strikeking.com
Deps Buzzjet, Deps Co. Ltd.—Unique action with a double-angled lip keeps the Buzzjet at the surface, coupled with a tail propeller. www.optimumbaits.com
Dagored, Jackall — This 4.6-inch jointed bait adds a tail prop for unique action.
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES: THE WAKE BAIT FAMILY TREE:
CRANKBAIT-STYLE WAKE BAITS
XCalibur Xw6 Wake Bait, XCalibur Hi-Tek Tackle — Designed with a wide rattling wobble, this recent release holds to or swells the surface even at high speeds. www.lurenet.com
V-Crank Wake, River2Sea LLC — The jointed crank-style waker features Pin and Tenon hinge and metal clickers. www.river 2sea.com
1-Minus, Mann's Bait Co. — It comes in four sizes, but Flagship 1-Minus is probably the best waker in the bunch. www.mannsbait.com
The Wake, Norman Lures — Originally called the "Halfback" in 1975, the bait enjoyed a rebirth in 2000 when re-introduced as "The Wake." www.norman lures.com
Storm SubWart, Storm Lures Corp.—The fat-nosed crankin'-style wake bait rides high. Available in two sizes. www.stormlures.com
GDS Mini SSR, Lucky Craft — The pint-size bait works effectively in both clear and dark water. The feather tail exaggerates side-to-side action. www.luckycraft.com
Fat CB BDS Zero, Lucky Craft —Sister bait to the GDS Mini, the Fat CB is part of Lucky Craft's Pro-Tune series. www.luckycraft.com
Cherry 0 Footer, Jackall— The high-rider of the Cherry series casts far and makes a distinctive rattle. www.jackall-lures.com
Aragon SSR, Jackall — This jointed floater has a drag-tail design.
Roumba, ima Japan — The Fred Roumbanis design from the 2008 Signature Series is a versatile waker. www.imaLures.com
Waker, Mann's Bait Co. — The maker of the 1-Minus had promised a "pure wake bait," and it delivered this past spring with a 12-color line. www.manns bait.com
SubZero, Lee Sisson Lures —This new waker stands out for several reasons. First, it features the Sisson patented weedless system with a lipguard and weedless trebles, allowing it to go where no other wake bait would dare. Secondly, when reeled superfast, it has an erratic action that one only gets from wooden baits. www.leesissonlures.com