WHAT IS IT?
Strike King Thunder Cricket
WHAT SETS IT APART?
Strike King took a proven bait style and gave it a boost of confidence by pumping up the components and including some sweet new design components. For starters, the bait is built with a 4/0 Owner flipping hook made with ZO Wire. This material yields hooks of smaller diameter that are stronger and harder. A thinner hook ensures better penetration, but the ZO Wire technology ensures the hook will stand up to rigorous use.
HOW DO I USE IT?
Working under license of U.S. patents owned by Z-Man Fishing Products Inc., Strike King came up with several unique features, such as the shape of its blade, which emits an erratic vibration even at low speeds thanks in part to the interlocking pin attachment. The Thunder Cricket also features a recessed head design, a premium skirt and a high-end paint job that’ll resist chips and scrapes. Available in 3/8-, 1/2-, 5/8- and 3/4-ounce sizes with 10 colors.
One of the best baits for covering water and locating aggressive fish, the bladed jig is a staple for prespawn pursuits. Strike King’s new creation will play this role well, along with any other “search mode” job. A screw-lock bait keeper securely holds your choice of trailers so you’re not wasting time straightening out that craw or swimbait after every bite. A recent pre-release field test found the fish crushing this bait. Most impressive were the solid hookups, courtesy of that serious hardware.
by James Niggemeyer
When I was growing up in Southern California, everyone threw a split-shot rig or used the doodling technique. Doodling was popularized by Don Iovino, who lived about 20 minutes from me. I used to go to his house and root through his tackle, and that’s where I first encountered it. The rig was simple: a 4- to 6-inch finesse worm with a bullet weight and a glass bead. Shaking it with a steady rhythm generated strikes on clear-water lakes. A split-shot rig was even simpler, with nothing but a lead shot that you crimped onto your line with some microscopic 3-inch baits.
Back then I was fishing Castaic, Casitas, Pyramid and other lakes with really clear water and heavy fishing pressure, so throwing a little finesse rig is just what I did. Funny thing is, I can’t even remember the last time I threw a split-shot rig or the doodling rig, but I can remember the first time I saw the rig that eventually replaced them: the drop-shot.
I guess I don’t know who was the first to rig up a drop-shot here or abroad, but it was definitely a Japanese development, and it was actually Aaron Martens that showed it to me first back in the mid-1990s. I had heard of it about five years before that, and I knew of a guy from Lake Perris in California who was using a rig with two hooks and a weight below it, but my history with the drop-shot as we now know it goes back to that first introduction by Aaron.
Once the word got out about the drop-shot, it was like no one threw a split shot or doodled anymore. It got to the point where every tournament was won on a drop-shot on those local clear-water, highly pressured impoundments.
At first, we didn’t even have drop-shot weights. We made them ourselves. I would buy 1/4-ounce split shot and crimp them onto the smallest barrel swivels I could find. I’m talking a tiny No. 14. Then I tied my line to that swivel. Other guys crimped a Texas-rig weight onto the line itself. I tried buying little bell sinkers, but I felt the wire wouldn’t turn fast enough like a swivel would inside a split shot.
Eventually, I saw my first drop-shot weight. It was a cylindrical weight with a line clip. They were expensive, and I remember thinking, Who’s buying that?Then, we got the first tungsten drop-shot weights, and it was more of the same. Now, if I’m drop-shotting, I couldn’t imagine not using tungsten.
Beyond tackle, the evolution of the drop-shot as a technique was really amazing. It was so much better than any of the other finesse presentations. You could even drop on fish you saw on the screen. I remember one of my buddies showing me how to do it. He’d spin around his graph at the console so he could see what was under the back and front of the boat, and we’d watch the fish go by and send a drop-shot down to them. The whole idea of catching one off the graph was new to me until then.
The technique just kept expanding. I have to admit that, at first, I made the mistake that a lot of bass fishermen do. I put the drop-shot in this little “box” and only used it in limited situations. I’d vertical fish it, and I’d cast it and work it just like a Texas rig. But I still wasn’t as open-minded as some other anglers that were really pushing the envelope.
I can remember the first time I heard of guys throwing a drop-shot on the California Delta. I thought that was so dumb. The Delta was a place to throw frogs and big square-bills and to flip. Boy, was I wrong. They started catching big ones on it.
What was even more interesting was how, at least in California, drop-shotting a little worm developed simultaneously with the transition of big swimbaits from tools for targeting trophy fish to tools to catch five bass in a tournament. I can remember talking to Byron Velvick about this years ago. He said the trend was to throw the smallest little finesse bait or the biggest, giant whatever. It’s like the whole “midsection” of bass baits wasn’t even getting used.
