As a builder tinkering and modifying baits to do what I wanted always came natural. I will even bring cordless drills and tool kits just in case I need to “tune a bait” when on the road but these days that’s a rarity. I used to think you needed special tools to make adjustments to baits but thats far from true. In an effort to help anglers get the most out of their tools I want to lay out a few things I do to hard baits on the fly that can turn one bait into the Swiss Army knife of lures.
Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration but it definitely helps when you can carry one bait that does multiple things. Enter the “Toxic Baits Game Day Tuning pack”. I know that looks like a shameless plug, so you can look at what is included in the pack and make your own if you’d like. I always carried these components in my boat to do on the fly mods but putting it in a box and all in one place is uber convenient. The “kit” includes; 4 pre-ringed st-36 Owner treble hooks(2 size #1 and 2 in 1/0), 6 Worth SS replacement rings in 2 sizes, 2 150lb stay loc snaps, 6 lead hook weights, and a new addition, 4 squares of lead tape. All of these can be used to quickly mod or tune up ANY hardbait that uses these hook sizes. The hooks are pre-ringed and ready to go for convenience and speed. If you have a fish bend a hook or feel the hook points are less than laser sharp you can quickly and easily make the change to a new hook. The rings are there for the same reason but you can also use the extra rings to double up the rings on your treble hooks to help them hang lower. Doubling up can help when the fish are kind of off and maybe just swiping at the baits. This happens often with the body of water I fish. That’s the tune up side. not much to it so lets talk mods.
Although these components can be used on any style hardbait modifications can really shine on floating lipped wake or crank down style baits. This style bait is my obsession. There are so many things you can do with them and using lead tape and weights to extrapolate on their uses is just a bonus. I often get requests for baits that crank down further or suspend. While turning a high floating wakebait into a suspender can be quit a chore, slowing the float rate and getting the bait to crank deeper is not.
First thing you want to think about is the dive angle a bait is taking. Usually a bait will float level on the surface or slightly nose down. I like my baits to be slightly angled nose down. I like this posture because I really like cranking baits subsurface and slow crawling my wakes. This face down ass up position allows that tail to wag freely on the wake presentation and my bait to achieve the best depth on the crank down. Nose down also seems to allow the bait to come through cover best since the lip is leading the charge and due to the angle of the bait the trebles are protected. I really crash my baits through cover so this is a huge bonus. There are different ways to achieve this and all are effective. A quick and easy method is to apply squares of lead tape behind the lip. Each square is about a half gram and you can stack them on top of each other to build up the weight. Doing this can slow the head wobble/roll a bait has but usually not much. If more weight is needed or you don’t want to effect the action you can also add a hollow lead weight to the shank of the front treble hook. Weight on the trebles rarely effects bait action because it swings freely from the bait.
Another easy mod and effective fish catcher is simply adding a treble to the front hanger that is either one size larger or a more heavy duty hook. Switching from 1x trebles to 3x trebles or size 1 to size 1/0 is a great way to change bait posture and also maybe catch more fish due to the larger front hook. I like to use these methods during the warmer seasons and when I am fishing aggressively for reaction bites. If the fish are in a more neutral mood and I’m fishing the bait with longer pauses or I want the bait to suspend I prefer to have the lure float horizontal. I know that nose down can be interpreted as “feeding position” but to be honest with you, I’ve never found baits that suspend or pause and hang in that way to be greatly productive. When you get that bait to sit horizontal on that slow float and pause the fish can rip the rod out of your hands. This is easy to achieve by adding equal weighting to the front and rear half of the baits. I prefer to use the weight on the hook shanks. It is relatively straight forward just be careful not to add too much to the rear half where it kills the action of the bait. Sometimes it takes a little bit of experimentation. If the hooks weights aren’t enough you can take the tape and wrap it around the weight and hooks also. I have never noticed any loss of hooked fish or missed hook ups due to the extra lead being on the hooks.
Something I do sometimes in the summer months that can be effective is adding weight to only the rear half of a bait making it float tail down with the nose on the surface. I like to toss baits that sit like this next to floating overhead cover and fish them with long pauses. Letting the bait sit there with the nose touching the surface and the whole profile hanging visible to the fish can be tantalizing but the key is to trigger the lookers into biters. I do this by interrupting the long pauses with fast hard pulls. Although weighting the rear half can kill the action of a bait in some instances, when using this technique to doesn’t matter. Im pulling the bait hard and fast about 2 feet at a time. This makes it bubble, splash and bulldog through the surface causing quite a commotion. Fish usually crush the bait right when you pull the bait and it can be heart stopping.
Tuning hardbaits isn’t limited to the lipped variety but lipless swimmers are usually less effected. Most are already sinkers so adjusting float rate isnt nessecary but there is a few things you can do to change the action and performance of the baits you have. With lipless multi joint swimmers one of the first things I do is add some lead tape in front of the front treble hook to help keep that head down on the burn. This also helps greatly when fishing deeper, for suspended fish, or casting shallow to deep and fishing uphill. The weight forward ballast will help keep it down where you want it during the retrieve. This about the only thing I do on these style baits but it definitely comes in handy year in and year out.
Lead tape and glide baits are the real gold in my opinion though. Lead tape can change a glide from mediocre to a gem with a couple quick sticks. Glides are so sensitive to ballast change it can make or break them. One of the biggest things that can make a glide less effective is when they nose up on the pause or when action is imparted. Deps sells lip weights to help counter act this on their slide swimmers but its not a perfect tune. Adding too much can kill the distance a bait glides out or actually make it do noise dives when using the rod to impart action. This is why I prefer lead tape. You can add squares to the same location as you would insert a lip weight into a Deps 250 but it is far more adjustable. I basically apply tape and make a cast. If its not enough I dry off the bait and stick another square on and make a cast. By adding weight in small increments it is not hard to achieve the perfect tune. If you would like to change the bait back to stock at anytime just peel off the weights. It is literally that easy.
Now im sure these are just the tip of the iceberg and many readers probably have plenty more mods that are killer. These are just the basic things i do to my baits when Im out on the water trying to put more fish in the boat. Sure, I can make any bait I want and have a box full of baits that are very specialized for certain situations, but that’s not how I personally prefer to roll. I would much rather carry a couple baits and a box of goodies that allows me to turn two baits into many. Don't forget to pick up the Xuron Split ring pliers. Take it from someone who does it for a living, these are the best and most versatile ring pliers on the market. Period.