Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mudbugs: Diggin' for the Big 'Uns

Haven't owned one of these since the early '70s, mainly because I couldn't figure out how to mount a winch on the front of my boat to crank the lure back in after making a cast. All kidding aside, this is one of those lures that'll put you at parade rest if you throw it very long.

I gave the only two or three I ever had to my pop, who was a hoss of a man in his prime. He used 'em a bit in the strip-mining pits around my hometown but, like me, quickly concluded they weren't worth the effort you had to expend while using one.

It's abundantly evident, however, that not everyone shared our conclusions about the mudbug. From the moment this lure was introduced in 1968, it created quite a stir. It resembled a crawfish in appearance, even to the extent of being retrieved backward, to simulate a fast-moving or retreating crawfish. A winner in numerous bass-fishing tournaments, this deep-diver was available in five different sizes for fresh and saltwater fishing by 1980.

The man responsible for bringing this lure to the market, of course, was none other than Fred Arbogast, one of the true pioneers of the fishing-lure industry. As true of so many who have entered the lure business over the years, Arbogast first got into it as a hobby.

He started out carving lures for himself and friends while employed by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in his hometown of Akron, OH. As his lures began catching on with area anglers, some local tackle-shop owners started asking if they could buy the lures to sell in their stores.

Arbogast soon realized he was on to something, and armed with this newfound popularity and confidence in his lures, he resigned from Goodyear and, in 1926, entered the lure business in earnest. Two years later, the Fred Arbogast Co. officially was borne.

The Arbogast mudbug, a cousin of the old Bomber, is one of the all-time favorite crawfish-imitating crankbaits. It's also one of the first baits to have a lineup of colors that included chartreuse--a hot item in tackle stores across the country at the time.

Its wide wiggle, with a quick-diving angle, created a hard-vibrating action and enabled the mudbug to bump the bottom in 8 to 10 feet of water. Once on the bottom, this metal-lipped bait (one of only three in existence at that time) stayed put, stirring up the mud and attracting bass (hence its name). This unique action made it a big-fish favorite of serious anglers (see accompanying photo of a young lad with his 7-lb. 11-oz. bass he caught at Lake Fork on a mudbug). Now it's a favorite attraction among collectors everywhere. The lure's floating ability allowed it to back out of heavy cover on a slack line, eliminating potential hang-ups, where old metal lures wouldn't.

Mudbugs were a proven winner when it came to early-spring fishing, a time when big bass are in a pre-spawn mode and crawfish are starting to appear. Old-timers believed heavy line was a must when fishing this lure, regardless of which model you were using. (The model no. G22 weighed 5/8 oz. and was a favorite for big-bass fishermen who wanted to stay in contact with the bottom. Meanwhile, the model no. G20 weighed 1/4 oz. and was designed to fish depths of 4 to 6 feet.)

According to an online account by writer-fisherman Dan McGarry, the mudbug is best used in two situations. "Put your boat in 3 to 5 feet of water and cast out into 20 feet or deeper (the most effective range is weeds in 10 to 15 feet of water)," he said. "Try to cast at a 45-degree angle to maximize lure coverage and to not drive your partner crazy. As you move along, pay attention to when and where strikes occur--very rarely do you only catch one in an area. Every time you cast, pay attention to anything that will give you a reference point to return the bait to the same area.

"Crank the bait about six or seven good, hard turns down, then slow up when you feel the bait strike weeds, rock, brush, or bottom. Stop and count to three; you will feel the bait moving away and up. A bass will just blast the bait, or it will feel like a worm hit--he'll just swim off with it in his mouth.

"One thing that always happens is the best bass will hit as the bait starts its arc up from the bottom, or at the end of the retrieve. And they always swim to the boat with a little inside-outside roll. Rod position is very important to avoid fatigue. Keep the rod low, and only put slight pressure on the rod by changing the angle and using the reel to winch the bait along."

The second ideal situation in which to use a mudbug, according to McGarry, "is exceptionally windy days, when a jig bite is hard to feel. Fish upwind, making long, low casts along the bank, on rocky flats in 3 to 6 feet of water. I just have the (trolling) motor on high and buzz the bait along, allowing it to bounce and deflect off of every object. The final mudbug method I use is the ricochet method, in which I take the bait and purposely try to crash it through shallow-water and deep-water thick cover. Bass will turn down worms and jigs to blast an alien monster that slams into their tree."

The mudbug is no longer available, but it can be found for sale on eBay and other auction sites. Get one and try it, if you haven't already. The mudbug is just one more Fred Arbogast lure that has brought pleasure to fishermen all over the world.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What's Not to Like About a Lazy Ike?

