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CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

A native southern Californian, Mike began his outdoor writing career nearly four decades ago at Western Outdoor News. As a young man, he split his time between wingshooting, fly fishing and local saltwater action before eventually becoming a national voice in professional bass fishing. Along with a couple of books, Mike’s articles and photographs have appeared in nearly every major outdoor publication including BassMaster, Outdoor Life and In-Fisherman. His experience in the fishing industry spans the gamut from writer/photographer to consultant to sport show promoter. “I’ve never had what I would call a real job and I’m so thankful for it.”
Log jam
Fishermen like myths. Or so it seems, especially when the fable makes us look thoughtful or soulful or generally full of something. Not only do we wholeheartedly embrace these lies, we encourage them. In popular terms, I guess we consider it “branding.” If it helps push forward the general public’s perception of us as fishy Zen masters, then apparently we feel absolved of all guilt associated with our complicity in the deception.

Case in point: logbooks. Don’t even try to convince me otherwise. Your weak, half-assed protests fall flat on ears who are just as guilty as yours. We don’t do this and we’ve never done this, contrary to the sales efforts of those who keep alive the market for hand-tooled leather volumes bound with organic hemp paper and ribbon bookmarks. You or your loved ones may have purchased said logbooks, but you have never filled one out for very long. If I had to guess, the Las Vegas over/under on this assumption would be about two to two-and-a-half weeks.


Yes, we try. But, filling out a logbook is like so many other things in life we know would be good for us — despite the obvious advantages in doing so, we just can’t. We are sad little men and women when it comes to scribbling down even the most basic fishing information. I am perhaps sadder than the rest because I’m the writer. I’m the kid in school who rejoiced when the homework assignment was a five-page essay. Still, I just can’t do it. After several attempts, I rationalized my failure with this pretty nifty, professional self-delusion:


“Hey, I get paid to write. Why should I do it for free?”


It was an excuse that looked good on paper and it worked right up to the next time I was on the water wondering what I had done to catch fish the year before or the year before that.


My next excuse seemed fairly obvious: If I had actually compiled a fishing logbook, I most likely would have left it at home. I’ve done it before with situational lures and all manner of tackle items geared for very specific purposes, so forgetting a logbook would hardly be a stretch.


If you’re wondering why I wouldn’t store the logbook in my boat, not so fast. The whole mythological object of the fishing logbook is to settle down in a red leather chair, fire up a fine cigar, taste the sting of a barrel-aged bourbon and wax poetic about the day. If there had ever been a logbook with my name on it, you would have found it on a side table, in a den, with Colonel Mustard.


For the current generation of anglers, such arguments may seem laughingly primitive. Who writes anything down anyway? To them, a logbook is only a mobile phone away.


All are valid arguments until you actually have to input the data. Then, it doesn’t matter how the information gets from us to a logbook. Although cell phone photos may appear to be the obvious answer to the conundrum, I think you only need to recognize how many photos ever again see the light of day. In the minutes or hours — maybe even seconds following an event, only the rarest image finds an afterlife. In most cases, the majority seem to just go away, lost in a vast cloud of storage, much the same way Polaroids ended up in long-forgotten shoeboxes.


In reality, the logbook concept doesn’t matter because we are the weak links in the system.


Unless maritime law forces you to keep a carefully annotated logbook, it ain’t happening. About the only chance for anglers to have ever kept and maintained logbooks for any appreciable amount of time is if they had all been teenage girls. Even so, the entries would most likely be wildly disjointed:


Dear logbook diary,


Bradley is dreamy.

I hate my parents.

The fish were on outside bends at 15 feet on green pumpkin Senkos.


No, the logbook is simply part of the fantasy world that has embraced other angling unicorns, like the fisherman’s workbench. Fly fishermen, in particular, seem to be fascinated with this little bit of fiction and some appear willing to pay for it. Expensive hardwood desks, complete with tiny, throwback drawers offer a quick-start promise of instant ambience. For most of us, the oiled wood of such an impressive piece of furniture would quickly be compromised by everything from paint to plastic to corrosive fluids. Factor in chips, gouges, dents and all manner of scrapes and disfigurements, such things always look better in the catalog. As much as I may have wanted one, my workbench never looked like the one I saw in my head.


