The Changing Landscape: Trends in Bass Tackle
is not a story about the shoreline landscape whizzing past you at
70 MPH as your bass boat on WOT acts more like a rocket ship than
a watercraft. This story is about trends and the changing
landscape of bass fishing, tackle and tactics in recent years.
SUPER LINES - Braid & Fluorocarbon
Switching to super lines such as braid and fluorocarbon in
recent years holds about the same significance as going to
graphite rods from fiberglass in the early nineteen-eighties.
Super lines are more sensitive, provide more solid hooksets and
are stronger than mono.
Braid has such a small diameter that under 30 lb. braid, the
diameter is so thin that you're pretty much doomed if you
backlash on a baitcaster or it snarls off a spinning reel. So
guys routinely use 30 lb. braid as a standard just so they'll be
enough line diameter with 30 to pick out a gnarly spool overrun
more easily. In case of a spinnerbait or buzzbait, 45 lb. braid
is common, and 50 up to 80 lb. braid is not unusual for hauling
hogs out of expansive weed mats. What is so significant about
this is 30-50+ braid can now be used in applications where 12-25
was used previously with mono. More strength, better hooksets,
more sensitive, longer distance casts are all possible with
Braid is ideal for:
- Topwaters of all types: wood or hard plastic baits, hollow
rubber frogs and rats
- Casting and presenting a bait (and therefore setting the
hook) at long distances
- slicing through thick grass, wrestling bass out of heavy
If you haven't experimented with it yet, you should try braid
for the above applications. Braid is visible line and most brands
whiten with use. This may spook some fish some times (some people
say), but this visibility factor probably spooks more anglers
than bass. If you just take the attitude you do not care that the
line is visible, you will shortly notice that the bass stop
caring when you do!
Braid has a floating effect in air and in water, coupled with
its visibility, which makes it great for line-watchers to detect
the slightest tick, tap or bite. A weakness of braid is it cuts
easily around rocks and sort of saws itself into wet wood, but
slices through soft weeds like a weedwhacker.
spool with 20-30 lb. braid or 16-20 lb. fluoro where 12-15 lb.
mono was previously used."
Fluorocarbon is another modern super line which like braid is
more sensitive, affords better hooksets, and is stronger in lower
diameters than mono. Beyond that, fluoro has different properties
than braid, but fluorocarbon is equally revolutionary in its own
way. Fluorocarbon doesn't float like braid, but sinks quickly, is
rather invisible in water, and abrasion-resistant in rocks and
wood. So it is a super line that works well where braid doesn't
and vice versa. For instance, since it sinks, fluoro is not great
for topwater like braid, but fluoro shines (actually it is
invisible) in deep or clear water. Fluorocarbon is abrasion
resistant in rocks or wood where braid just doesn't hold up well.
So fluoro gets the nod over braids for flipping and pitching in
close quarters, and for clear water or deep water applications,
go with fluorocarbon.
Anglers also are using higher strengths of fluoro than they
used to use in monofilament. Why? Thinner line diameter but
especially the "invisibility factor" gives anglers
confidence to go to heavier strength fluorocarbon. Guys are using
less-visible 16 lb. fluorocarbon for applications where they may
have used more-visible 12-14 pound mono previously. They use 20
lb. fluorocarbon where they may have used 14-17 lb mono a few
short years ago.
You can tie back some of the changes today with reels and
lures to the transition from mono to greater-strength braid and
fluoro. Let's look at changes in lures first.
LURES - Bigger & Smaller
Larger lures too have resulted from use of heavier braid and
fluoro lines. Spooled with 30 lb. braid or 16 lb. fluoro for
applications where 12-14 lb. mono was previously used, there is a
trend to larger topwaters and bigger hard jerkbaits for example.
The Rico topwater, said to be named for Rick Clunn, was a
sensation when it hit the scene years ago. Nowadays, the bigger
Rio Rico is the trend along with bigger popper models of many
brands. The sensational LuckyCraft Sammy is bigger and being
thrown boldly at 128 millimeters. When the LuckyCraft 78 mm
Pointer jerkbait hit the scene some years ago it made a
sensation, which has shifted focus onto the 100 mm Pointer today.
These lure examples are just a few cases of an overall trend to
bigger baits facilitated in part by the stronger super lines.
Huge soft plastic swimbaits have become a monster-catching
tactic out West, and there is no reason why large bass in the
North, South and East won't eat swimbaits too. It's just a matter
of time until non-Western anglers start throwing big swimbaits.
Tube baits have gotten larger, and will continue to get even
larger in time. Years ago, a tubebait was a light line 3- or
4-inch slim finesse bait best thrown on a spinning rod. Now,
tubes are thick fat 5" flipping baits no longer used on
spinning rods, and there is a subtle trend toward even larger
gigantic-sized tube baits of 6- to 7-inches. The changing
landscape, don't you love it!
