Artificial rotational bait is successful in sport fishing because it imitates live bait in spinning and rolling movements. Bass, salmon and other saltwater fish are vulnerable to the revolving moves.
A new crop of rotational baits is turning in dizzying numbers of trophy gamefish.
Question: What bait appears to be the reinvention of an old bait rig, but actually has the potential to cause blitzkrieg attacks from trout, walleyes, bass, salmon – and who knows what else?
Answer: The lure I’m alluding to is the rotational bait. Not spinners or lures with spinner blades (which turn faster), but artificials whose entire bodies turn at a precise one or two revolutions per second. Judging by results, this methodical spin often drives fish crazy to strike.
In truth, baits that rotate simply imitate cut-plug herring or sewn minnows. The former is the bait of choice for king salmon in the northwestern United States and Canada. Cut-plug herring and mullets are also widely used for striped bass, while fillets of other baitfish cut to rotate are the staple offering of many saltwater fisherman.
The premise of all rotational lures and natural baits is simple. They are designed to appeal to a predator’s instinctive tendency to target wounded prey – the most efficient way to feed. To fish lurking below a dam or other tailrace, rotating forage is a familiar phenomenon. Salmon and other saltwater species that slash through baitfish schools also are accustomed to the sight of revolving fish. In both cases, rotating baitfish mean vulnerable prey.
Other fish – ambush predators or so-called chase-and-chomp feeders that don’t see much rotating forage – can be attracted by rotational motion as well. The sight, sound and scent stimuli of rotating, wounded prey could simply be embedded in the genetic history of such fish.
Predators are drawn to wounded prey because the rotating baitfish present a distinct visual pattern as they turn. The motion betrays their natural camouflage – dark back, silvery undersides – that helps protect them when viewed from above or below. The slower roll and specific vibrations produced seem particularly desirable to predators. Rotational baits imitate these enticing characteristics.
Various minnows, smelt and chubs, rigged with a body curve or kink causing them to rotate, were historical favorites for walleyes, trout, smallmouths, pike and muskies. Such natural “sewn” baits are still used regionally across the nation but have greatly declined in popularity since the mid-1950s. The probable reason for the drop-off is the extra fussing it takes to rig them, combined with the fact that they don’t last long, especially when cast and retrieved in a strong current. To make rigging natural herring easier, plastic devices were developed to hold the bait strips. Les Davis’ (a division of Luhr-Jensen) Herring-Aid is but one example of the many such lures on the market today.
Trolling flashers used as attractors ahead of non-rotating lures are another good example of rotational baits. A popular choice is the Cutplug, a hard lure from Davis/Luhr-Jensen that emulates natural cut-plug herring strips. More recently, Louis Lures of Quebec introduced the weedless Maxilou spoon. Unlike normal spoons that wobble, this one rotates, and its turning rate is slower than a spinner. B-17 Tackle offers a Headspin streamer fly that rotates behind a swivel.
Then there are the thin plastic spoon-like lures with prismatic tape. Curly’s Perma-Strip from O’Ki Tackle and Big Al’s Crippled Minnow are two such baits. These two lures are free to slide up line or leader on the strike, thus eliminating any leverage advantage for the fish. The free-sliding design is common among many venerable hard-bodied rotational lures.
Rotating jig-spoons like the Canadian-made Buzz Bomb and similar brands are also typical revolving baits. Their design is really an offshoot of the famous Devon Minnow introduced in England in the late 18th century, which is still a popular gamefish lure there. The forward portion of its lead torpedo-shaped body is equipped with two propellerlike fins that cause the entire unit to rotate on a wire axis. A host of imitators followed, including many lures crafted of wood. Variations also were made in the United States.
This list of rotational baits is proof enough that lure makers have long realized the importance of rotational action. More recently, however, new lures and new applications for rotational baits have come onto the scene.
The latest rotational lure introduction, though originally designed as a cut-plug herring imitator, offers variable service as a cast, drift and jerkbait. A prototypical rotational bait, the lure is the Herring Hooker from Osmic Research Corporation. A tapered strip cut diagonally at its wide end, the Herring Hooker is made of a compound based on basic proteins, impregnated with natural herring pieces and fish attractants. As real food, it is biodegradable if submerged for long periods in a lake or stream, and it’s digestible by fish, birds or mammals. It does not need refrigeration, but it should be stored dry and fairly cool.
The Herring Hooker is one part of a bait system. The other half is a short plastic sleeve called the Hooker Head, which holds the Herring Hooker strip. The plastic head is equipped with a fin on one side that causes the entire unit to rotate.