Same with logbooks. They are merely an expression of our better selves. If you happen to be blessed (or perhaps, cursed) with hyperthymesia, the ability to remember nearly every moment of your life in amazing detail, then a logbook could be written off with hardly a thought, if that. For the rest of us, it is something that lingers in our collective subconscious like the desire to work out regularly or play the guitars we’ve owned for fifteen years. If Facebook doesn’t satisfy the urge to document your every waking hour, worry not. As much as writing down the details of an angling life can be a noble and just pursuit, it is also a monumental waste of time if you adhere to a time-honored, fishing maxim: You can’t fish history.


That’s right, a logbook violates what many consider to be a major stumbling block for anglers. Knowing what happened a year ago, some might say, only paints you into a deadly corner. Instead of reacting to the conditions, you are chained to them. Instead of thinking out of the box, you have taped yourself inside of one. Instead of looking at the world from the perspective of a wide-angle lens, you are seeing it through a telescope.


Be proud. Stand up straight and loudly proclaim “I don’t fish history.” Then, text your buddy and see if he can remember what they hit on last year.


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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Giving until it hurts
There is one and only one way to get what you really want for Christmas: Buy it yourself.

If you ask for or even slightly encourage fishing tackle as gift options, then you will most likely get exactly what you deserve. No matter how explicitly you spell out the make, model and/or color — in all but the rarest of cases — it will not be what you want. In case you’ve forgotten about the cultural atoll surrounding our little island of fish and frolic, grab a buddy and go deep into a serious angling conversation in front of non-fishing loved ones. See the looks on their faces? We speak a foreign language my friend, one incapable of being accurately translated to disinterested third parties. So, no matter how clearly you’ve spelled things out in a fishing tackle gift scenario, the potential for something being lost in translation multiplies faster than jackrabbits at a fertility clinic.


askinga250
ASKING A SIGNIFICANT other to give you tackle for Christmas is playing with fire. If you want to be sure to get what you want, suggest a gift card.


Even if your significant other dutifully tries to acquire the requested item, mistakes can be made. Left-hand retrieve instead of right-hand retrieve. Medium action instead of medium/heavy action. Green sparkly thing instead of putrid pumpkin/motor oil blend with colossal chartreuse tri-color holographic flake. Worse yet, your best efforts can be circumvented in nanoseconds by a chance encounter with another fisherman. Most likely, your loved one will cross paths with your brother-in-law who, when he begins sharing his gift-giving advice, will have conveniently forgotten your heated conversation last Fourth of July, the one where you so eloquently expressed your preference for the Mega 7 Mark IV and how you — or anyone in their right mind — would never, ever, settle for anything less.


And don’t think my gift-giving moratorium stops at the high-end stuff. Fishing theme socks, man cave signs or laser-etched “Game fish of the World” beer steins are all what I consider gateway gifts. These generally small and less costly choices, insidiously placed in the “stocking stuffer” category, do nothing other than crack the door ever so slightly to lay wide the path for future transgressions. This is ground zero for misguided holiday gift giving.


In this debate, if you choose to be the devil’s advocate, be my guest. When you’re reciting the old slogan about it being the thought that counts and whatnot, just remember this: If lightning strikes and they actually start buying the cool stuff you really want, they’re going to know just how much the really cool stuff costs. Let that sink in. When it’s not Christmas and the holiday spirit has been packed away for another year, the steady stream of packages on your doorstep in July may not be viewed quite so warmly as they were over eggnog in December.


If this sounds as unsolvable as the Seven Bridges of Konigsberg (Google it), I beg to differ. There is a way out and it is a perfectly acceptable gift-giving alternative: the gift card. Of course, you should have the preferred company and phone number already jotted down on a Post-It Note. In my case, it would be the 1-800-300-4916 number of Tackle Warehouse if for no other reason than I live in California and I can get the best thing that ever happened to fishermen in the history of fishing — Overnight Golden State shipping. And, if there isn’t a Nobel Prize for this there should be. In my long ago wildest dreams, I never once considered calling in an order from my boat one day and having it magically appear on my doorstep the next. Plus, they’ve usually got everything I need, not to mention they’re located in San Luis Obispo which, after all, is near Cal Poly where I went to school.


See what I did there? I personalized the gift card by finding a heartfelt, some might say “flimsy” connection to my former Central Coast community. Whatever the case, I didn’t make the gift card sound like an impersonal piece of plastic. A little emotion always helps so I suggest watching the last scene of “Field of Dreams” right before making your gift card request. Works every time.


needareal

NEED A REAL PRESENT to open Christmas morning? You can’t go wrong with ICAST Best of Show Lure Lock tackle trays or better yet, a Lure Locker. These are the ones with the proprietary Elastak gel liner that holds lures and terminal tackle in place.


