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Happenstance: Displaced Dentist to Lure Designer

Happenstance: Displaced Dentist to Lure Designer

The True Story of how the Sonic BaitFish Came to Be

By Capt. Pete Rosko

This story will appear in three consecutive articles in the May, June, and July issues of the Mack Attack.

Four things still stick in my mind about the year 1980: the Mount Saint Helen’s eruption, an overheating U-Haul truck, ten oversized freshwater fishing tackle boxes, and a severely depressed national economy.

I had big plans when I packed up my life and dental practice in Ohio and began the long journey across the country.  Upon arriving in Port Angeles, Washington, I was hit with the reality of the area’s poor economic conditions. Healthcare providers were cutting costs due to a lack of patients, and my arrangement to be part of a two-dentist practice was over before it began!  

At the time, the only other thing I knew was being out on the water. I had been fishing since I was a toddler, and I felt the call of the sea. My wife and I were renting a house above the Port Angeles harbor where I could see where the boats were fishing. So, that’s where I headed. By sheer luck, I met Jesse Menshew, a retired member of the US Naval Submarine Corps.  I could not take my eyes off the three chinook salmon Jess was cleaning that day. The following day, I was in Jesse’s boat where I was introduced to mooching. During the 1980s, most of the chinook salmon fishing was done by mooching. It’s a technique where a kicker motor is used to maintain the boat in a holding position while a dead or live baitfish is presented through the water column. (Since those days, regulations have changed, and the use of live bait is no longer legal.)

About a month after arriving in Port Angeles, I purchased my first boat. It was a 14-footer with a main 20-horse motor, a kicker 6-horse 2-stroke outboards. In short order, I discovered that 99.9% of everything in my ten tackle boxes was useless in the marine environment. Since I was unemployed, time was on my side, so I spent every remaining day in 1980 on the water, except Christmas. There were no closed seasons for salmon or for just about everything else with fins. The Port Angeles area became my laboratory because of its waters that held vast numbers of bait fish and salmon. 

 On a calm surface day, I could see over 25 feet down where chinook salmon were exploding through huge schools of Pacific herring.  What was intriguing to me was how the salmon would then casually swim under the melee of injured and crippled herring to methodically feed at their leisure. That was the beginning of my perception of the prey-predator relationship in Pacific salmon waters.  Whether on land or water, predators are efficient in conserving energy. That is why predators of all types will almost always single out prey that requires little effort to capture it.  Day after day, it was the erratic and fluttering actions of the crippled and injured herring (and other bait fish) that triggered the salmon to feed.  It was the distressed herrings, slowly sinking in the water column, that were eaten first. Healthy herring and other baitfish, casually swimming horizontally, were mostly ignored by the salmon. 

After witnessing first-hand how salmon fed on herring, I attempted to duplicate that with a rod and reel, rigged for live-baiting herring. I chose to fish with medium strength spinning tackle rigged with a 12 lb. main line and 10 lb. monofilament leader for easier casting. Added to the leader was a #4 single light wire bait hook and a small split shot attached a couple of feet above the hook. Casting a live jaw-hooked 2–3-inch herring, off the edges of Port Angeles area kelp beds, was almost always a guaranteed salmon strike. It was the struggling and slowly sinking action of that bait fish that was very seldom ignored by any predator fish in the vicinity.  Amazingly, I never witnessed another angler fishing the way I did.  Even today, very few anglers will approach another angler, that is out-fishing them, to ask for help or just out of curiosity to learn what they are doing.

As time went by, there was some talk about fishing with live bait for salmon being discontinued by the WDFW. There were a few anglers in the Port Angeles area who had been experimenting with metal jigs like the Buzz Bomb and the Kastmaster.  As many of us know, neither of these two lures looked like real bait fish, especially when I was accustomed to fishing with live bait. The thought of outlawing the use of live bait became a serious concern for me. I needed to find an artificial bait that could act like a live herring.  