Now the drop-shot is the type of thing you throw anywhere (and so is a swimbait). I’ve seen it work too many times in places it shouldn’t. You won’t meet a pro angler today who doesn’t fish a drop-shot.
When I drop-shot, I really like to throw a finesse worm that’s around 4 1/2 inches long most of the time. My favorites are the 4-inch Strike King Dream Shot (bottom of image) and 5-inch Strike King Fat Baby Finesse (center of image). Sometimes I’ll go up to a 6-inch finesse worm, or down to a little bitty 3 1/2-inch Strike King Drop Shot Half Shell (top of image). I’ll even wacky rig a worm on a drop-shot if I’m not getting many bites fishing it the “normal” way, but for the most part I like a nose-hooked worm in the middle finesse size.
I feel like if you can get away with nose-hooking you’ll get more bites versus rigging it weedless or Texas style. The bait remains more “free” to move, and is less rigid on the hook.
I use a 1/0 or No. 1 Owner Mosquito or Light Mosquito for nose-hooking and wacky-rigging. If I do need to rig it weedless, I use a 1/0 Owner Cover Shot Worm Hook.
My weight is a bell-shaped Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten Drop Shot Weight, usually 1/4 ounce, rigged 10 to 12 inches below the hook. I increase the distance in very clear water, or sometimes in smallmouth water, and I shorten it when the water is dirty or I’m fishing for spawning bass on beds.
Like a lot of pros, I use a braid-to-fluorocarbon leader setup for drop-shotting. My main line is 10- to 12-pound-test braid, and I use an FG Knot to tie in a 7-pound-test Gamma Touch fluorocarbon leader.
Most people prefer the Palomar knot for tying on a drop-shot hook, but I actually use the Eugene slipknot.
The Palomar is probably the best knot if you tie it right, but, whatever it is that I do when I tie the Palomar knot, sometimes it breaks on the hookset. I try to remove all possibility of line failure, so when I first started experiencing the problem, I did some research and found an article done with Gary Klein and Shaw Grigsby. To anyone having trouble with fluorocarbon breaking on the hookset, they recommended the Eugene slipknot. It worked for me, and now I use it for everything except braid, which I tie using a Palomar.
Once I tie on my drop-shot weight with the Eugene slipknot, I pass the tag end back through the top of the hook eye, which keeps the hook pointed up most of the time. I also make sure the knot is centered and pointed up so the bait stays horizontal.
As you can tell, my drop-shot system is far more refined than it was 20 years ago when I was pinching split shot onto a swivel. Back in those days, it was up to the anglers to figure out how to make the rig work, and guys on the forefront like Aaron Martens helped a lot of us stay up on the latest tricks. Now, all the major tackle companies produce gobs of drop-shot worms, hooks, weights and other tackle, and we have incredible lines for light, finesse fishing.
So while I’m still a power-fisherman at heart, my history with the drop-shot and the modern tackle I use give me a high level of confidence that I can throw the finesse rig just about anywhere and put more big bass in the boat
I’m sure Nick and Cosma Creme, purported molders of the first “rubber worm,” would never believe that lures derived from their kitchen tinkering would still be making headlines 70 years later. From the original nightcrawler look, softbaits have morphed into every shape and color envisioned by anglers, enabled by today’s sophisticated plastic-pouring machines.
When I began tournament fishing in the mid-1970s, worms were just coming on the scene, soon to be followed by grubs and pork-shaped trailers. The most popular lures still were plugs, in-line spinners, spoons, floating minnowbaits, and topwater lures. By most accounts, bass were far easier to catch in those days, being relatively unpressured in most waters. We used tackle that was crude by today’s standards, and few if any electronic aids, yet we made epic catches.
Following Lowrance’s early sonars and Humminbird’s Super 60, paper graphs, LCD units, color monitors, and side-imaging with greater resolution came along. These units theoretically made bass easier to find and catch, especially in offshore habitats. But as anglers’ powers increased, so did the abilities of bass to resist our offerings. Over time, bass in heavily fished waters tended to become lure-shy, rejecting lures they’d eagerly gobbled some years before.
TOWARD BETTER SOFTBAITS
Fishing being what it is, inherently competitive for many, an arms race evolved as lure designers came up with softer softbaits, with added appendages that imitated the variety of creatures that bass call food. Mister Twister deserves credit for introducing two basic shapes that remain key categories today—twister-tail grubs in the early 1970s and swimbaits in the early 1980s.
Some baits came with flavors baked in, while sprays and juices emerged to be added before casting. They fooled many fish that had seemingly become jaded at the action, appearance, and flavor of plain plastisol worms.