If you’re still unconvinced, I understand. But like the steak knife infomercials, just wait because there’s more. As the sun rises and sets, I‘m certain your better half will trot out the oldest gift-giving argument since Eve handed over the apple which is that you need some real presents to open Christmas morning.


With Lure Lock tackle boxes, I’ve got you covered. These are the ones with the proprietary Elastak gel liner that holds lures and terminal tackle in place. Aside from the obvious benefit in preventing those tackle spills that make life seem hardly worth living, the Lure Lock system prevents the constant shifting and rattling of gear in boats and cars. Hooks stay sharper and lures don’t morph into one interconnected mass of plastic and trebles. Built tough enough to be stepped on, a Lure Lock box is bulletproof in other ways. The gel does not react to moisture or heat, it can be washed clean with soap and water, air dries quickly and will not affect lure finishes. For these reasons alone, Lure Lock has improved upon the basic concept of tackle boxes. But of course, there’s more.


Amid an ocean of pet peeves, the one long awaiting a solution has been with those plastic tackle box dividers. You know, the ones that require a collection of nippers, scissors, box cutters files and sandpaper to prepare them for use. I know it sounds like a very big complaint for a very small item, but the lingering question has always been, “Why does it have to be this way?” Apparently, it didn’t. In perhaps proving they left no stone unturned in their overall design, the Lure Lock team developed strong, no-warp, stay in place dividers that snap apart easily and leave clean, smooth edges that won’t slice your casting thumb. They got Best of Show at ICAST 2018 for the entire Lure Lock concept, but in my mind, they could have won for the dividers alone.


Now, here’s where this grand holiday plan all comes together. You don’t have to settle for one or two Lure Lock boxes. Ask for a Lure Locker that comes with five boxes (small, medium or large) and a rather slick grid system that clamps them together for easy transport and storage. If you accompany this request with a casual observation that the tackle boxes are sold empty, the one you love more than life itself will be more accepting of the lure wish list you’ve already emailed, texted and downloaded to all her media platforms. Even if you have to fend off that one final protest of “I can’t ask Aunt Mary to buy you a pack of Sierra Slammers”, fear not. REI carries some seriously nice socks in the Darn Tough lineup. As for the Slammers, I’ll buy my own.


Lurelock.com

Tacklewarehouse.com

Sierraslammers.com

REI.com


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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


A River Kinda Ran Through It
It’s not often that I find inspiration in sports talk radio. However, a couple weeks ago, I tuned into “The Dan Patrick Show” and found myself astonished when the conversation turned to fly fishing and the 1992 movie “A River Runs Through It.” Of all the sports hosts, Patrick seems to find the most joy in veering from the mainstream.

It didn’t take long for Dan to start lobbing some good-natured jibes in Brad Pitt’s direction about the actor’s fly-fishing performance in the movie. For whatever reason, the fly-fishing topic wouldn’t go away and up bubbled a fun fact about singer Melisssa Etheridge having given Pitt some poolside casting tips at her home in Hollywood. Etheridge called into the show and to her credit — perhaps confirming that she does indeed have some fishing experience beyond that of the average celebrity — assured Patrick that whatever she taught Brad probably didn’t amount to much.


whenasked
WHEN ASKED IF Brad Pitt had any appreciable fly-fishing skills prior to the beginning of filming of the movie, John Bailey directly responded, “None.”


It got me to thinking. After checking the movie credits, my next call was to Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop in Livingston, Montana. Although Norman Maclean’s 1976 book about the travails of a Montana family was based in Missoula, Livingston was chosen as the cinematic backdrop. When locations for the film were being scouted, the Blackfoot River, scene of Maclean’s narrative, was environmentally in bad shape due to logging, mining and agriculture influences. So it was Livingston, not Missoula and the Gallatin, Yellowstone and Boulder Rivers, not the Blackfoot or the Clark, that were enlisted to make movie magic. Livingston also benefited the local population who were plumbed for acting talent and, quite naturally, for their fly fishing expertise.


It came as no surprise that the filmmakers called John Bailey. Son of Dan, the namesake of a Livingston fixture since 1938 who was one of America’s most innovative fly tiers and conservationists, John was no stranger to celebrity clientele. Even so, he was not Hollywood’s first choice.


“They brought a hotshot in from L.A., a fly-fishing know-it-all,” recalled Bailey, not mincing words in the finest tradition of the Big Sky Country.


