Bass, walleye, pike, trout and bluegill represent the big five in popularity when it comes to game fish
most often tackled by recreational anglers across North America. While fishing is a leisure time activity for most of us, it’s a full-time job for the pros who earn their living by catching fish in tournaments, on television,or both.
If you’re not catching as many fish as you’d like – and who is? – take a peek into the tackle boxes of these six famous fishermen, and find out what they’re using to catch some of cabin country’s most popular game fish.
Babe Winkelman’s favorite pike lure
Host of the award-winning “Outdoor Secrets” and “Good Fishing” television shows, Babe Winkelman is a pike fishing fanatic. When nothing else in his tackle box will coax a strike from a finicky Northern, Babe breaks out his secret weapon: the Banjo Minnow.
“You can make a pike eat a Banjo minnow when they will not eat any other artificial lure that I know of – or even hunks of sucker meat,” said Winkelman. “That’s quite a statement!”
Babe doesn’t fish the Banjo Minnow with a traditional retrieve, however, especially when sight-fishing for big pike which he can see resting on the bottom like lethargic logs.
“Use the large size (which is about 9 inches long) and cast it out 6-8 feet in front of a pike you see sulking on the bottom,” advises Babe. “Just let it sink all the way to bottom and sit there, and watch the pike.
“If he turns his head or does anything whatsoever as the lure sinks or rests on the bottom, you can catch that fish. He may sit there 30 seconds or longer watching the lure. If that happens, just a small twitch will do it. The pike will come up and eat it. They don’t ‘strike it,’ they don’t ‘bite’ it, they INHALE it. It’s the darnedest thing I’ve ever seen!”
Ted Takasaki’s favorite walleye lure
When it comes to catching walleyes, few pros can match Ted Takasaki’s record for success, especially on the major tournament circuits like the Professional Walleye Trail. When asked to select his all-time favorite walleye lure, a bait he would recommend to anglers who really wanted to catch walleye he didn’t hesitate when recommending a Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub in Techni-Glo.
“The round head and soft plastic/marabou tail combination works equally well on soft muck bottoms or hard sand, gravel and rock bottoms,” he explained. “The jigs cut through the current well in order to reach the bottom where most fish live because they are slightly flattened on the sides. And they feature large eyes for the walleyes to zero-in on.”
Takasaki – who also serves as president of Lindy Little Joe, which makes the Fuzz-E-Grub – added that the key to fishing the jig is to use one heavy enough to keep it on the bottom, and it can be fished plain or tipped with live bait.
Bill Dance’s favorite bluegill lure
Bill Dance is one of the most recognizable angling celebrities in the world. While best known for his bass expertise, few realize that bluegills hold a special place in Dance’s heart, and he’s got a favorite lure for tempting these purplecheeked “brim.”
“My favorite bluegill lure, day-in and day-out, is a 1/32-ounce jig with a black, straight-bodied grub,” advised Dance. “I may go to 1/16 ounce if the wind is blowing, but I like the smaller jig.”
Dance said that Riverside Tackle makes his favorite solid-bodied grub, and that sometimes he’ll add an elbow spinner to allow him to fish the jig over shallow, weedy water to keep the bait up in the strike zone. He said he likes
black because “it’s a color that holds its identity in different water clarities and most aquatic insects bluegills feed on are black or dark-colored.”
Dance fishes his favorite bluegill jig with a slow, steady retrieve and simply waits for a bluegill to pounce on it.
Which is what fish may – or may not – do to your offering if you follow suit and give the recommended lures a try. As with golf clubs and baseball bats, just because you use what the pros use doesn’t guarantee success. That’s one of the many reasons they call it “fishing” – and not “catching!”
Davy Hite’s favorite largemouth bass lure
The crown jewel among professional bass anglers is the Bassmasters Classic fishing tournament. Davy Hite has won the Classic and been named Bassmaster Angler of the year twice: in 1997 and 2002.
I asked Hite: “If you had to select just one lure to catch largemouth bass day-in and day-out, across North America, what would it be?” “I’d choose a six-inch Gambler worm – June bug in color.”
Hite said he’d rig the soft plastic worm “Texas-style” on a #3 hook with a 1/8-ounce weight. “That worm may not catch big fish,” he explained, “but it will work in clear water, muddy water, stained water and will consistently catch bass anywhere in the country.”
Ken Schultz’ favorite trout lure
Ken Schultz is fishing editor of Field & Stream magazine and the author of 16 books on sportfishing and fishing-related travel.
When asked to name his favorite trout lure, he said “If we’re talking stream fishing, then I’d say a small spinner, preferably one that has a cupped oval blade (for good vibration qualities), and whose blade turns freely in strong – as well as light – current.
“Generally the best way to fish this is by casting slightly up and across stream, and retrieving slowly while the lure moves downstream and reaches the end of its arc. Let it hang there for a moment as if it were a struggling baitfish, then slowly reel it in. “If we’re talking lakes and ponds, where you need to cover a lot of territory, I’m partial to slow-wobbling spoons about 2 to 3 inches long, or small-lipped minnow imitating plugs, 3 to 4 inches long.
“Both are especially good in spring, when the water is still cold, and need to be fished at a slow pace, although quick enough to provide the proper lure action. These can be flatlined without added weight when the fish are still shallow; focus especially on points, areas with sharp drop-offs to deep water, and the edges of flats.”
Kevin VanDam’s favorite smallmouth bass lure
Kevin VanDam is a Michigan angler who won the Bassmaster Classic in 2001, honing his skills on largemouth and smallmouth bass in the Wolverine state. His recommendation for catching bronzebacks whenever and wherever they swim would be a watermelon-colored tube lure.
“You can catch smallmouth anywhere in the country with that lure, 365 days a year,” said VanDam. “A lot of people ask me that question, and expect me to recommend some kind of crankbait, because I’m a crankbait guy.”
VanDam would rig the tube on a jig head made for holding a tube, tied to fluorocarbon line.
Dan Armitage is an outdoor writer and radio show host in Ohio, where he’s rehabbing a 1930s fishing cabin.