Anglers were quick to pick up the potential of positive flavors to increase catches. In the mid-1980s, Fish Formula spray became a hit, as it offered an easy way to apply scent and flavor to softbaits. It benefited from an endorsement from tournament legend and TV star Bill Dance. Mann’s Bait Company enlisted Dr. Dan Rittschof from Duke University’s Marine Lab to craft an attractant. He tested flavors on bass in tanks and came up with FS-454 that was packaged with worms and available as a spray. I tried all these juices and flavors, making great catches at times with them.
BERKLEY’S BIOLOGY BREAKTHROUGHS
In 1985, Berkley recruited Dr. Keith Jones to join their staff to conduct research, shortly after he’d completed his Ph.D. in fish olfaction at Texas A&M University under the direction of Dr. Herman Kleerekoper, a world-renowned scientist in this field. Jones quickly began experiments on the taste preferences of bass and trout, resulting first in Berkley’s paste baits for trout, which remain top sellers today; so effective they’re banned in some waters where other artificial baits are legal.
When I joined the In-Fisherman staff in 1988, we received the first samples of PowerBait, the first fruits of his investigations of bass taste preferences. We were amazed at the way bass would hold onto the worms and grubs, the first shapes available, as did rock bass, bluegills, perch, and pike. Berkley expanded its fish lab in 1990, allowing for larger-scale tests with more fish species.
Jones worked with the bait production staff, headed by veteran chemist John Prochnow, to produce more effective baits. Dr. Jones tested bass’ preferences for various amino acids and mixtures, by offering them cotton pellets soaked with the material. Responses ranged from immediate rejection to swallowing. But it was soon clear that transforming amino acid flavors into usable lures wasn’t simple. This lesson had been learned by the earliest investigators in this realm of science, who worked with saltwater species to create flavored lures.
Prochnow says, “If Doc Jones’ experiments showed that bass gobble a particular mix of amino acids, our department had to figure out how to incorporate that substance into a bait that retains its flavor and also is easy for anglers to fish, is safe, and has reasonable shelf life.
“Features we wanted included making softbaits translucent, which is something anglers seem to like, though bass don’t seem to care about; shortening curing times in bait production to make the process more cost effective; making baits softer yet durable; increasing shelf life for the active ingredients; and adding lifelike features like appendages or eyes. Our experiments say these features also aren’t important to fish, but they are to anglers.”
The next phase of Berkley’s research resulted in Gulp!, which contains water-soluble attractants instead of the ones impregnated in the PowerBait formula. Fish have to engulf and chew PowerBait lures to get the full effect, so as they become tattered, they work better. Gulp!, on the other hand, excels at dispensing its potent attractors when exposed to water. But being water-soluble, it was prone to drying out if left on the line for a few hours or if the package wasn’t sealed. It was also stiffer than plastisol lures, and couldn’t be made in some popular colors.
In-Fisherman staff results found it excelled on slow presentations, such as skipping a weightless Jerk Minnow below a dock and letting it drift down, working a jigworm combo on deep breaks, or drop-shotting. Gulp! became most popular with anglers targeting smallmouth bass and marine species, along with walleyes and panfish. PowerBait and Gulp! have countless loyal users as new styles and shapes have been added to the lines over the years.
But soon after Gulp!’s release, Jones, Prochnow, and the rest of the research staff began working to create a new super-attractive softbait. Jones retired in 2016, about the time a new formula called MaxScent was first field-tested. “We wanted to incorporate the best of two lure styles—PowerBait and Gulp!—combining them into an exciting new product that’s easy to use and has proven extremely attractive to bass in the lab and our extensive field testing,” Prochnow says. “We wanted a material that offers excellent action under water, was flexible and durable, had a long shelf life, and was easy to package. It had to remain fishable in the coldest and hottest conditions, and most of all, it had to catch a lot of bass.
“Before his retirement, Jones spent five years working to perfect the flavor formula that goes into MaxScent. It’s different from the PowerBait flavor, and even more effective at causing bass to hold onto it. In extensive tests, MaxScent lures produced catch rates averaging 35 percent higher than with PowerBait, which has higher catch rates than any other plastisol lure we’ve tested. Moreover, the MaxScent material can soak up attractive water-soluble liquids like Gulp! Alive! liquid. MaxScent is PVC-based to provide action, but made of a matrix that soaks up and holds attractants, then releases them under water.”
Berkley released eight MaxScent shapes for the 2017-2018 season, and added more for 2018-2019, including the Critter Hawg creature bait and Flat Worm, a 4-inch flat-tailed drop-shot worm, in addition to 4- and 6-inch versions of the popular General stickworm. They’ve already proven deadly on largemouth and smallmouth bass. My tests with it have been eye-opening. On many occasions last summer and fall, it produced bass when other presentations and softbaits came up empty. Moreover, bass clearly savor its taste, hitting hard and holding on.
