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It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Cheesy

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July 31, 2014

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Clubber Lang may have pitied the fool, but you should pity my boat driver.

Next week I’ll be in Philadelphia to cover the Elite Series event on the Delaware River. As a no-fooling member of the Robbins crew, of course I have already checked out the dining options, with a special emphasis on the local grub. When in Zapata, you look for tacos. When in Philly, you’ve gotta get a grip on the cheesesteak.

Normally, I save the gutbusting meals for the evening and try to eat a little bit lighter (although not necessarily healthier) in the boat. After all, you don’t want to develop a case of the green apple quickstep (AKA, Randall Cunningham’s Revenge) and have to go to the bank, especially on an urban fishery where there may not be that much accessible, non-populated bank to utilize.

The need to stay in the boat often directly conflicts with the boredom factor. Even when the action is fast and furious, watching other people fish can be painful, and the only antidote is to eat and drink. On many occasions, I’ve downed my BASS-provided lunch at the Classic before 9am. With so many good cheesesteak options to try (Google “best Philadelphia cheesesteak” you’ll see that opinions are varied), and so little time in the boat, I’ll need to try them all in a condensed period of time.

While most cheesesteak freaks argue about what kind of cheese to use (whiz or no whiz? Look it up), a truly nontraditional option has piqued my interest – the Donut Cheesesteak Burger from PYT – a cheddar cheeseburger with Cheese Whiz and fried onions in between two halves of a glazed donut. In a little-known scientific phenomenon, the donut actually neutralizes the calories and grease, thus making the whole shebang the nutritional equivalent of a kale salad.

Upon further investigation, I learned that PYT has a number of other  creative options, including the Eggo Monte Cristo Grilled Cheese, the Fried Chicken and Beer Burger, and the Hot Pocket Burger. The latter item includes “Deep-fried ‘Philly Cheese Steak’ Hot Pocket buns. Juicy PYT-blend beef patty topped with American cheese and truffle-drizzled wiz wit cheesesteak.’ Wow. They also have the TV Dinner Burger, which uses mashed potato cakes for buns. Obviously, it wouldn’t be legit without gravy. At this point, I think I might have to stay a week. Screw Bob Swerski’s Superfans – the good people of Philadelphia might rival them in the heart attack category.

No wonder they booed Santa Claus – it’s tough to remain humble and thankful when your city offers you culinary gifts like these 365 days a year.

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Brothers In Balsa

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July 29, 2014

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Pictured above are two guys who know a little bit about crankbaits. On the left is Lee Sisson, who built his name through Bagley’s, although over the course of four decades he’s worked with just about every hard bait manufacturer under the sun. By his own description, as a lineman at Louisiana Tech back before most of you were born, he “taught Terry Bradshaw how to scramble,” too. On the right is Phil Hunt, owner and mastermind behind PH Custom Lures.

I got to know Lee a few springs ago while “researching” an article called “The Baron of Balsa” for Boat US Angler magazine. At about that same time, Elite Series crankbait fiend Bill Lowen introduced me to Hunt. It’s Hunt’s Crazy Ace topwater in the mouth of that big bass.

When I met them each independently, I had no idea that they would eventually collaborate on some projects together, although I guess I should have. As plastic increasingly takes away balsa’s share in the hard bait market, the woodcutters have to stick together. If they don’t, there may someday come a time when you have to go to a lure collectors’ convention or search ebay to find some old school “hunting” cranks.  The really cool part, as far as I’m concerned, is that Sisson understood all of this, and didn’t want his knowledge to be lost, so he actively looked for someone to mentor who could keep the tradition going. When we fished together, he mentioned one potential candidate who he didn’t feel was fully committed to the process, so he was continuing to look. By the time he found Hunt, the latter luremaker was hardly a novice, but Sisson knew he’d found a like spirit, someone he could trust to keep the fires burning, a craftsman who knows that in some cases it is the wood that makes it good.

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Waiting to Spoon

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July 24, 2014

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I’ve previously written about “ICAST Creep”, the phenomenon in which each year the introduction of new tackle to the media moves forward in the calendar, far in advance of the show.

This year we may have seen the corollary to that concept for the first time in Ben Parker’s Magnum Spoon. If he’d introduced the spoon to the world in February, at the Classic, every other manufacturer from Seattle to Shanghai would’ve had time to copy it, but because it emerged during the Tennessee River lovefests of May and June, it caught everyone else by surprise – no time to call up the factory and knock it off.

