By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
(Editor's note: This is part 1 of an occasional 5-part series about pro anglers and their favorite topwater techniques and the details behind them.)
Kelly Jordon remembers being 5 years old and walking the creeks around Austin, Texas, near where he grew up, casting topwater baits.
“My favorite bait before I moved away from the creek where I grew up on when I was 13 years old was an Ol’ Boy Howdy, a double-propped stickbait,” he said.
The Bassmaster Elite Series angler remembers the streams in the hill country being crystal clear and laden with limestone.
“We used to walk the creek and we’d fish the holes and catch a lot of bass on topwater,” he recalled.
Fast forward a couple decades to when Jordon joined the Lucky Craft pro staff. He seized the opportunity to design a prop bait of his own.
“It has the profile of a baitfish, has the right blade action, that’s what we ran with,” he said. “It’s a deeper-bodied bait and has the same profile as a shad and a bream and other baitfish that big bass like to eat.”
When he first worked with the lure designers, the goal was to create a bait that would excel when fishing bream beds for largemouth in the South. Within a couple of years, it was the top-selling Lucky Craft bait in big-box stores.
“The way it sits in the water, it looks like a baitfish sitting there, stunned, killed, whatever, just saying, ‘Eat me,’” Jordon said. “It’s part of the profile of the bait.
“Those props spin super-free, but when they stop it keeps moving a little bit, which adds to the realism and triggers a strike.”
If he could only fish two colors, they would be the sunfish pattern with the orange belly and aurora black. Ghost minnow is fairly versatile, too, as Jordon believes it matches everything that swims.
“The thing that a clear bait does is that you can fool bass if they are hitting really small baitfish and it’s hard to match the hatch,” Jordon said.
While Jordon has found that prop baits shine better in calmer water, he’s quick to point out that there are no hard and fast rules.
“The perfect scenario is pretty calm conditions or a slight ripple,” Jordon said.
He’ll also fish it in shallow water and around cover, grass, rocks, stumps, logs, boat docks, brim beds, even spawning areas and open water when bass are schooling.
Jordon does prefer to tweak the props on his bait a little before turning it loose.
“I try to keep them as straight up and down as I can, they might be bent just a hair back,” he said. “The main thing that I do is I open it up.”
He pointed out that the props are made of metal so if you bend them too much, they will break. That said, he’s found that by tweaking the prop, he can enhance the appeal of the bait.
By bending the blades out, it’ll help the props to spin harder and throw more spray, which is especially helpful when fishing open water.
The opposite is that you can lessen the pitch, which he often prefers most.
“They’re almost flat, but not totally because if they are flat they won’t spin,” he said, “but you get them to where they still will catch, but as little as possible. It’ll almost create more resistance yet make the bait easier to work because there’s more of a feel to it and they won’t slide as easy towards you.”
This works especially well if he’s trying to cover a target.
Prop baits are notorious for collecting stringy weeds and algae around the prop and on the shaft that it sits on. He’ll keep a pair of nail clippers handy to clean out any messes.
The Right Way
Time and again, Jordon has been pulled aside at trade shows by smallmouth anglers claiming the Kelly J is responsible for some of the biggest fish they’ve caught. Their preferred technique is to cast it out and let it sit for 15 seconds before giving it a pull or two. If that doesn’t work, they’ll try another series of twitches before reeling in and trying again. Super-long casts are key with the Kelly J.
The versatility of the prop bait allows the angler to work an intermittent retrieve with the typical pull-pull-stop cadence. They also can dead-stick the bait or they can simply cast it out and reel it in.
Jordon prefers to work the bait with shorter pulls, much subtler than he would a popper. He likens it to feathering the bait – pulling the bait into a twitch. If he’s fishing targets, he’ll only pull the bait once before pausing as opposed to when he is covering water.
Jordon believes that a soft-tipped rod helps to properly work the bait as it’s more forgiving. He fishes a 6-foot, 6-inch medium-action Duckett Fishing Micro Magic casting rod paired with a high-speed reel to take up the slack once the fight has begun. He’ll throw the lightest monofilament line that he can, usually starting at 14-pound test.
Jordon’s saltwater friends add larger hooks to the bait and turn it into an amped-up spybait.