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Re-Gulped

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By Pete Robbins

February 10, 2016

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Prior to last year’s Bassmaster Classic, I blogged about the hand-carved Gulp crankbaits formerly produced by Jim Harter in the Palmetto State. Shortly thereafter, blog reader and fellow tackle junkie Christopher Allard was kind enough to send me one. I still haven’t had the cojones to fish with it.

This past week I got an email out of the blue from reader Jamie McAbee, telling me that he’d found last year’s musings and sharing with me his own history of being raised in and around Harter’s workshop, which led him to “love the smell of wood and clear coat.” He has over 300 Gulp crankbaits, and here are five of his all-time favorites (from top to bottom)

  • Charlie Redeye (“my favorite on Greenwood”)
  • Boogie (“named after the Bayou Boogie, my favorite on Russell”)
  • Dollar Bill (Clarks Hill)
  • Rainbow Trout (Murray)
  • Moonglow (Hartwell)

I love this kind of stuff and wish more readers would offer up pics and details of their private stashes.

Anyone know if there are any locally-made baits known to whack ‘em on Grand?

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 February 2016 06:48
 

Shark Tank: Bass Edition

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By Pete Robbins

February 8, 2016

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I don’t watch a lot of television, but lately I’ve really gotten into “Shark Tank,” the show in which billionaires compete for the opportunity to invest in – or disparage – the business ideas of a less successful dreamer class.

I like the show because as the segments progress it gives me a chance to think. Generally that thought is: “If I had hundreds of millions of dollars, would I invest in any of these projects, or would I just say ‘screw it’ and go have some delicious nachos?” Sometimes I’ll be surprised by which ideas the Sharks consider to be investment-worthy or not. For example, I thought a drone-mounted frozen yogurt kiosk sounded like a great idea, while cupcakes in a jar seemed ridiculous. The One Percenters thought the opposite way around.

Lately, I’ve decided that the network should mix my two interests and create a special episode, entitled “Shark Tank: Bass Edition.” Bass anglers, inventors and other people around the fringe of our world could pitch ideas. One conversation might go like this:

Semi-Pro Angler: I’m asking for $80,000 for 10 percent of my future winnings.

Mark Cuban: What will you use the 80 grand for?

Semi-Pro Angler: Entry fees, boat gas, Moon Pies.

Daymond John: And what were your winnings last year?

Semi-Pro Angler: Well, I got a check in the last Open, so $1,333. But I’m projecting earnings of $822,000 this year alone, because they’re going to my home lake and my Facebook buddy gave me killer waypoints for the second stop. I’m also the same age that KVD was when he won his first AOY award.

Five Sharks at Once: We’re out.
 

Or perhaps
 

Crankbait Inventor: It uses only premium components.

Kevin O’Leary: What does it cost you to make?

Crankbait Inventor: Well, $14.62, because I use paint chips off original Wiggle Warts for every one.

Robert Herjavec: Why is it different than any other crankbait that’s already on the market?

Crankbait Inventor: It hunts. Especially if you fish it on a parabolic rod.

Barbara Corcoran: What are your sales so far?

Crankbait inventor: None.

Mark Cuban: I won’t invest, but I’ll be a customer.

Maybe that’s unfair. Shark Tank has already had some fishing-related success stories. Mark Cuban invested $80k for 33% of a company that made rattling sinkers, the same deal he made with a company that produced bobbers made out of shotgun shells. He also spent $300 large for a 25% chunk of Dude Wipes, a company that sponsors Gerald Swindle (“good when you need a maintenance wipe”).

Maybe better than having a bass-focused episode would be an altogether new show where semi-pro anglers pitch potential sponsors. We’d hear “What will you give us?” and the response would likely be “Exposure” and “Impressions” and “I’ll work every boat show for free,” but at least then the process would be a little bit more transparent, and we’d understand what the companies are really looking for.

