You all know how I love bass fishing lore. The nostalgia of our sport. Something about those days of yesteryear just ring true to the purity and innocence of it all.
Recently, I was paging through a buddyís logbooks. He compiled records of his big bass forays in the old picture calendars once sent out to B.A.S.S. members. Remember those hard-copy books? Often, they were historical catalogs of antique lures. Each page featured a different bait that was once the hot new item.
Those old lures really got me thinking. Some looked like a better mousetrap, of sorts. Many featured spinners front and rear and multiple sets of gaudy treble hooks. A few even looked like mice themselves.
Thereís always been a fascination there Ė producing lures for bass that appeal to the idea that monsters of the depths take pleasure in attacking terrestrial creatures. Mice. Baby ducks and black birds. Frogs and turtles.
Yet, in all my years of fishing, Iíve personally never looked down the throat of a bass and seen legs sticking out. Tails and claws, yes. But no fur, feathers or feet.
Anyway, a large percentage of the featured old baits are, in fact, surface lures. Back in the early days, lure categories were few. Surface, spinners and spoons. Later came diving plugs; crankbaits of sorts. But even these often portrayed creatures that bass rarely came across, again like frogs with spinning legs and whiz-bangers that imitated nothing, really. But they sure are cool to look at.
I can imagine an angler in the early part of the 20th century Ė outfitted with a beautifully painted wooden frog lure. That fisherman likely felt the same way I did when I first saw a West Coast swimbait. The realism alone would be insurmountable to the bass. The fish were sure to throw themselves at me as soon as I cast the new creation.
Remember, this was a time long before soft plastics. Even today, remove those from your line-up, and options are pretty limited. Of course, there were no ChatterBaits, buzzbaits or modern spinnerbaits back then. Even jigs were still in the early stages.
Iím reminded that those Ė lead-head jig lures Ė really migrated from the saltwater world, where they had been used since the inception of fishing. You see, there are no frogs hopping from lily pad to lily pad out on the ocean, so anglers quickly recognized they needed to get to the bottom.
Either way, the period I was drooling over was when lure builders first tinkered with subsurface baits. The early crankbaits. Some designs are obvious flops: too many spinners and hook-hangers. Even ďlipsĒ on parts of the lure other than the nose section; thatís an interesting concept. I wonder what the thinking was there.
Careful scrutiny reveals the roots to our modern baits. A case in point are numerous lures by Creek Chub Ė supposed enticer of the original world-record largemouth. These plugs feature a longer, thinner shape than others, drab colors and a tune-able lip giving them an erratic, hunting action. Sounds productive even today.
Of course, a little later came the original Rapala Ė one of the few lures from the period still in circulation. Today, the genius lure-crafters at Rapala release modern versions of this and other baits, using spaceĖage materials and weight-transfer systems to fish better, longer and more efficiently. But itís nothing short of amazing how many bass are still fooled with that original, floating bait made of balsa wood.
Maybe itís nostalgia thatís on its side. Perhaps anglers today fish that lure just a little harder, bringing a little more confidence in each cast, as they remember the way their granddad did it.
For you, maybe itís a Jitterbug, or even a Lucky 13. Heck, it could be a living-rubber jig, a Balsa B or an Original Lunker Lure. Maybe itís a worm in a discontinued color; Iíve got a few packs of those that, when I thread them on my hook, I swear my hands shake.
Itís the old stuff, at least in your eyes. Itís a time when the pressure was off, and bass fishing was exploration. It was a secret that only you knew.
Go ahead, dust Ďem off.
Timeís on your side.
(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.)