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Trends in bass tactics 2011.

2010 presented challenges from an economic standpoint, and tournament sponsorships were reduced as companies cut promotional activities. But while tournament activity declined, angler surveys indicate a rise in license sales and fishing activity. Everyday anglers realize that fishing itself is a bargain, an annual license costing less that a movie date or a large pizza with everything on it. Sure you can spend a small fortune on a fancy boat and top-end tackle. But they're not needed for fishing success. On the other hand, no denying that scientific advances in nanotechnology have enabled marvelous innovations in rod and reel manufacturing, as well as lure effects such as UV reflection.

From a fishing standpoint, we see telling trends in bass fishing, what's hot and what's not. Based on their recent track record, certain tactics and lure types offer more than promise, less than guarantee. But that's fishing, as they say.

Crankbaits

Cranking divers as well as lipless baits has been a hot deal, throughout the season and across the country, and I see more to come in 2011. We've always considered crankbaits efficient for horizontal coverage--a fast route to finding groups of bass hidden along creek channel ledges or set up in grass beds. And they're also an odds-on call when fish are scattered.

But with today's emphasis on depth-rated lures, they're also efficient from a vertical or depth perspective. That's why anglers of all skill levels have been scooping up cranks, as well as the many specialized rods now available to fish them.

Also notable is the appearance of cranks and rattlers. Thanks to custom paint jobs as well as manufacturing processes, baitfish and other edible creatures, like frogs and craws, have never been so closely replicated on a lure.

Abstract designs also provide new levels of contrast, while new finishes also promise new effects. Futuristic effects like laser lights and UV finishes adorn hardbaits, promising a new realm of attraction. Consider a few crankin' categories that have been particularly hot.

Custom Baits and Coloring

Back to the future, wooden crankbaits are hotter now than in the 1950s. Though some are designed and built with high-tech manufacturing processes, many high-dollar, high-demand baits are carved in basements across the land and painted with an artist's touch.

Kelly Barefoot, founder of Custom Lures Unlimited, lives and breathes custom bass baits. He even dreams custom baits. "I often have a hard time sleeping, as ideas for new lures keep streaming through my head," he says. "I've learned to get up and start sketching in my book, no matter what the hour." Obsessed with new designs, he carves dozens of new ones, then selects a handful to put into production.

"It takes a minimum of 6 months to come up with a new workable lure. Getting the balance of the body and the running angle right is the hard part. Divers are tricky for that reason." Barefoot began as a custom painter of production cranks and expanded to offer unique lures in special colors and textures. He's even added a pro staff with major stars like Mike Iaconelli and Dave Wolak.

Craig Powers of Rockwood, Tennessee, followed major tournament trails and scored many top finishes. Known as the most accurate short-range caster in the business, he's always tinkered with lures, typically shallow cranks and topwaters.

Tiring of the tournament grind in 2009, he turned to lure-making full time with his CP Series Crankbaits he designs and hand-crafts. He offers 3 flat-body cranks, each with a diving range governed by its bill design. He uses mycarta bills, as this computer-board material yields a fine-tuned wobbling action and sharp deflection when the lure contacts cover.

Not inclined to meddle with proven baits, Bob Jordan, founder of Xtreme Lure Creations of Georgia, keeps plenty busy with his custom painting business. A life-long angler with an interest in art, he majored in wildlife biology in college, and gradually moved into the custom coloring business.

"Avid anglers want a bait that's different from what everyone else is throwing," he remarks. "I can match natural colorations of all sorts of fish, or copy the paint scheme of one company onto lures made by another. It's rewarding to get feedback from anglers after they've done well with my baits."

With his equipment in place and patterns down, Jordan can complete a lure in about 30 minutes. He's sold lures to anglers in all 50 states, including many pro fishermen, and also does business in Europe and Asia.

Livetarget offers a custom-painted look in production baits. When initial offerings of Crawfish, Yellow Perch, Shad, and Golden Shiner met with wide acclaim, Grant Koppers expanded the line of naturally-colored, anatomically correct crankbaits. Their rendition of blue-back herring, available in several designs, has been heralded in East Coast impoundments where bass thrive on this large preyfish. And their Perch, Bluegill, Pumpkinseed, and Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass look like they'd swim away, with eyes, fins, scales, and more an exact duplicate of nature.

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Depth-Rangers

Depth-designated divers have continued to catch lots of bass and score victories in tournaments on lakes and reservoirs. Success of Rapala's DT series encouraged production of a new plastic partner, the Crankin' Rap, with 5 models--2 square-bills built to run either 2 to 3 feet or 4 to 5 feet; and 3 round-bill divers that reach three depth ranges.

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With input on design features from Kevin VanDam, Strike King added the Pro Model 6XD, not rated for a particular depth, but said to reach 18 feet on a long cast. The pro basser used prototypes of this bait to rake in tens of thousands of dollars in winnings at the Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments last season. With design work and testing done, a Pro Model 5XD is soon to go to market.

Square-Bill Bonanza

Credit Fred Young, designer of the original Big O, and Jim Bagley with putting square-bill crank-baits on the bassin' map. That bill style gives a fat-body bait a wide shuffing gait that drives bass wild in shallow cover. And that bill effectively caroms off stumps to avoid snags. After a heyday in the 1970's though, round-billed divers stole the stage.

