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MY OLD MAN’S LURE

They sure don’t make them like they used to.  My Dad used to have a special lure that he used constantly to catch walleye in my younger days.  Actually, he called walleye “pickerel” as most Canadians did and still do, but today pretty much everyone knows them as walleye.  The lure had a unique fish-catching and fishermen-catching gimmick. Today, there is no modern lure like it at your tackle store.  Not one.

The lure was made in 1959 by the South Bend Tackle Company, although after reading their history that could even be debatable as to whether they made it or had another company make it for them.  The history of this company is at https://historymuseumsb.org/south-bend-bait-company/

The company began in South Bend, Indiana as the Worden Bait Company in 1901 and its founder was Frank G. Worden.  Jacob Kuntz had bought the company from Worden and in 1909, named it the South Bend Bait Company. Their most famous bait product line was the “Oreno” line as in Pike-Oreno or Bass-Oreno.  In the ensuing years, ownership and management changes continued, but by late 1958, it was headquartered in Chicago, owned by Seymour and Benjamin Fohrman, and renamed once again to the South Bend Tackle Company.  The name change was meant to reflect the fact they also made rods, reels and other accessories besides lures.

The lure my Dad had was named the “South Bend Optic” and it was so-named due to its design.  It originally retailed for $1.35 and was probably the same price in Canada as it was in the United States. At that time the Canadian dollar was usually par or worth up to five cents more than the US dollar.  He bought his Optic at Simpsons-Sears in Polo Park in Winnipeg in the 1960’s.  At the time, my mother told him that the lure better be good at catching fish because it had already shown it was good at catching  a fisherman.

And it was easy to see why. The Optic was essentially a clear plastic shad-shaped minnow and sealed inside the clear plastic on both sides was another piece of plastic with 4 black vertical stripes on either a green, orange or yellow background.  The outside plastic on the sides was edged or rippled to provide a prismatic effect. When you wiggled the lure, the black lines appeared to move forward and back on their own. It had a red plastic lip on the outside over its forehead.  It had a raised eye on each side. Two size 6 treble hooks completed the lure. The packaging implied it could catch all kinds of fish.

That lure always held a special spot in my Dad’s tackle box and it was, without question, his “go-to” lure.  He used it when he fished in the lakes of Ontario and lakes and rivers of Manitoba. 

On one memorable trip, he and I, along with a cousin and uncle of mine and led by my Dad’s cousin, Wilbert, fished a remote lake northeast of Kenora in a canoe, all five of us. The journey just to get to our destination was unforgettable and began at 4 a.m. at Wilbert’s home in Lac Lu.

I have spent many an hour trying in my later years to find that exact lake on the map or satellite photos but I cannot pinpoint it.  I know it was quite a ways up along the Jones Road that runs roughly northeast from the Kenora Airport.  As the sun came up, we finally got to the first lake we were to put in, we had to first load up the canoe (size large) with the five of us and our gear, and get in. Wilbert was going to be the sole paddler all day. We were at a public boat ramp on this remote lake with no lodges around and yet, there were 6 other boats there waiting to get in – from Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan.  We were in the middle of nowhere but these groups all knew this lake had fish apparently. The rest of us were there to fish and obey Wilbert’s instructions.  Wilbert had chosen the lake we were heading to from information given to him by a local bush pilot. The pilot had spotted the smaller lake from the air just to the east of the one we were putting into first. He thought he had figured out a way to get to it via a portage through bush and muskeg.  And, it “looked like it should have pickerel in it”. We set out on the first lake. 

There were already other fishermen out on that lake and Wilbert did not want to let them see where we were going.  He hated the fact even back then that American tourists were fishing without any regard for conservation so he was not about to share his discovery. Our instructions were to watch out for all of them and let him know when none were in sight.  We went into a small bay on the eastern shore, were out of sight from everyone else on the lake, and that was when he made the mad dash to shore. 

Our next instructions were to unload the canoe as fast as we could, and then follow him through the bush.  When the canoe was empty, he strapped the two paddles across it, threw it over his shoulders and charged through the bush.  No matter how hard we tried, we had a difficult time keeping him in sight.  And each of us had a light load.  Wilbert was a real authentic bush man.

