Soft plastics; why I love them and why I love my new supplier. By Darin ‘Gil’ Gillenwater

Like GCO Guide John Shutte (atcisme), who commented on the Heddon Tiny Torpedo article about his love of soft plastics, I too prefer them. The crankbaits we’ve talked about so far have their place in the water on days where the fish are spread out and out need a little more pizzazz to get their attention, but nothing gets a smallmouth to strike like a well worked soft plastic when you know where the fish are hanging. Such as the current situation in our area, when the water is cold and the fish aren’t moving as much; we know they’re going to be in deeper water hanging below the thermocline and keeping the lure low and slow is the name of the game.

Now, I’ve tried a lot of different brands of soft plastics out there and had great success with them on the smallies, and one in particular I used to use because they used a stiffer salt water formulation as the plastics lasted longer and it was economical. All of the different brands of soft plastics out there had on trait in common though; short strikes. Anyone who fishes soft plastics has experienced bringing a fish up to the boat only to watch it open it’s mouth and drop right off because they struck short and never sucked the bait all the way in to get hooked.

My theory on why this happens a lot with some soft plastics is rather scientific; smallmouth bass, in fact all black bass, have tiny teeth in their lips and you also may not know it, but they have taste buds there too. When a fish grabs a soft plastic, they are tasting it as well as feeling it. If the salt content is within the range of what they identify as food and the texture seems right, they suck the bait into their mouths and proceed to the next stage of the process inside of the mouth where the food gets further analyzed and either A: spit out, or B: swallowed.  Now, this process will get thrown to the side altogether if the fish is fooled from the start and simply sucks the bait in, confident that it is what it appears to be.

The thing that seems to be happening with a short strike is that the fish isn’t immediately convinced that what it has is actually food, but since it’s trying to escape, it holds on to it to the bitter end and unless you get lucky, they end up letting go of it and you have recorded a miss.

For a fishing guide, the most frustrating thing in the world is a short strike. No matter what you tell your client, they tend to internalize the miss as their fault and often will get overly aggressive in their hook set and compound the problem. If you go in the reverse and wait to set the hook, the fish will either let go, or possibly suck the bait all the way into the gullet and then you have them gut hooked. Over the years, I’ve tried numerous methods to get around this, from scent attractants (more on that nefarious subject in a future post) to adding a trailer hook to the bait, which effectively kills the action.

Enter River Rock Custom Baits. I actually stumbled across them accidentally when there was a problem email address in my newsletter recipient list, and I ended up talking to the owner, Robert Shue and the conversation with him let me to try his baits. Robert talked a big game, telling me how his plastic formulation was tested time and again by a Bass Pro Shops Fishermen to zero in on just the right formulation for the softness of the plastic and the salt content, etc. As I was talking to him though, I became hopeful, because it occurred to me that all the claims in the world wouldn’t get him more than one shot at anyone’s tackle box if the claims were unfounded. That is no road to success.

SO…long story short, I tried them. My wife Kelly decided that she was going to guide ME  for a change and let me fish the whole day. Gotta love a woman that loves  you that much! We headed on down to my favorite stretch on the New and before we even put on, I resigned myself to the likely chance of getting skunked; we were post frontal, the water just didn’t look good and the wildlife was dead quiet. It would be a tough day. Never one to back down from a challenge, I tied on a River Rock 3″ tube in watermelon w/Black, much like this one. I could tell by the feel of it that the plastic is indeed softer and therefore less durable than the other major brands I’ve tried, but if it could net me one fish on a tough day, I’d be grateful.

Now, days like the one I’m speaking of, you can’t expect much, and I never expect anything right off the bat on this stretch on a tough day. The water on my favorite stretch starts out good and gets better the farther down that you go. Not getting anything in the first half mile is never shocking to me, and getting a strike right away is a good sign. Which is why I was impressed that we nailed a little smallie in the first few casts- the first half mile actually netted 3- 13″to 14″ smallies on a day that I was sure that anything short of dynamite would be futile. The best part is that there were very few short strikes over all; we boated 14 fish through out that ‘tough’ day with very few short strikes. I am convinced that the balance between soft and tough gives these baits a presentation that the fish can’t resist! Other models I tried that day were the Twitchy Minnow, Jakes Craw and the Standard Stick and all of them brought success. As a matter of fact, at the end of the run, I let Kelly fish some and she caught two fish at the very end of the run, where I have never had anything hit before!

As far as presentation goes, I have had success with both weighted and unweighted hooks, and the best success from the tube and craw come from a very slow presentation with a slight lift of the rod tip every so often to imitate a crawdad on the bottom. The stick and the minnow worked out best with a short slash and pause to get the fishes ire up.

Give them a try and let me know what you think!