Square-bills have always had a cadre of followers, however, and many carvers built them for loyal customers across the Southeast. Today, they're a major thrust for tackle giants as well. Rapala ventured into the scene with the DT Fat Series, the subsurface Fat 1 and classic 3- to 4-foot diver, the Fat 3. These baits have proven deadly from the bass factories of Texas to weedy lakes in New England. At VanDam's urging, Strike King undertook a project to build square-bills and the KVD 1.5 and 2.5 are the result, available for this season. And LaserLure's B3 is a balsa square-bill equipped with a laser light.

Flippin'

This long-rod, short-line technique goes back to Dee Thomas and Dave Gliebe in California, while Roland Martin and Hank Parker put their mark on it while dominating pro fishing in the 1980s and early 1990s.

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But while everyone's doing it, died-in-the-wool flippers continue to refine the art, which is as deadly today as it was back then. That's because this technique enables ultra-precise presentations with lifelike lures in the dense cover bass often occupy.

Flippin' sticks are ever longer, at least up to the 8-foot maximum length tournament organizers arbitrarily place on them. Designed to deliver tungsten weights over an ounce with ease and accuracy, these rods are balanced to fish all day, despite their relative heft.

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Lines, too, continue to evolve, with breakthroughs in fused lines this year, most notably Sufix 832 and Spiderwire Ultracast Fluoro-Braid, as well as more fine fluorocarbons and true braids. For a thorough overview of new rods, including an array of mega-flip sticks, as well as new fluorocarbons and fused superlines, reels to match, and loads more fine tackle, check the In-Fisherman Gear Guide, on sale at newsstands this month or available at in-fisherman.com.

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Another development has been the punch skirt, a silicone or rubber skirt tied around a hard bead and fished between sinker and hook. This skirt provides the big fish appeal of a jig, while maintaining the streamlined and cover punching attributes of a Texas-rigged soft-bat. Alternatively, skirted weights like the Pepper Punch from Pepper Jigs or StrikeZone Lures' Grass Buster provide a similar effect and efficiency.

Drop-Shottin'

At the other end of the presentation spectrum, drop-shot fishing has finally become a mainstream technique, attracting the attention of rod, line, and lure makers who have crafted tackle for it. Even among avid weekend bassers, it's a money technique for bass of all sorts.

There's no doubt that the Roboworm is a favorite, simple but highly effective. But new wiggly baits, designed for nose-hooking, can enhance this technique, allowing maximum action. And anglers fishing thicker cover are discovering that Texas-rigged softbaits are deadly on heavy-duty drop-shot rigs. And as with flippin', new spinning rods are designed for different drop-shot motifs.

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Jiggin'

Jig fishing is no longer a technique in itself, except in the most general sense. Instead, variations in jig design and presentation have made this old favorite more versatile than ever.

In the world of "ledge fishing," that is working relatively deep offshore breaklines, football jigs have become a key tool, backed by a craw, beaver, or creature bait.

Recent success of swimming a jig has led to new takes on this technique as well. Swim jigs generally weigh 1/4- or 3/8-ounce, built with a conical nose to pass through cover. Because strikes can be fleeting, fiberguards are thin and flexible. And to run better and give illusion of a baitfish, skirts are sparse and sport natural colors.

Recent breakthroughs in specialized football heads, such as Larew's jointed HardHead have married swimmin' and pigskin tactics. The loose hook allows a softbait to pivot, adding action to a bottom or mid-water presentation.

Speaking of action, swimming-style jigheads are huge. The Scrounger Head, an old West Coast trick, has become a hot tactic across the country, wherever shad are key forage. And underspins like the Fish Head Spin offer alternate action--more subtle movement but with flash from the spinner. Scroungers produce major vibration, so they work in clear and murky conditions. Today, two companies, Davis Baits and Luck-E-Strike offer this lure.

The Japanese company Zappu offers an alternative design with their tungsten PD Chopper head, designed to accommodate a variety of small swimbaits. Its shoelike shape imparts a similar wiggling action to a softbait, and models are available with and without skirts. Optimum, an importer of Zappu, created their own lead version, the Diamond Head.

Spooning

Since In-Fisherman, along with the television show Ultimate Match Fishing, broke the story on using big flutter spoons for largemouth bass on summertime structure, this technique has grown with new regional and technical applications. The most recent is the brainchild of Ozark pro angler Brian Snowden and some of his fellow bassers at Table Rock, Lake of the Ozarks, and other deep, clear impoundments. According to In-Fisherman Field Editor Ned Kehde, Snowden's found spoons a great option for fishing docks, albeit deep ones, on highland and hill-land impoundments.

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"He's been using primarily 1/2-or 3/4-ounce Bass Pro Shops XPS Tungsten Spoon, tied directly to a split ring," Kehde comments. "He uses it from late spring into fall, and its effectiveness was exemplified at the Table Rock PAA tournament last October when local expert Shane Long used a spoon to win there. It's a semi-vertical presentation, as he pitches the spoon to the corners of docks or into boatlifts."

A related trick, still under the radar, is using Rapala's Jigging Rap, designed primarily for ice fishing walleyes, to tempt deep bass in such waters. In both techniques, new hi-tech sonars and GPS units enable its extreme effectiveness on suspended bass.

One of the lures of fishing is using our minds to conjure on-the-water situations and theorizing how we might make bass bite. The test comes in the boat when we put our ideas to the test, and bass do the grading. It's a fascinating game because win or lose, we come back with ideas to deal with each new situation. Here's to a great season of fishing and catching.
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Author:Quinn, Steve
Publication:In-Fisherman
Date:Dec 22, 2010
Words:2079
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