Forty years ago, I was a wide-eyed youngster who sat fascinated in the basement of our family home and watched my dad and his closest friend and fishing buddy, Ed Barta, make fishing tackle during the dreary Iowa winters when they weren't out somewhere on the ice
It was largely a lunchbox undertaking that included a small cook stove, a blow torch, a couple of Do-It jig molds, a cast-iron ladle, a pliers, a few pounds of scrap lead and a box or two of jig hooks. A couple of hours later, their efforts took the shape of the jigs we would cast, largely for walleyes, from our local Cedar River in Northeast Iowa to the shores of Lake Pepin on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border
Later, those jigs would be painted with assorted lacquers, and many would then be tied with bucktail or "fantasy fur" purchased usually by mail order from Herter's, which in those days was the equivalent of Cabelas.
Creativity was always part of the process. I vividly remember the day they drilled holes in some of the jig heads they had poured and glued a band of bristles in place that extended out from the sides of the jig head like the whiskers of a willow cat
Some days, dad and Ed made French-style spinners that caught everything from walleye, bass and northern pike to crappies during our Lake Pepin outings. Using a wire twister they fashioned themselves, they turned out spinners that rivaled name brands like Mepps
As I grew older, I became more involved in these activities. And eventually, I was hooked on tackle-crafting. There's something almost magical about turning raw materials into things that facilitate your passion for fishing. And there is a tremendous satisfaction in catching fish on something you've created
Even today, with 12 years of walleye tournament experience and a dozen techniques at my disposal, I'd rather fish one of my home-made jigs than anything else. And the fact of the matter is, I've caught more walleyes between 8 and 10 pounds on jigs I've made than any other lure
Obviously, I use a lot of jigs, not to mention sinkers and in-line weights. If I went to the local tackle store or purchased everything I need from an on-line retail outlet, it would probably cost me thousands of dollars.
Because I was introduced to tackle-crafting, I am able to produce what I need from an initial investment of 0 or so in Do-It products. I always have exactly the size and color of jig or sinker I want for a particular situation, and I always have enough in my tackle boxes to supply my fishing partners when needed
Here's an inventory of hand-crafted tackle I always have on hand:
- Painted, round jig heads in 1/16th, 1/8th, 1/4th, 5/16th and 3/8th ounces. I use these for fishing both plastics and live bait like shiners and crawlers.
- Painted short-shank jig heads in the same sizes. These are ideal for fishing fatheads or leeches because the bait is closer to the head of the lure, making it more compact and realistic.
- Round-headbucktail and hair jigs, also in the above-noted sizes. I like jigs with these body materials when I'm pitching to structure because the hair or bucktail gives them a bit more buoyancy as they drop and gives fish a better chance to inhale them. During periods of the year when fish are feeding heavily, such as late spring and fall, I use them with no bait. During periods when the fish are a bit more sluggish or a little more fussy, they can be tipped with minnows or other live bait.
- Banana-headbucktail and hair jigs in 1/4th- and 3/8th-ounce sizes. Because of the head design, these jigs have slight stand-up properties, which makes them ideal for situations where fish are tight to the bottom and the best way to get after them is by vertical jigging. I frequently tie a small treble hook into these jigs as a stinger hook to help with fussier fish.
- Split shot, egg sinkers, pencil weights, walking sinkers, bell sinkers, in-line keel weights and minnow-bodied weights. To be efficient and effective, it's important to have the right sinker for each situation, whether you are slip-bobber fishing, dragging live bait, trolling spinner rigs or trolling crankbaits in deep water.
- A few French-style, silver spinners. The flash and vibration these lures provide when casted and retrieved can sometimes trigger strikes from fish that don't seem interested in anything else, and they can attract a fish's attention from a significant distance
I'm a better-equipped and more efficient angler because my father taught me the art of tackle-crafting. Like the sport of fishing itself, it's an enjoyable pasttime that has enriched my outdoor life.
Pass it on.