For as many years as there have been fishermen, the seemingly infinite number of methods of catching fish has been changing.
Old traditions die hard, but fishermen are always curious about new and innovative techniques designed to catch fish. Grumpy old men have been known to toss favorite methods of catching fish to the bottom of the boat if they believe there is a better way. Even the time honored, proven and ageless presentations "bobber and a worm" and "hook and minnow" are subject to change.
Bass fishermen have long relied on artificial baits to fool fish. So too have muskie and northern pike fishermen. Some fishermen will counter that nothing is better than live bait for consistently catching fish, but there's been an increasing movement in the fishing community that even live bait enthusiasts cannot deny - the dramatic improvement of lifelike artificials.
This walleye was caught on a two-hook harness, spinner and artificial nightcrawler. Artificial baits have been gaining in popularity among fishermen targeting a wide variety of fish.
Berkely Fishing has emerged as the leader in the production of artificial baits designed to mimic nightcrawlers, minnows, leeches and other favorites of fishermen. Their Gulp! line of products are not new to the market. They've been available for several years, but fueled by innovations and research, Gulp! has continued to evolve. Today fishermen everywhere recognize the benefits of using the biodegradable and scented products.
"Our business is growing year after year," said Cody Roswick, Berkley's midwest field marketing manager. "I think a lot of it is people need to have success. When they have success they feel confident and don't feel handicapped with artificials."
Walleye fishermen have been among the last group of anglers to embrace artificial soft baits. For them, a spinner tipped with a chosen live bait is as good as it gets. Slowly though, even grudgingly, walleye fishermen have begun to recognize advantages of scented and other artificial baits. The Masters Walleye Circuit on Devils Lake this weekend broke new ground as an "artificial bait only" tournament, a first for today's modern walleye fishermen.
"It is something neat and exciting in the walleye fishing world," said Roswick. "It was actually tried in Canada about 10 years ago and was real successful. One thing about fishing tournaments and competitive angling, it is good for the sport and helps us develop new products. Tournament anglers know how to push the envelope."
There are a great deal of artificial bait selections on the market today, from Twister Tails to worms to one of the newer innovations - swimbaits. Mimic Minnows, a small paddle-tail and safety pin spinner combination, have boated thousands of walleyes. So too have YUM Money Minnows, another of several similar artificial lures on the market today.
Scent products have been available to fishermen for many years, usually applied by spraying. Berkely Fishing has played a leading role in the development of scent and scented artificials. Gulp! baits are packaged in liquid-filled containers. The liquid contains a special formula of fish-attracting scent. Gulp! can be recharged by returning it back to the liquid.
"We have some of the best fish scientists in the world at Spirit Lake, Iowa," explained Roswick. "They have a fish lab there and work on what kind of scent is best to catch fish."
Jason Felder, a Devils Lake guide and winner of the last Professional Walleye Trail tournament on Devils Lake, knows the value of artificial baits.
"You can catch fish at all depths using almost anything, but leave the leeches, nightcrawlers and minnows home like many of us guides do daily. Artificials work!" says Felder.
Another Devils Lake guide and professional fisherman, Johnnie Candle, continually experiments with artificial baits while walleye fishing. He has had excellent results with Gulp! products and other favorite artificials such as Berkley's Ripple shads.
"My recommendation is to reel so that the swimbait rides just off the bottom," says Candle. "The trend of artificial lures will continue."
Bait shops have felt the pinch dealt by the increasing popularity of artificial lures. Today most bait shops stock a good selection of artificials alongside their tanks of live minnows and coolers of leeches and nightcrawlers. It is another sign of the both the acceptance and effectiveness of artificial baits.
How to best fish artificial minnows and crawlers is debated even among veteran walleye fishermen. Some say "fish slow" so a scent trail can effectively disperse in the water. Others say a faster presentation is the key.
"With Gulp! and Power Baits, increase the speed a little bit. Don't be afraid to do that," said Roswick. "I found when pulling spinners for walleyes that everyday is a little different, but I've definitely noticed a pattern that 1.2 to 1.5 mph makes a big difference day in and day out. It will trigger more bites."
Proper hook placement while using artificials is important too. According to Roswick, walleye fishermen can learn a lot from the bass world.
"Those guys are experts at putting hooks in for snagless and weedless. Some of that can be incorporated into walleye fishing. How you hook your baits can really increase your catch rate," stated Roswick.
An example cited by Roswick is when hooking an artificial crawler on a two-hook harness. With hooks slightly exposed, not buried in the crawler, the hooking percentage will increase. For other baits, such as Ripple Shads, precise threading onto the hook is necessary for a better hook set.
In addition to catching fish, there are other recognized plusses for fishermen using artificials. Artificial bait is easy to store, is always ready for use and no special care is required. Wintertime anglers have found advantages to using artificials as opposed to dipping into an icy minnow bucket.
Another notable advantage of artificials over live baits is durability. Often several fish can be caught on a single bait, particularly when using jigs and hooks designed specifically for artificials. Those casting artificial baits can do so more aggressively than when fishing with live bait.
"You can cast it harder than live bait," agreed Roswick. "When jigging Gulp!, working it back to the boat, swimming or hopping, do so more aggressively. There are days when that makes a difference."
It seems probable that live bait will always have a place in the arsenal of many fishermen, but the effectiveness of artificial baits continues to improve as does the science behind them. Fishermen are becoming more and more confident in artificial baits, too, meaning artificials are continuing to become as indispensable to a fisherman as a favorite rod and reel.