After about half a mile through the bush, we arrived at a giant bog.  It was the muskeg on the west side of the hidden small lake. Wilbert surveyed where he thought the best place to put in was hoping we might have a tiny channel to the lake.  He studied it for a little bit, checked a few spots and chose our way in.  Other than two or three shallow spots where we had to push our way through, we made it all the way through the muskeg to the west end of the small lake without getting too wet.  And now, we had an entire lake to ourselves for the whole day. Almost.

I fished with a small red and white Dare Devil spoon and Dad put The Optic to work.  While Wilbert paddled us up and back along the south shore, we all caught fish steadily.  In no time we had our limit and only one pass up and back along the south shore was needed.  When we got to the far east side of our mystery lake, we realized we indeed did have company on the lake after all.  There in the weeds of a bay, stood a huge bull moose, grazing on whatever he could find.  He kept his eyes on us but did not seem to be agitated at all. A little later, we had a shore lunch of sandwiches and a short break. Near the end of the trip, we pulled up to a nice flat rock and Wilbert cleaned and packed all the fish on it. We were on our way back out by late afternoon.

Dad eventually lost that lure on a log in another Ontario lake, but not until after it had provided him a lot of memories and a lot of “pickerel” on the stringer. 

I acquired a couple of Optics off the internet for old time’s sake.  Both are in the green color Dad once owned. I plan on giving one to my Dad for his 100th birthday this year.

Check out the video here to see the prismatic effect of the South Bend Optic.

While building spinner rigs for Painted Back Rigs, I decided to pay homage to the South Bend Optic lure with a rig designed to reflect the color pattern without the prismatic effect.  Our tribute in The Basics Group of product on paintedbackrigs.com is THE OPTIC NERVE with a Colorado size 4 sparkling bright green blade.

THE OPTIC NERVE in the Basics group on painedbackrigs.com
The South Bend Optic
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Latest Trends in Walleye Spinner Rigs

Everyone has their favorite bait or lure for catching walleye, and for most people, it is the one that is catching fish for them right now.  But when the bite stops on that favorite, it is time to switch up and change, maybe experiment a little.

For spinner rigs built on fishing line rather than wire, the components will include 1, 2 or 3 hooks, 1 or 2 spinner blades, folded or quick-change clevises and beads They also may include floats which too come in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. Consideration also needs to be given to how the spinner rig is tied both as to the type of knot used with the hooks and as to the leading end with either a loop or a swivel.  This article presumes the audience is past the beginner stage in using rigs. You have a good idea of what you like and what works where you fish.  But, if you are like me, you are always wondering “What’s new?”  In this article, well talk about five recent trends and the relative impact they are having on the industry in their early years.

HOOK COLOR

With the development of “slow death” hooks that roll with the worm, people have been debating whether they like them or not. They may have already reached their threshold of usage with no new large wave of adopters. However, even once you have decided upon the style or type, brand, size and number of hooks to be put on a spinner rig, you still have one more new factor to now consider.  And that is the color of the hook.  At first, we just had bronze hooks, then black and then red.  Today on some popular makes and models, you have a dozen colors to choose from.  Check with your local tackle shop to see if there are any reports on color of fish hook making a difference.  Still today, I hear mostly about red and that seems to be the more popular color choice, but they are making those other colors of hooks for a reason. Somebody is buying them. If you go the new colored hook route, you will also have to consider whether you want your color choice to be fluorescent or not.  If they are biting on fluorescent pink hooks, all else being equal, you may want to have a few handy.  Time will tell if this is just a fad or a definite trend. Regardless of the other newer colors, I am pretty sure red hooks are here to stay.

