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Experimenting with new lures and tactics

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Hiya -

So a while back I made kind of an offhand comment about using an 'experiment box' in a post about something or other. Apparently it sparked a little interest - I've gotten several emails about it. As I was writing an email back I started to get the feeling I'd written this all once before, so I dug around a little, and found and article I'd hacked out a while back and never really done anything with. I figured I may as well post it here in case anyone's interested.

So if you have nothing to do and all day to do it - here ya go smile

Plan, Execute, Evaluate when Learning New Techniques

Experimenting with new techniques and trying new baits and bait styles is part of the fun of fishing. When it’s successful, it’s exciting, satisfying, and ultimately helps you become a more well-rounded angler by adding another set of tools to the toolbox.

Too often though, ‘experimenting’ amounts to nothing more than buying the hot new lure, trying it at random - or worse yet, trying it when nothing else is working - then writing it off as hype before going back to tried and true methods. Even when a new lure or a new technique is successful, a lot of anglers don’t do a very good job of honestly evaluating just how well something really worked and why. Sometimes the excitement of catching fish can cloud real results. Too much credit is often given to particular lures vs technique or situation. Hot lures are temporary. The real value in experimenting is learning new methods and techniques that are seldom dependent on specific lures.

In the sciences, methodology is critical to successful research. If you want to be more successful when experimenting with new lures and methods, apply a little methodology to the madness of new lures and tactics too.

When I find a new technique or lure type I want to try, I take a 3-phase approach – planning, executing, and evaluating. The first phase begins long before the season begins, and the third long after the season is over.


You’ve found something you want to try this upcoming season.

So start with a little research. What are others saying about these baits? Study up as much as you can, whether that’s in magazines, on websites, or watching TV shows. While researching new techniques, pay less attention to information about specific brands or hot colors and more attention to information about when and why the lure or technique works. In what situations are other anglers having success? What are the technical details like rigging and tackle that apply regardless of specific brand? Jot down a brief list of general impressions. Good around cover, better with a trailer hook, need a rod with a lot of backbone, had good luck in cold water – those kinds of things. At the end of your research, condense this info down to a short list, and sort it into a few basic categories: rigging (any rigging tips you picked up in your research), conditions (situations where the new technique might have potential), and presentation (retrieve speed, and any other technical details about presentation). Write your list down on a note card.

Next, do a little market research. If every company under the sun is making this bait style, which ones get mentioned most often? How do they differ from other brands/types? Assemble a short shopping list, and go shopping.

It’s tempting to go all out when stocking up on new lures, and grab a random smattering of all manner of tackle. In reality, spending a mortgage payment’s worth on new stuff is a mistake (sorry, tackle manufacturers everywhere…) that makes giving any one of them a fair shake next to impossible. Too many options become overwhelming when you’re out in the boat later on. You’re better off limiting your purchases to a couple examples from a couple different brands. Better still if they differ slightly from one another so you can get a sense of how design variation changes performance. 3 virtually identical baits from 3 different companies doesn’t gain you much in terms of evaluating baits later on.

When it’s time to buy, choose colors you already have confidence in or that you know, based on past experience, are good fits for the waters you fish. Bass Pro Bob might knock them dead on Blue Back Herring pattern baits down in Kentucky, but that might not translate to where you fish, and colors you like or know work will give you a lot more confidence to try the bait later on. A couple different types in a couple color patterns gives you a manageable selection to choose from. Whatever you do, keep the shopping list short, and be sure to include any special components like technique-specific hooks or weights.

Finally, a critical step: Assemble an experiment box with just the lures you want to try out during the upcoming season. Dumping all your new stuff in with your regular lineup makes it too easy to overlook them when you’re on the water. An untried newcomer has a tough time competing for attention when it’s sitting next to an old favorite.

I keep a small tackle bag filled with this season’s experiments, in their own small Stowaway boxes, on the front deck of my boat throughout the season. (Tripping over the bag from time to time helps me remember I meant to try something new…) Into the box should go the new lures, any necessary rigging components, and most importantly, a ziplock bag with your notes on when and how this technique has been successful for others, and a small note pad and pen. The card can help jog your memory on the water, and help you apply your new tactic with a lot more focus. The notepad is used for writing down thoughts and observations as you try your new tactic. These notes are critical later on.


Now the fun part – and the hard part.

Many experiments with new lures and new techniques fail not because they’re no good, but because they were tried at the wrong moment. Usually that wrong moment is when nothing else is working. Experimenting becomes an act of desperation, and it’s rarely successful. Lack of immediate success can ruin your confidence in a new technique, and prevent you from giving it an honest evaluation down the road.