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Last Updated on Monday, 08 February 2016 08:16
 

Appointment Viewing

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By Pete Robbins

February 4, 2016

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Speaking as someone who has 900 channels available in his home but not nearly enough time to watch them all – or even learn their acronyms – I’m convinced that in 2016 if you don’t have your own show you’re pretty much a nobody. There’s a voting or winnowing process for every possible interest, from “America’s Next Top Model” to “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” When I learned that the “Brazilian Butt Lift” I saw on the channel guide was an infomercial rather than a contest, I quickly lost interest, but turning the channel I found “House Hunters,” followed by “Love it Or List It,” and further up the dial (do any TVs still have dials?) there were reruns of “BBQ Pitmasters.”

Obviously there’s plenty of outdoor programming, but most of it is formulaic and highly redundant. Even the good stuff is rarely all that different in concept from the bad stuff. So with all of the interest in Americana (“American Pickers”), real estate (just about anything on HGTV) and competition (“Survivor,” “American Ninja Warrior,” “The Bachelor,” etc.), why hasn’t anyone developed “America’s Best (Mom and Pop) Tackle Shop”?  I haven’t quite fleshed out the concept, but I’m sure they’d be graded on both their inventory of standard needs as well as regional, discontinued and specialty items. Extra points could be granted based upon the crustiness of the old dude behind the counter, the quality of their minnow tanks, and the thickness of the dust layer atop their multiple varieties of Vienna Sausages. The next season they could combine it with “Supermarket Sweep” and you could win by filling your cart with tungsten – it would be worth a ton but you wouldn’t be able to move it. Even if they didn’t get to that point, a nationwide search for top tackle shops would be a valuable resource.

I’d DVR and binge watch the hell out of that one…and then go on an epic road trip to check out the top 10 or 20.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 04 February 2016 10:04
 

Swim Jigs: North vs. South

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By Pete Robbins

February 1, 2016

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There’s a lot of debate in our world about so-called “Northern” or “Wisconsin” style swim jigs vs. “Southern” or “Alabama” style swim jigs. The latter are supposed to be beefier for heavier cover and bigger fish, while the former are arguably made for smaller fish and lighter cover. I may have even gotten caught up in the melee once or twice myself.

Over time I’ve come to realize that a good swim jig is a good swim jig, and while there are representatives of both styles in my arsenal (as well as the not-yet-mentioned “California” variety), the idea that there’s a strict demarcation between where and how you can use a particular style is a bunch of b.s.

I put that to the test a couple of weeks ago at El Salto when I fished one Brovarney swim jig all week. I was about as far south as you’re likely to bass fish, and they’re made in the far north of Cheeseland, but despite the assumed cultural divide, it held up like a champ. After 80 or 90 bass up to 7 pounds – as well as being pulled through and off rock, brush, hyacinths and cacti -- this one is still ready for action. The skirt may be a little bit thinner and much of the tinsel is gone, but the most important part, the hook, is still good to go.

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Travels with Petey 2016

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By Pete Robbins

January 27, 2016

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As I sit here at my desk chair, sore from shoveling two feet of snow (whose idea was it to get this super-long driveway?), saved from weeks of bed rest by my neighbor’s generosity with his snow blower, my thoughts turn to…one of the few places colder than it is here, Detroit Rock City.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, one of my goals for this year is to add a few new species to my list, and muskies are at the top. Right now, St. Clair seems to be the key place on earth for just getting bit, as well as for chances at a big one, and at less than a 9 hour drive the opportunity was too good and too easy to pass up.

They catch the snot out of them up there trolling, but I’ve done enough of that for bluefish and stripers here in the Chesapeake Bay, so we’ve hired a highly-recommended casting guide for two days at the end of June. Between now and then I’ve got the Classic, a trip to some private lakes in Georgia, and a return engagement at El Salto, along with all sorts of local stuff, but the quest to land a toothy critter may be the one that has me most excited.