SPINNER BLADE DESIGN

There are quite a few tried and true spinner blade designs and in all colors, shapes and sizes.  A few years ago, we saw blades made from plastic being introduced, along with wing-shaped , hatchet-shaped, spiral-shaped, pear-shaped, v-shaped and frog-shaped.  We still had our traditional propeller, Colorado, Indiana and Willow Leaf shaped blades to choose from as well.  But what happened recently was two things – we saw an increase in the number of talented artists creating their own eye-catching awesome designs.  And, we saw the increase in the use of a color we never would have thought would have worked. That color is now commonly called “anti-freeze” in the spinner blade world. Ten years ago, it was more popular to use it on the back of spinner blades.  But its popularity led to experimenting with it in designs on the front of blades.  Artists have continued to develop variations in hues of antifreeze (there is a pink and a grape anti-freeze now) and various formulas for making it.  So, keep a look-out for blades (or spinner rigs made with blades) with an anti-freeze back or even perhaps an anti-freeze front, and give them a try.  We’ll be getting a good supply of these in our shop in the near future so if you don’t want to go on a long search, just stop back here in a few.

BEAD STYLES

Bead choices for spinner rigs usually are based on round or faceted shapes and are plastic or glass.  Some may be metallic.  Sizes usually are 3 mm, 3.5, 4, 5, 6 and 8 mm and are usually chosen based upon the size of the accompanying blade.  Now we are seeing three new bead styles that are being offered to the walleye spinner rig market.  They are “eyeball” beads, “wedding ring” beads, and “minnow” beads.  And just as their name indicates, they are designed to look like a small fish-eye, a small wedding ring and a small minnow respectively.  With each there are color and size choices as well as design choices on the minnow beads.  Kokanee fishermen swear by the wedding ring bead and they are also making inroads in walleye spinner rigs as well.  I expect that one to stay.  The eyeball and minnow beads will be around for some time but the minnow bead in particular, is an expensive addition if you are producing a lot of spinner rigs.  You also will need to rethink your spinner rig bead configuration if you are going to use a minnow bead.  Where does it go and what is in front of it and behind it?

SPINNER RIG CONFIGURATION – THE GAP

The idea behind this new trend was borrowed from the trout/salmon fishermen.  Leave a 4 inch gap between the last bead and the first hook on your spinner rig.  How to do it?  Well, the easy way with no added expense is to position your last bead ahead of your first hook where you want it and then take your line back through the last bead several times until the bead won’t move.  Or you can “peg it” with a toothpick. The idea behind it is to get the following walleye to first notice the attractant (blade and beads) and then notice the separate snack and go for it.  I made quite a few last year for field testing and am waiting for borders to open so they can get a good test in Canadian walleye waters.  If we offer any spinner rigs in our shop that are configured with THE GAP, we’ll let you know down the road a bit.

SPINNER RIG CONFIGURATION – PROFILE SIZE

The incredible walleye fishery that is known as Lake Erie has had an enormous impact on the world of fishing tackle for walleye fishermen.  Daily there are reports of full limits of jumbos.  And they are catching them on both crankbaits and nightcrawler harnesses.  The go-to spinner rigs seem to be tandem Willow Leaf and Colorado blade spinner rigs with two matching blades in the larger sizes.  Amish Outfitters even has specially designed tackle boxes for holding these monster tandem rigs that look like they are headed for the ocean.  Lake Erie is a different kind of walleye fishing than, say, Northwestern Ontario lakes such as Lac Seul, but a lot of the innovation in tackle and spinner design comes from that fishery, especially from those in Ohio. On an average small to medium-sized lake in the Midwest, one would be embarrassed to be caught trolling what is considered a perfectly acceptable walleye spinner rig on Lake Erie.  They are using a bigger profile to catch, on average, a bigger walleye. On Lake Erie you begin and stay with the larger profile baits whereas on Lac Seul, you will generally start smaller and get your “unders” first if you are keeping fish to eat. Once you have those, then you go jumbo-hunting and consider upping the profile-size of your bait.

There is one thing that has not changed. The magic number is still 30 inches.  A 30-inch or greater walleye for anyone anywhere was,  is and probably always will be considered a significant accomplishment.

We’ll keep watching the market and looking out for new trends. If we think they are more than just a thing, we’ll make some and bring them to you here on our site. Feel free to browse the rest of our site to see what spinner rigs / crawler harnesses we currently have in stock.

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