I don’t think that was intentional on the part of the innovators – just a matter of happenstance and inadvertent timing – but it might provide a lesson to marketers going forward. In other words, if you don’t want to be one of many manufacturers at ICAST with some riff upon the latest and greatest “revolutionary” product, it might pay not to spill the beans too far in advance. I’m sure that many other companies will flatten hubcaps and license plates and make spoons of their own, but right now Parker/Nichols have the market cornered and they can pretty much name their price.

 

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"Working" On My Day Off

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July 23, 2014

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I figured that a three-day trip to the beach to see my brother and his herd of midgets would provide me with an unsolicited break from the world of fishing, but I arrived in Delaware to news that we were taking the kids on their first fishing trip. Uncle Pete would be put to work baiting hooks, unhooking fish (we hoped) and untangling bird’s nests.

I figured that my 6 year old nephew, who never saw a mud puddle that didn’t call to him, would be the first to embrace the sport of kings. He liked it fine, but after about an hour and a handful of fish he fell asleep. I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised – he’s been known to enter a deep trance at dinner, at the movies and of course in the car. The one place he doesn’t fall asleep is at McDonald’s on the rare occasion when I take him for a Happy Meal. It’s a special treat because they generally eat healthy in the house, although the trips to Mickey D’s really don’t hurt his diet because generally he plays with the toy and ignores the food.

We were all surprised that the two girls, ages 9 and 4, took to the sport so readily. While they’re not excessively squeamish, they’re plenty girly, so we figured that putting chunks of squid and clams on a hook would quickly freak them out. Nothing of the kind occurred, though. Drop after drop they stayed with it, until they had a bucket full of bottom fish (which translated into roughly 4 ounces of filets). We had considered leaving the four year old at home, figuring she was the least likely to enjoy the experience, but despite the sparkle sandals, she was gung ho from start to finish. If she thought this version of heavy tackle dropshotting was fun, we might have to teach her to flip next year.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 July 2014 07:29
 

What's Under All of This?

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July 18, 2014

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ICAST exhibitors have always displayed a wide range of fishing industry gear, some of it essential to the sport and some of it a bit more on the outside (fishing jewelry, anyone?). In the last few years, clothing seems to have comprised an increasing percentage of the floor space, particularly in the bass market. Whereas 10 years ago the only gear marketed heavily to us was the Columbia PFG lineup, in recent times we’ve seen large endemic companies like Simms make inroads into our market. So have small companies like Bass King. So have non-endemics like Stormr.

That’s why the ICAST announcement that interested me most was the one discussing the addition of Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese to the Huk Performance Fishing team, a company that I’m pretty sure 99% of us had not previously heard of. A quick shot over to the Huk website detailed little, but the press release on KVD’s website told a little bit more about Huk and parent company Marolina Outdoors. It was founded by “Ben Verner, Josh Reed, and Jason Hart who had a long career at one of the top performance apparel companies in the world.”

A quick Linkedin search shows that all three worked for Under Armour for various periods of time, and Hart also worked for Mossy Oak.

Under Armour has made some high-quality fishing clothing in recent years, some of which I liked so much that I purchased it at retail (I know, “retail is for suckers,” but I couldn’t resist). Despite occasional efforts and toe-dipping into our world, though, it seemed that they never made the full frontal assault on bassdom that they used to fuel their rapid takeover in other sports. I don’t know if Verner, Reed and Hart were frustrated by that, or emboldened by it, but it seems that they’re primed to make a move. With the addition of Skeet and KVD, both of whom command enough market share that they shouldn’t get out of bed for less than five figures, Marolina/Huk should have some serious juice among the bassheads. Reading between the lines, and looking at the pictures on social media, it looks like they’ve also signed Gerald Swindle (who I believe previously had an affiliation with UA) as well as saltwater powerhouse Mark Davis.

You could argue that the bass clothing market is limited, but I’m guessing that we’ve only scratched the surface of it. As I’ve written before, you can’t travel anywhere in the summer months without seeing people who are most likely not anglers wearing the PFG button-down shirts, and as the recent World Cup demonstrated, even those of us who’ve never graced the pitch will buy and wear a jersey. Heck, every day I see senior citizens wearing track suits who couldn’t possibly run from their couch to the refrigerator. You don’t have to be Usain Bolt to buy the gear.

I haven’t seen the clothing yet, but with the Under Armour lineage I’m guessing it will be high quality and well-considered. Given the pro staff they’ve signed the founders have every opportunity to build on what their previous employer already started. I don’t know enough to predict category domination, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see them expand the pie and then grab a big slice of it.