Top professional anglers like Justin Lucas have realized excellent results with MaxScent baits. Lucas lives near the shores of Lake Guntersville, one of Alabama’s best and most popular reservoirs. He first obtained packs of the 5-inch General, a classic stickworm design infused with MaxScent. “I first fished it around Guntersville’s many docks,” Lucas says. “Right away, I could tell something was different, as I rarely missed bites. Bass ate it on the fall and held on. Bass here see a lot of lures and this one outfished them all.”
He found success by wacky-rigging the 5-inch bait on a 1/0 Berkley Fusion Drop Shot Hook, hooking the worm through the middle with no weight. “Bream and other species are always pecking at it, too, so you know it has an attractive scent,” he says.
Bassmaster Elite pro Josh Bertrand of Arizona is a long-term Berkley staffer and began using MaxScent lures two years ago.”The new MaxScent additions are great,” he says. “I’ve been a huge fan of the General and now I use the 4-inch version as an alternate drop-shot lure and fish the big 6-incher around shallow cover whenever there are big bass around. Lunkers gobble that bait up.”
Bassmaster Elite pro Josh Bertrand has found the flavor of MaxScent deadly on big bass.
Bertrand and Lucas are versatile anglers and rely on a drop-shot rig for smallmouth bass and when largemouths turn tough. At the 2018 Bassmaster Elite tournament at South Dakota’s Lake Oahe, they both finished in the top 10 by drop-shotting the MaxScent Flat Worm.
“The bite was tough there,” Lucas says. “I was fishing around a bunch of competitors and we were all drop-shotting. But I was catching a lot more bass than they were, and I have to think the attractive scent and flavors of MaxScent lures made the difference.”
On tour and at the desert reservoirs back home in Arizona, Bertrand finds great success with shaky-head jigs. “If you need some fish, tie one on,” he says. “I use the Flat Worm for finesse bites, and I’ve had great success with the 7-inch MaxScent Magnum Hit Worm on a 1/2-ounce shaky-head jig, working it on reservoir ledges in summer for big largemouths. Those fish see a lot of lures, and the action and scent of the Hit Worm are deadly.”
Outside of Berkley’s biological investigations and revolutionary products, no other company has made bigger waves in recent years than Z-Man. In addition to the legendary line of ChatterBaits, their softbaits made of ElaZtech have been the hottest thing on the market. This material is an improved form of Cyberflexx, which appeared around 2000, notably in Terminator’s line of SnapBack lures. Rush to market for the sake of competition, they were, “a little too spongy for good hook penetration and so sticky that legs and other appendages would stick to the body, limiting their action,” according to Alan McGuckin, industry insider and former Terminator spokesman.
Late last fall, the company copped the President’s Award from Pitman Creek, one of the nation’s largest tackle distributors, as sales of their lures skyrocketed 425 percent during last year at retailers supplied by Pitman Creek. This growth is worldwide, according to Z-Man Executive Vice President Daniel Nussbaum. “We have distribution in 35 countries and are the top-selling lure company in Australia,” he says. “And we’ve kept adding to our top-level pro staff. We produce ElaZtech at our plant in South Carolina. It’s trickier to work with than plastisol, and the raw material is 10 times more expensive.”
Despite its cost to produce, anglers have found it a great buy as softbaits made from it last for dozens, or even hundreds of fish catches, even withstanding assaults by big, toothy critters. It’s extremely durable, as well as buoyant and flexible. “Its buoyancy makes it deadly on a drop-shot rig,” says pro Mark Daniels, who used Z-Man baits to win the Bassmaster Elite event last summer on Lake Oahe. “The bait always hangs straight out on the hook, with the tail up, wiggling in a fish’s face,” he says. “When the bite is tough, you can count on the action and soft texture of Z-Man softbaits to put fish in the boat.”
Z-Man currently has over 40 different ElaZtech bait shapes, in countless colors as well as specialized terminal tackle to most efficiently rig it. “As with the use of braided line, anglers new to ElaZtech have to get used to its unique properties,” Nussbaum says. “Hooks and jigheads that take advantage of its elastic properties work best, and this material stays on the hook better than any other softbait.”
In-Fisherman Field Editor Ned Kehde, the “Ned” behind the Ned Rig phenomenon, was among the first to appreciate and publicize ElaZtech baits in finesse situations. Over a decade ago, he first cut a Strike King Zero in two, impaling a 21⁄2-inch section on a tiny mushroom-head jig. He and his finesse-minded companions accounted for astounding catch rates for bass, commonly from 15 to 25 bass an hour on these small offerings. His network of aficionados has multiplied as chronicled by his regular reports on the Midwest Finesse Network, published regularly on In-Fisherman’s website, in-fisherman.com. I’ve often relied on these setups to make good catches during cold-front conditions or when fishing pressure in tournaments has made bass tight-lipped. And they’ve become a go-to lure for smallmouths in any conditions. Ned Rigs also are a great way to transition kids to bass fishing, as they’re sure to catch fish in short order.