Rotational speed is adjusted by repositioning the Herring Hooker strip in the head sleeve, repositioning the rigged hook, or by using various weight hooks. Usually, moving the strip in the head sleeve is sufficient. The unit is rigged on a leader behind a Bead chain swivel, and the leader is directly connected to a treble hook. The strip and head are simply positioned along the leader and stopped in place by a snip of wood toothpick. The complete rig is light – fish have no leverage advantage – and you can bet that it’s deadly.
Individual anglers and charter boat captains have flooded the company with testimonials and orders after only a few months of use. Initially, the bait was intended and used for lake trout and Chinook salmon. It took little time, though, for field testers and the bait’s innovator, Dr. Greg Bambenek (also known as Dr. Juice), to discover its potency on other species.
One interesting use for the Herring was stumbled upon when Bambenek won the recent Tim Irwin Celebrity Bass Tournament on lakes Loudon and Tellico in Tennessee. In the early mornings when bass were in shallow water, he rigged the strip like a Slug-Go or Jerk Worm. The Herring Hooker was impaled through the wide end and slid up the hook shank. The hook point was then inserted near the narrow tail end to keep the strip bait flat. No weight was used. Rigged this way the bait could be twitched and jerked on the surface or allowed to sink three or four feet, then retrieved the same way. Pearl/pure finish proved most successful.
When the fish went deeper, Bambenek rigged the strip Carolina-style. He threaded a one-ounce egg sinker on his line ahead of a Bead chain swivel. To the swivel he tied a four-foot leader and attached the Hooker rig as it would be for trolling, with the hook trailing near the tail. The lure rotated as it was raised and lowered, jigged along points and underwater humps in 15 to 20 feet of water. Chartreuse and pearl/black were the successful colors.
The rig was also found effective for walleyes. Downrigger trolling for walleyes is becoming more common in larger lakes in Minnesota and Ontario, and rotational baits are starting to play a role in this craze. In Lake Erie’s Eastern Basin, Pennsylvanian Mike Bleech has had outstanding success taking suspended walleyes running Herring Hookers 45 to 60 feet deep in 135 feet of water. He runs the strips eight to 10 feet behind downrigger balls, and 30 inches in back of Dipsy Divers. Pearl/pure, chartreuse and black/pearl are his best colors.
Angler John Henrickson also trolls for suspended walleyes. He typically checks with other anglers, or examines stomach contents of his first fish, to determine the size bait on which the walleyes are feeding. He then simply cuts one of the Herring Hooker strips to match the bait size.
Mark Martin, Michigan’s “Mr. Walleye” and a pro guide, experimented with a Herring Hooker on his last charter of the 1991 season. At first he thought it was a “weird-looking” bait. However, Martin’s client was happy he gave it a chance. They boated seven and eight-pound walleyes and 12 smallmouths; the largest bronzeback was a whopping 21 inches.
The increasingly successful use of this rotational bait on walleyes and bass has prompted Osmic Research to introduce a three-inch-size strip this year. Called the Gyro-Mino, it fits the standard small Herring Hooker Head and comes in the same color selections. Instead of ground herring, shiners are used in the Gyro.
When trolled, the Herring Hooker rig can handle speeds from 1.5 to 4.0 mph, the most productive speeds normally falling in the 1.5 to 2.3 mph range. As mentioned, the real trick seems to be keeping the Herring Hooker rotating in the magic range of 1.5 to 2.0 turns per second (1.7 to 1.8 is tops for lakers). To gauge revolutions, run your boat at trolling speed, stream the lure at boat side and count the revolutions for 10 seconds. It’s best to aim for 15 to 20 revolutions during the 10-second span.
Even rotational lures can sometimes benefit from a change of pace, however. Witness the accidental discovery made by John DeLorme, a popular Lake Ontario charter boat skipper. DeLorme likes running a green/black spot Herring Hooker 40 inches behind a Gold Star luminescent dodger for kings and lakers. On one fishing trip, a big salmon broke the fin from a Hooker Head and DeLorme didn’t change it. Instead, he caught two more fish on it while the other non-broken rigs weren’t producing. Evidently, this time the fish preferred the more erratic rotation produced by the broken head. Upon hearing the story, Bambenek devised a new Hooker Head that produces more erratic action than the original.
Obviously, no bait is guaranteed to garner limits each and every time out. But rotational baits can be a potent offering. The rotational lures, like the Herring Hooker, are improvements on old, effective techniques that have more than earned the right to come around one more time. They certainly deserve a place in your tackle box.