It didn’t go well. Not only were Livingston locals a little peeved about the need for having outsiders show them how to fish, the dailies from the first day of shooting were more than cringe-worthy. Sitting in the back of a darkened screening room along with Jerry Siem (now the rod designer at Sage but then employed by the venerable R.L. Winston Company), Bailey watched in horror at what he described as “fly lines going across the scene in waves.” In that moment, the two fishermen glanced over at one other, certain of the need to extricate themselves from a movie capable of demolishing their reputations.


When the lights came on, the director — Robert Redford — stood up, walked over to Bailey (someone he had not previously spoken to much on set) and asked a question that was more a statement of fact.


“That was awful wasn’t it?”


From then on, Bailey found himself camera-side, quickly solving a problem that was, to him, completely obvious.


“If there was a casting scene, I would reel in most of the line. A twenty-foot cast, on screen, looks long anyway. You have to adjust things so (the actors) look good. They just mimic people, so you had to adjust it so they look good. They could make a short cast; they couldn’t make a long cast. On screen, you couldn’t tell the difference.”


Since Pitt played Paul, the rebellious, younger Maclean brother, Bailey’s advice was for quicker strokes. Conversely, Craig Sheffer in the role of Norman, the older, studious brother, was told to deliver slower, more deliberate casts. It all looked like the perfect approach to blending storyline with fly line. That is until later when John Bailey walked out of a theater after seeing the final cut of the movie. It was then he fully realized a Hollywood fact of life: All of the scenes he had worked so diligently to make right had been left on the cutting room floor.


realizinghowbadREALIZING HOW BAD the fishing scenes looked in the early filming of “A River Runs Through It,” director Robert Redford turned to Livingston fly-fishing fixture John Bailey to help the actors’ poor casting technique.


“There’s no casting in the movie. There were distinct scenes and they all got cut.”


Similarly, other items didn’t make the final cut. Of these, perhaps the strangest was a mechanical trout. If you think I’m hallucinating, watch the credit roll next time you see “A River Runs Through It”.


“A guy over in Missoula had one,” acknowledged Bailey. “There was a mechanical fish, but it never made the movie either.”


To me, the question still seeking an answer centered on Brad Pitt. Did Melissa Etheridge teach him anything? Or did John Bailey?


When asked if Pitt possessed any appreciable skills before the cameras rolled, Bailey was typically direct.


“None.”


In a Great Falls Tribune 25th anniversary retrospective, Bailey was quoted as saying, “I’m sure neither one (Pitt or Sheffer) ever picked up a rod again.”


While the movie gave both fly-fishing and Montana tourism a huge boost, not everyone was happy. More people were moving to the state and Redford, perhaps stung by the criticism six years later after shooting“A Horse Whisperer” near “A River Runs Through It” locales, left the precise locations of his new movie intentionally vague in the closing credits. If Redford’s reaction was true, he need not have felt guilty. According to Bailey, “A River Runs Through It” had some unexpected consequences that would ultimately save the very river the book and the movie had sought to exalt.


“Last year was the 25th anniversary and one of (the events) was in Missoula. I drove by where the Clark runs in, where they took out the dam. I never thought that could be done. All that’s been cleaned up. The movie and a whole bunch of other things helped get all that cleaned up. It focused people on what was, environmentally, a disaster. They took out the dam and all the sediment in there. It is amazing what can be done, but until the public cares, nothing changes.”


As a catalyst for positive change, it seems that “A River Runs Through It” ended up on the right side of history while perhaps dealing a blow to our sometimes-pathological desire to suspend disbelief when it comes to heroes of the silver screen.


Although Dan Patrick generally offers offbeat daily poll questions, I thought he missed one when it came to our unique angling perspectives.


“Would you rather be a great fisherman or look like the Brad Pitt version of one?”


* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Giving it the finger
With interest – and some queasy memories – I read George Kramer’s account of dealing with a hook in the finger during his pre-fishing for the U.S. Open. To some degree, we’ve all been there. Although I’ve spent a lifetime around hooks and experienced any number of partial spearings, only once did I require professional assistance. Perhaps I have been overly cautious all these years or just plain lucky (most likely a fortunate dose of both), I nevertheless fell victim to what could be considered almost inevitable.

It happened somewhere on Missouri’s Mark Twain Lake during some long-ago trip in someone else’s boat for purposes I don’t remember. If I can use any or all of those as excuses for what transpired I will — and have — over the years.


Of the situations that create lapses in angling judgment, when it comes to hook danger, there are two high up on my list. The first is fishing for stripers with Zara Spooks. Not just any stripers, but those schooling little blasters just big enough to test your grip strength. Like baby chimps, they look small and controllable until you realize they’ve got you beat strength-wise five-to-one.


