Story and photos by Steve PriceGary Yamamoto remembers the conversation well. He and fellow FLW Tour pro Shinichi Fukae had just weathered a tough day trying to solve the challenges of Lake Okeechobee's miles of shallow grass; Yamamoto had been flipping while Fukae had alternated between a Senko and a GYCB Swimbait.
"The fish hit the Swimbait but don't take it well," noted Fukae. "They'll take a Senko and I can catch them, but it's too slow and I can't cover enough water. We either need a larger Swimbait, or something else."
That 'something else' has turned out to be the new Swimming Senko, which Gary began working on as soon as he returned to his home near Athens, Texas. To fast-forward several months, the new lure literally proved itself in national competition before it was ever put into production, and since its formal introduction at the ICAST tackle show this past July, orders have flooded in from around the world.
|Because it's basically a slim, five-inch lure with heavy tail action, it presents a much different appearance than a jig, grub, or craw.|
And a Candle
The very first Swimming Senko was actually created on Gary's office desk. Mind you, his big brown desk isn't quite the same as the ordinary office desk. True, there are stacks of papers and notes, a few bills, a telephone, and a cup full of pens and pencils, but in the middle of it all sit such oddities as piles of hooks, a leadhead jig mold, bags of various Yamamoto lures, a pair of scissors, and a candle.
To make his first Swimming Senko, Gary simply cut a five-inch white Senko in half, then cut half an inch off the head of an orange Swimbait, and fused the Senko head and Swimbait tail together with the candle (a candle works best, he's learned, because the flame is not as hot and it allows him to hold both ends of a lure at the same time). It's not a color scheme any angler would ever dream of using, but this first lure wasn't about color.
"The problem wasn't so much about designing a new lure," laughs Yamamoto, "but rather, learning what to do with it after we'd created it. I wanted to Texas rig it, because a regular Senko always swims properly that way, but changing the tail design basically changed everything about the Senko."
Nonetheless, the initial swimming pool tests as well as the first follow-ups in private lakes indicated the new lure produced the exact action he and Fukae had discussed at Okeechobee. Yamamoto telephoned Danny Berndt, the plant manager at the Page, Arizona plant and described what he wanted. Two weeks later the first samples were completed, and amazingly the design has not changed a bit since then. (Editors note: As you might guess, Berndt has received a lot of those telephone calls in his near two decades of service. He used to have a full head of hair - I rest my case.)
Gary essentially used the 2006 FLW Tour season to test his new creation, learning how, when, and where to use it to determine - and extract - its maximum potential. The first test came almost immediately, at Lake Murray, South Carolina where he found bass schooling in shallow water.
"I rigged the Swimming Senko weightless on a spinning rod and caught fish immediately," Gary remembers, "but schooling fish like that can be pretty easy. Later I rigged it with a Screw-Loc sinker and swam the bait and caught fish that way, too. Then, I couldn't help myself; I started flipping it. When I caught fish that way, I decided the lure would work. For it to be a truly worthwhile lure, and to follow faithfully in the Senko's footsteps, it had to have more than a single application."
The next test came at Kentucky Lake in May where Gary tried to fish the Swimming Senko deep, but he had difficulty getting solid hook-sets, so he moved to shallow water and started flipping shallow brush. He rigged with both ¼ and 3/8-ounce sinkers and a 5/0 Gamakatsu round bend (not off-set) hook.
|Competitors had already noticed he was fishing something different, and when he finished third in the tournament the word spread even faster.|
The Secret is Out
The first day of the tournament he caught bass weighing five and six pounds this way, and going into the final day he stood in third place. With FLW television cameras on him that entire day, he caught a seven-pounder that showed the prototype lure clearly; some competitors had already noticed he was fishing something different, and when he finished third in the tournament the word spread even faster. Overall, the Swimming Senko accounted for four fish over five pounds that week.
"Kentucky Lake, of course, was a great confidence builder," Gary explains. "I was also getting quite a few strikes with our GYCB Craw, as well; those fish had seen a lot of craws flipped at them but they'd never seen a Swimming Senko before. I had plenty of action all week and probably should have won the tournament." Testing and evaluation of the new lure continued through the remainder of the 2006 FLW season as Yamamoto slowly explored and refined the Swimming Senko's wide range of possibilities. As Yamamoto showed at Kentucky Lake, the Swimming Senko can also be an effective flipping lure. The lure swims to the bottom, then can be raised so it swims back down again. Because it's basically a slim, five-inch lure with heavy tail action, it presents a much different appearance than a jig, grub, or craw, yet it contains some elements of each in its own swimming motion.
Can it be fished on a round jighead like a shaky head? Yes, in fact, Yamamoto has designed a special wide gap, round ballhead hook (which will soon be on the market) for this very purpose. The shank is slightly longer, and the round bend allows it to be fished hook exposed in open water applications. That hook design, which involved modifying a lead mold with a Dremel Tool as well as heating and bending hooks to meet his satisfaction started, not surprisingly, at that same big brown office desk, too.
Orders from Headquarters
"The very first thing you have to recognize," he emphasizes, "is that this is not a true Senko so you can't fish it in the same ways and expect it to produce the same Senko-type results. You can't just drop it to the bottom, let it sit, and then pick it up and expect a bass to have it. At the same time, this is not a pure Swimbait, either. A fast surface retrieve won't work unless you use a 3/8-ounce head with it."
With those orders established, here's how The Man recommends fishing his newest lure.
- Don't fish the Swimming Senko weightless. The Swimbait tail over-powers the head so the action is unrealistic.
- Don't fish the lure with a slip sinker. When the sinker slides down the line away from the lure, it essentially becomes a weightless lure again with an unnatural action.
- The best sinker weight overall is a ¼-ounce Screw Loc sinker. A standard hook-embedded Texas-rig arrangement also seems to work best.
- This is essentially a shallow water lure, most effective at depths down to about five feet. As time progresses, anglers will certainly find ways to increase this depth range.
"Swimming the lure is really one of the easiest and most effective ways to use the Swimming Senko," Yamamoto advises. "You can just cast and wind it and let the tail action work for you. It does not make that much commotion on the surface, so I fish it just below the surface when I'm in open water."
It's not a lure for simple crawling along the bottom, either. The real beauty of the Swimming Senko comes around shallow, flooded brush and weeds where the lure can be worked through treetops, around stumps, and through greenery. In open holes in this type of cover, the lure can be dropped so it swims to the bottom, then pulled up and reeled to the next opening.