It all goes back to childhood, me about 9 years old, fishing with my dad for bass in the evening.
“Davy, if you would quit changing lures you’d spend more time with one in the water and possibly catching fish,” Dad gently chastised. “You can’t catch a fish without a lure in the water.”
Changing lures too often is a clear detriment to success, but old habits die hard, and this one lingers five decades later. If, after a tournament there’s a pile of lures on the floor of my kayak, it’s a telltale sign that I probably didn’t have much luck. That pile usually means that catching fish was a struggle, and much of it is self-imposed. For whatever reason, it’s one of the hardest lessons to get through my head.
The same pattern of growing impatient with a lure prevailed during the the years I spent on Lake Michigan trolling for salmon. The number of salmon in the cooler got proportionally greater with the fewer spoons, plugs and flasher/fly combos drying out in the boat’s “used lures” bin.
At the Grand River kayak tournament a few weeks ago, my Old Town Predator kayak’s floor was littered with soft plastic swimbaits, plastic worms, chatterbaits, spinnerbaits, a crankbait and three or four jigs in different sizes and colors. The Horny Toad surface lure I wrote about a few weeks ago spent time in the water. So had a Texas-rigged Zoom Centipede (a sort of bumpy, flat worm that seems to get bites when nothing else will). I’d started with a green pumpkin-colored Jack Hammer chatterbait and soon replaced it because of the Grand’s high, muddy water with a different color. A white Megabass shallow-diving crankbait also got tossed as did a Z-Man 2 3/4-inch T.R.D. worm in the Mud Minnow pattern. I even tried a Zeeka-rigged Zoom Little Critter Craw – and a few other lures I don’t remember now.
I caught four fish on three different baits. The first, which turned out to be my biggest at 15.75 inches, hit a chatterbait in a bluegill pattern. Fish two and three ate a Hula Stick, which is a 4-inch worm with a tail of strands. It was in the Mud Minnow pattern, and I rigged it “Neko” style with a tungsten nail weight in the nose and a fine-wire hook about two thirds up the bait in the tail. The idea is the tungsten makes it plunge right to the bottom where you make it wiggle by twitching your rod tip. I caught my final bass on a Ned rig, consisting of half a 5-inch ZinkerZ on a 1/16-ounce bismuth-tin jighead made by Jade’s Jigs. This lure was in the Mudbug pattern, kind of brown with gold flakes. That lure also got sucked in by an 8-pound channel catfish that towed my kayak around for about five minutes before I netted him.
Bottom line was I caught four bass, one short of the five-fish limit and finished as a solid also-ran, 53rd in the field of 99 kayak anglers. Hindsight being 20/20, if I’d stuck to tossing just those three lures, I bet I would have connected with another fish since I’d have had a lure in the water a lot more of the time.
So for the rest of this kayak tournament season, I have vowed to go through and remove things from my tackle crate before the start of each contest, only taking high-confidence lures out fishing.
At the risk of sounding like I’m bragging, the tactic already worked.
I won a three-hour tournament Tuesday night at Gun Lake. I started out with a 3-inch MinnowZ is the two-tone green E-Z Money pattern and immediately caught a short fish, soon followed by a legal (for photographing and releasing) 12.75-incher. So I didn’t fish with anything else until I’d measured and submitted a five-fish limit. With a half-hour left after I’d photographed and released my fifth largemouth, I threw a surface lure, a bone-colored Whopper Plopper, known for catching bigger fish. I didn’t succeed with that tactic, but my five little fish (the longest was 13.75 inches) were long enough.
It’s still going to be a battle to resist changing lures, but I’ll just resist the urge to switch lures one tournament at a time.
Outdoors columnist Dave Mull lives in Paw Paw. Write to him at email@example.com.