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Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018
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Friday, June 01, 2018
Slow to Grow

The Honor Among Thieves
Like it or not, we’re all thieves.

Irrespective of the fishing tribe to which you belong — fresh or salt — we are all party to the thievery. And, that’s a good thing.

I’m referring to lure design. Unless you are among the first to pursue the illusion of realism instead of the real thing, you are most likely guilty of the charge. Rare is the design that doesn’t draw from the past.

In reality, the progression of lure design is more akin to what musicians do when sampling classic tracks. They take the general concept and make it their own. Some do it with more subtlety and style, while others merely try to skate by with a poorly disguised copy. In those cases, cue the lawyers and their arguments over intellectual property.

FROM BASS FISHING to flyfishing to saltwater, the similarities in lure design are no coincidence. And, that's a good thing.

In the world of fishing lures, however, there are very few truly original ideas. Of course, they do happen and we are all grateful for them. But I can’t tell you how many times over my now lengthy outdoor career when I’ve turned to antique lure catalogues to research the latest, gotta-have baits. It’s usually my knee-jerk response when I hear the words new, revolutionary or, nowadays, game changing. Inevitably, the ancestor of the lure is sitting right there in all its 1930 glory, a sepia-toned siren adorned with metal fins and hook-hanging hardware worthy of a steampunk fantasy. And, it’s not like you have to squint to see the similarities.

To their credit, most lure manufacturers in the modern era have not been overly litigious. Some have tried to quash the competition with legal hammers, but fortunately most have realized the inescapable truth: If you truly have a moment of inspiration and bring a lure to market that actually changes the game, the sheer number of competitors and copiers, both nationally and internationally, will emerge faster and more ferociously than locusts of a biblical plague. Fighting the good fight means being smothered in legal fees and easily becoming distracted from the prime directive of promoting a brand and refining a product.

So, is this pilfering of ideas justified? I say yes, unless there are some ironclad patents involved. Even so, the competition will make end runs around the technology to find a solution outside the legal constraints. Moreover, the fishing world will move on because that’s what we do. Any company who forgets that anglers have short attention spans and can be easily distracted by the next shiny ball of tin foil have sadly overestimated us.

We are also very tribal. As fishermen, we tend to belong to a relatively narrow segment of the angling community. What happens in the bass fishing world, like Las Vegas, tends to stay there. Same with saltwater and fly fishing and every subcategory of same. We may hear the sirens but we don’t know why the cops are rolling up two streets over. That is, until somebody asks around.

Case in point: Decades ago, catching corvina on the Salton Sea was an interesting diversion for many anglers. I did it and I fished the same boot-tailed, fish-shaped lures as everyone else. Although I was deeply invested in the exploding largemouth bass craze, I stupidly never made the connection of how this saltwater lure would change that industry. At the time, we didn’t know what to call this corvina lure. Twenty years later, we did. We called them swimbaits.

A similar progression occurred with the umbrella rig. Used for many years by East Coast striper fishermen as a teaser, it never occurred to them to scale down this awkward trolling setup to a size suitable for casting. This was left to Paul Elias, a professional bass fisherman who stunned his tournament world in 2011 with a lure that was a near replica, albeit smaller, of the umbrella rigs known to New Englanders.

Recently, I’ve noticed how the traditional bastion of fly fishing has embraced large, articulated flies that look suspiciously like featherweight cousins of bass fishing’s evil empire swimbaits. They are delicate and beautiful and I’m guessing wildly effective for those willing to go big or go home.

One in particular, as fishy a swimbait as any that have ever swum, Blane Chocklett’s creation is light enough for a fly rod, delivers the snaky action we adore and comes in a white fluffy body material that can be hand-colored with art markers.

And, for me, the best part may be the name.

Game Changer.

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