At the same time that modern fishing lines have allowed
anglers to fish larger baits, the same lines have allowed anglers
to fish smaller baits. A few years ago, whoever used a 3- or
3.5-inch worm for any practical purpose? It's fair to say not
many of us used them very often. Now, dropshotting (a recent
trend itself) with light fluorocarbon line has created a niche
today for smaller lures than ever before. Dropshotting in North
America began changing the landscape of bass fishing in
California first. Today, everyone everywhere is getting into it -
with a plentitude of smaller soft baits than they ever used
Now, how have superlines influenced recent changed in reels?
Reels have come full circle from originally being cast metal
bodies way back when, then graphite, composite and other
lightweight bodies became the rage, and now they're back to rigid
metal alloy bodies again. The flight back to metal alloy bodies
is partly due to the tremendous stresses of the more powerful
super lines, which can cause gears and ball-bearings to become
misaligned under pressure. The metal bodies provide tighter
tolerances to close cracks and crannies so that micro-thin
diameter superlines like braids cannot find their way in between
exposed parts of a reel. So superlines have contributed to
tighter tolerances between exposed parts and stronger more rigid
metal stress-bearing bodies on reels than monofilament required
RETURN TO THE OLD STANDBYS
There is also a return to the "old standbys" today.
By that I mean historically-popular brand names and models such
as Heddon Super Spooks, Bomber, Smithwick, Norman Lures, Rapala,
Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap to name just a few examples of what I mean
by old standbys. In recent years, we've seen something similar in
the lure industry to what we saw in the auto industry in the
nineteen-seventies when import cars shook up the market and shook
up US auto manufacturers. Now imported autos are here to stay and
imported hard baits are here to stay too. What happened in both
markets was imports caused US manufacturers to ultimately improve
the quality of their products, both cars and baits. Better
and more realistic lure finishes, 3D eyes, molded-in gill plates,
more realism, better hooks, sturdier hardware, internal
suspension systems in lures and so on.
something other than realistic looks that the old standbys have
always had and never lost."
Just as with autos, US manufacturers have risen to meet the
challenge of the well-made imported baits. Yet there's something
important, something other than realistic looks that the old
standbys have always had and never lost - their
"action" - and most top pros never stopped throwing
them even though they may have repainted them and replaced the
hooks. The old standbys have been appealing to bass for decades
(some since the nineteen-thirties and forties) on the merits of
the legendary fish-inciting actions they possess. So it is the
"action" (used properly) in the old standby's that
count more than realistic looks, slick color patterns or the very
best hardware, and there is a return to some of the old standbys
in progress now that they've been revamped in recent years with
better looks, good hooks and other improvements.
Whereas imported hard plastic baits have established a
presence in the US market, imported soft plastic baits have not
landed here yet in any large numbers. I don't know why that is
so, but just mention it as one trend that has not happened yet.
Not too many years ago, hooks were bronzed and you had to
first sharpen them before you used them. Nowadays, they're almost
surgical quality instruments. Rigging hooks, jig hooks, treble
hooks. Good quality hooks exist today and are always
improving! There is a lot of competition which spawns ongoing
innovation among hook manufacturers today. This is pretty
competitive right now, and each hook brand is keeping the other
companies competitive in terms of advancements in hook models and
features. All you really need to do is keep dibs on the
very latest new hooks announced by the leading hook companies. I
do, and more often than not, I switch to using the very latest
hooks, which tend to be the very best possible.
Blood red colored hooks are becoming a trend, and I like that.
All fish have blood red gills, and when you rig a red hook in a
soft plastic, the hook bend simulates a red gill curvature plus
the red hook shank appears as the gill flap extending under the
chin up to the mouth.
Tungsten sinkers are a definite trend, and a competitive
advantage over lead. Rather than me tell you why, try tungsten
sinkers a few times and you'll see for yourself. Sinker-wise, the
difference between tungsten and lead is equivalent to the
difference between braid and fluorocarbon line versus
RODS - One Bait Per Rod
The trend today is that rod manufacturers are becoming
extremely specialized, almost down to the level of one bait per
rod. Not only rod manufacturers are doing this, but lure
manufacturers are also offering rods specific to their lure
models. Speaking of the Rico popper again, a good example of the
"bait per rod" paradigm is the manufacturer offers a
Rico 1/4 oz. popper rod and a Rio Rico 3/8 oz. popper rod. As
another example of the "bait per rod" trend, I was on
one other rod brand's web site recently. They offered a creature
bait rod, a wacky worm rod, a Senko rod, a frog special, a dart
head rod, a dropshot rod, several different weights of rods for
different weights of spinnerbaits, different weights of
crankbaits and jerkbait rods, several different weight Carolina
rig rods, two different weight Texas rig worm rods, a jig rod for
fishing in brush, a jig rod for fishing in weeds, etc. Overall,
that's close to twenty different rods specific to twenty
different baits, and there are professional anglers who claim
they rig 20 rods at times such as 2000 Classic winner Woo Daves.