Anglers find great success with a Z-Man ZinkerZ cut in half on a ShroomZ jighead of 1/32- to 1/10 ounce. A couple years ago, Z-Man added the TRD, a 23⁄4-inch bait that matches those heads well. But alternatives, including the WormZ, ShadZ, and HogZ, work better at times.
Given the constantly growing technology in lure production, as well as greater knowledge of bass biology and behavior, I expect the coming decades of the 21st century to yield more breakthroughs in the softbait market, though I’m at a loss to predict their direction. The Berkley researchers say they have no new taste tempters on the horizon, but that they’ve been experimenting with mixtures of their proven PowerBait, Gulp!, and MaxScent formulas, and results look promising.
Bass have demonstrated a knack for rather quickly catching onto the last tools made to fool them. I could list dozens of lures, soft and hard, that worked like magic when we first tried them and for subsequent seasons, but then saw catch rates fall. They’re still staples, though. Meanwhile we eagerly anticipate the next round of magic. For now, use and enjoy the latest round of super softbaits. The sooner the better.
*In-Fisherman Field Editor and fishery scientist Steve Quinn has been writing on bass topics for In-Fisherman for over three decades.
When chasing trout and other finicky fish, what to wear can be a crucial decision
by Chris Hunt
Corey’s green-and-yellow plaid shirt stood out like a sore thumb. The yellow was almost a neon yellow. The green? Linda Blair vomit.
As we hiked along a lonely trail that stretched between two small Madison River tributaries, the southwest Montana afternoon sky shimmered with sunlight as it sliced through pockets of storm clouds. The grass of the lowland pastures was high and deep green. Below us, miles away, we could see the Madison, shining silver in the patches of sun the clouds failed to filter out.
It was early summer. Everything was full of life. Varying shades of green soaked the landscape, with bolts of color from deep orange Indian paintbrush, bright purple sticky geraniums, and Corey’s hideous plaid shirt being the only notable exceptions.
Eventually, a couple miles later, we dropped down into a subtle valley where a small stream flowed down from the Gallatin Mountains. It wasn’t anything special. In fact, it was borderline fishable—the only reason we even bothered with it was, well … we’d come this far, and not wetting a line seemed like giving up.
The little creek dropped over lots of in-stream structure. Big rocks. Downed cottonwoods. It was shrouded by bright green willows, making casting tough. But, whenever we could get a fly on the water, we were, more often than not, rewarded by a determined strike from a small, but lively cutthroat.
As we worked upstream, we eventually arrived at the lip of a sizeable beaver dam. The pond behind the dam was deep and dark, and it looked like, if were to connect with any sizeable fish on this prospecting trip, this would be where it would happen.
I stepped up to the base of the dam—industrious beavers had crafted it using willow branches and larger cottonwood boughs, and it stood a good four feet tall. Through the branches, the creek filtered on down through the canyon, but behind the dam, water backed up a good hundred yards. Dark, trouty water.
I lifted my light, 3-weight fly rod and readied for a cast. I knew seconds into the act that this would be fruitless. As I prepped for my backcast, I saw a sizeable cutthroat dart out from under the dam in a panic. I’d been spotted.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. My red t-shirt—even in its washed and muted tone—likely gave me a way. And, let’s face it. I’ve never been much of a ballerina. Finding grace while tip-toeing over a host of thin, supple willow branches and balancing atop them in a pair of wading sandals is more difficult for me than most.
I stepped back, not casting at all.
“Let’s give it a few minutes,” I said to Corey. “I just spooked a pretty nice fish. We should let it settle.”
We did just that. We each took a swallow of water, dusted our flies and just gave things time to quiet down. I looked at Corey in that shirt that even Archie Bunker would have discarded, and I realized something.
The neon yellow and the pea-soup green, while they’d clashed with the open meadows we traversed to get to the creek, were almost the ideal shades and tones of the bright green willows that lined this small Rocky Mountain brook. He blended. And he blended well.
Corey stepped up to the lip of the dam and dropped a nice cast into the depths of the pond beyond it. His Adams landed quietly, and with a single twitch of the fly line, the dark water erupted beneath the fly. He brought a sweet 10-inch cutty to hand.
“Damn that shirt,” I said. “You’re like a ninja.”
And that, of course, is the lesson. What you wear, particularly on intimate trout water, matters. The green-and-yellow monstrosity was an ideal choice for this stretch of small water. In it, Corey disappeared against the backdrop of the willows and cottonwoods, and he was much less conspicuous.