I’m just praying that the snow will be gone by then and that the winds will be light.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 January 2016 06:31
 

Blades of Glory

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By Pete Robbins

January 25, 2016

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While in some quarters spinnerbaits have fallen out of favor, replaced by swim jigs, chattering crickets and swimbaits, I remain a freak for the old safety pins. While I may love them, it doesn’t mean I spread my love out indiscriminately. I’m very picky about the brands that I use, and only a few consistently make the cut.

In Mexico, and in border lakes like Falcon, it has typically been my experience that the fish tend to prefer large-bladed models. Get yourself some #6 and #7 willows, maybe a #8 Colorado that’ll rattle your fillings free, and it’s time to play ball. On occasion, though, you’ll want a lure that doesn’t have as much lift. That calls for more weight and smaller hubcaps. I’ve long been a fan of the War Eagle Screaming Eagle in those situations, but for reasons unknown to me they’ve limited that lure’s production to a ½ ounce body on a ¼ ounce frame with a small hook. Not exactly the right combination for El Salto.

Fortunately, before my last trip to El Salto I learned that SpotSticker baits of Georgia makes a 1 ounce “hidden head” spinnerbait with a big quality hook. While the basic concept of the bait was developed by the late Bill Dee of Texas, it’s now manufactured by Lake Lanier guide Ryan Coleman, who is probably better known for doodling a worm in brush piles in 802 feet of water. True to my hunch, the Mexican bass loved it. Just as importantly, the lure is incredibly durable. Even the R-bend version (it’s available in both R-bend and twisted wire line ties) can be bent and re-bent back into shape. It’ll continue to run true and continue to elicit strikes. I caught over 60 mean-ass bass on one, up to nearly 8 pounds, before I retired it out of fear it would break on a double-digit. I will be taking more next time.

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Last Updated on Monday, 25 January 2016 06:22
 

Mike Weighs In - A Guest Blog

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By Pete Robbins

January 22, 2016

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[In the long and somewhat illustrious history of this blog, this marks the first time that I’ve allowed another writer to invade my space. Actually, it’s not so bad – each guest blog amounts to a labor-saving device, allowing me to watch an extra episode of the “Alf” or separate my color 194J Senkos from my 208s. With that in mind, feel free to submit a guest blog of your own. I can’t guarantee that I’ll publish it,  but I welcome input from persons of all opinions, even those directly opposed to my own. For now I’ll keep it in the family, with this entry from my up-until-now non-fishing brother, describing the Anglers Inn El Salto experience.]

I had just returned from four years living in Japan in 2001 when I first started dating my wife. She lived in NYC and regularly ordered sushi via delivery from restaurants that also served Chinese food. Then I took her to Japan where there was no delivery and sushi was only served in restaurants dedicated to its craft. She told me afterward, “You have ruined me on sushi for life, in a good way.” My brother’s invitation to go bass fishing at El Salto has similarly ruined me with bass fishing…in a good way.

My brother Pete has been passionate about bass fishing as long as I can remember. Stacks of Bassmaster and Field & Stream as well as boxes of lures and worms greeted you upon entering his room. Camp Fish was his version of band camp (not sure if it had side benefits cited in American Pie). He did not speak often back then, but the share of voice related to bass was high. No wonder that “Kiss my Bass” underwear replaced his Underoos at a young age. Nevertheless, we never went bass fishing together, only deep sea fishing.

Last Fall, Pete asked me to go to El Salto fishing with them. I had just returned from a “bucket list” trip trekking through Mongolia, and had felt refreshed after the new adventure so I responded “yes.” I don’t think Pete believed me until I booked plane tickets the next day. My childhood friend the “Vul,” who is much more fluent in bass fishing than me, also decided to join us.

I had never been bass fishing, had little experience casting, and no gear. Moreover, I had no idea where El Salto was located as the mention of Mazatlan only brought “Love Boat” references to mind. On arrival, I felt like Hakeem in “Coming to America” arriving in Queens with the wrong suitcases and expectations. Luckily, fishing at El Salto was nothing like working at McDowells.  Pete brought all the gear, and the Anglers Inn guides were my “Simi,” showing me how to reel in the Senko, unhooking my fish and getting me untangled from yet another tree branch below the water’s surface. Moreover, the service and great food made me feel like I had already relocated to the Royal Suite at the Waldorf Astoria.  It didn’t hurt that I bagged an 8lb 4oz and 6lb+ bass in the final hour there, either.