Tight lines and God Bless,

Darin

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Next up; the Heddon Tiny Torpedo by Darin ‘Gil’ Gillenwater

Man all battle stations and ready the tubes; it’s Torpedo time! Don’t you just love my whimsical metaphors? No comments necessary; really. Yesterday, I wrote about the Bomber Flat-A. Next up, in no particular order, is the Heddon Tiny Torpedo in my favorite color…Clear!

You are probably thinking what I first thought…’Clear? The fish can hardly see it!’ Eggzactly!

Yes, I’ve used other colors and had success, but I really like the clear because I think the fact that it’s harder to see actually triggers the fish a little more. They can feel the movement and see something but they are forced to strike at it while they have the chance. I’ve had great success on top of the water with this little meanie by varying from the slash and pause to cranking and some side to side motion that really doesn’t qualify as ‘walking the dog’ because of the size; it’s more like ‘shaking the chihauha’. Whatever you call it, the fish do respond when they’re in a top water mood. I find equal success with the Baby Torpedo and the Spook sized lures, but I’m partial to the big response to the Tiny Torpedo. Put one along the shoreline in the early morning and see what comes to breakfast! Again, my favorite spot to get them (because, yes-I’m lazy!) is here at Lurenet: http://www.lurenet.com/brands/heddon-lures/heddon-tiny-torpedo

In case you’re wondering, I AM a guide rep for a lot of the brands I will talk about, but I get exactly nothing from featuring them; my motivation is to make you a better angler so that should you ever come out to fish with us, my job is easy!

Tight lines and have a blessed day,

Darin

Later today or perhaps tomorrow, I’ll be telling you about my new soft plastic supplier, the bold claims he made about his baits and exactly why he can make those claims!

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No kidding; it’s the BOMB-ER! By Darin ‘Gil’ Gillenwater

As a fishing guide, I am rather opinionated about what will and won’t work on the New River. As a humble fishing guide, I’ve learned to never say never when I look at a lure, and from time to time, when the fishing is slow, I’ll have a client pull something out to try and it pays off. The Bomber Flat-A is one of those lures. A few years back I had a client on who was a great bass fisherman but the fish were finicky and we were having a time of it. When Steve asked me if I wanted to try the Bomber, I was all for it as we had thrown them everything with little result. Long story short, I found another stand-by lure!

Here it is: the Bomber Flat-A in Fire Tiger…

Because of the rocky bottom structure of the river, I am always very hesitant about using divers- they can be tricky in shallow water and a downright nightmare if the fisherman is overzealous with them; you’ll spend more time getting off of snags than you will fishing.

The Bomber Flat-A is unique though. The weighting of the lure and the position of the lip allows you to avoid getting hung up most of the time if you let slack on the line as soon as you feel it start to hang. It’s very slightly buoyant and once you let off, it will usually float right off. Most of the time, when the lip hits the bottom or a rock or other structure, the lure will do a somersault over it and keep on going. Grassy areas can be frustrating, but if you fish it easy, you can skim just over the beds without too much of a problem.

How I like to fish it- although it is a standard crank bait, I also like to slash it for variety; crank it down and then slash, pause and reel as well as just cranking it in. The pause is often where the fish make their move and they generally don’t grab it; they slam into it with everything they’ve got.

Although my personal favorite is the Fire Tiger shown above, it also comes in numerous colors to suit your tastes as well. At under $5.00 a lure, they won’t break the bank either. You can get them at Walmart, Dick’s and Bass Pro, or you can order them here: http://www.lurenet.com/brands/bomber-lures/bomber-flat-a from the fine folks at Lurenet.com

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The spin we put on things…

Any angler knows that there simply is no single technique or lure that will work in all situations. We learn this lesson over and over again every time we get on the water; one day, they’ll be tearing at spinner baits and the next, even though conditions are largely the same, they’ll want something else. I personally start out each day on opposite ends of the spectrum, if I have two anglers with me and then fine tune from there. That being said, there are several ‘go-to’ lures that I like to choose from to start off…for example; the Bomber Flat-A in Firetiger is a good bet on many days, while the Heddon Tiny Torpedo in clear will entice them off the bottom if they’re willing to hit the surface. Another lure that cannot be ignored is the Rapala X-Rap; this little gem doesn’t always get the biggest fish out there, but if you fish it right, it will bring you numbers! I prefer the white with holographic sides for best results in most conditions. In future posts, I’ll be covering these and many other lures we use, with pics where possible, and just how to fish them for the best success.

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Here we go…

Well kiddies, here we go! I’ve wanted to start a fishing blog for a long time, but with the pace of life, I’ve not been able to get it going until now. Once we’re started and have everything established, it will be all down stream from here. I want to use this blog to share our love of fishing, techniques and news with the world. Your input is very much desired and we would love to hear from you!

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