Me? In my worn red t-shirt? I caught a few trout. But I spooked just as many, simply because my attire alerted the fish of my presence. It was a painful day at small-stream trout school, but it’s a lesson I’ll never forget (even if I don’t always practice it religiously).
A few years ago, while chasing big trout in Argentina’s Rio Filo Hua Hum during blustery weather, I had donned a rain jacket that sported a bright orange slice of fabric. While it fought off the rain just fine, it also raised the ire of Santos, my guide for day.
As we walked along the river looking for likely holding water or for holding trout in the cold, clear water, Santos looked at me, and then back at the river. Then he looked at me again.
“Nice jacket, Chris,” he muttered, oozing sarcasm in his heavily accented English. “You think you can turn that thing inside out?”
Picky trout in tough water like the Filo Hua Hum need every advantage they can get. They’ve seen their share of flies. They’ve seen their share of anglers. The best way to get at them, of course, is to not be seen at all. And that means checking your fashion sense at the door and donning attire that blends or, at the very least, doesn’t announce your presence like an air-raid siren.
Soft-goods manufacturers in the fly-fishing world are catching on, too. Some wader manufacturers have crafted products sporting a “river camo” pattern designed to help you achieve cover from fish even when there’s no real cover. Most waders and rain jackets have consistently been constructed from muted shades of green and brown Gore-tex. This helps, of course.
But don’t get too caught up in the need to blend in with the flora. Last summer, on a bright sunny day spent fishing a meadow stream, I donned a bright blue sun hoody that helped me reduce my silhouette against the sky—I had an excellent day catching fat, finicky trout.
Bottom line? Your wardrobe matters. Think about where you’re fishing. Think about the weather. Think about the time of day. The position of the sun. Consider the variables, and there are many.
Then dress smart.
by Curtis Niedermier
Editor’s note: An abbreviated version of this interview first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of FLW Bass Fishing magazine. It is published in its entirety here.
What’s life like in Longview, Texas?
It’s good. When I’m not on the road fishing, I own a pawnshop and sporting goods store. Part of that sporting goods mix is largely made up of fishing tackle – basically fishing tackle and firearms. When I’m home, I try not to work any more than I have to, but I do spend a pretty good bit of time up there [at the store].
I actually don’t really fish a whole lot when I’m home. Maybe an occasional trip to [Lake of the] Pines or one of the little power plant lakes here. And I mix in golf. I find that I stay really busy.
What’s the weirdest item ever brought in or sold at your store?
We had someone bring in a colonoscopy scope. I was like, What the hell? Where do I even begin with this thing?
We try to take anything that we can re-sell, but one of the processes that we go through when taking any piece of merchandise is we test it. I thought, How do I even make sure this thing works? What is it worth? Is there a market for it? It was really an odd situation. Not to mention, what was somebody doing with this thing?
That’s been about 10 years ago. We did take it, and I believe we did sell it. I was gone that particular day we sold it, but I think the guy who bought it had a small practice that he was just starting up at the time.
Would you ever host a reality TV pawnshop show?
No. Absolutely not. I don’t want any part of it.
Is there any kind of show you’d like to host?
I think it’d definitely be cool to do something fishing-related. That’s actually something I’ve thought a lot about. I’m not the best in front of a camera, so I think it’d need to be more reality-based about life on the Tour, kind of like what FLW did with Circuit Breaker, but maybe a little more raw; maybe a little more toeing the line of what may or may not be appropriate. There’s some crazy stuff we do out there on the road, especially the night before an off day.
I think the biggest misconception about what we do is that it’s all fun and games. People just don’t understand how much work goes into what we do. I don’t think they really check into the concept that we have to pay money to clock into this job with no guarantee of a paycheck. I wish there was something out there that illustrated that kind of thing a little better so people would have a little more respect for it as a career and a way to make a living. It’s not just fun and games, and if you are a competitor like I am, that’s what you feed off of and drive off of.
How weird was it to fish Sam Rayburn with the water so high this year?
It was definitely a strange event. At the same time, being from close to Lake of the Pines, it [high water] is something I’m very familiar with. Lake of the Pines, historically, has a tendency to rise very quickly like that; as much as 10 to 15 feet high. So it was something that didn’t really scare me at the time. I knew I was going to have to make some adjustments, but I was comfortable making those adjustments.
As we saw at the Tour opener, Rayburn is ridiculously good. Did you grow up fishing there?
No, I’m two hours away from there, and you probably don’t know this but I’ve only been in the tournament game for six years. So growing up I had no tournament experience. I just grew up on the golf course fishing ponds, and that was about it. I’ve always fished, but I never fished reservoirs out of a bass boat.
