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Sleeper Lures of the Great Lakes

By Mark Romanack

The Salmo Hornet is produced from a high density foam that gives the
bait a balsa wood style action, but with a lot more durability. All Salmo
baits are hand tuned making them one of the most fish catching
baits on the market.
A lot of legendary fishing lures have earned their stripes on the Great Lakes. More than a few baits, like the famous Luhr Jensen J-Plug, produced so many fish that dozens of copies were spawned over the years.

Over the years a few select artificial lures have reached what I’ll describe as “must have” status. The Storm Wiggle Wart was for years the primary crankbait in use on Lake Erie. I can remember when the Wiggle Wart phenomenon was at its peak. Most of the serious charter captains would be trolling with 12 lines and on every single line would be a Wiggle Wart! Now that’s loyalty to a lure.

Ironically, at about the same time the Wiggle Wart was king of trolling lures, the famed Erie Dearie was considered the only serious choice among drift fishermen.

My point is that fishing lures don’t get famous because they didn’t produce fish. Only a tiny percentage of the very best lures ever achieve the level of the J-Plug, Wiggle Wart or Erie Dearie. However, a lot of really excellent fishing lures somehow slip under the radar and never get discovered by the masses. This column is targeted towards lures I’ve grown to trust that I rarely see other anglers using.

The U20 Flatfish pictured here was originally produced by Helin, but is now
owned and produced by Yakima Bait Company of Granger, Washington.
Originally designed by Charlie Helin, Yakima purchased the wide wobbling Flatfish and is currently producing them in countless sizes, versions and color options. Personally one of my favorites in the Flatfish line up is the Classic U20 Flatfish. Deadly on trout, salmon and even walleye, this bait was the “go to” standard not that many years ago, but rarely gets the praise it deserves today.

Perhaps the day of the Flatfish has come and gone, but I happen to know that Buzz Ramsey of Yakima is actively retooling the most popular Flatfish molds aimed at making these amazing baits even better.  I’m looking forward to a day when new anglers discover the Flatfish for the fish catching machine it is.

As far as crankbaits go, the Salmo Hornet is unique. The Salmo brand of crankbaits aren’t molded of plastic or carved out of balsa wood. Instead, these special crankbaits are made from a special high density foam material. Each lure is hand made to exacting standards other crankbaits simply don’t match.

Every Salmo lure is tuned to perfection, setting a standard other brands can’t match. This feature alone is invaluable, because most anglers don’t bother to tune their crankbaits. A crankbait that’s not tuned properly will seldom catch fish. Sadly, this accounts for the majority of crankbaits sold every year.

A tuned crankbait is one that will dive straight down in the water, reach maximum depth and deliver maximum action. Salmo is the best in this department hands down.

Action is the other element of crankbaits that makes or breaks a lure. The Hornet produces a tight vibrating wiggle that does an exceptional job of triggering walleye and smallmouth bass into biting. The Hornet is an outstanding crankbait and one I would feel naked without.

The Cicada from Reef Runner is one of the most unique blade baits on the
market and unfortunately a lure many anglers have not yet discovered.
Blade baits like the Cicada are a special purpose lure. It doesn’t surprise me that the mainstream of fishermen in the Great Lakes haven’t discovered how effective a blade bait can be on a wide variety of species.

Blade baits have been around for many years and are popular in certain parts of the nation, but lures like the Reef Runner Cicada have been slow to catch on in the Great Lakes region. These unique lures are fished using an aggressive “pop jigging” style that brings the bait to life and generates a reactive strike from nearby fish. When a blade bait is slowly lifted and dropped in the water, it creates little vibration or action. When the lure is snapped to attention, the bait wobbles and creates a high pitched vibration that works wonders on triggering strikes from walleye, smallmouth bass, pike and other fish. 

Blade baits can also be casted and reeled quickly in a fashion similar to how a lipless crankbait is fished. For my money however, the way to fish the Cicada is by getting over top of fish in 15-40 feet of water and vertical jigging using an aggressive snapping of the rod tip. After the Cicada has been jerked to attention, allow the bait to free fall back to bottom on slack line. Some strikes occur while the bait is falling, but mostly fish hammer the Cicada when it’s vibrating violently.

The U20 Flatfish, Salmo Hornet and Cicada are three lures that have stood the test of time, yet have never achieved the popularity they deserve. Check out these lures first hand and I’m confident you will agree they are indeed the “sleeper baits” of the Great Lakes.