By Rick Bach
Lunker bass are crazy for these big baits.
Brett Isackson had long observed the small, black snakes that hang around the edges of Florida’s ponds and canals. He noticed that when the snakes get wet, they get eaten. The veteran fishing guide thought imitating the serpents would be a tremendous way to catch some of Florida’s biggest bass, and he was right.
For a while, Isackson fished some realistic snake baits made by DeLong Lures, but when his supply ran short, he decided to make his own. It wasn’t long after Isackson started cooking rubber snake imitations in the kitchen that his wife not so subtly suggested that he get a second microwave… and put it in the garage.
“The smell was… unpleasant,” Isackson says, stopping at that.
Isackson bought a mold-making kit at a local hobby store, and used one of his last remaining DeLong baits to model his own mold that he’d use to create almost identically shaped baits.
“I used some old snakes that were made by DeLong Lures, which went out of business,” he said. “I went to the hobby store to get the mix and made a small box to hold the liquid in until it formed around the snake, which took about a day.”
The process created a cavity that could then be filled with melted plastic and used to make similar baits. He says that while he doesn’t remember the specific store where he bought his mold-making kit, but they’re easy to find at most hobby retailers. Basically, you’re creating a shaped mold around an existing model that, when it hardens, will serve to make other replicas that are almost identical to the one you used to create the mold with.
By carefully rigging the snakes with a weedguard, Isackson kept them mostly weed-free even in the thick stuff, and his intuition was dead on: They got devoured.
Isackson says the key is to fish them slow and let them linger in the thick stuff, where bass, especially in the summer, are hanging out. He wants the lures to look like a snake just getting wet for a second, to trigger that “eat-it-now” instinct that Florida bass have when a meal that won’t be in front of them for long presents itself.
As an angler, looking at the snake’s size and imagining it getting eaten by anything besides one of Florida’s biggest bass is a challenge, initially.
That problem is immediately solved when, like I did, you catch a one-pound largemouth that had absolutely no reservation about attacking the lure.
The trick is leaving the snake in the strike zone for as long as possible. You want it to appear to be a serpent that has lost its way, slithering in the nearshore weeds like a lost pizza delivery guy with a piping hot pie right in front of your house.
Because these snakes aren’t often entering the water intentionally, you want them to act like they’re seeking refuge back on land, so swimming them at a fast pace isn’t conducive to a strike.
It feels weird, at first, to be throwing a foot-long, half-pound snake into the thick stuff, and a stout rod and braided line are necessities, but the uneasy feeling subsides quickly when you’re fighting a bass that devoured the thing the second it hit the water.
The kicker? Isackson makes the baits with melted-down plastic from old lures he’s no longer using. So in a very real sense, he’s using lures that didn’t work to make ones that will.
The 3/8-ounce Steel Shad, shown at right, is a tail-weighted blade bait designed for custom-shaping for special applications. With pliers, bending the tail part makes the bait swim differently. Bend it to the right, for instance, and the bait will swim to the right. Fishing a weedline, for example, you could tweak the bait so that it swims toward or even along the weedline, without having to move the boat.
While jigging vertically over structure, tweaking the tail will make the bait swim up through the water column and fall like a wounded baitfish.
One of the company owners, Steve Niemoeller, says his favorite way to fish the Steel Shad in his home state of Florida, where he guides, is to cast out, let it drop through the water column, and “rip it up,” before letting it sink back down. The fluttering, dying-baitfish motion has nabbed Niemoeller a number of big Florida bass.
It’s also a great lure for Florida’s vast canal system, where Niemoeller will bend one bladebait right, one left and leave one straight so that he and clients can target every portion of the canal system they’re fishing.FS
First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine April 2016