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Throwing Out the Wolly Bugger

By Rob BelloniMay 11, 2004


Digital photography, the internet, and glossy catalogs filled with pictures of fishing lures have changed the fishing world dramatically in the last few years. Anyone with a modem can get online and see the newest baits the minute they come out. Competing companies can view all their competition's offerings with the click of a button. For fisherman, there are new possibilities for comparison of fishing tackle, matching of tackle to real forage, and the overall ability to buy anything and have it at your doorstep just a few days later.

Does this mean that skill gets thrown out the door? Of course not. But the better we get collectively at catching fish, the more important the tackle becomes. Differentiations in lure and presentation become even more key when everyone knows how to go through the motions of fishing.

Now consider that lure manufacturers around the world can all view each other's offerings. Competition gets fiercer as everyone is striving to build a better bait in the genres of known good baits. Yamamoto makes a senko and 20 companies make a knockoff. From garage guys to world wide guys, little variations are added or removed. Slots for the hook, scent, salt, colors. I'm picking on the senko because it's a bait everyone knows about, but this same scenario plays out with pretty any lure that proves to be successful. Manufacturers are probably all pulling their hair out over things like this (hey that's business since the dawn of time), but as fisherman, we should all rubbing our hands together in anticipation of all the killer baits that will continue to hit the market.

So Let's Talk About the Wooly Bugger:

I went through a fly fishing phase in my life, like most trout fisherman probably do at some point. I was very into it for a few years, tying up my own flies and such. One of my favorite flies was the woolly bugger. It was pretty easy to tie and it worked great pretty much everywhere I went. The thing was that the woolly bugger didn't look like anything that existed in nature. It was just a generic, buggy looking, thing-a-ma-bob that trout for some reason just wanted to eat. I always wondered about the woolly bugger. Why it was so effective when it didn't look like anything?

When I started bass fishing, again I was baffled by things like buzzbaits and spinnerbaits. Buzzbaits especially! They did things that you would never see in real life on the water. The first time I got a bite on one, it just surprised the heck out of me. Why do bass eat things that look nothing like what they encounter in nature?

The only thing I have been able to determine as the years go by, is that we fisherman catch a whole lot of fish because quite frankly, fish are dumb and they mistakenly eat a lot of things that they should not eat. And the majority of fish that eat something with a hook in it will find that to be the last hook they ever eat because they go in a sack or on a stringer shortly thereafter.

Where it gets interesting:

Where it gets interesting is with fish that are caught and released. And caught and released. And caught and released again. At a certain point, fish of any species will start go get conditioned not to make mistakes about what they eat. I would bet that even the meanest, dumbest ling cod would eventually get smart if it were caught and released enough times.

So we find ourselves in an interesting place. Fishing tackle companies competing fiercely for business and constantly trying to create the best possible baits. And fish, especially largemouth bass, that get smarter and smarter with each catch and release. There are lots of good lures on the market that unquestionably catch fish, what we need is lures that really look like what fish want to eat. And not only LOOK like what fish want to eat, but move and act like what fish want to eat.

At the most basic level, fish are swimming around in the water eating other living things. Living things move through the water using muscles of some sort. A baitfish moves it's tail using it's muscles. A crawdad hops off the bottom using it's muscles. Even an invertebrate earth worm uses its muscles to wriggle around and try to get back to land. It's movement and the associated under water sounds and vibrations that alert a predatory fish to its prey. While conventional lures might fool one in 50 fish that see or sense a lure going by, you have to wonder if there might be a better way.

When you pick up your glossy catalog, or go online and have a look at all of the fishing lures on the market ask yourself a question. How do they move? The classic methods by which lures move are: Pulled down by a weight. Made to wobble with a bill. A blade spun on it's axis to create flash. Shaped in a way that causes movement through the water while pulled. There are almost no lures on the market right now that move because of any sort of internal workings to mimic muscle movement. And the few lures that do move because of internal mechanisms are largely considered to be gimmicks.

The future of fishing will come when lures move on their own accord. From internal mechanisms designed to match the exact movement of forage, as if powered by muscles from within. You can bet that somewhere, someone is already working on it. This is no new idea. It's just the implementation that is hard. The cost of doing something like this may continue to prohibit it from happening for many many years. But when these type of lures become available, the first fisherman that have them will experience unbelievable fishing. When that happens, I may just have to throw out my woolly buggers. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Copyright © Robert Belloni 1997-2012. All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without express written consent.
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