Once I got older and financially things got better, I decided I wanted to try my hand at bass fishing and tournament fishing, so I bought a boat and started in it. I did the club thing for a few years then did it [fished the Tour] as a co-angler.
Did you mostly learn about bass fishing alone? Or did you have any mentors?
I really went at it by myself. Jim Tutt, being from Longview himself, helped me out some. We had a long ride back from Lake Eufaula the year I fished as a co-angler. I was maybe 17th in the standings, and Jim asked me, “What are you going to do if you finish in the top 10?”
I said, “What are you talking about?”
“You’re qualified to fish as a boater.”
I said, “Yeah, I realize that, but I don’t know if one year after doing the co-angler thing that’d be a good idea. I was thinking after maybe two years.”
He said, “But next year you might finish 13th and not qualify.”
That kind of got the wheels turning. I’ve always looked up to Jim for some guidance and knowledge. But, all in all, it’s mostly been me alone. He kind of helped talk me into it.
Your first two seasons on the FLW Tour were a little rough, but last year you made the Cup, and this season you started off with a top-10 finish (Osborne is currently 22nd in the standings). What’s changed?
I’ve had that question asked a lot. I think it’s a little bit of everything. It’s a little bit of confidence. It’s a little bit of experience. It’s a little bit of learning how to take three days and be as efficient as you can with them in practice.
During the tournaments I’ve found myself evolving as an angler. I feel like I have more confidence in the decisions I make, and I’ll make a lot more decisions than I used to. I used to get narrow-minded with my fishing, and I think I’ve gotten a little more open-minded. I’m in the zone, and I’m trusting my gut and don’t really question myself as much.
I still continue to learn different techniques across the country, but I’m still very, very raw. I think the fact that I’ve not fished very long means I’m not stuck in my ways. I’m willing to learn and try something new. I think that’s played big for me.
What did people think when you first told them you were going to try fishing professionally?
It was a mixed bag. When I went down to the local boat dealer and told him what I was wanting to do – I was trying to approach him for a team deal – you could tell he had been burned too many times. He told me more than likely you’re going to fail. I had that told to me by several people.
I think people that knew me knew that it wasn’t going to be a one-and-done type thing for me. Because I’m so competitive, historically, anything I’ve picked up I’ve always stuck with until I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I lettered in basketball and tennis as well as golf and baseball in high school. When I pick up something new I don’t stop until I’ve reached my full potential, and I knew that’s what was going to happen with me in fishing. Those guys that told me I wasn’t going to do it, that was free motivation.
So have you always been involved in some type of competition?
Yeah. I spent most of my youth playing baseball. We played on a traveling team. At times before high school when I was on that traveling team we would play as much as 110 to 120 games a year. We were all about it.
I was eyeballing a career that would at least carry me through college playing baseball. It presented some opportunities when I got out of high school, but I had some arm problems. I had Tommy John surgery on my elbow my freshman year of high school and was never the same pitcher. I could play some other positions, but pitching was my main thing. I’m not going to say I lost my passion for it, but it kind of got away from me. I didn’t want to go play third base. I played one year in college.
I also played golf in high school, which is not easy to do along with baseball. I played a lot of golf up until I started fishing. It was every other weekend I was traveling somewhere to play in a tournament. I got pretty much down to where I was a scratch golfer for quite a while. Definitelynot there now.
As a competitive golfer, do you see any parallels between tournament golf and tournament fishing?
There are a lot of things in a bass tournament that parallel golf. The biggest thing is the mental part of it. Golf is not just hitting the ball. It’s about the decisions you make and when you take that extra little bit of risk. Golf is all about risk versus reward. And I think fishing is the same way.
Are you a hunter, too?
I do quite a bit of bird hunting. I say quite a bit … when I can squeeze it in. I usually take two to three bird-hunting trips a year. Usually one dove-hunting trip, one quail-hunting trip, and one or two duck-hunting trips.
Do you hunt any of the exotics roaming around Texas?
No, I don’t. If it’s anything other than hunting with a shotgun I just haven’t gotten into it.
You fished the Cup as a co-angler back in 2015, but the 2018 event was your first as a pro. What was the experience like?
It’s definitely not the same. The pros are the stars of the show, for sure. Not to say that they did not treat us co-anglers with first class, but it’s definitely a lot different. The level of respect you get just for making the Cup is pretty awesome. FLW gave us first-class treatment from start to finish. It was pretty awesome.
Considering you’re still learning, when you go to a fishery that’s completely different, like, say, Lake Champlain or Lake St. Clair, how long does it take you to adjust?
When you go to it for the first time, I don’t know that you can fully adjust to it, in my opinion. I pretty much find that it takes a second go-round before I finally start to settle into a body of water.