That’s when I purchased my first Buzz Bomb in a pearl white finish.  I chose that finish because it resembled the natural coloration of the live herring I had been using to catch all of my salmon.  It was not the magic lure I was hoping for, but I decided not to give up on it because of its advertised vibration.  Persistence eventually led to success in catching salmon with the Buzz Bomb that were near-surface.  This lure was not as effective in deep water because of its slow fall rate which was attributed to its rotary vibration. As it was falling through the water column, it was not falling straight down.  It appeared to be falling more sideways than vertically.  I ended up testing all of the different jigs that I could find that were being fished in North American coastal marine waters.  They were called by different names in those days like slabs, spoons, and tins, but not metal jigs. My interpretation of a metal jig is, “a jig that resembles the entire body of a natural bait fish”. 

Despite 40 years experience, I was unprepared for West Coast fishing and creating lures for the Pacific waters. During my Midwest years, I had been creating lead head jigs and spinners, primarily for largemouth bass and walleyes as a hobby. Now, as I searched for the perfect lure to be successful in my new home waters, I came to the conclusion the lure I was looking for had not been created yet. While inclined to create what I needed, I had little idea of how to achieve the finished product.

I turned to what I knew as a dentist for inspiration. My dental instruments and ability to make dental molds were the first piece of the puzzle. The next was “form, fit, and function” (FFF) which is learned not only in engineering but also in dentistry.  I soon started making plaster of Paris molds of several sizes of fresh-netted Pacific herrings.  Cavities were created once the herrings were removed from the molds. Molten wax was then poured into those cavities, thereby recreating Pacific herring replicas in hard blue dental carving wax. 

From there, FFF takes over. This is the most critical part of the success of creating a fishing lure! (From a business standpoint, it can slightly make, or tremendously lose, a large amount of money and time!)  FORM determines how closely it can duplicate the same strike-triggering actions that I witnessed when the salmon were feeding on distressed herrings.  Flutter and vibration are two examples.  FUNCTION is created by fine-tune-balancing the lure.  Proper function creates versatility thereby enabling the lure to be cast, jigged, mooched or trolled.  

Eventually, the wax replicas were converted into hard dental stone for further detailing. The next step was to make silicone molds of the stone replicas which were cast as lead alloy prototypes. Finally, those prototypes were ready for water testing to confirm the necessary actions required for success. Once the required actions and fall rates were approved, the prototypes were sent to testers to be fished.  Only after receiving a perfect score from each tester were the lures approved for production and sale to the public. To bring a lure from concept to market took me an average of three years, for each lure type that was invented. 

TO BE CONTINUED: The name of that first lure, that was developed, will be discussed in Episode #2, in the June issue of the Mack Attack. 


Read Capt. Pete’s timely tips for spring fishing in our northern latitude for anglers without a boat:

Did you know that Marina docks, and their metal sheet walls, can act as magnets for fish seeking warmer water after ice out or just plain cold water that held no ice?  

This is primarily a mid-day fishery after the sun has had a chance to warm the structures in a marina.  The more metal in that marina, the better the fishing since metal is the best conductor of the sun’s warmth to the water.  Even moored metal boats will add to that marina’s heat transfer.  On Lake Erie, the water depth along the metal walls that I fish, averages three feet. I have found that once you locate a productive spot in a marina, or off docks outside of a marina, that spot will usually produce year after year if the surrounding structures remain the same.  

My technique is to twitch the smallest Sonic BaitFish (SBF) I have, for that cold and shallow water, barely above the bottom. (Usually, I do not add bait.  But scent may help on a difficult bite.)  These fish are fairly inactive and do not require a “large meal” to sustain themselves.  As with humans, fish may refuse a large meal but very seldom do they refuse a light snack. Keep it small and simple with a finesse approach, as in ice fishing.  

Where should I attach my line to the Sonic BaitFish lure?  

Almost always, I will attach line/snap to the nose to start.  Remember, fish constantly change their preference for a certain lure action throughout the day. 

The beauty of the SBF is that the line can be attached not only to the nose but also to the tail or to the top of the back (for maximum vibration).  This is when a “self-sleeving” double hook makes hook-position changes so easy.  I always purchase a few to carry with me for these occasions.

Thanks for reading, now go catch them…Capt. Pete

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