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October 10, 2008

Shape of the Future

Why saltwater anglers are switching to swimbaits

True, the famed writer was referring to the Old West that he had written about so prolifically throughout his storied career, but L'Amour could very well pen the same line about fishing with soft plastics in salt water.

The current trend among lure companies, such as YUM, Berkley, Mann's, Stanley and myriad others, to introduce some form of swimbait underscores that sentiment. In fact, the smorgasbord of new swimbaits showing up during the ICAST 2008 trade show demonstrates the growing popularity of these outsized and highly effective plastic fish attractors.

A Brief History
The first time I ever considered using swimbaits in salt water occurred in April 2002 after I hooked an 11-inch speckled trout while fishing with Capt. Jimmy Martinez out of Port Isabel, Texas (Team Ballyhoo, 956-551-9581). While zipping it back to the boat over a sand pocket, a big trout came up, plucked it off my hook and disappeared with it into the depths.

For decades, saltwater lures broke down into two categories: metal baits such as tin squids, spoons and casting irons, and plugs such as poppers, minnows and wobblers. If fishermen used any soft plastics, they probably recruited largemouth bass worms and jigs to pull double duty in the Big Briny. These freshwater transfers worked, catching millions of speckled trout, redfish, striped bass and flounder. By the 1960s and '70s, dedicated saltwater soft plastics hit the market with the introduction of such baits as the Mann's Stingray and the H&H Sparkle Beetle.

With little variation, however, soft plastics followed two distinct patterns: boot-tailed minnows, such as the Berkley Power Mullet, H&H Cocahoe and Mister Twister Sassy Shad, or shrimp tails such as the versions produced by YUM, Norton, Old Bayside, Crème/Rip Tide and Kelly Wiggler. Some companies, such as D.O.A., offered more lifelike versions in its Shrimp and the pinfish-imitating Tough Guy. Fluke-style baits, including the Strike King Zulu, the Saltwater Assassin by Bass Assassin and the original Slug-O, carved their own niches among striped bass and gator trout hunters, but the classic shad and shrimp tails still dominated the saltwater soft-plastics market.