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Sam Walton, A Phone Call and the Invention of the Sonic BaitFish

Sam Walton, A Phone Call and the Invention of the Sonic BaitFish

By Pete Rosko

It was just before spring, in 1989, when I received a late evening phone call from an ice fishing guide in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. I wish that I could recall the guide’s name but I never forgot his client’s name. It was Mr. Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. I also do not recall how I responded to Mr. Walton, but I never forgot what he told me. Basically, it went like this: “Pete, I have been fishing for many years and today I had the best fishing day of my life. I was using your lure and now I want that lure to be sold in all my stores!” At the time, that lure was the Crippled Herring. The smallest size I designed then was 1/6 oz.

Prior to the Crippled Herring, metal jigs were nondescript pieces of metal called different names, including jigging spoon, slabs or tins. Originally, the Crippled Herring was designed as the first metal jig that looked like a natural bait fish. It’s descriptive name is that of a crippled, or injured, Pacific herring. Its action is the primary action in sport fishing that triggers predator fish to strike – basically, a downward, fluttering and vibrating action. We quickly found that the Crippled Herring was a deadly-effective lure for salmon. At the time, that was all I needed to know because I was living in the “salmon capital” city of Port Angeles, Washington.

When I realized I needed to create the Sonic BaitFish

Sometimes, tunnel vision is bliss, but it limits knowledge. Since I was locked into jigging and casting, I felt that was all I needed to know. Trolling and ice fishing were not priorities. It did not take long for that to change after receiving calls from trolling charter captains from Lake Michigan and the Florida Gulf. The darting action of the Crippled Herring was out-fishing trolled spoons for Lake Michigan Chinook salmon. In the Florida Gulf, it was out-fishing trolled plugs and spoons for barracuda and mackerel. Then, there was still that call from Sam Walton that kept haunting me.

Eventually, time came for me to create another versatile metal jig to honor Sam Walton’s call. Three major changes would be made to make the new lure more effective than the Crippled Herring. They would be smaller sizes, more vibration and three (not one) different line-to-lure attachments. The name would be the Sonic BaitFish (SBF). Like the Crippled Herring, the SBF name is also descriptive in that it is identified as a vibrating bait fish. Credit for this name belong to Bob Loomis, Sales Director at Mack’s Lure.

Most effective ways to rig smaller Sonic BaitFish

The two sizes, smaller than the 1/6 oz. Crippled Herring, are the 1/6 and 1/10 oz. sizes. The line-to-lure attachment on the top of the SBF back is exclusively for vertical jigging. It creates strong vibration on the lift that is uniquely duplicated on the fall. Finally, attaching the line/snap to the nose, or tail, creates different fish-catching actions when casting, jigging or trolling. The 1/16 and 1/10 oz. SBF are very small in size but create huge fish-catching opportunities not only through the ice, but also in open fresh and saltwater.

Whether fishing through the ice or open water, oftentimes fish will migrate to water depths less than three feet. A 1/6 oz. Crippled Herring needs deeper water than that to properly flutter and vibrate in order to attract fish. It’s like a plane needing a longer runway to take off. The difference is, in ice fishing or open water fishing, the “runway” is vertical. That’s where the smaller-sized Sonic BaitFish take over!

Best practices for using the smaller-sized Sonic BaitFish

When casting or vertical jigging in snaggy water, larger metal lures snag easier than smaller lures that have a softer, gliding fall. For me, the 1/10 oz. SBF has created a whole new world of fishing. Some examples are Lake Erie marinas in April, where a gently, vertically-twitched and bare 1/10 oz. SBF will consistently out-fish live emerald shiners for crappie, largemouth bass and yellow perch (walleyes usually do not frequent marinas). Marina metal walls and boat dock piling absorb the sun’s rays, which draw fish from cold surrounding water. Remember, because of their smaller lure size and springtime colder water, twitch the SBF and do not jerk them!

Smaller-sized SBF require very little rod movement to make them work like an injured bait fish. Conversely, in South Florida Gulf water, locate a shaded boat dock that is next to deep water and bottom bounce a 1/10 oz. SBF in the shade portion of the dock since most fish are eye-sensitive to sunlight. This is a very effective technique for mangrove snapper and snook. Since the water is warmer than the Lake Erie water, you can hand-twitch the rod tip a little more actively. No arm or shoulder movement is necessary! You do not want to frighten the fish with uncontrolled rod movements – less is best.

For more information, download the “Sonic BaitFish Tech Guide” by clicking here.

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