Tools of the trade
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- From the most famous celebrity fisherman to the humblest worm-dunker, every angler has a favorite lure or bait.
Bass anglers are no exception. They might carry three tackle boxes' worth of lures with them, but they inevitably gravitate toward the one or two that have caught fish when nothing else would.
So which baits seem to work best in West Virginia? The Sunday Gazette-Mail asked some prominent Mountain State bass anglers to identify their favorites:
"I'd go with a 4-inch [rubber] finesse worm," said Starks, a two-time winner on the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit and the first West Virginia pro to earn a spot in the Bassmaster Classic.
"At any given time I have 150 of them in the boat, and they're all the same color - watermelon candy. I like them because they're so versatile. You can fish them on a shaky [jig] head, you can fish them [hooked in the middle] 'wacky style,' you can fish them on a drop-shot rig and you can Texas-rig them.
"For the kind of fishing around here, a finesse worm seems to present the best profile for a lot of different habitats. It's my mainstay."
"Give me a buzzbait any time," said Shelley Perry, a former fixture on the Lady Bass Anglers Association's Women's Pro Bass Tour.
"I'm a top-water junkie. I'd throw a buzzbait all day if I could. Buzzbaits are universal lures. You can throw it just about anywhere, and you can retrieve it in a variety of ways. My favorite buzzbait is a silver-bladed 3/16-ounce model with a white skirt. It matches the silvery color of most baitfish.
"When I was fishing tournaments, I used it as more as a search bait. Active fish would hit it, and I'd then use other techniques to try to catch the others. Now I'm happy to fish buzzbaits all day."
Andy and Mark Godwin
"We like anything on the end of a flipping stick," said Andy, who, along with his brother, Mark, fishes in many bass tournaments throughout the state.
"We like flipping big jigs or tube baits or soft crawfish lures to fish in shallow water, and one of our favorites is a brown, 3/8-ounce Jewel Eakins Flipping Jig. We like it because it fishes well in dirty water or in clean water.
"We fish them around heavy cover, and we've done very well with them. They're weedless, so they allow us to fish all that structure without the fear of getting hung up."
"I favor a 3 1/2-inch tube bait," said Wishart, the fishing department manager at Adventures on the Gorge and Mountain State Anglers.
"You can fish it in several different ways. You can swim it and imitate a baitfish, or you can jig it and imitate a crawfish. You can use it for largemouth and smallmouth bass, and you can fish it in rivers or in lakes.
"I do most of my fishing on the New River for smallmouths, and smallmouths are crazy about crawfish. I prefer colors that create the impression of a crawfish, and my favorite color is dark watermelon with a red flake.
"It's very effective on smallmouths. I like to joke that the best imitation of a tube bait is a crawfish."
"For me, it depends on the type of bass fishing I'm doing," said Dowler, a former tournament angler and retired Division of Natural Resources wildlife chief.
"If I were smallmouth fishing, it would be a [plastic] jig or grub; if I were largemouth fishing, it would be a 7-inch rubber worm, black or pumpkin-colored, fished Texas-style.
"The 7-inch worm is really a very, very versatile lure. It can be fished shallow or deep, just by varying the size of the weight. I like it because the Texas rig makes it weedless, and that allows you to keep it in contact with the structure at all times. When you're fishing rocks or stumps or [sunken trees], you can really feel what's going on down there."
"The tube jig," said Randy Huffman, Secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection and avid bass angler, when asked for his favorite.
"I focus on smallmouth fishing on the New and Kanawha rivers, and that's the most effective lure I've found for that purpose. It's really versatile - you can hop it, you can swim it or you can just dead-stick it. The versatility makes it a go-to bait. I would challenge anyone to take any lure on the Kanawha and try to equal it.
"Given we're primarily fishing rock and wood cover, with crawfish as the primary food base, tube baits make sense because they imitate crawfish really well. My favorite color is green pumpkin with gold, blue or red flake. In dirty water, I like black. And I rig mine Texas-style to make them weedless."
"I love buzzbaits," said Preston, the DNR's current fisheries chief.
"To me, they're the most fun lures you can fish. You can cover a lot of water with them, and there's nothing more fun than watching a bass blow up on one as it skims along the surface.
"I prefer smaller buzzbaits, usually 1/8 ounce. With a light, 6 1/2-foot spinning rod, you can cast those little buzzbaits all day long. The best times to fish them are early or late in the day, but bass will often take them even during the heat of the day, especially on smallmouth streams."
Reach John McCoy at email@example.com or call 304-348-1231.