An Adventure in Hardbaits
Updated: Apr 18, 2021
My Love/Hate Relationship with Hardbaits
It’s a calm summer day, the yellowtail bite has been going strong for a few weeks, and you’re trolling a brand new $20 lure for 15 minutes when your drag start screaming. You see the fish under the boat and yell, “Color!!!” just before a seal the size of a compact car grabs your Hamachi dinner by the tail and takes off running. Your spool is getting dangerously low so you thumb the spool and pull as hard as you can, hoping to pull your fish away from the seal, but the line snaps and you lose your fish and your brand new lure.
You see the shadow of a rock in a shallow sandy flat and you’re absolutely sure it’s holding calicos. You make a perfect cast with your brand new $20 crankbait toward the edge of the rock, but a gust of wind grabs your lure mid-flight. You turn the handle a few times and feel the lure anchor itself in the structure. After 10 minutes of pulling in every direction, you give up and your brand new lure becomes an ornament for the rock.
Sound familiar? I love fishing hard baits. The way they twitch as they’re pulled through the water is reminiscent of a flylined sardine that’s about to get inhaled. They allow you to cover vast amounts of water in a variety of presentations. And, to be honest, they just look cool. What I HATE about hard baits is how expensive they are. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on various hard baits over the years and have lost way too many of them. But why should a piece of plastic with some hooks cost so much money?
While vacationing in Vietnam, I learned that fishing tackle is ridiculously cheap in other countries, so when I got home from that trip I went on a quest to find good, cheap hard baits. For the past 3 years, I’ve purchased hundreds of hard baits from Chinese manufacturers. Most of them are garbage: I straightened split rings and hooks, cracked plastic lure bodies in half, got rust stains all over my boat from cheap metal, and have a large collection of lures that swim like rocks.
However, I did find two lures that are absolutely perfect for SoCal waters:
Skipjack had invaded the local banks and I was on a steady bite at the 371 and started testing lures, switching lures every few minutes. Most lures had followers and some got an occasional bite, but this lure got bit almost every single cast, often multiple times per cast. I had to retire the lure after landing a dozen fish because the prongs of the treble hooks straightened or broke off and the split rings were almost pulled straight.
I was drifting off La Jolla on a perfect spring day, the current was screaming and the kelp was laid down deep. There were bass all around us but they were keyed in on small baits and weren't interested in our sardines or bigger swimbaits. I found the smallest hardbait in my tackle box and it got crushed on nearly every cast. The lure was running just above the kelp fronds and I watched bass pop out of the stringers and inhale this lure repeatedly. The treble hooks and split rings failed after pulling hard to keep several large bass from diving back into the kelp.
I now had 2 perfect lures bodies but with pathetic hardware. I was only fishing 10# line and prongs were breaking off the hooks! I bought all sorts of 2x, 3x and 4x hooks and heavy duty stainless steel split rings and spent approximately 2 years testing different lure colors with various hook setups in our local waters. I also hooked dozens of lures up to a luggage scale and pulled until they broke, soaked lures in salt and vinegar to test metal quality, and left them out in the summer sun to test UV resistance. More importantly, I caught hundreds of fish on these lures to verify that my successful days weren't just random luck.
I contacted dozens of manufacturers in China to see if they could supply me these lures with appropriately strong split rings and hooks. I also tried to explain the importance of quality checking each component and rigging treble hooks in the proper orientation. It quickly became apparent that workers in Chinese factories would not be able to provide me a product that I could confidently fish with. I ended up sourcing every component individually and assembling the lures myself.
In case you can't tell, I'm very methodical and carefully inspect every component before assembly. The lures that I'm offering are based on 3 years of lab and field testing and I hope you enjoy them!