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Last Updated on Friday, 18 July 2014 02:17
 

Searching for Bobby Fisherman

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July 16, 2014

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The holy grail of lure finds, at least among pro anglers required to fish the lakes of the Ozarks region,
is an original Wiggle Wart. Certain craw patterns are particularly coveted, although that’s slightly less
important than the lure itself, since a good custom painter can restore an old crankplug to just about
any paint scheme you desire. I recently talked to one Elite Series angler who’d found a shoebox full of
them at a yard sale – from the grin on his face, you would have thought his wife had given him a hall
pass to jello wrestle a gaggle of supermodels while chugging beer and popping off rounds with his AK.
Many manufacturers, including the most recent iteration of Storm, have attempted to replicate the old
Wart, but as far as the true believers are concerned none of them have succeeded. They hoard their
baits, saving them for special occasions and big money tournaments. They might even cry and pour out
a 40 when they lose one to the depths. I see that Storm is going to attempt it again this year, with the
original molds and components. Maybe they’ll succeed, but I have a feeling that in the eyes of some
devotees they’re tilting at windmills.
Into this mix comes Mike McClelland (who is not the angler described above), one of the best Ozarks-
area anglers on tour, with Elite Series wins on both Grand Lake and Table Rock Lake. During the Table
Rock win, just over three months ago, he used a variety of lures, including his signature SPRO McSticks,
a paddletail swimbait, and yes, the old-school Wart. Now SPRO, his crankbait sponsor, is introducing the
Rock Hopper, which even down to the paint job pictured above, looks to be a Wart replacement. I’m not
much of a cranker, and I rarely visit the Ozarks region, but I’ve really done quite well with the SPRO Little
John series of crankbaits. They’re made well, with good hooks, they run true, and most importantly they
catch fish. I also believe that McClelland is a straight shooter – I have no reason to think that he’s every
told anything but the truth when reporting what he’s used during a tournament. In fact, I owe my use of
War Eagle spinnerbaits, a personal favorite to this date, to his back-to-back Invitational wins in the mid-
90s.
Still, even if this lure is better in every respect, I can’t help but wonder if the pros will revert to the old
Wart when money’s on the line. Some may think it’s all about the attitude, but for most anglers (pro or
otherwise), the game is played 90 percent between the ears.

The holy grail of lure finds, at least among pro anglers required to fish the lakes of the Ozarks region, is an original Wiggle Wart. Certain craw patterns are particularly coveted, although that’s slightly less important than the lure itself, since a good custom painter can restore an old crankplug to just about any paint scheme you desire. I recently talked to one Elite Series angler who’d found a shoebox full of them at a yard sale – from the grin on his face, you would have thought his wife had given him a hall pass to jello wrestle a gaggle of supermodels while chugging beer and popping off rounds with his AK.

Many manufacturers, including the most recent iteration of Storm, have attempted to replicate the old Wart, but as far as the true believers are concerned none of them have succeeded. They hoard their baits, saving them for special occasions and big money tournaments. They might even cry and pour out a 40 when they lose one to the depths. I see that Storm is going to attempt it again this year, with the 
original molds and components. Maybe they’ll succeed, but I have a feeling that in the eyes of some devotees they’re tilting at windmills. 

Into this mix comes Mike McClelland (who is not the angler described above), one of the best Ozarks-area anglers on tour, with Elite Series wins on both Grand Lake and Table Rock Lake. During the Table Rock win, just over three months ago, he used a variety of lures, including his signature SPRO McSticks, a paddletail swimbait, and yes, the old-school Wart. Now SPRO, his crankbait sponsor, is introducing the Rock Hopper, which even down to the paint job pictured above, looks to be a Wart replacement. I’m not much of a cranker, and I rarely visit the Ozarks region, but I’ve really done quite well with the SPRO Little John series of crankbaits. They’re made well, with good hooks, they run true, and most importantly they catch fish. I also believe that McClelland is a straight shooter – I have no reason to think that he’s every told anything but the truth when reporting what he’s used during a tournament. In fact, I owe my use of War Eagle spinnerbaits, a personal favorite to this date, to his back-to-back Invitational wins in the mid-90s.


Still, even if this lure is better in every respect, I can’t help but wonder if the pros will revert to the old Wart when money’s on the line. Some may think it’s all about the attitude, but for most anglers (pro or otherwise), the game is played 90 percent between the ears.