The other situation is fishing three to a boat. I hate it. Put an extra guy in a bass boat and suddenly you’ve got an actual chimp fest. Somehow, it seems to change everything from how you cast to how you think. There is no rhythm to it, no strategy and certainly no way to keep your normal habits in check.


Before my appointment with destiny in Missouri, I had been witness to the mayhem a three-man boat can produce. One of the most memorable came in the midst of a completely unexpected crankbait flurry at, of all places, Lake Elsinore. A rare, rising water-situation had spurred a bite that was as yet undiscovered by the public so, other than my bass boat, there was only one other on the lake and neither of us had moved far from the launch ramp. No one was worried about protecting their spot because the fish seemed to be everywhere. We drifted around within easy casting distance of one another, commenting on our good fortune and most likely complimenting our current standing as bass fishing badasses.


Then came the shriek. Part yelp, part groan, it emerged with that instantly identifiable tone of real agony. For the first few minutes, there was not much to see from my perspective as two of the three fishermen huddled over their fallen comrade. I kept casting, but I did feel a little guilty about it. From their body language, I could see they had reached an impasse in dealing with the problem.


“You guys need some help?” I asked.


“Do you know how do that monofilament, remove-the-hook thing?” one asked plaintively.


Well, I had done it but I hardly considered my skills exemplary. Then once I got alongside and saw how and where the poor fellow had been gaffed, I knew this extraction was way above my pay grade. The crankbait treble was deeply embedded in the tough, muscly skin on the side of his neck. Worse yet was his coloring. As a writer, I knew the term “ashen” and I’m sure I had used it once or twice. This, however, was the first time I had ever actually seen someone turn gray. My advice was to keep their friend warm, put some fluids in him and get to a doctor asap.


Although my personal experience at Mark Twain didn’t exactly parallel the Elsinore incident, there were enough similarities to have sent up a few red flares. At the very least, it should have been filed somewhere under “Things to Avoid.” Yes, there were three people in the boat. And yes, we were slinging hardbaits adorned with multiple trebles. As it turned out, however, the other two guys weren’t the problem.


Without any assistance from them, I managed to snag the rear seat of the Ranger with my Smithwick Rogue. Instead of opting for pliers, I very cavalierly pinched the treble between index finger and thumb, pulling it free in one smooth motion. Unfortunately, when the Rogue came loose, the rod loaded up, propelling the barb of one treble up and into my finger. It wasn’t a slicing wound on the side of my digit or a nasty gash, but more a deep surgical insertion directly through my fingerprint, clear to the bend.


Angry at myself and one hissy shy of a major fit, I turned to my buddy, holding up my Rogue-decorated finger.


“See what you can do,” I winced as the pain began seeping down my arm. I handed him a pair of pliers.


The next thing I remember were blurry faces overhead and what sounded like distant voices calling me from a deep sleep. I had passed out so quickly and so thoroughly, no one had any time to respond. But instead of crumpling to the floor, my body had stiffened in what might have been mistaken for planking fifteen years later.


Within minutes, I was sitting in a doctor’s examination room, only yards from the shoreline, the ceiling festooned with a rather extensive collection of fishing lures.


Exchanging the briefest of pleasantries, he set to the task with workmanlike efficiency. Trying to distract myself from what was sure to come, I tried to make small talk.


“I can’t believe I checked out that quickly.”


Immediately the doctor stopped what he was doing and launched into a monologue that sounded suspiciously well rehearsed. He opined about the wonders of the human body and how intensely packed bundles of nerves are stacked like cordwood in three distinct areas of our anatomy.


“Here”, he said, pointing with both index fingers to his chest, making circles in the air.


“Here”, he said, making a larger circle over his groin.


“And here,” he said, holding up both hands and wiggling his fingers.


“You were trying to pull a sharpened shard of metal from a nerve bundle capable of distinguishing the slightest variations in temperature and texture. What were you thinking?”


Yeah, right there, I knew he wasn’t a fisherman.


* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


The Best, Ever: Part 2 Mexico in My Backyard
I am blessed for knowing what Mexican bass fishing looked like and felt like 35 years ago. I was fortunate enough to connect with Billy Chapman when we were both young bucks — when he was carving out his place in the angling cosmos at Lake Baccarac and I was doing the same in my own world. With that experience, I knew exactly where my little lake on the outskirts of Irvine ranked.