Somewhere around the mid-1930s, in the Fort Dodge, IA area, a fisherman named Newel Daniels was hand-carving what was to become the Lazy Ike. History has it that Joseph Kautzky (also spelled Kanutzky in some sources), Jr., of the Kautzky Manufacturing Co. (forerunner of the Lazy Ike Corp.), saw Daniels fishing the lure, liked it, and struck a deal with him.

From 1938 to 1940, Daniels produced lures for the company by hand. When he left, he turned over all rights to Kautzky, who then shifted responsibility for production to "Pop" Shuck, who kept making the lure by hand until about 1945, when lathe production came along. Wood production stopped in 1960, when a plastic version of the lure was introduced.

Kautzky produced several baits; however, the Lazy Ike was the most famous. It and the other Kautzky lures generally aren't considered collectible.

Lazy Ikes evidently still are in production, because multiple colors are available from http://www.lurenet.com, as well as other online websites, including eBay. And the bait, with its pronounced wiggle, still is catching fish 80 years later, as evidenced in this photo.

The fisherman involved here caught six bass this particular day with his frog-colored Lazy Ike, all of them ranging between 2 and 4 lbs. "It was like the '60s all over again," he said. He also was heard to describe his day as "not so good," which leaves me to wonder what he considers a good day.

Sure looks like there's something special to be said for that frog-colored Ike. For example, I also read about a father-son duo who were fishing one in a Missouri farm pond, with a storm rapidly approaching. Lightning and thunder warned that their fishing was about to end, but that didn't stop the son from making just one more cast.

"I cranked the reel handle a few times," said the boy, "and then my frog-colored Lazy Ike stopped as though it had hit a brick wall." He told his dad, who then started watching and offering advice, as the boy tried to gain control of the situation.

"When the huge bass was close enough to see," the boy explained, "the gears in my spincast reel locked up, and I was powerless to bring the fish any closer." He glanced over at his dad, who already was taking off his shoes and socks to go wading. His dad was in waist-deep water before he could lift the fish up and carry it to shore. The duo took the fish to a local hardware store, where it tipped the scales at 6 lbs. 10 ozs.

As reported in an account by Troy Jackson, "The Lazy Ike ranks among the heavy hitters of all-time when it comes to artificial lures... . This odd-looking creation with a wiggling action has likely caught millions of fish and anglers alike."

Jackson went on to explain that he found one of these baits on an endcap in a department store during the summer of 2014 and bought it for $1.50. "Sure didn't take long to get a return on my investment," he said, noting that within minutes of making his first casts with the lure a few days later, he caught the bass pictured here.

"I can't imagine that this thing is a staple in tackleboxes these days," Jackson continued, "as I've never seen anyone throw it. The $1.50 sticker price I paid speaks volumes as well, especially in a world of ever-increasingly outrageously priced lures, none of which I imagine have truly revolutionized our hobby... . However, the fact that I can pick up a lure that first hit the market during The Great Depression in a modern superstore has to count for something. In the end, it is simply a cool feather in my floppy hat to say that I caught a bass on a lure that my grandpas probably had in their tackleboxes as well."

The banana-shaped Lazy Ike and its big brother, the Mighty Ike, swim with a huge, searching "X" action, resembling a minnow in distress. They primarily attract walleye, bass, northern pike, and musky. Trolled (to depths reaching 11 to 13 feet) or cast (to depths reaching 4 to 6 feet), the lazy roll of the Ike has created fishing memories for generations of anglers.


Would like to thank my buddy, Charlie, for his comment on this article that I received in an email earlier today (Thursday, March 5). Also want to include some info he provided in that same note. "When I was a kid, spending my summers in Vermont," he said, adding, "we all used a Flatfish, which is almost the same thing. Northern pike were the target species back then. I have one in my tacklebox somewhere and might have to get it wet this spring.

"Around 1956," continued Charlie, "an old fisherman showed me his secret lure (see accompanying drawing, which Charlie acknowledged is 'bad')." Here's how it's made: Take two swivels and connect them with a split ring. Add a blade to the split ring. Put another split ring at the end and attach one long-shank and one short-shank hook, with the points facing each other. "Next, we would catch leopard frogs early in the morning," said Charlie, "then head out to the water. "We'd hook the frog through the lips on the short-shank hook and let the long-shank one ride free between his legs. That thing would fill the cooler in no time flat. Great times!"

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

It Had Its Beginning in a Styrofoam Egg Carton

I'm talking, of course, about the Big O, the balsa-made crankbait that started the whole alphabet-plug frenzy of the 1970s. And to set the record straight, it really wasn't "born" in an egg carton. That's just how the somewhat fragile, hand-carved lure originally was stored--to protect it from getting scratched.

