ICAST50: Notes

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Television fishing host Bill Dance entered Ray Scott's first BASS tournament, held on Arkansas' Beaver Lake in 1967. Ever since, he's enjoyed a large presence on the U.S. freshwater fishing scene.

The man famous for wearing the Tennessee Volunteers cap with the big orange "T", has noticed a 180-degree shift in the way new fishing trends are influencing the industry.

The swimbait craze is only the latest.

"You look at West Coast techniques that have moved to the east," Dance said. "We've learned a lot from the West Coast.

"It used to be that West Coast fishermen would come to the (ICAST) show and see all these baits that fishermen east of the Mississippi River have used and that trend went west. Now, fishermen from the east and buyers, they come to look at what the trends are from west of the Mississippi.

"And we've seen a lot of things. There is the big bait craze - the tubes and the swimbaits. We've scene the dropshot and finesse fishing. All that now has moved from west to east."

Fish as "taste testers"

In the early stages of developing Berkley PowerBait lures, Dr. Keith Jones and his staff quickly determined that simply grinding up various natural fish baits wasn't going to give them much in the way of knowledge or practical application.

So, in an example of typical scientific trial and error, Jones started examining basic chemical compounds. Using fish that were conditioned to receive pelleted food dropped to the aquarium surface, he put various liquids on small cotton balls, shaped like the food pellets.

"If a fish doesn't like something, it can spit it out of its mouth in less than six-tenths of a second," said John Prochnow, a chemical engineer employed by Berkley for the past 21 years. "If it likes it, it will hold it in its mouth and mash it around. If it's very good, they chomp and it's gone.

"We've tried hundreds of thousands of solutions. They'll eat a number of them. But then we try to figure out what's better."

The Berkley researchers will dilute the strength of a liquid that the fish like, by a 10-factor, and see how much of an attractor it is at that point. Then they'll dilute that strength by another 10-factor.

After awhile, these taste-testing fish are changed out, to make sure they aren't becoming artificially conditioned to a particular scent and taste. Then researchers try the various solutions on a new set of fish taste testers.

"We've not found any one chemical substance that fish respond best to," said Prochnow. "It's always a mixture."

By combining various substances that fish like, the scientists sometimes observe a synergistic effect.

"Synergistic reactions sometimes quadruple the effect," said Prochnow. "When we've got something we like, we'll take it from the lab to the field and try it."

By constantly testing and tweaking the formula, Berkley constantly improves the fish-attractiveness of its products.

What's the ceiling on lure prices?

The success of Lucky Craft crankbaits and jerkbaits priced in the $10 to $20 range has pushed the price ceiling of fishing lures higher than many thought it would ever go. Some of the new hard plastic swimbaits, priced at $30 to $100 have shown signs of completely blowing up that idea of an upper price point.

But, let's face it, these high-dollar swimbaits are specialty lures. Even though they may have a greater ability to produce the "fish of a lifetime," the average angler is unlikely to buy many, if any, of these high-priced lures.

Berkley experienced some "sticker shock" when it first came out with PowerBait in plastic worm form.

"When PowerBait first came out, it cost 50 cents a worm," said Berkley bait development director John Proctor. "That was an unheard of price."

Berkley had to stay patient while the fish-catching abilities of these "high-priced" lures filtered out to the general public. Professional anglers tend to closely guard "secret baits," in hopes of maintaining a money-earning advantage as long as possible.

"We couldn't get the pro fishermen to talk about them because they were winning money with them," Prochnow said. "We saw that same sort of initial resistance to Gulp."

Four-bits for a PowerBait worm doesn't sound like much money in today's market.