Rick Morris used a variety of lures to win last week’s Bassmaster Northern Open on Virginia’s James River, just two hours southeast of Pete Weighs In International Headquarters.
A ringworm was one of them, and that didn’t surprise me because when I first started fishing tournaments over 20 years ago, every old salt Virginia angler told me that when fishing the James and the “Chick” (Chickahominy) Rivers, you couldn’t go wrong with a 4-inch ringworm, and the usual suggested color was doo doo brown with a fire orange tail. For the record, while I’ve caught some fish on a ringworm, those brown and orange suckers were pretty much a waste of money. I never caught a damn thing with them.
The tool in Rick’s arsenal that did surprise me was an old school Ditto Gatortail Worm. I always thought that the name “Ditto” referred to the fact that they produced multiple Bassmaster Classic victories, but a little bit of internet sleuthing revealed that the company was named for its owner, Florida angler Bobby Ditto, who died in 2011 at the age of 75.
As for those Classic victories, Larry Nixon used the Gatortail to win on the Ohio River, Rick Clunn mixed one in with his crankbaits the following year on the Arkansas River, and George Cochran made it three for the decade when he won on the Ohio (out of Louisville), almost exactly thirty years ago – the anniversary of him hoisting the trophy on August 15, 1987, will occur next Tuesday.
Here’s what Nixon told Bassmaster’s Steve Price about the Gatortail for an article in 2008:
This worm is best in shallow water, especially during summer and early autumn, and it's also one of the most productive lures for river systems. I usually fish this worm with a 3/16- or 1/4-ounce sinker to make the tail work properly. I let it drop straight to the bottom, then pick it up so the tail spins, then drop it again. This lure has a slow tail action that lets it swim like a lazy shad, so that's how you want to use it. Just swim it over and around cover. It's a good night fishing lure, too, because it presents a large silhouette.
I’m not sure if Morris filed that information away for a special occasion, or if he’s been quietly fishing the Gatortail and its imitators on river systems for years. I don’t suspect that his victory on the James and the resulting Bassmaster Classic berth will result in big sales of the original. While several other manufacturers now make a copy, the originals are likely available only through eBay and in dusty old garages. Terry Scroggins, who like Ditto built his reputation as a St. Johns River hammer, told Wired2Fish a few years back that he was a big fan of the Ditto Fire Claw, and that article mentioned that Ditto sold the company sometime in the 90s and the successor entity went belly up a decade later -- so if you have a stash, be sure to hoard them.