190630_PECK

Larry Barthel caught this bass on a Bill Lewis MR-6 crankbait.

Political correctness has all but removed the adage “more than one way to skin a cat” from our American vernacular.

That saying was popular when I entered the panorama of life in the middle of the 20th century. But to this very day, there is no first-hand witness—or reputable hearsay on the process. But feigned knowledge in cat-skinning still brings street cred to the topic at hand.

This term is sometimes applied to fishing methods or techniques. When it all boils down to a close encounter of the fishing kind, fishers all have preferences on their favorite ways to tussle with fish.

Trolling is a very effective way to put fish in the boat. Considerable technique is required to become a consistently successful troller. But once these variables are dialed in, trolling is essentially a study in turning the crank and netting a fish.

Pitching light jigs is a neat way to hook up. Buzzbaits and small topwater lures like the Pop-R, Chug Bug and Devil’s Horse provide a “jack-in-the-box” thrill my generation used to find with lures like the Jitterbug and Hula Popper.

References to any of these terms simply brings a quizzical expression from most millennials who show you enough respect to look up from their shiny objects for a minute.

When folks jump in my boat for a guided fishing trip, there are only two requirements: leave your personal demons and shiny objects at the dock.

Once we head out, it’s all about having fun.

Netting fish for clients is almost as much fun as catching fish—especially when they are tossing one of those “jack-in-the-box” lures or a crankbait.

Crankbaits were often called plugs when I was a kid—probably because they were essentially a plug of wood with hooks and maybe a metal beak attached. Plugs came in essentially two color schemes: red/white or white/red. You could buy one at the local hardware store for about a buck. With a little luck and technique these lures caught a lot of fish.

The term crankbait entered fishing lingo when bass tourneys started to gain in popularity back in the 1970s. Once Wisconsin folks figured out what weathered men wearing onesies were talking about in their barbiturate-flavored southern drawls, we adopted this terminology.

Experience teaches there is more to fishing a crankbait than simply cranking in a bait. Mastering this lure isn’t all that tough—and crankbaiting is light years more fun than trolling.

With summer’s warm temperatures, fish metabolism is amped up. It is virtually impossible to crank in the bait faster than a fish can swim. A burning retrieve can trigger a reflex strike. So can pausing the retrieve a time or two for just a second when a fish in casual pursuit bumps into the lure or its “prey drive” kicks in when you start cranking again.

Most lures have some kind of plastic beak to help the lure track at a desired depth. Either raising or lowering the rod tip can change the level the lure tracks at by a couple of feet.

The fish will tell you what they like.

Another genre is the lipless vibrating crankbait. The Rat-L-Trap has been the template for all others since 1964. It’s name is a reference to an old car— known as a beater. A decade ago they were also known as clunkers. Clunkers are all but gone from America’s highways now due to a questionable government buy-back program.

Lipless vibrating crankbaits have an almost infinite number of ways in which you can bring them back to the boat. The fish will tell you what turns their “eat” crank on any given day.

Crankbaits are available in several sizes and a seemingly endless variety of color schemes and patterns. Buying at least two of each is good strategy in the event a fish likes your offering so much that it swims off with it and doesn’t look back.

Most crankbaits have at least two treble hooks to maximize fish catching potential. Some treble hooks have better fish-holding properties than others. This is usually a good thing.

One exception is when the fish comes into the boat with only one treble hook in its mouth and is intent of sharing the lure with you. Last week, a small northern pike, aka “hammer handle” or “snot rocket” had this malevolent intent.

There was ample time to contemplate while handcuffed to a snot rocket by a Rat-L-Trap in the solitude and serenity of Island Lake in Washburn County last week.

The best way to remove a hook from your body is an eagle grip at the bend of the impaled hook with needle-nose pliers with a quick jerk. Telling yourself you will rip the hook out on the count of three and attempting at the count of two just doesn’t work.

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Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc

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