ALWAYS THINKING AHEAD
BY TOM GRUENWALD
The excitement was mounting.
A good friend called several times last summer, acknowledging the fishery on Devils Lake, North Dakota was not only booming, but the fish were biting, too.
“You need to get out here this winter,” he insisted. “You don’t want to miss this!”
Enough said. Plans were quickly set for January—only problem was, once January arrived, things took a turn for the worst. Reports were mid-winter activity had slowed. It was even suggested I cancel and visit another time.
However, the primary reason for this trip was to film an episode of TGO, Tom Gruenwald Outdoors with Devils Lake guide Bob Kinkaid. Working out of Ackermann Acres Resort on East Bay, Bob had rigged one of the resort’s Sno-Bears with an underwater camera system, ingeniously positioned the lens to cover his guest’s holes, and wired it up so the captured image would project not only on his personal monitor, but two 22” flat screens mounted to the wall in front of his guests. I wanted to show this innovative system to our viewers and demonstrate the value of underwater camera systems, and what better way than during a tough North Dakota bite?
SIDEBAR: UNDERWATER CAMERA SYSTEMS
Underwater camera systems have become increasingly popular over the past decade or so—and for good reason. They’re not complicated, plus provide an invaluable entertainment dimension by essentially offering a high powered, exciting sight fishing experience.
Systems are comprised of a waterproof lens lowered into the water on a cable, with the resulting image projected on a monitor where anglers can view their lures, watching how they respond to various movements. Even more importantly, anglers can see and identify incoming fish, observe the types of cover they’re relating to and how fish react to various presentations, then make adjustments accordingly to increase success.
There are limitations, of course, based on water clarity and light conditions that must be considered. But when the situation is favorable, underwater camera systems offer a fun, significant advantage you might want to explore!
It didn’t take long to learn we’d have to work for our fish. Bob put us on them, but generating responses to our presentations was an entirely different matter. As with any challenging situation, we needed to be open-minded, versatile and creative. Fortunately, the underwater camera allowed ample opportunity to see exactly how our lures were responding to each imparted movement, then observe how fish reacted to even the slightest motion, enabling us to refine our presentations down to specific ones attracting–and more importantly, triggering–them into striking. Plus, by watching fish as they took the bait, we were able to better time our hook sets, too.
Since we were primarily targeting perch and walleye, we tried a number of traditional go-to ice lures for these species: Smaller sized Jigging Rapalas, Lindy Flyers, Hot Bite’s First Strike Minnows, Jig-A-Whopper Hawger Spoons, JB’s Jig Eyes and Weasels, HT Marmooska Jigs…tipping each with everything from small minnows and minnow heads to wax worms, spikes, plastics—you name it. We caught fish, but it became readily apparent we needed to try something different if we wanted consistency, so then the real experimentation began.
First, I switched to a thinner, less visible line, and tying on a tiny barrel swivel, added an even lighter leader. I downsized and tinkered with different colors within my repertoire of favorite lures. Still, it was using different models–preferably ones the fish hadn’t likely seen before—that turned out to consistently trump all other variables. Also critical was that the lure be heavy enough to maintain continuous control, yet provide a desirable blend of subtle fish attracting qualities that could be summoned with minimal motion. Anything too fast or flashy was simply spooking most of the fish we encountered.
After significant experimentation, particularly good results came courtesy of three lures meeting these criteria: HT’s Marmooska Dancer, a very controllable, non-twist, low-profile, bullet shaped tungsten design with a distinctly minute dancing action; Lindy’s 360 jig, essentially a larger, more colorful version of HT’s Dancer; and Snyder Lures’ size 10 Big Shaker Spoon, a versatile little bait featuring two nested, hammered blades of contrasting colors combined with two pairs of tiny flippers attached via split rings at the top and bottom. These relatively small-profile baits were all heavy enough to drop down efficiently, and with just a hint of movement, provided an outstanding balance of subtle fish-attracting motion, flash and vibration.
HT’s Marmooska Tungsten Dancer, being of small stature, was great for perch, and the 360 teased its share of fish, too–but the Snyder Big Shaker spoon proved the most effective multi-species bait: I caught perch, walleye and pike with equal efficiency.
I found the Big Shaker could be dropped quickly and worked relatively aggressively, causing the blades and flippers to project significant flash and throw erratic vibrations, creating a ruckus drawing vicious strikes from pike–yet at the same time, when targeting fussier perch and walleyes, I could drop quickly to the upper edge of the strike zone, then flash it teasingly to generate some attention before working it S-L-O-W-L-Y down to the desired level.
Better yet, whenever inquisitive fish appeared, I could make the lure sit nearly still. The slightest breath of movement made the flipper blades twinkle with a hint of captivating, subtle sparkle. I found continuing this movement while almost imperceptibly lowering the lure downward would capture the fish’s attention just enough to cause even the fussiest ones to follow.
Then, the best discovery of all: I learned the decisive key to this system was working the bottom, using it as a triggering point–and for this, the Shaker Spoon performed flawlessly! A semi-active jigging motion brought fish in, the gradual, twitching fall engaged them, and my ability to slowly lower the bait to bottom while gently twitching its tiny fins often held the fish’s attention just enough so they’d turn and follow.
Most importantly, I could create enough commotion after the lure struck bottom to tempt them into committing, and ultimately, coax them into taking the bait.
Needless to say, I was impressed with the Big Shaker’s versatility, to the point where I was able to build an entire strategy around it, so asked Gary Snyder, the face behind the design, how he came up with the concept.
“I thought you’d be intrigued,” he laughed. “I guess I’m always thinking, trying to take an abstract thought and develop it into something special. That’s what happened with the Big Shaker, really. I was tinkering with the idea of designing a lure that would offer subtle fluttering movements and flash within the bait itself. The double sets of flicker fins accomplished that. Yet at the same time, I wanted this lure to offer the capability of generating substantial noise to draw fish in—all while retaining the ability to slow down and shift into a decisively subdued action, without changing baits.”
The solution was Gary’s development of a separated, double-bladed body with a hammered finish that captures light, glares brilliantly and clacks loudly when worked aggressively—while a gentle, light shaking action activates the flicker fins only, causing them to glisten softly and rattle delicately.
“In the end, the combination of hammered, nested blades tipped with tiny flicker fin sets provided just the right balance of qualities I was searching for,” Gary revealed.
He produced and assembled all the parts, then ran the concept past a few close friends. “Seeing prototypes for the first time, they teasingly called it the parts lure,” Snyder joked.
But for me, this development is no laughing matter. I’ve found the Big Shaker offers enough weight to provide a solid sense of feel, yet remains exceptionally well-balanced and provides just the right combination of potential movements to tempt fish in varying moods.
I shared this thought with Gary.
“True enough,” he responded. “This bait was designed for go, not show, and dressed for catching fish, not fishermen. In short, I wanted to produce a versatile lure that incorporated the ability to be pounded actively for aggressive fish, yet easily worked gingerly for passive ones, too…and the Big Shaker, uniquely, fully accomplished that mission! To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t anything else out there quite like it.”
I’d have to agree, there isn’t. Plus, the new size and color additions Gary has planned for next year will only add to this versatility, making it possible to cover an even wider variety of potential applications—and in turn, catch more fish, regardless of how tough the bite may be.
Yet none of this surprises me. After all, it’s stemming from an entrepreneurial fishing lure purist whose masterful conceptions have heavily influenced my thinking, productivity and versatility—a powerful combination that throughout the years has heightened my ability to explore new approaches and pioneer some highly innovative strategies.
And all thanks to Gary Snyder, who without a doubt, is always thinking ahead!