Mind you, I'm not judging whether this trend to one bait per
rod is good or bad. In this article, we're just along for the
ride, observing the changing landscape that's whizzing by us at
The Senko is surely a trend, and many of you may have heard of
or used Yamamoto Senkos, but there are whole regions of the
country still where anglers have never heard of the Yamamoto
Senko yet. The Senko is a part of the changing landscape, and
many anglers who have used Senkos have experienced more and
better bass catches than ever before. In terms of soft baits, it
is perhaps the most significant development in modern times.
Since the start of 2002, there are many brands of copycat soft
baits to imitate Senkos too.
In terms of tournament trends, surely ESPN is much talked
about today as the new owner of B.A.S.S., but FLW is equally
innovative and vital to our sport today too. Both major forces
will continue to change the landscape of national professional
tournament fishing. They are bringing more recognition, more
media, more status and ensuring the future of our sport for us
all, even the occasional weekend bass angler.
On the regional team tournament level, which can be considered
the semi-pro league, today we see more local level tournaments
and larger fields than ever before. More participation in local
tournament trails is a trend that will continue. This facet of
our sport is growing rapidly, and the new Angler's Choice is an
example of a highly innovative trail that is well-poised to serve
as a catalyst of change in this thriving arena of regional and
local semi-pro competition.
With more tournaments, larger fields of boats, better-skilled
anglers than ever before, we're also noticing a trend toward
"spot" fishing today rather than "pattern"
fishing of old. By that I mean, there's clearly a trend towards
tournaments being won today by staking a claim to a spot, even if
it is only one hundred yards long, and catching fish out of that
one spot using several methods as opposed to the run 'n gun
patterns popular in the past.
to be we'd say many tournaments were won by one
difference has now shrunk to fractions of a pound."
As there are more and better anglers today, we're seeing
elimination tournaments at the pro levels where the bulk of the
large field does not make the cut-offs to continue to fish the
semi-final or final rounds. A multi-day tournament is
evolving to become almost sort of a series of single day
tournaments. This puts increased pressure on pros to do well
every day. I kind of like this concept. To me, it seems a better
measure of skill and ability for a guy to perform well
consistently every day rather than to make a big killing one day
and coast through the other days based on that one good day. It
takes some pressure off the fisheries also, to thin down a large
field of hundreds into a smaller group for semi-final and final
Used to be we'd say many tournaments were won by "one
fish", meaning the difference between first and second
place, or cashing a check or not often means one fish caught or
lost. That difference has shrunk down today so that tournament
outcomes often aren't decided by a fish or by a pound but by mere
ounces. Case in point is my team partner and I missed being our
Angler's Choice Division Team Anglers of the Year by a scant
15/100th of a pound. Mind you, we did not miss by 15/100th in one
tournament, but in cumulative points and pounds tallied for a
seven tournament series. Another example is a team that missed
first place in an Angler's Choice regional championship by
6/100th of a pound. True, they got one prize boat for second
place, but 6/100th cost them first place which paid two prize
boats for the first place team. So, the difference between first
and second, between being in or out of the money is shrinking
down from a fish, a pound, ounces to a few hundredths of a
fraction difference. More competition, more anglers, better
anglers are changing the landscape and closing the "point
spread" in tournaments today. A device such as the Cul-m-Rite
scale records fish caught in hundredths of a pound plus tells you
instantly and unerringly which fish to cull. Without one, you may
be throwing away the fractions of a pound it takes to win these
Another part of the changing landscape is that in some sense,
there is a distance developing between fun fishing and
traditional family/friend fishing versus tournament fishing. Keep
in mind, the bass fishing and bass boating industry, based on
tournament fishing has only existed since the mid-seventies for
all practical purposes. Before then, there was only recreational
fishing, which often meant food fishing. Concepts of
catch-and-release, aerated livewells or even a "bass
boat" didn't exist 25-30 years ago. But today that's what
most people think of when you say "bass fishing", a
phrase which has become semi-synonymous to some degree with
"tournament fishing." The older concept of fun fishing,
family/friend fishing has become somewhat overshadowed by
tournament fishing today. I'm not judging that as good or bad,
but it seems some of the enjoyment and non-competitive comradery
of fun fishing has slipped between the cracks in recent years.
Maybe we should have a tournament where nobody weighs anything,
nobody wins and everybody has a great day!
Well, that's the changing landscape, at least part of it as I
see it. I hope you've enjoyed the cruise. Have you spotted any
trends which I haven't mentioned?