The Woodsman Magazine

Aggressive Baits, Subtle Signals

The new X-Rap and other lures designed for aggressive presentations also catch fish when used in a slower, more deliberate fashion when conditions cause fish to be lethargic.


There is great danger of lost opportunity when you get it in your head that a certain lure does a certain thing and only that certain thing. Like an actor who gets pigeonholed, destined to play only parts that resemble characters he or she has become known for.

Who knows, maybe John Wayne could have been a great comedian.

The sporting press, and even companies that make fishing lures, contribute to this, because in honest attempts to help everybody catch fish you get descriptions of what a lure was “designed to do” and how you’re “supposed to fish it.” You even see lists of species a lure will appeal to, as if other breeds of fish are programmed to ignore this lure every time it swims by.

In truth, fishing, like the water it takes place in, is more fluid than that. As you get deeper into the sport you learn that changing seasons and prevailing weather conditions have major impacts on activity level of most fish. But one thing never changes, no matter how severe the cold front or abrupt the transition: as Jarmo Rapala has often said, big fish eat little fish.

The thing that changes, probably, is how hard the big fish is willing to exert at the moment. In other words, if a big fish has been socked in the stomach by a major cold front and is just laying there, your presentation—should you choose to move the lure fast and fleeting—will probably go unstruck. Fish in this mood (often called ‘neutral’ or ‘negative’) need time to react.

What you do with your lures should be in tune with the mood of most of the fish, not always in synch with what the lure was designed to do. Because it gets confusing to say so, most lure companies don’t even try to explain that a given lure can be fished in a variety of ways.

A classic example is the Husky Jerk. It is a suspending jerkbait, meaning that it can be twitched and paused, and maintains position when paused (or slowly rises or sinks, depending on a number of factors such as water chemistry). It’s also effective when retrieved or trolled steadily, at a variety of speeds. It can be deadly when fished fast and erratically, and can also catch one fish after another when retrieved slowly.

The conditions at the moment should dictate how you fish such a lure, rather than memories of how
you slayed ‘em last year on the 4th of July. This past season of 2004 became a big reminder of this underappreciated law of fishing in many parts of the U.S. and Canada, because it was cooler than normal, spawning took place later than normal, and fish behavior was “behind normal” during much of the spring, summer and early fall.

If you obeyed the classic calendar as summer approached, fishing a Husky Jerk fast, with erratic jerks and twitches, you cranked that baby right past an awful lot of fish that would have loved to sink their teeth into it given a chance. Even in the peak of summer, anglers who did well with such a lure were still fishing it slowly. Start the retrieve with a slow pull, let it pause, reel it slowly, pull it again, let it sit there, sometimes long enough to discuss whether John Wayne would have made a great comedian.

The bites on such retrieves will not threaten to yank the rod right out of your hand; a distinct tick, similar to a jig bite, signals that a big fish has sidled up to your Husky Jerk and inhaled it to its tonsils.

Early reports from Rapala pro staffers testing the new X-Rap have been right in step with this philosophy. This new lure, which has essentially created a new category labeled ‘slashbaits,’ is at its heart designed to be fished erratically and aggressively. But listen to the pros that are testing it, when asked how they were catching fish during the cooler-than-normal summer of ’04, and they sound like a broken record.

Cast it up into a likely spot. Let it sit for a bit. Keep the rod tip up and sweep it steady. Let it sit there. Boom.

Husky Jerk, X-Rap and other lures do shine when used for aggressive presentations, but only when fish are inclined to track down aggressively escaping prey. These same lures will continue to catch fish when used in a slower, subtler manner when predator fish are not inclined to chase.

How do you know when to use which presentation? Go by results. Start out fishing one way or the other, and switch if you’re not successful. The bottom line is that big fish eat little fish all year long.

The thing that changes, and you must remain in step with, is the pace of the pursuit.

Note: This article was crafted by the Rapala Pro Staff. For more fishing insights, go to

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