If you have little to no experience bass fishing, go to Anglers Inn El Salto. They specialize in bass fishing and great service. You will catch tons of fish, and the 2-3 pounders will be on the small end. Moreover, the scenery is striking, the air is refreshing and the service is outstanding.

Here are a few pieces of advice for fellow bass fishing neophytes:

  • Practice your casting ahead of time: I spent the first morning practicing casting on the lake and subsequently disentangling myself (actually the guide did most of the work).  Over time, I became much more accurate landing my Senko, lizard or spinnerbait in the desired area but practicing in advance would have helped
  • Ask the guides for help: Our guide Herman did a nice job explaining where to cast and how to retrieve each lure
  • Ask for “one more cast”: Our guide Herman had started the motor when I said, “One more cast.” I immediately hooked a 6 pounder and minutes later my 8 pounder
  • Always good to have a “Pete”:  Anglers Inn supplies some gear but always good to go with someone who has all the gear already and is excited to switch up the lures on your fishing rods after dinner each night

Finally, don’t try to do a conference call with clients in Tokyo while there. It ruins the vibe, and is not technically possible. Believe me, I tried.

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Last Updated on Friday, 22 January 2016 10:42
 

The Doctor Is In

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By Pete Robbins

January 21, 2016

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Colin Findlay may be an esteemed doctor and the head muckety-muck at a major hospital system, but after knowing him for over 30 years, it’s hard to think of him as anything but the timid, pencil-necked only child I met in 1982, when I was 12 and he was 8.

Around that time, he also became known as “The Vul.” A friend of mine, noting Colin’s resemblance to a noted popcorn icon, first dubbed him “Orville Redenbacher.” That nickname was later shortened to “Orville,” then “Ville” and finally just “The Vul.” Today my 72 year old parents and my pre-teen nieces and nephews all call him that, although I’m guessing he gets better treatment in the hospital.

Despite his beginnings as a punching bag for me and my friends, as The Vul became my brother’s best friend he eventually earned our respect. During a tumultuous time in his family, there were periods when he spent more days and nights at our house than at his own. He became a scholar and an athlete and a voice of reason. I also learned that it was more fun to team up with him to pick on my brother than it was to attack the skinny outsider. While my brother never showed any interest in fishing, The Vul and I took several weekend smallmouth floats together, catching a few brown fish along the way and twice feeling like we were going to die when unexpected lightning crashed our party.

When my brother told me that he wanted to go to El Salto, I had no idea that my “other brother” would want to join us, but I’m glad he did. He was fun to have along and was rewarded with an 8-pounder of his own.

Now the only question is when their two sons, 8 and 7 years old, will be ready to go along. I’m sure as they try to wrestle 5- and 6-pounders out of the brush it will be a show for the ages. I’ll be sure to bring my popcorn.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 21 January 2016 07:16
 

Livin' Lobina Loca

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By Pete Robbins

January 18, 2016

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Most of the way into his first fishing trip to Mexico – indeed, his first fishing trip anywhere – I didn’t really have a sense of whether my brother Mike was having a good time.

From my perspective, it’s just about impossible to have a bad time at Anglers Inn: the fishing is exceptional, the service is five-star, the food and drink are awesome. Still, I’m aware that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. He said that he liked it, and I suspected that he and his friend were having a good time, but this was my wheelhouse, and my hope was that they could experience even a sliver of the rush that I get from the sport.