The right time to experiment is when you’re already catching fish with something else. It takes some mental toughness to do this. We’re all out there to catch fish and have fun, so it’s hard to put down something that’s catching fish to try something that may or may not work, but that’s precisely when experimenting is most valuable. It’s the best way to give yourself an honest comparison between what you already know works and what you’re trying to learn.

In order to do this successfully, you need to be a little bit prepared. As I head out on the water for the day, I consider whether or not I’m likely to run into situations that might fit my list of experiments. If I am, I’ll have a rod rigged and ready to try. Dropping a hot bait to try something completely new is bad enough. Dropping a hot bait to dig out a new lure, re-rig, and then try something new is more than most of us, including me, are willing to put up with. Have it rigged and ready. As you try your new tactic, go back to what was working before once in a while to keep tabs on the bite. A new tactic failing because the bite died doesn’t tell you much in the long run.

The key step in the execution phase? Record your results. Each time you try your new tactic, take a moment to jot down observations on the notepad on your experiment bag. Take note of how well you did, but also conditions like wind, water temp, water clarity and cover/structure details. Did you learn anything about different brands, or technical details like retrieve speed or rigging? Note too how much time you spent on the new technique. The sooner you can write these things down, the better. Ideally, do it out in the boat, on the spot, rather than that night or the next day. Details fade quickly, and accurate observations really help later on. Your notes don’t have to be literature, and jotting down a few observations takes a minute or two at most. After a while, it becomes a habit, like pulling up the trolling motor or putting away your rods.


The final step in the process occurs after the season is over: evaluating your results.

As you clean out your gear and get ready for the new season, one of your tasks should be going through your experiment box notes. You’ll be surprised not only at the amount of information that’s there, but also at how certain trend seem to jump out at you when your observations are taken as a whole. You might find that the technique was most successful in low light conditions, or around certain kinds of structure. You’ll often be surprised at how your notes differ from your memories. You might recall catching 30 fish on a particular day, when the reality was closer to 10 or 15. More telling is often the time spent vs. fish caught. You might have caught 50% of your fish with a new lure on a given day, and that’s your lasting impression. But the perception changes when you realize you used it 80% of the time that day.

As you mull over your notes, it’s decision time.

Did you give the technique a fair shake? If not, maybe it stays in the experiment box for another season. Was it successful enough to earn a spot in the starting lineup next year? If so, refer to your notes on rigging, observations on which brand you liked best, and why, and use that to inform your shopping when you stock up for next season.

Or, did your experiment fail? Maybe it just doesn’t fish your fishing style or the waters where you spend your time. Maybe you already have techniques in your bag of tricks that fit the same conditions, but are more successful or more efficient. Not everything works, and what works for someone else may just not be your thing. If an experiment falls flat, your small supply of lures didn’t set you back too much, and you can either toss them on the next garage sale, or in the basement, without losing much sleep over it.

As fun as new lures are, in the long run it pays to be a little cold-blooded about evaluating your experiments’ success or failure. There are too many options out there to spend time and money on something that was only marginally successful.

Expanding the methodology

As some of you have probably already figured out, this 3-phase methodology isn’t limited to new lures or new techniques.

I take the same approach to new angling situations. Targeting open water smallmouth bass is a good example. I’ve applied this methodology to open water smallies for the past several seasons. Each season the experimenting and off-season evaluation gets a little more precise, and the notes and observations get a little more detailed. It’s an ongoing process, and one that really never ends.

It’s also, with some modifications, a great way to dissect a new body of water. Divide the lake into manageable segments before the season begins, keep notes and mark up a map for each segment, then compile the results in the off season. Seasonal patterns and location details that get lost in the moment really jump out at you when you compare your observations over time. In the end, these kinds of big picture observations are far more valuable than simply marking spots on a map at random.

Hot lures and new techniques are a lot of fun, but success with them can be fleeting, or non-existent, without a little thought and planning. Apply a rational methodology to your experimenting this year, and you’ll learn more, and in the long run, catch more fish.

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Very well written article. I have made many of those mistakes you mention, especially in the buying part, but hey I figure I am just doing my part to stimulate the faltering economy.

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RK- you should write a nice little article on cranking weeds. Maybe this could be your tip of the week or something?!?

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Hiya -

I should make clear that I don't go to these extremes for every new lure. A new crankbait doesn't get this treatment smile I really only do it when I'm trying to learn an entirely new technique. I did it a couple years back when I wanted to figure out drop shotting, and before that it was probably Carolina rigs, which I'd really not done much of. Most recently it's been soft swimbaits, which have been in the experiment box for a couple seasons now.

TonkaBass- might have to do that. It really is one of my favorite ways to fish in mid to late summer...


Rob Kimm

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