Fish grew big in Rattlesnake Reservoir including a tropical oscar that someone set free hoping for the best but probably expecting the worst. It was a lake with everything from its hiding place among the avocado-draped foothills to being decades away from the sprawl of a master-planned community. And, the bass in it weren’t stupid.


They were voracious and aggressive, but selectively so. In many ways, Rattlesnake wasn’t a serpent at all, but more along the lines of a fussy princess. Aside from a few consistently magical weeks during the year, the bite here changed by the day. Not that you couldn’t catch them every day, because you could. You just couldn’t depend on doing the same thing, at the same depth, in the same place, with the same lure, at the same pace for two days in a row. This, I believe, was another reason for Rattlesnake keeping such a low profile for so long. If you fished it every day, it was easier to adjust. If not, it could disappoint. If nothing else, it was just one of many unflinching lessons from perhaps my greatest mentor.


Not only was Rattlesnake a personal godsend, it occurred at arguably one of the halcyon periods of bass fishing, a time when the West was coming into its own. While I shared my good fortune with several top sticks including the likes of Greg Hines, Rich Tauber and Larry Hopper, for the most part I either fished alone or was joined by my long-time partner, George Kramer. Since we were both churning out bass stories for a variety of publications, the need for a photo model or, at the very least, someone for what we called a “Mr. Hands” shot, Kramer and I often found ourselves lugging a battery, trolling motor and assorted tackle down to the aluminum boat.


In addition to photography, Rattlesnake proved to be an invaluable asset in testing all manner of rods, reels and terminal tackle. It was a place that found flaws in everything from technique to construction to design with amazing rapidity. Case in point was the sad story of Stren’s Prime fishing line, a cofilament mono of the 1980s that didn’t need Rattlesnake’s help to uncover its deficiencies. Even without social media, the bass fishing jungle drums beat out a steady and strident warning as Stren’s chemists scrambled to change the formula and re-introduce the line. When the new formulation was available, Rattlesnake couldn’t find a thing wrong with it, nor could I. But, instead of calling it day and reinventing their advertising campaign, Stren chose to keep almost everything, including the name. They called it Prime Plus. To people of my father’s generation it was akin to renaming their next year-model the Edsel Plus. For those who were around for the New Coke disaster of 1985, the effect was the same as if Coca-Cola had renamed the follow-up New Coke Plus. Not surprisingly, few were interested in Stren’s reboot.


What they did buy was the Slug-Go. Terry Baksay, a Connecticut pro on the BassMaster circuit, sent me an early supply of these plastic wonders and the Rattlesnake bass only added to this lure’s iconic history. They inhaled it. Coinciding with high water levels, I had plenty of flooded grass and wood to learn precisely what the Lunker City lure could do. Rigging and presentation meant everything and Rattlesnake taught me all of that.


When a rival lure manufacturer asked about the Slug-Go, perhaps considering his own version of what was rapidly becoming a bass fishing phenomenon, I really didn’t mean to go all Zen on the guy.


“How can you compete with a triangular piece of plastic?”


Other learning curves involved little more than paying attention and being in the right place at precisely the right time. Once I felt comfortable enough with the ebb and flow of the Rattlesnake bite, I became more relaxed in my approach. Living only ten minutes away, I could pop in whenever the spirit moved me. On one particular occasion, I had only two rigs in my truck (one spinning and one casting), a very limited selection of lures and no camera – a true busman’s holiday.


The winds were swirling up out of the east with the warmth of a Santa Ana but not the velocity so I contented myself with pitching under flooded, protected trees. Forty yards behind me, towards open water, I heard the faintest flip of a baitfish. If not for the selectivity of a fisherman’s ear, it would have gone unnoticed. I turned and saw the mere shadow of a swirl.


The Shad Rap made it down all of two or three feet before being casually carried away like the unfortunate swimmer in the opening sequence of Jaws. It was the strike of an alpha predator. The spinning rod quickly bottomed out, the guitar string tension of eight-pound test lessening as I began to backreel and follow the fish out to deeper water. The scene repeated itself fish after monstrous fish — cast, drift, fight, reposition — for the next hour and a half. The lights were on and everyone was at home.


With no one around, shouting seemed rather pointless. Instead, I spoke out loud to myself, commenting on what was clearly a singular moment in my bass fishing career. The best five were within an ounce or two of 55 pounds leaving nothing left but to sit alone in an aluminum boat on a little lake in the middle of Orange County and try never to forget what it felt like. Here was a place that not only deserved my respect and affection but my undying gratitude. We all have such a place and, when it goes away, so does a piece of us.


* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


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