I am the ultimate skeptic. As an outdoor writer, I felt this was a crucial part of the job description. If I didn’t look at a new technique, a theory or lure with a critical eye, then who would? If I could prove something to myself, if the theory or technique held water based on my own experience and what the rest of the angling world had already proved correct, then I figured we were all on to something. More than anything, my name was going to be on that article.
When I first met Bill Siemantel, the offer was pretty simple: I will write about your stuff if you can show me that it works. No proof, no deal. To his credit, Bill didn’t flinch. He devoted countless days on the water with one goal in mind: Answering the questions of an insistent voice that asked the how and why of everything.
Some were small, easy to digest lessons. Others, quite frankly, were astonishing. Catching a ten-pounder at the boat by figure-eighting a swimbait, a big swim bait, I’m quite sure would make anyone a believer in the concept.
Aside from Bill’s innate ability to think beyond the limits of the known fishing universe, I learned one other very crucial item: Everything he does, everything he designs, everything he talks about has been tested and re-tested from every possible angle. In truth, that’s the way it should be. Fishing tackle should be more than a concept that fits a marketing plan. It should be an organic process that comes right from the water – from that experience.
Last year, I was more than a little tough on the Live Target Bait Ball lure that took home ICAST’s Best of Show in the hard bait category and not because I thought it wouldn’t catch fish. If it didn’t roll over or exhibit some catastrophic flaw, I was sure someone, somewhere, could catch a fish with it. No, my reaction was simply the result of the hyperbolic, over-the-top marketing efforts trumpeting nothing more than junk science and the willingness of professional pitchmen to lend credence to these unproven – and perhaps unproveable - claims.
So, at this point in the article, I’ll give you a chance to log off. Honestly, the following comments could easily be written off as pure bias. Fair enough. But, there is a difference with the results of this year’s winner in the ICAST hard bait category and, to that, I can speak from experience.
Of course, there will be the naysayers who confidently proclaim that rodent baits have already been done. Thank you Captains Obvious. If you own an antique lure catalog or merely surf an antique lure website, you will quickly surmise that, yes, everything has already been done. That, my friends, is the point! It’s called evolution. We apply new ideas to proven methods with new technology and what do you know? Sometimes – hopefully - we discover that we didn’t know it all.
Bill Siemantel’s new BBZ-1 Rat, the 2014 ICAST Best Hard Bait, didn’t happen overnight. It was a long, meticulous process. Two years ago, I found myself fishing night tournaments with Siemantel and learned quickly that his Rat approach was a big part of the strategy. At this point, the side-to-side dogwalking action was less important than simply understanding the basics of rigging and presentation. And, yes, we did quite well.
Over time, the subtleties of the bait emerged and, in Bill’s mind, precisely what was required from a production, rat-style bait. With Bill, it just starts with the concept. There is layer upon layer of mind-numbing details that need be addressed and hours of on-the-water trial-and-error before arriving at anything approximating a final design. It is even less fun than it sounds.
I’ve done it before. Back in the day, I committed myself to learning every intricacy of flippin’, the Zara Spook, splitshotting, tube baits, drop-shotting and swim baits, to name a very few. In those days, that’s how I thought it should be done. And, I still believe it. Anyone who makes a buck from the fishing industry owes this level of commitment to his or her reader or customer.
Last year was a tough one for me. I found myself utterly disappointed in the fishing industry and fearful of our future. After all, professional bass anglers, from coast to coast, lied to their fan bases when it came to the A-Rig and the outdoor media was completely beguiled by a steaming plate of balderdash at last year’s ICAST. Maybe, just maybe, things are changing for the better.