He caught fish, he downed fishbowl margaritas, he chowed on fajitas, but I couldn’t tell if the fishing really had even a fraction of the visceral hold on him that it has on me. When my wife and I returned from fishing Tuesday night, Mike’s last day of fishing,  I headed to the room to drop off our tackle and she made a beeline to the bar. When she got there, both Mike and his friend Colin were buzzing with excitement. “Where’s Pete?” they both asked repeatedly. By the time I got there, they were both passing around their phones to display pictures of matching 8-04 ounce largemouths. They seemed to be on a complete, unfakeable high. The only one more excited was me.

Bass fishing, in my experience, is about 10 parts frustration and one part excitement. For every time you really dial the fish in, there are multiple times that you fail, or someone else does it much better. For every cast that produces a strike, there are many more that go fishless. If you’re going to love to fish, the fewer highs have to far outweigh the more prevalent lows. I have no idea if my brother knows that most bass anglers will never catch an 8 pounder, let alone before they graduate to baitcasting equipment. I’m just glad that he got to experience that magic moment on his first trip.

For the record, he also taught me something about fishing while we were there. When I asked him how he’d managed to land the 8 (plus a 6 just a few minutes later), he told me that as his last hour of fishing approached, he decided just to take the pressure off and enjoy the experience. Rather than standing, he sat in the chair to fish. Rather than abstaining, he decided to enjoy a few cervezas. That’s when things got good. There’s nothing wrong with taking the sport seriously, but sometimes the best parts of it happen when you let the game come to you.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 21 January 2016 07:17
 

Three That Made the Cut in 2015

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By Pete Robbins

January 14, 2015

By the time you’ve been bass fishing semi-seriously for 20 years, you’ve likely accumulated a lot of tackle and gear, yet only a fraction of it ever gets used. I can go out to the pegboard in my garage now and pull down a pack of worms that I bought in Stockton, California in 2003 with great hopes, yet never threw them. Directly beside that pack are some mini-craws I got in Tokyo in 2007, figuring they’d be deadly on the beds, but they never left the package. At this point, I have a fair number of go-to trusted staples – everything from spinnerbaits to winter boats -- and it’s tough for any newcomers to break into the rotation. For every Senko that becomes a permanent fixture, there are six or ten items that don’t.

In that respect, 2015 was a good year. I have three rookies that look like they’ll be staying around for a while. Keep in mind that I paid for all of these, as my credit card statements will attest, and any endorsement is specific to my personal needs.

Orvis Middle Fork Shirt

I guess I have a weird body, because all of those button down shirts that seem to fit everyone from 98-pound weaklings all the way up to 400 pound biscuit-and-gravy-devourers don’t “hang” right on me. Either they’re tight in the waist and loose at the shoulders or vice versa. Some pucker in the middle. I got this Orvis shirt last year and finally have one that seems to fit me. Moreover, it comes out of the wash wrinkle-free, has lay-flat chest pockets, and can be worn more places than your typical fishing shirt. Not cheap, but I waited until they went on sale and bought a second.

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Costa Del Mar Corbina Sunglasses with Ashwood Frames

I’m not quite stylish enough for white or silver-framed glasses, but when I saw these imitation wood frames on a competitor at the Bassmaster Northern Open on the James River, I figured they might be a gateway drug to that level of cool. They’re comfortable on my face and they pop in pictures. I’ve worn ‘em everywhere from Montana to Mexico, and while I have multiple brands of glasses that I like, lately these are the ones that I find myself reaching for most frequently.

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Level Rods 7’2 MH Casting Rod

For years the Loomis IMX 783 was my first choice for fishing Texas Rigged and Wacky Rigged Senkos around cover. Eventually I changed over to another brand that was 6” longer (7’ instead of 6’6”) and was perfectly fine with that. Not sure why I didn’t go to a Loomis 843, of which I have several. Anyway, in June I got this rod made by former FLW Cup champ and AOY Anthony Gagliardi and I can’t believe how much better it feels in my hand than the other brand I’d been relying on. It’s super-sensitive, but so are lots of other rods – the key to me is that the blank just loads up exactly right when I pitch. Since I spend more time with a Senko on my line than any other bait, having the right rod is awesome. The word needs to get out on these.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 21 January 2016 07:17
 
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