 

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Notes to a Newbie on the Eve of ICAST

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July 15, 2014

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ICAST 2014 kicks off this week, and for a great many of the attendees it will be their first time there.
They may be young pro-staffers or fledgling members of the media, but no matter what it is going to
be slightly overwhelming, like drinking from a fire hose. The best new equipment, the most powerful
people in the industry, and all of your heroes are going to be at arm’s length.
Drink it all in because it’s a hell of a rush. If you are going to move up the industry ladder, Orlando will
be a great place to jump-start that process. Most of the newbies, though, will fail. When the show closes
in the evening, they’re going to get to the bar where anyone who’s anyone will be imbibing, and they’re
going to let their guard down and turn it into a purely social occasion.
There’s nothing wrong with having a drink, if that’s your pleasure. There’s nothing wrong with having a
good time at ICAST, either. In fact, you should. But if you’re a rookie and you leave there without having
elevated your career, you’ve squandered a chance. At some point you have to decide whether this is a
business opportunity or a social call. You’ve got to choose one and then leave a little bit of room for the
other.
I’ve been involved in the fishing industry for a decade now, and I’ve been in the legal profession and the
energy industry for twice that long. What continues to surprise me every day, even though it shouldn’t,
is how few people in the fishing world actually work hard and work efficiently. There are 10 percent
who work their balls off, 20 percent who give it a good attempt, and 70 percent who are just there for
the party, whether it be at ICAST, the Bassmaster Classic, or some other event. In any other field, thost
numbers are probably inverted. While that may seem to be a critique of the industry as a whole, you
should see it as an invitation to make hay while others snooze.
There should be no way that a newbie like me, with no journalism experience, no formal training and
no contacts, should’ve been able to become a writer for outlets like Bassmaster in just a few years, but
it happened – not because I was particularly talented, but rather simply as the result of my willingness
to work as others took a day off. In addition to my regular list of assignments, just about every month
an editor calls or emails me asking me to take on something in a hurry because some other writer
dropped the ball. Not patting myself on the back too hard, just identifying this industry’s tremendous
opportunity. In any field, you have to either offer something different, or something better, or offer it
more efficiently, and in this realm there’s a pretty low bar. I’m not telling you not to have a good time,
but if you’re surprised next year that you haven’t elevated your position in the slightest, think back to
ICAST and recall what you didn’t accomplish. If you don’t want that to happen, go into the show with a
plan and prepare to work harder and smarter than everyone else.

ICAST 2014 kicks off this week, and for a great many of the attendees it will be their first time there. They may be young pro-staffers or fledgling members of the media, but no matter what it is going to be slightly overwhelming, like drinking from a fire hose. The best new equipment, the most powerful people in the industry, and all of your heroes are going to be at arm’s length. 

Drink it all in because it’s a hell of a rush. If you are going to move up the industry ladder, Orlando will be a great place to jump-start that process. Most of the newbies, though, will fail. When the show closes in the evening, they’re going to get to the bar where anyone who’s anyone will be imbibing, and they’re going to let their guard down and turn it into a purely social occasion.

There’s nothing wrong with having a drink, if that’s your pleasure. There’s nothing wrong with having a good time at ICAST, either. In fact, you should. But if you’re a rookie and you leave there without having elevated your career, you’ve squandered a chance. At some point you have to decide whether this is a business opportunity or a social call. You’ve got to choose one and then leave a little bit of room for the other.

I’ve been involved in the fishing industry for a decade now, and I’ve been in the legal profession and the energy industry for twice that long. What continues to surprise me every day, even though it shouldn’t, is how few people in the fishing world actually work hard and work efficiently. There are 10 percent who work their balls off, 20 percent who give it a good attempt, and 70 percent who are just there for the party, whether it be at ICAST, the Bassmaster Classic, or some other event. In any other field, thost numbers are probably inverted. While that may seem to be a critique of the industry as a whole, you should see it as an invitation to make hay while others snooze.

There should be no way that a newbie like me, with no journalism experience, no formal training and no contacts, should’ve been able to become a writer for outlets like Bassmaster in just a few years, but it happened – not because I was particularly talented, but rather simply as the result of my willingness 
to work as others took a day off. In addition to my regular list of assignments, just about every month an editor calls or emails me asking me to take on something in a hurry because some other writer dropped the ball. Not patting myself on the back too hard, just identifying this industry’s tremendous 
opportunity. In any field, you have to either offer something different, or something better, or offer it more efficiently, and in this realm there’s a pretty low bar. I’m not telling you not to have a good time, but if you’re surprised next year that you haven’t elevated your position in the slightest, think back to  ICAST and recall what you didn’t accomplish. If you don’t want that to happen, go into the show with a plan and prepare to work harder and smarter than everyone else.

