GREENVILLE, S.C. — It's not debatable. Nothing else even comes close. There's no better place to unveil a new lure to the bass fishing public than while hoisting the championship trophy on Sunday at the Bassmaster Classic.
Mike McClelland is one of at least six qualifiers in the 50-angler field of this week's Bassmaster Classic who could do just that. McClelland, who is competing in his fifth Classic, and SPRO, the Kennesaw, Ga., headquartered fishing lure manufacturer, have worked together for over a year to produce a new stickbait carrying McClelland's signature.
After "at least 100 hours" of on-the-water experimentation and "eight or nine bill designs," according to McClelland, both the pro angler and the lure company have a product now ready for mass production, whether McClelland had qualified for the Classic or not. But since he's in the Classic field, why not dream of the ultimate lure intro?
"If that happened, I couldn't make enough of them," said SPRO sales manager Syd Rives. "That would be incredible. I'd freak out."
Incredible, yes. Unprecedented, no. Several times in the previous 38 Bassmaster Classics, a new or little-known lure has played a major part in the champion's game plan, including the following:
• In 1974, it was Bagley's Honey Bee crankbait for Tommy Martin;
• In 1984, it was a Poe's crankbait for Rick Clunn;
• In 1988, it was the soft plastic Guido Bug for Guido Hibdon;
• In 1995, it was Strike King's Fat Free Shad crankbait for Mark Davis;
• In 1999, it was Gambler's Bacon Rind for Davy Hite.
Could McClelland be the next name on that list with his SPRO stickbait, tentatively named the "McStick"? If not, it won't be for lack of effort on McClelland's part.
The 40-year-old Bella Vista, Ark., resident has won two events in the two-year history of the Bassmaster Elite Series. When he took first place in the Pride of Georgia tourney at Clarks Hill Reservoir last April, combined with the Sooner Run title he won at Oklahoma's Grand Lake in 2006, McClelland became the first two-time winner in Elite Series history. McClelland has proven he has the ability to compete and win against the best of the Bassmaster pros.
And since signing up with the SPRO pro team last January, McClelland has put countless hours into developing a stickbait he would be proud to put his name on. This writer was with McClelland last September on a trout fishing trip at Arkansas' White River below Bull Shoals Dam when McClelland put on a clinic in stickbaiting for brown trout.
When three turbines were opened at the dam, McClelland tied on a pink-colored SPRO prototype and began catching both brown and rainbow trout, weighing up to 5 pounds, on almost every cast. The lures McClelland used that day were differentiated by a large letter — A, B, C and D — written with a black Sharpie on each lure. The letters designated slight differences in each prototype. The trout that day didn't seem to notice, as all the prototypes worked phenomenally well. In the clear water of the White River, McClelland could see the subtle differences in the action of each prototype. And he went back to work.
What he wanted was a lure that had a tight wiggle and a neutral buoyancy that would keep it in a slightly nose-down position in the water. The clear, hard plastic bill on the lure was what McClelland found to be less than his demands required.
After trying several bill designs SPRO sent his way, which were all too thick for what McClelland had in mind, he found the thickness he wanted in a VCR cassette tape case.
"I cut out a piece of it, then took a rotary tool and rounded it into a bill," McClelland said.
That Ozark hills handiwork gave the lure the action he was seeking. And SPRO had no trouble reproducing it.
The hard plastic stickbait already had a long narrow inside chamber, which holds two oversize BBs. The weights give the lure a neutral buoyancy. When the lure is lifted from the water, the BBs roll to the tail end of the chamber, increasing casting distance; once the lure is in the water, the BBs roll toward the lure's head and drop into a slot, giving the lure a slight nose-down tilt in the water.
"That does two things," McClelland said. "It helps get the lure down during the retrieve. And I noticed during demonstrations in the fish tanks at Bass Pro Shops that if the tail of the lure is lower, bass tend to hit the tail. But if the head is lower, they'll hit it head-first. That makes for better hook-sets. They get that first treble in their mouth and the other [two treble] hooks may end up hooking the fish, too."
As noted previously, McClelland is one of at least a half-dozen anglers in the Classic field who has a new lure that could pave the way to victory on Lake Hartwell this week. Aaron Martens, for example, has a new soft and hard plastic combination named "The Scrounger."
As the creator and host of "The Fishin' Hole," which ended its 40-year run on ESPN last year, Jerry McKinnis has observed this relationship between new lures and Classic victories for several decades. As the president of JM Associates in Little Rock, Ark., McKinnis continues to be heavily involved in outdoor show production for ESPN, which will provide unprecedented coverage of this Bassmaster Classic. He couldn't begin to imagine the hard numbers of what a Classic victory would generate for a new lure's sales.
"You know how bass fishermen are," McKinnis said. "I'm that way. I try not to go into tackle stores, because I know it's going to cost me at least $20 just to walk through one.
"If a particular lure helps win the Classic, not only do you think it's going to do really well for you catching bass, but you want to have a lure that won the Classic. It's got two things going for it. Who knows what would happen if a new lure helps win the Classic this week?"
One thing is certain. If it happens for McClelland this week with his "McStick," everyone at SPRO will be working overtime beginning Monday.
Bassmaster.com will provide unprecedented live video coverage of the Classic this week, Feb. 22-24. We'll have live "Hooked Up," daily launches at 7:15 a.m. ET and live weigh-ins and real-time leaderboards starting at 4:30 p.m. ET broadcast live from the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C.