For nearly two years I’ve been working as a full-time sales associate at a Bass Pro Shops in Utica, New York. I was hired in the fishing department after having fished 36 of the lower 48 states out of the back of a Jeep for Outdoor Life’s Fish America online program and then pre-fishing tournament lakes for B.A.S.S. Through those years, I got to see some of the greatest anglers in the country fish the hottest lures in the world.
In the 700-plus days that I’ve been at Bass Pro, our crew has unloaded, stocked, and sold thousands of lures. Some, though, sell much faster than others. I’m not talking about lures with flashy packaging, great marketing, or cool names. I’m talking about lures that move off the shelves because they work and word of mouth about their effectiveness spreads quickly. Here are the baits that we can’t keep in stock.
UTICA, NEW YORK
1. Savage Gear 3D Real Eel
Steve Terzini, a sales associate at the Utica Bass Pro, has a story he likes to tell about the Savage Gear Eel. Terzini was unloading a truck one day, and was carrying 3D Real Eels (a bait that comes in lengths of 8, 12, or 16 inches) to their proper peg, when a customer stopped him mid-aisle.
“I’ll take those,” he said. He grabbed all three from Terzini’s hands.
That’s $24 for just three lures, but it’s not uncommon. Bass Pro associates can’t keep them on the shelves. Savage nailed the likeness of freshwater eels with these lures and are seemingly a bait of choice for pike, muskie, and bass anglers all over the Northeast and Midwest. I’ve fished the bait extensively and l find its swimming action to be supremely realistic.
Color Preference: Black
How To Fish Them: As slowly as you can, on a steady retrieve.
2. River2Sea Rattling Whopper Plopper
Whenever I lead a customer to the section of Whopper Ploppers, they inevitably ask which color produces best. I tell them that it’s ‘Loon,’ and in size 90 specifically, and then I point to an (almost always) empty peg. The minute we get these things in stock, they’re on their way to a checkout line. The topwater action from the Whopper Plopper, which features a prop-like, spinning tail, is unique and disturbing enough on the water’s surface that it elicits toilet-flushing strikes from bass.
Color Preference: Black Loon
How To Fish Them: A slow steady retrieve can work best at first and last light, and an erratic retrieve mid-day will elicit explosive strikes.
3. Megabass Vatalion
There was a small pond that we’d fish as kids, and there were two very different classes of largemouth bass in it. The smaller bass, between 8 and 15 inches, would hit almost anything you’d throw: spinnerbaits, soft plastics, or black Jitterbugs at last light. The larger bass, typically between 3 and 5 pounds, would hit those smaller bass thereafter. Almost without fail, when you brought a bass between 6 and 12 inches up to the pond’s edge, a four-pounder would be circling behind it. The guys at Megabass noticed the cannibalistic nature of bass as well, and created the Megabass Vatalion—a lifelike glidebait that comes in several patterns including juvenile bass. The finish on these things is realistic enough that they almost qualify as artwork.
How To Fish Them: Erratically, like a wounded juvenile bass.
Color preference: Baby bass
4. Bass Pro Shops 10-inch Ribbontail Worm
Dawson Clark, a sales associate in the fishing department at the Springfield, Missouri Bass Pro Shops, was quick to suggest the ribbontail worm for waters like Table Rock Lake. They sell them in enormous quantities in the spring and summer. The fluttering action of that long tail is irresistible as it slowly sinks through the water column beneath a line of lily pads. Rigging these worms with Trokar’s EWG non-offset Worm Hook with a Z bend will ensure that the point stays protected from weeds—until it’s buried in a largemouth’s lip.
Danny Holdern in the fishing department says customers are Texas-rigging them too, and fishing them between 20 and 30 feet of water through brush piles on lakes like Table Rock, Stockton Lake, and Bull Shoals. “Plum, black and black and red, and there’s one called Watermelon Candy Red that’s particularly popular,” he says. “With the water as warm as it is, a lot of guys are throwing that one at night.”
