Sculpin, Swimbaits, and Bass

Sculpin, Swimbaits, and Bass

Megabass’s Dark Sleeper, and Western Washington Bass Fishing with Stephen Zuloaga.

Stephen Zuloaga, a life-long Southern Californian bass angler, has recently found new waters, and a new home in Western Washington State. Zuloaga was surrounded by So Cal’s big bait swimbait scene. He’s fished with, learning from, some of the best swimbait anglers in history.

Zuloaga with a stout Dark Sleeper Washington Smallmouth Bass.

Zuloaga with a stout Dark Sleeper Washington Smallmouth Bass.

The Clue

Zuloaga has taken that knowledge, and an open mind to his new waters and it’s paying off. During a typical Washington day of fishing, Zuloaga landed a bass while fishing a jig with a craw trailer. Just before Zuloaga netted his catch, the bass coughed up a sculpin boat side.

A freshwater Sculpin partially digested found floating on the lake’s surface. The Sculpin’s dorsal fins are partially decomposed in this image.

A freshwater Sculpin partially digested found floating on the lake’s surface. The Sculpin’s dorsal fins are partially decomposed in this image.

Freshwater Sculpin swim across North America; they can grow to over five inches. A Sculpin doesn’t always come to mind when bass anglers think about prey items and swimbaits. That’s not the case for Zuloaga, after examining the regurgitated meal he set out on a mission to ‘Match the Hatch.’

After an extensive search, Zuloaga came across the Megabass Dark Sleeper. This swimbait appeared to have excellent potential; testing was undoubtedly in order. Based on the Sculpin above, Zuloaga ordered the Haze, and Wagasaki patterns, in a couple different sizes and weights.

The Dark Sleeper; Haze pattern left, and Wagasaki pattern right.

The Dark Sleeper; Haze pattern left, and Wagasaki pattern right.

Initially, Zuloaga had to achieve a trial period to learn the nuances of fishing this new bait. Working with a 2.4-inch 3/8 oz, and 3-inch 1/2 oz model Zuloaga learned that the heavier version was outperforming the lighter lure. Zuloaga attributes the increased strikes to the heavier bait’s ability to stay in contact with the bottom.

Stay in Touch

Zuloaga fishes the Dark Sleeper like a jig along the bottom. Staying in contact with the swimbait and feeling the bottom is essential to the retrieve. By being in tune with the lure’s feedback, Zuloaga knows when he's in a prime spot and a strike is about to occur.

During spring Zuloaga searches for hard bottom areas with boulders, rock, and little if any grass. If the location also features flooded trees and stumps, the potential for holding fish increases. “When I swim up to, then pop up, and over the cover elements, that’s when the bass attack my swimbait,” says Zuloaga.

Another impressive Northwestern Smallmouth Bass falls for the Dark Sleeper.

Another impressive Northwestern Smallmouth Bass falls for the Dark Sleeper.

The Megabass Dark Sleeper swimbait was developed to target fish holding to bottom structure, a realism lure with paddle-tail action. A low center of gravity weight setting, and bottom fins keep the Dark Sleeper upright as it moves with a natural attitude.

  • Supple paddle-tail design kicks even at slow, crawling retrieve speeds

  • Weighting and bottom fin design offer a low center of gravity for ideal action to target bottom structure

Available in ten color patterns and three length sizes; 2.4-inch, 3-inch, and 3.8-inch.

Available in ten color patterns and three length sizes; 2.4-inch, 3-inch, and 3.8-inch.

Weight/Lengths

  • 1/4 oz - 2.4-inches

  • 3/8 oz - 2.4-inches

  • 3/8 oz - 3-inches

  • 1/2 oz - 3-inches

  • 3/4 oz - 3-inches

  • 3/4 oz - 3.8-inches

  • 1 oz     - 3.8-inches

Dark Sleeper Donko pattern showing hook within the dorsal fin. Largemouth bass catch showing fins parted after hook-set; the bass choked the Dark Sleeper.

Dark Sleeper Donko pattern showing hook within the dorsal fin. Largemouth bass catch showing fins parted after hook-set; the bass choked the Dark Sleeper.

A soft fin shields the top hook on both sides. In addition to camouflaging the top hook design, the fins also gently deflect potential snags, allowing the Dark Sleeper to crawl through gnarly structure and cover. The soft fin material compresses instantly during fish strikes and hook sets.

  • Tall top fins hide the hook point to camouflage and limit snags, yet is soft enough to absorb strikes and allow for decisive hook sets

“I know where the fish are; they’re in the trees. I’ve lost a lot of lures when I started fishing here. Fishing in these submerged trees is why I love a bait that has a concealed hook. The Dark Sleeper’s snag-less design provides an amazing hook-up ratio.”

New Water

Washington is the north-westernmost state in the contiguous United States.  The Cascade Mountains run north-south through the middle of the territory creating two distinct climate regions. Eastern Washington is very arid. “The lakes in the east and their topography are similar to Southern California’s waters.” Bluff walls, long tapering points, clay, mud, rock, and boulders dominate both Eastern Washington and Southern California bass waters.

In Western Washington, the structure and cover elements are drastically different. In the West’s tree lush region, the lakes lack well-defined structure elements. Flooded trees, stumps, and bridge pilings are the abundant cover elements on the west-side of Washington. Zuloaga quickly learned how the bass behave in these different environments.

A plump football shaped Washington Smallie duped with the Dark Sleeper.

A plump football shaped Washington Smallie duped with the Dark Sleeper.

Swimbaits Across the US

Still today, many anglers think swimbaits are an anomaly that only takes place in the trout stocked waters of Southern California, especially big baits. Swimbait anglers across the country know that the predator to big prey-size connection is not unique to So Cal.

Zuloaga has an interesting perspective when it comes to the potential of swimbaits across the United States, and beyond. There are so many swimbait anglers in Southern California that it’s easier to catch fish with swimbaits everywhere else, but So Cal. “Southern California Bass are conditioned to swimbaits.”

Keep Casting

The best fishing has to offer; Steven Zuloaga out on his new home waters enjoying fishing with his daughter Evynn and their pet Lenna, good times!

The best fishing has to offer; Steven Zuloaga out on his new home waters enjoying fishing with his daughter Evynn and their pet Lenna, good times!

Zuloaga shows us what it means to keep an open mind, read the clues, and adjust when needed. Stephen Zuloaga is absolutely in the Big Bass Zone!

By the way, Sculpin are found in both freshwater and the ocean, making the Megabass Dark Sleeper an excellent swimbait choice for both venues.

You can follow Zuloaga’s fishing adventures on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/stephen_zuloaga/?hl=en

Learn more about the Dark Sleeper and other Megabass products at https://megabassusa.com/

The Megabass Dark Sleeper Swimbait is available at Tackle Warehouse https://www.tacklewarehouse.com/Megabass_Dark_Sleeper_Swimbaits/descpage-MBDSLP.html

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