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The Story of the Sonic Baitfish Lure - Continued

The Story of the Sonic Baitfish Lure - Continued

By Pete Rosko

EPISODE #2 - Key Metal Jig Design Requirements to Effectively Catch Fish Anywhere in the World

This is the continuation of my story leading up to the invention of the Sonic Baitfish lure. The road to creating a versatile metal jig, that could be professionally reproduced with high quality, was not easy to attain for me.  Physically and mentally, I spent every single day, for over three years, in an attempt to finish what I started. For months at a time, I was frustrated to see the beginning of another day because I was going backward the more I attempted to make progress. I had no road map to follow from an earlier pioneer, and I was proceeding on “dead reckoning” instead of a proven course.

Persistence, and a lifelong passion for fishing, were the only things I had going for me. Eventually, lead alloy test prototypes were developed. Although these basic unpainted lead alloy lures were rough in appearance, they started by catching fish anywhere we vertically jigged in fresh and salt waters. The injured baitfish's actions, which I wanted to duplicate in an artificial lure, seemingly were a success.

That was not the main problem. The problem was connecting with an industry that could take my prototype lure to a highly effective metal jig that looked and acted like a real injured bait fish. Out of desperation, I approached the cosmetic jewelry industry in Rhode Island. It was through the gracious help and guidance of Mr. Zanini, an owner of a company skilled in producing cosmetic jewelry, that I learned how to take my idea to a finished product. That was over 40 years ago.

By 1985, it was decided to name this metal prototype the “Crippled Herring” because it looked and acted like a crippled, or injured, herring. In 1986, the Crippled Herring was awarded a U.S. utility patent. Shortly afterward, I began sending a few samples to writers in the Florida Keys, Lake Erie, and Pacific Coast regions. Within a matter of three months, I was getting calls and letters from Florida guides, Mike Carney from the Walleye magazine and Al Lindner from the In-Fisherman magazine. Phone calls, and articles, followed from writers in Washington, Oregon, and California.

Since I grew up walleye fishing on Lake Erie, I was probably most pleased at the time by receiving walleye calls from Mike Carney and Al Lindner. However, it was writer Terry Rudnick who made the most media impact in introducing the Crippled Herring to the salmon and halibut anglers along the entire North America Pacific Coast during the early 1990s.

But it was what occurred on the Columbia River that caught salmon anglers’ attention. Ron Peterson, a resident of Hood River Oregon, was the very first angler to introduce the Crippled Herring to the Columbia River. It was my brother Bob, who was the first angler to introduce the Crippled Herring to California. This tandem, of close fishing buddies, created a new wave of fishing in their respective states. For Ron Peterson, it was the outflow of Washington State’s White Salmon River, into the Columbia River, that became hallowed waters with a 2 oz pearl white Crippled Herring!

The large numbers of big chinook salmon, being caught off the White Salmon River Hole, did not go unnoticed. This honey hole faced the large windows of the Luhr Jensen (LJ) shoreline factory, which was located on the Hood River Oregon side of the Columbia River. It was not long after, when Luhr Jensen CEO, Phil Jensen, made me an offer to have the Crippled Herring manufactured by his company. That was in 1990. (Phil Jensen later sold his company to Rapala in 2005.) Those 15 years with Luhr Jensen were the best and most memorable times for me and the Crippled Herring!

The Crippled Herring became the dominant lure across the North American continent and around the world for a large variety of fresh and saltwater species. Many state and IGFA records were set along the way. Included was Mack’s pro-staffer Mike Hall, who set five Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame line records for kokanee, within one week, back in the 1990s.

Because of the demand for both smaller and larger sizes of Crippled Herrings, Phil Jensen asked me to create heavier sizes for the Atlantic cod market and the Alaskan halibut market. That’s when the 10, 13, 16 and 20-ounce versions were created. Like the wildly successful 2 oz Crippled Herring salmon “killer” in the Columbia River, the heavier sizes accomplished that same phenomenon with the Atlantic cod and Alaskan halibut.

On the opposite side of the scale, 1/3, 1/4, and 1/6 ounce versions were created for the light tackle anglers. To this day, I consider the 1/6 and 1 oz Crippled Herrings without peer for jigging, casting or trolling! One of my many mistakes as a lure designer was not acquiring a patent for adding a spinner blade to the tail of a metal jig! In the early 1980s, I was obsessed with hook and spinner mechanics. In addition, I wanted to create an easy-to-use lure that was equally effective whether it was jigged, cast or trolled, anywhere in the world! I hated spending money on countless lures and tackle boxes that I dragged from the East Coast to the West Coast.