Color Preference: Green Pumpkin.
How To Fish Them: Cast these things right onto the pads, then drag them to the edge and let them drop, twitching them only slightly on the fall.
5. Z-Man Ned Rigs
The genius of the Ned Rig, and part of its resurgence in popularity across the country, is in its simplicity. Combine this short, soft-plastic with Z-Man’s flat-headed jig and your offering will jump and fall around and over cover. Its unique action has proven irresistible to bass time and time again, and all season long.
“A lot of fishermen are targeting smallmouths in the lakes or rivers with Z-Man stuff,” says Holdern. “It’s a sure-shot way, like the drop shot. If you’re having a tough day, you pull out the Ned Rig and start catching them. It’s a good way to get numbers. In the James River, for example, you just use a real slow retrieve back to you, dragging it over the rocks, then give it a jiggle, and bam.”
Color Preference: PB&J
How To Fish Them: Hop them off the bottom around structure, drop-offs, and weed beds.
6. Strike King Tour Grade Swinging Swim Jig
The difference between Strike King’s Swinging Swim Jig and almost every other jig that you’ve thrown is the way that the hook is attached to the jighead. It’s not built on a fixed hook, but is rather manufactured to swing. That means that instead of an elevator-up-and-down motion, your jig trailer is going to flutter and vibrate as it falls through the water column. It’s a Show-Me State reminder that small details can make a big difference.
“We just had a shad spawn about a month ago, and that swim jig worked great during the spawn,” says Holdern. “They spawn near the dock floats, and you can skip it under the docks. It takes a lot of practice, but that jig is just deadly around the docks, especially in deeper water when it’s hotter. Because it swings, it takes away that little bit of leverage from the fish so that they can’t shake the thing out.”
Color Preference: Black-and-blue jig with a green pumpkin trailer.
How To Fish Them: You can fish it deep, shallow, flip docks, points; you can fish these anywhere.
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7. Stanley Jigs Ribbit Top Toad Hollow Body Frog
“Once summertime hit, the Stanley Ribbit really started coming off the shelf,” says Tyler Silas of the Prattville, Alabama Bass Pro Shops. This hollow-body frog comes in a variety of patterns, from jet black to watermelon red. Silas explained that the legs work to make the bait act like a buzzbait, creating a wake across the top of the water. The jigs come with one pre-rigged frog and a spare.
Color Preference: Watermelon Red with Pearl Belly
How To Fish Them: As slow as you can, right along weed edges.
8. Bass Pro Shops Speed Shad
“It’s the bait with the little ribs in it,” is how Silas described the Speed Shads that his store, and many others, are selling to both novice and expert bass fishermen. These scented soft-plastics feature a hook slot on both top and bottom, but it’s the ribs that help provide the most enticing action.
“Those things are continuously leaving the store,” says Silas. “You can fish them with the rod tip high, so they run right beneath the surface, or hop them over structure along the bottom, too. Use a lighter jighead for a morning surface bite (1/4 ounce or 3/8), and a heavier jighead to get it down to structure like stumps and sunken docks once the water warms up during the day.”
Color Preference: Bluegill Flash
How To Fish Them: Hop them around structure.
9. Zoom Z-Craw
There is no shortage of crayfish imitation baits, especially in Alabama, but Silas likes Zoom’s soft-plastic, and says that they sell out more quickly than others. Like most crawfish imitations, your success will largely be dependent upon how and where you fish them, so target structure and drop-offs, and have patience. The cool thing about the Z-Craw is that its paddletail-like legs allow you to fish it either like a jig or with a straight retrieve. The paddletail claws give it great action without you having to do anything but reel. “The Zoom Z-craw is big on Lake Martin and Jordan, as well,” says Silas. “We have a problem keeping them in stock,” .
Color Preference: Watermelon Seed
How To Fish Them: Fish it either like a jig or with a straight retrieve. Try both.