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The Changing Landscape: Trends in Bass Tackle

By Russ Bassdozer

This 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. Please enjoy.

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.

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 grassbeds

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.

"Anglers 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 before.


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 previously.


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.

"There's 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 monofilament.

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 70 MPH.


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.

"Used to be we'd say many tournaments were won by one fish. That 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 competition.

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 days.

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?

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