This was accomplished because of three criteria…lure balance, hook style, and a spinner blade (BHS).

BALANCE: By positioning the weight of the lure at a certain pivot point, like a “teeter totter”, a variety of different actions can be attained in duplicating the actions of an injured bait fish. These actions can be a combination of subtle and dramatic. The final determination is how fish react to these actions to determine the success of the lure.

HOOK STYLE: Almost three years were devoted to water testing the most feasible hook design necessary to effectively cast, jig, and troll the Crippled Herring or any other metal jig. There was no close second to the best hook type that easily made our #1 selection. That was, and still is, a single, siwash-style hook with its deep throat, wide gap, and large eye.

By attaching this hook to the tail end of the Crippled Herring, it acts as a rudder on a boat. It adds to the versatility and effectiveness of the Crippled Herring, especially as a casting and trolling lure, because of its darting action. Nose assist and “butterfly” hooks impede this action. However, these hooks can still be added to the nose of the Crippled Herring, in addition to the single tail hook, when vertical jigging. (In last month’s edition of “episode #1”, a photo of me holding a yelloweye rockfish was shown. That photo was taken over 20 years ago by professional guide and outfitter, Herb Good.

We were spending part of the summer living in a tent camp on a remote island off Craig Alaska. That was the trip when I finally decided to end years of experimenting with the correct hook to use, and where to place it, on a metal jig. At the time, I was jigging with a bullet-shaped 6 ½ oz Crippled Herring jig with a 7/0 single siwash hook attached to the nose and a similar hook attached to its tail. All fish previously hooked on that trip were caught on the tail hook.

It was the same when I landed about a 50-pound plus halibut into the boat that was hooked on the tail hook. We thought it was subdued until it suddenly started flailing as I was attempting to remove the lure’s tail hook from its jaw. It was the nose hook that “nailed’ my left hand on the palm side. Just try to imagine a large hook, totally embedded into your hand, with an upset halibut seeking its revenge by violently jerking on that nose hook. That was more than enough to finally stop experimenting with nose hooks. Surprisingly, after cutting that hook out of my hand, I never experienced any nerve damage or an infection despite not having the availability of an emergency room treatment. That is why you will always see only a single hook attached to the tail of a Crippled Herring, now marketed by Rapala.)

SPINNER BLADE:  Adding a spinner blade to the lure’s tail creates extra flash, harmonics, and vibration. Many times over the years, a trolled Crippled Herring with a tail blade has out-fished popular conventional trolling lures. Use a willow leaf-style blade for larger metal jigs and an Indiana-style blade for smaller metal jigs. The blade can be attached to a split ring, or snap, away from the hook point side of the hook, for maximum effect. Do not use a swivel on the blade since a side-to-side action is more productive than a 360-degree rotary action.

When trolling, use this rig on the side of the boat that makes the most frequent inside turn. This imparts a three-part sequence of actions. They include a straightforward boat movement, causing a strong darting and vibrating lure action. The second movement is at the inward turn of the boat where the lure stops moving forward and flutters downward.

The third movement is when line tension returns to the lure, where it reverts to vibrating and darting actions, as the boat has straightened its course after making its inside turn. It’s between the second and third boat movements that almost all strikes will occur when making the inside turn. This inside-turn action can be devastatingly effective for many different troll species. If I am attempting to locate fish by trolling, I will run the boat on an “S” pattern.

Once I locate the fish, I will change to a constant circular troll pattern with the jig rod on the inside turn side of the boat. In contrast, the lure on the opposite side of the boat will be running fast all day long without the hybrid jigging action of the inside rod. During my earlier years of trolling for walleyes, and most other freshwater species, we almost always worked the rod with a pull forward and drop backward rod movement. This mimicked the inside turn method in this article. The rare exception was when speed-trolling for muskies along a straight, extended shoreline structure.