A pioneer in crankbait design, Fred C. Young of Oak Ridge, TN, created the Big O in 1967. The story goes that he just started whittling on a piece of wood one day and decided he'd try to make a fishing plug. Young had plenty of spare time on his hands at that point, because he was in a body cast, as a result of injuries he had sustained while working for the Atomic Energy Commission in Oak Ridge.

Visits to his doctor provided an opportunity for him to stop at a lake on the way home to test his prototypes. He was looking for a fast, tight wiggle, and of all the woods he sampled, balsa was the only one that gave him such an action. Meanwhile, old pieces of circuit board proved to be the best material for making a lip.

Field-tester for Young's plug was his brother, Otis, nicknamed "Big Otis" because of his 6-foot 6-inch stature (hence the name Big O). With his brother's suggestions for improvement, it wasn't long before Fred had a design that, according to some, "was wearing the fish out." And while there were those who poked fun at the plug, Otis urged his brother to maintain the fat-bodied design because of its natural vibration.

It also wasn't long before an angler named Bill Nichols was using Young's creation to win some club tournaments. Noted smallmouth legend, Billy Westmoreland, first saw the Big O (which he dubbed "the homemade plug") during a fishing trip with Nichols and subsequently got one of the plugs from Young. A regular trading session soon emerged between the two, with Young swapping a couple egg cartons (consisting of five or six plugs per carton) for two or three dozen of Westmoreland's hand-tied jigs.

"The homemade plug" soared into national prominence in the spring of 1972, when Westmoreland took it to a B.A.S.S. tournament on Lake Lanier. He cranked his way to a second-place finish with it in that event, with Bobby Murray barely nudging him out of the $10,000 first-place prize on the final day.

Now that "the cat was out of the bag," demand for this hand-carved plug skyrocketed to levels that Young couldn't come close to satisfying. That demand, coupled with the Big O's newfound reputation for "killing bass," led some enterprising entrepreneurs to start a rent-a-lure program. Frustrated tournament anglers didn't hesitate to fork over $25 a day and another $25 insurance deposit, in case they lost the bait.

That high demand continued into 1973, when the Big O was selling for $10 to $15 apiece before the B.A.S.S. tournament at Watts Bar. The going price after that event had climbed all the way to $50 apiece. The plugs were so hot that, as Westmoreland complained, "They're cutting my line and stealing them off my rods."

At this point, the Cordell Lure Company of Hot Springs, AR, saved the day by buying Fred Young's Big O brand and mass-producing a "fat plug" with plastic bodies. Young oversaw the design of this knock-off model, which soon flooded the market and filled trays in the tackleboxes of anglers everywhere. Records show that, within 13 months, Cordell had sold 1.3 million plastic Big O's.

It should be noted here, however, that, prior to selling rights to his famed Big O, Young carved, signed and numbered each of the more than 3,700 plugs he made. Many of these ended up in the possession of Bobby Murray, who, along with Cotton Cordell Lures, revived the wooden version of Young's original Big O for a limited time (circa 2007-2008). It was only available, though, from Cabela's.

The Big O is a lure that indeed has withstood the test of time and is still being produced today. It's available from many different online websites, including eBay, where you can find collector models in various price ranges.

(Fred Young died in 1987. Cotton Cordell died Jan. 6, 2015.)

Friday, February 27, 2015

What's the Harm in a Little Innocent Innuendo?

I was cruisin' down the Internet highway yesterday when I came across a fella who said he has noticed a change in the "descriptive language of lures." As he explained, "I am seeing phrases like 'a seductive shimmy,' 'sexy action,' 'an enticing wiggle,' 'an attractive color,' 'tempting vibrations,' 'irresistible movement,' and 'provocative presentation.'"

Before reading any further, I decided to have a look for myself. The first example I came across was this photo and its caption on the Virginia Region 7 website (http://www.varegion7.com/) bearing Jim Funk's byline. He had titled the piece "The Other Woman." The accompanying caption read, "Since the weather stinks, and I am lucky enough to have a heated garage, I've been spending some time with 'the other woman.' I've been rubbing on her and fixing trailer-hub issues. I've also organized her. Next, I will remove the passenger console again, for the last time. SPRING, PLEASE COME SOON!"

The next example I found was a Brandon Deaton blog post titled "Big Girls Need Lovin' Too," which, he quickly noted, isn't something it would be smart to say to your girlfriend or wife. After explaining that the "big girls" he's referring to are female bass beginning to think about spawning, Brandon outlines some suggestions anglers should consider before headin' out in pursuit of those girls. If you'd like to see his post, here's the link: http://www.brandondeatonfishing.com/#!Big-Girls-Need-Lovin-Too/c21xo/F893AE17-7CAA-4C95-B725-333E617561FB. Might pay to check it out before the spring ritual arrives.