The first time in it’s tough. Champlain [in 2016] would’ve been different had I been to a place like Oneida or Erie before I went there. The first time I went to Champlain was the first time I’d ever been to true smallmouth-type water.
Now, after a few years, I’ve been to Champlain, Oneida and St. Clair. I really feel like any of those bodies of water up there, even if they’re new at this point, there’s a certain amount of comfort that I’d have going into that type of body of water. It’s sort of like going to Florida: They’re all a little different, but there are so many similarities at the same time.
What should we expect to see from you the rest of 2019?
I hope more than anything we just see consistency. Everybody would love to win a tournament, and I think I’m on that pattern, when you look at my statistics and look at where I’m heading. I think we can expect a win at some point in my career. I don’t know if that’s this year, next year, or, you look at Terry Bolton, he’s had a great career, and it took him 20 years to get the first W at the Tour level. Who knows? I just want to be consistent.
By Jason Sealock
Here are the details and experiences thus far with the new Jenko bass fishing rods released for 2019.
(1 of 10) WORKHORSE ROD LINE
The Jenko Fishing DCVR Gambler Series of rods features 12 models to cover all your bases in bass fishing. The DCVR (pronounced deceiver) rods feature Carbon Fiber Paratek blended blanks for maximum lifting power and durability while maintaining a balanced platform for all your fishing situations.
The Gambler Series combines incredible strength with a parabolic bend to give you a worry free fishing experience. I’ve gone up in the flooded cover and banged them into tree branches, bushes docks and everything else while fighting fish out of tight corridors and swung nearly every bass I’ve caught on them thus far.
The handles feature tacky soft DCVR AWG all-weather comfort grips for maximum control with a soft touch for long days of fishing.
(2 of 10) CARBON FIBER PARATEK BLANKS
Their exclusive Paratek processing incorporates the latest technology in carbon fiber blending into making the blanks and all the rods feature a parabolic bend to keep pressure on the fish uniformly throughout the fight.
The rods range from the 6-foot, 9-inch medium-light spinning rod to the 7-foot, 10-inch heavy casting rod. Their are two spinning and 10 casting models in the line-up.
I’ve found the 7-foot medium and 7-foot, 3-inch medium heavy rods to be my workhorse rods this spring already. I’ve caught a slough of bass from Kentucky to Louisiana to North Carolina on the rods already. The 7-foot medium rod has been a great spinnerbait rod and the 7-foot, 3-inch rod has been good for flipping, frogging and even casting big jigs and small swimbaits.
(3 of 10) ERGONOMIC FOUNDATION SEAT
Their Foundation reel seats offer a blank through design so you can keep in contact with the blank while palming your reel on the Gambler rods. The real seat is strong and light and offers good balance on these rods.
(4 of 10) PREMIUM ALPS GUIDES
They used premium ALPS guides on the rods from Batson Enterprises. These ALPS guides have offered smooth casting and good line management on the DCVR rods. The first few feeder guides have solid triple foot designs and then taper into smaller single foot guides.
(5 of 10) COMFORTABLE GRIPS
The grips are comfortable and the rod butt sits comfortably in the ribs on the hook set. There is intricate detailing from butt to blank making these some very appealing custom sticks.
(6 of 10) SNAGLESS HOOK KEEPER
The hook hanger gives you a closed loop to hang hooks on your rod blank. It’s double wrapped to also resist chipping and wear from baits and hooks around the hanger.
(7 of 10) HEAVIER POWERS
I have found the Jenko DCVR Gambler rods to be a bit heavier on the power side. In other words, if you like a heavy action rod for flipping usually, you might prefer the medium heavy in this line up. If you like a medium heavy rod for spinnerbaits, you might like the medium rod better.
The bigger rods in the heavy actions are stout.
They can handle very big lures better than they are rated even. So you can use that 7’10” rod as a swimbait rod.
The designers at Jenko are already working on a few different options in the lineup to give guys some more rounded out choices with handle lengths and action-power combinations. I provided some input recently on what I would like to see in a swimbait rod in this lineup.
(8 of 10) GOOD OPTIONS
I will admit this rod was a pleasant surprise. I expected another run-of-the-mill rod at that $149 price point. But I was really impressed with the strength and parabolic tapers on these rods. I have hit fish as hard as I possibly could trying to snap one. I have swung 6 pounders into the boat without a care.
For some reason, I find myself drawn to these rods more and more. I wasn’t wild about the color initially, but now that has even grown on me. I open the rod box and see those Blue rods and reach for one as one of my options for the day.
Right now you can get them at Jenkofishing.com. But they are starting to hit retailers now and will be online in some bigger box stores late spring 2019 as well.
(9 of 10) BOAT FLIPPING THEM EVEN ON MEDIUM ROD
(10 of 10) BIG HEAD CAME OUT OF GNARLY COVER