 

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Last Updated on Sunday, 13 July 2014 19:17
 

Whatever Floats Your ...

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July 11, 2014

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The ICAST reveals keep moving earlier in the calendar each passing year. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see the 2017 products before the 2016 show occurs. So far, most of this year’s crop, while purporting to be either “revolutionary” or “new and improved” (not a lot of “game changers”…yet), is not quite jaw-dropping. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of products that’ll tempt me to swipe the overused credit card, but to this point nothing I can’t live without.

One product that has intrigued me is the new “Floating Board” from Japanese terminal tackle specialist Zappu. When I first started tournament fishing back in the mid-1990s, Storm Suspend Dots and Suspend Strips were all the rage. You no longer needed to drill holes in those precious $4 Rogues to get them to suspend correctly (or incorrectly, if you mismeasured) and I remember that David Ashcraft won a B.A.S.S. event on Lake Gaston where he needed a precise number of dots to get his crankplug to the desired depth.

The Zappu product says it will achieve exactly the opposite effect, pulling a crankbait that goes too deep or dives too quickly toward the surface instead. If your bait is digging into submerged grass or silty bottoms, or you want a lipless crank to suspend just so, this seems like a pretty simple solution. Those of us who think “deep” is when our flipping stick won’t touch the bottom may go through a bunch of it.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 10 July 2014 15:32
 

Building A Better Mousetrap

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July 9, 2014

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Yesterday I pulled up the “Featured New Items” tab on Tackle Warehouse, as I do just about every morning while I eat my oatmeal, and saw the Austin Lures Rat Wakebait, a 13 ½ inch, 1.9 ounce jointed varmint that would make Carl Spackler salivate with glee.

The Austin Lures model is pretty Jurassic looking, as are many of the lures in this surprisingly large category, which include the CL8 Mighty Mouse, Jerry Rago’s Walking Rat, the more realistic Moreau Baits Topwater Rat, and the Bettencourt Rodent Swimming Rat, which appears to be made of genuine Muppet fur. Rats and mice don’t get all the love, either – CL8 also has a Possum Wake Bait and a Water Vole Wake Bait

There’s also the world famous (in the rodent extermination-by-bass world) 22nd Century Nezumma  Rat (pictured above), which is both beautiful and scary

I do not own any of these oversized freak baits. I’m sure somewhere I have an old Mann’s Rat, which is essentially a hollow-bodied frog, and I’ve thrown the Kahara MLT Rat N Rat a bit, too, but when you’re talking about rodents of unusual size, they don’t cut the mustard. I really want to go somewhere when the big rat bite is on and see monster bass smoke it. Just once. Or twice.

If you ever get on a really good Possum bite, please contact me immediately. I will give up my job and my house to see what that’s like.

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The Race for More

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July 2, 2014

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The day after I blogged about the Ben Parker SpoonZilla (actually, that’s not the official name, but it should be), I had an opportunity to interview Kelly Jordon, the pro who first spilled the beans to a nationwide audience about what was then known as the Lake Fork Spoon.

Jordon, who is rumored to have earned more big bass awards than anyone else in Elite Series history, disclosed that he did not yet own one of the 8-inch beasts. While he sounded satisfied with the “little” originals, I did not ask and he did not reveal his future tackle-buying plans. If I were to wager on it, I’d bet he’ll have some of the big’uns the next time he goes to Kentucky Lake.

While the Ben Parker Signature Series Magnum Spoon (yes, that’s the real name, although I’d prefer Spooneel O’Neal) is not on my immediate to-buy list, I applaud this continuing big bait space race. Nothing against Spybaiting, but generally I’d much rather hear the story of how someone wrecked ‘em on 25 lb. fluoro or well-rope caliber braid than about the differences between 3.5 and 4 lb. sissy string. Obviously, there is a time and a place for finesse, and there is probably some limit to how big we can go, but my guess is that we haven’t hit the rev limiter yet. If you’d shown me a Huddleston in 1995, or an Alabama Rig in 2002 or a 10XD in 2005, I would’ve laughed at you. Right now, the ones laughing are the dudes selling spoons for fifteen bucks a pop. Not far behind are the few anglers lucky enough to have them.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 July 2014 07:18
 
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