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The big fake

The larger they are the harder trophy-size bass fall for the new generation of chunk-rubber swimbaits.

June 07, 2005|Gary Polakovic

It's a well-worn angling maxim: Big baits catch big fish.

Case in point: The Stocker Trout, pictured in all its glory -- life-size -- to the right. It belongs to a new generation of swimbaits, a perky tackle term that is more of a euphemism for the grotesque, outsized, chunk-rubber, garishly colored, mutated forage fish blobs that have revolutionized largemouth bass fishing in California. Hard to believe a fish could be so dumb as to chomp so much plastic, but the trophy-size bass prowling local reservoirs, the biggest in the world, chow hard on the lures, which mimic their favorite food: bluegill and dink planted rainbow trout.

Today's swimbaits --the Osprey, Castaic Soft Baits and the Stocker Trout -- represent gigantism in the evolution of fishing lures and dwarf other tackle box mainstays. And they work, with ruthless efficiency: Many of the headline-grabbing big bass that anglers take succumb to swimbaits (bassers typically release such fish).

Although they're not new -- swimbaits burst on the scene more than 20 years ago when fishermen adapted a saltwater technique to freshwater -- today's lures feature improved buoyancy, swimming action and coloration.

Earlier this year, Matt Newman, 33, of Agoura Hills used the 8-inch, 5-ounce Huddleston Deluxe to take 27 bass ranging from 8 pounds to 12 pounds at Lake Casitas on Feb. 4, one of the best single-day hauls ever at the jumbo fish factory near Ojai. "They're a big seller," says Eric Huff of Eric's Tackle in Ventura. "The quality of the [swimbait] lures is getting better and better."

The lures are dear, retailing for $19 to $179. When the Huddleston first appeared last year, some anglers were willing to pay up to $500 for one. And they're not easy to use, testing an angler's patience like no other bait.

If bass fishing were a casino, swimbaits represent the roulette wheel: a high-risk, high-return, all-or-nothing bait. Newman, like many other swimbait chuckers, has posted many fishless days heaving hulking swimbaits 200, 300, 400 times in a day and getting blanked. But when the strike comes, odds are it will be a piglet, the fish of a lifetime, because only a brute bass is going to whack a lure of such proportions.

Says state Department of Fish and Game biologist Mike Giusti: "It's revolutionized bass fishing. If you want to catch a big bass in Southern California, a fish over 10 pounds, it's about the only thing you use."

-- Gary Polakovic

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