With the offseason comes a time to regroup and reorganize, as well as assess our fishing. For recreational anglers, December marks a time to clean out the olí Plano and restock essential items, maybe add a few new lures to the Christmas list while thinking of spring.
For those interested in the cast-for-cash game, the winter break brings even more duties with personal fitness, sponsor contract obligations and major equipment overhauls Ė often in the form of replacing boats Ė on the to-do list.
In addition, those serious about improving their game need to assess current trends in the industry and winning patterns. As indicated by numerous columns here, this facet of tournament angling has always fascinated me. While one would think that the newest lifelike lures and never-before-seen approaches would dominate tournament fishing, often just the opposite is true. Itís the perfection of tried-and-true techniques that bring home the big bucks, rather than secret creations.
In the summer of 2013, I penned a column that looked into winning trends in pro fishing. There I investigated the techniques, and more specifically lures, responsible for the most recent 50 national tournament wins in pro fishing. As reported at that time, the following baits and methods contributed to championship strings most often:
Flipping soft plastics: 16%
Sight-fishing lures: 12%
Umbrella rigs 10%
Bladed jig-style lures: 5%
I always find it interesting, as I did then, that certain techniques earn several wins and then fade out. Such is often the case with lures associated with very niche-specific techniques like dropshots and swimjigs. For example, when the major tours go north to smallmouth-land, dropshots get all the credit. However, everywhere else, the technique is rarely responsible for victory.
Conversely, old-school seems to never stumble. For example, letís take a quick stroll through the halls of the cranking hall of fame:
Howell cranked up a teary-eyed Classic title, and before that, VanDam did itmseveral times over. During the same era, Ehrler was square-billing his way through FLW. Takahiro cranked a Bagley to fame about the same time Fritts was paying off his mortgage with a Poeís. Stepping even further back, Clunn cranked two Classic wins, with Elias kneeling-and-reeling his way to victory in between.
Yes, if you had a son in 1975 and wanted him to become a pro fisherman, you really only needed to buy him one rod.
But how are things today, especially when compared to our numbers from the not-so-distant past? Was 2016 drastically different from 2013?
In some ways yes; letís take a look. I assessed the 18 largest professional tournaments of the year and came up with these figures (note: when a tournament was won using multiple lures, all lures were given credit):
Bladed jigs and bladed jigheads with plastic bodies: 28%
Dropshot baits: 17%
Soft plastic flipping baits: 17%
Stickworms (fished other than on a dropshot) 11%
While our current list sheds light on the fact that bladed jig-style lures canít be ignored, the glaring trend is the complete absence of crankbait techniques in this seasonís top producers. Even as I worked on the list, I was in disbelief. To my knowledge, this is the first time in history that a crankbait hasnít been responsible for a number of tour-level wins.
Sure, cranking contributed to a bunch of money being generated in 2016, but it wasnít a key player in the win column. Even more bizarre is the fact that tournament schedules lined up well for cranking, with venues like Beaver, Kentucky Lake, Pickwick and Norris on the FLW schedule, and Bull Shoals and Wheeler bringing the B.A.S.S. circuit to town. However, each event was won by jig fishing or ultra-refined offshore approaches with swimbaits and spoons.
So where does that leave us? Should aspiring young pros sell off all their plugs and instead invest in magic, discontinued swimmers and refined chatter-jiggers? Probably not, but itís worth more investigation for those interested in taking their game further.
First off, Iím sure I wasnít alone the last few years in realizing the effectiveness of ďbladesĒ in front of other lures, whether they be jigs, swimbaits, flukes or otherwise. As pro fishermen often refine lures and techniques faster than manufacturers, weíre seeing more influence of this type of fishing across the country, from shallow water to depths beyond the capabilities of diving crankbaits. Thatís likely to expand greatly.
It also bears mention that jigs placed near the top once again. Hereís a lure thatís supposed to look like a crayfish swimming backwards, yet looks very little like anything when compared to so many modern baits, and continues to dominate professional tournaments from coast to coast. I love it; it further illustrates the mystery behind what truly makes fish strike. Weíll be scratching our heads over that forever.
Based on this outcome, I vow to again put an intricate study of swimbaits on my list of New Yearís resolutions. Iím going to shine up the blades on my old buzzbaits, replace the skirts with frogs, and again drive around town with lures hanging out the window. And, without question, Iím going to break out my jig-skirt kit.
The Christmas season marks one of reflection, followed by the renewal of the New Year. Will your tackle follow suit?
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)