KANDLEFISH: There are two different body structures for bait fish. Those being short and wide and long and slender. Through many years of being on the water, the long and slender form seemed to be the most preferred bait fish shape for both fresh and saltwater predator fish. If that is the case, why did I invent the shorter and wider Pacific herring shape for my lure? At the time, I was locked in on salmon and their relationship with predominantly Pacific herring off Port Angeles. Other less populated bait fish species were anchovies and candlefish. In time, I felt the need to create the opposite version of the Crippled Herring by going “long and slender”.

That time came in 1997 when Ron Weber, the founder of Normark (Rapala/North America) wanted to acquire the Crippled Herring from the Luhr Jensen company. Ron had been chartering me in the Gulf of Mexico for some time and became passionate about drift jigging for grouper and snapper with the Crippled Herring. I was humbled by this Fishing Hall of Fame icon’s offer. However, the Crippled Herring was legally licensed to Luhr Jensen, and I did not want to break that contact.

In Pacific waters, the candlefish is highly prized by predator fish for its oily flavor. It is long and slender and a member of the smelt family. When dried, the candlefish’s oily nature can also be put to good use as a candle. Hence, its name.) In turn, Ron quickly agreed to my proposal. The candlefish lure was eventually named the Kandlefish, and was licensed to Blue Fox, a subsidiary of the Rapala company. This agreement occurred in 1999 and the Kandlefish would still be part of the Rapala brand today, except for two reasons.

Several years later, after acquiring the marketing rights to the Kandlefish, Ron Weber retired and sold the Rapala company. Shortly after, the new Rapala company was interested in acquiring another company by the name of Storm Lures. Money was short for Rapala and a decision had to be made between the Kandlefish and Storm Lures. Almost always, a newcomer is at a disadvantage with a long-established company like Storm. That was the end of the Kandlefish career with Rapala and the beginning of Rapala acquiring long-established companies for the next 20 years.

Ironically, Rapala acquired Luhr Jensen in 2005. Included was the Crippled Herring, which Ron Weber initially wanted to acquire in the mid-90s. In the end, the Kandlefish proved to be another winner, like the Crippled Herring. However, it had one advantage over the Crippled Herring. It had a “roadmap” to follow that the Crippled Herring never had. The Kandlefish expanded on the good points of the Crippled Herring and out-fished it in various ways in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Northwest.

Since 2015, the Kandlefish has been the dominant metal jig for all popular salmon species in the Pacific Northwest. Even the marine biologists in Florida and Oregon exclusively fished the Kandlefish in their respective test fisheries. Florida, for red snapper, and Oregon, for lingcod.

No man-made invention is ever perfect and that includes anything that I ever created. On the other hand, I am very happy with the large amount of success that has been achieved with the Kandlefish. Die-hard Kandlefish anglers believe, “With the Kandlefish they can catch almost anything with fins on it”.

On a different note, because of tunnel vision, I feel that I made a mistake in its name because of my passion for the Pacific Northwest. I chose the candlefish to succeed the Crippled Herring. Most anglers on the West Coast know what a candlefish is. Other than the West Coast, how many anglers in the rest of the world know what a candlefish, or Kandlefish, is? For marketing purposes, not many. For US trademark registration requirements, the lure cannot be “descriptive” in imitating something in nature. It must be “fictitious” in that its name does not have a functional meaning. I was lucky on the Crippled Herring trademark registration because the name and action are descriptive of what it does. In retrospect, instead of the Kandlefish, I could have changed the name to a more descriptive name like the “Crippled Shiner”.

Buying the best lure ever invented is no guarantee of success. However, attaining reliable knowledge on how to fish that lure is directly proportional to your degree of success. That is why I create a “Tech Guide” for every lure that I create to assist you in your success. For the Crippled Herring, it’s the “Crippled Herring Tech Guide”. For the Kandlefish, it’s the ”Kandlefish Tech Guide”. All of my Tech Guides can be accessed on the internet.

Remember, no “magic” lure can catch a fish until you can find the location of that fish! Unlike when trolling (searching), jigging begins only after fish are located. Once those fish are located, especially when they are near the bottom, no other technique can produce a faster catch than a bottom-bounced metal jig! These are just a few tips that can be found in the Tech Guides.

To be Continued...
The first two episodes have been primarily geared toward background information on my progression in creating and developing a fishing lure. Next month’s final episode will place more emphasis on becoming more proficient in the use of my third metal jig, the Sonic BaitFish.

Thank you for tagging along for the past two months with, hopefully, the best yet to come…Capt. Pete

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