My last stop yesterday on the Internet highway was when I saw this headline: "Rapala's New Shadow Raps Shimmy Seductively While Suspending." The ensuing article (http://www.onthewater.com/rapalas-new-shadow-raps-shimmy-seductively-suspending/) highlighted the fact this new suspending jerkbait "perfectly mimics a minnow's final, quivering moments before its end of days, triggering unforgettable strikes as predator fish move in for an easy meal." The article went on to say that four of the pros who fished the 2015 Bassmaster Classic were equipped with Shadow Raps, heading into the competition.

As acknowledged by the fella I quoted in the opening paragraph of this post, "I understand there are some similarities between women and bass, such as often releasing many before finding a few worth keeping, inevitable backlashes in the pursuit of them, the testing of one's patience, often being impossible to work with, and being able to so easily entice a man into obsession... . However, I don't find massive mouths, extreme aggression, and the ability to eat something one-third their body size to be attractive traits in women."

He continued, "Are we undergoing a shift in fishing style? Are we done offering false food items, and instead seeking to seduce bass? If so, we should stop using green pumpkin and bluegill jigs and instead throw pink-voltage-lipstick jig heads with a sexy-curvy shad skirt. No more baby-bass crankbaits--you'd be better off with baby momma bass cranks, featuring a sensual shimmy and promiscuous wiggle... . I would go on, but it's imperative I start smearing lip gloss on my swimbaits."

I understand where this fella is coming from; however, I don't share all of his concerns. Quite frankly, I don't see anything wrong with using a little pink in our arsenals. I have been known to use some pink Senkos, as well as pink skirts (wouldn't call 'em "sexy-curvy," though) on my chatterbaits--and successfully, a number of times, I might add. As for getting bass to bite, in general, I'm all for whatever it takes, whether that be enticing, teasing, coaxing, or seducing. If a little innocent innuendo will put fish in the boat, especially on tourney day, so be it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Cold Snap Kills Fish Across Virginia, North Carolina

One of the coldest winters the East Coast has seen in years is the culprit in the deaths of thousands of fish along coastal Virginia and North Carolina.

That headline and lead sentence from a WAVY-TV news report sounds like something you might expect from what we've been experiencing this past week. In reality, though, it describes a fish kill that occurred about this same time last year. The date on the report is Feb. 17, 2014. Covering this event was WAVY's Liz Palka, along with her photographer, Chris Omahen (responsible for all photos used here).

One thing that grabbed my attention about this year-old fish kill, other than for the fact I missed it totally when first published, is what's in some of the accompanying photos. Palka's one interviewee (a resident of Virginia Beach) described the kill as involving "large numbers of speckled trout and puppy drum washing up near docks and canals." However, you don't need a magnifying glass to determine that more species than just those two were found in a belly-up state (check the accompanying photos for yourselves).

A marine-recreation specialist interviewed by Palka characterized the fish deaths (called a "cold stun kill"), as "natural." They first started being reported by Mid-Atlantic anglers the week of Jan. 19, 2014. The marine-recreation specialist went on to say, "From the limited data we have, in terms of numbers, it just seems to be on a larger scale this year." The 2014 cold-stun kill was serious enough, though, to prompt North Carolina to ban all recreational and commercial fishing of speckled trout in that state until mid-June last year.

According to my Internet research, the majority of winter fish kills are experienced as cold temperatures cause bodies of water to freeze over. Low dissolved-oxygen levels result from a combination of factors. The air/water interface is capped by the formation of ice, limiting the exchange of oxygen at the surface. This icy cover also reduces or completely eliminates sunlight from reaching any aquatic plant life that otherwise would produce oxygen through the process of photosynthesis.

With no light available, aquatic plant life will begin to respire (consume oxygen), along with fish and other aquatic life and further increase the oxygen demand. The bacterial decomposition of organic material and bottom sludge also depletes oxygen levels.

Over time, the dissolved oxygen levels eventually become too low to sustain aquatic life. This can vary widely, depending upon the type of aquatic organisms living in the water. For most warm-water species, like bass, crappie and bluegill, minimum oxygen levels need to be about 2 ppm. Trout species require higher oxygen levels, typically around 4 ppm. Oxygen levels below this for extended periods of time will prove to be lethal.

Given the record-setting cold temperatures we had this past week, I suppose we very well may soon see another fish kill. As a matter of fact, I heard just a couple of days ago about an isolated case that already has turned up.

The good news is this: Winter kills that occur in larger lakes and rivers rarely are serious enough, in the long run, to do lasting harm, because of the sheer number of fish those bodies of water support. There usually are enough survivors to repopulate all the species. And, too, fish kills sometimes can be beneficial for the fish community by reducing over-populated, slow-growing species.

Nevertheless, fish kills always should be reported. Contact the Virginia Marine Commission at 757-247-2200 anytime you see one.