Live now : FLW College Fishing 2016 Chautauqua Lake

Customizing for a competitive advantage

Custom-painted Rapala Shad Raps by John Prior

In all sports, competitors always look for small details that will give them an edge. For a runner, it might be adding a revolutionary type of spike to his sprinting shoes or a certain cutting-edge regimen of hydration before a big race. For NASCAR drivers, there are tweaks and customizations mechanics can make to cars in an attempt to give them a performance advantage.

For anglers, the tweaks to tackle and equipment are infinite because of the limitless options of colors, shapes, sizes and actions of baits on the market. The competition isn't angler versus angler in this game. It's angler versus fish - and anything that gives you a leg up in that competition is good.

Why customize?

Baits being produced by top manufacturers are of increasing quality and options every year. The baits of today are light years ahead of the baits of yesteryear in terms of quality components, finishes and colors. Every manufacturer attempts to show fish something a little different from earlier versions of like baits. Some of the new finishes on the market are masterpieces of art and design and subsequently have dramatically increased the price of baits over the years.

There is an old adage that lures were made to attract anglers more than fish. That's not as true as most would think. The fact that there are so many bodies of water to fish from coast to coast and border to border and so many different colors, sizes and shapes of available forage that somewhere, at some time of year, there is a specific color and pattern that is the hot ticket to catching walleyes.

Chrome with a blue back might be red hot on Green Bay while chartreuse with a purple back might be an even hotter color at the same exact time up the Mississippi River. So, do manufacturers make every color for every single lake and river in the country? Of course not; that's just not feasible.

Another aspect of customizing color, for example, is that there might be a perfectly shaped bait with a perfect action for a certain time of year. However, another manufacturer might have the perfect color. If only you could have that color on the other bait. Through customization, the perfect combination can be had with one unique lure. Furthermore, confidence can be an anglers' greatest advantage, and just throwing a lure that looks perfect for the situation may help catch more fish.

John Prior of Ila, Ga., is skilled at customizing paint jobs for crankbaits and jerkbaits."It's all about customizing to the situation," said longtime custom-lure painter and designer John Prior of Ila, Ga. Prior is known in bass tournament circles as being a master crankbait and jerkbait painter.

He has an extensive list of bass pros that buy custom painted baits from him and he's done a lot of work painting baits that many walleye anglers like to throw, such as Rapala Shad Raps and Smithwick Rogues.

"About 42 pros have bought baits or had me paint baits for them, and several more have gotten them from these pros without me being involved," Prior said.

Prior has been working on bait painting and designing for more than 10 years now and paints more than 900 crankbaits per year.

Bait customization isn't about taking away business from manufacturers, either. Though most serious anglers buy more lures than they need, anglers looking to customize a particular lure often buy them in bulk.

"I'll get a call from a guy who wants 20 Rapala Shad Raps painted with a specific pattern for a lake where he's going to fish a tournament," Prior said. "That's 20 Rapala Shad Raps that were just sold in the name of custom painting. It's not about taking business from the big manufacturers; it's about making their great products even better."

Do it yourself or have it done?

Both vinyl and powder paints work well for coloring your plain lead jigs or retouching jigs worn through use.For anglers wanting to customize their own baits, there have been volumes of articles, tutorials and tips written about easy customizations like adding rattles, adding tail feathers to treble hooks, dying plastics and trailers, or adding weights to hard baits to make them suspend. But there are a plethora of bait customizations, from painting crankbaits to pouring lead jigheads.

Because of that, the first place you should start is in research. Several companies exist that cater to those brave souls wanting to customize their baits. One of the best resources for this topic is one of the most popular lure-customizing Web sites, called Tackle Underground (tackleunderground.com). TU, as it's referred to by its members, was created by Jerry Goodwin as a place to learn the tricks of the trade as well as share work and seek out some of the obsessively talented bait designers and painters in the custom-bait sub-industry. Nearly everything you've ever wanted to know about how to customize a bait has been discussed in their forums.

Once you've done the research on how to do the customization, the next step is to collect the equipment. For things like making your own skirts, the process is simple and inexpensive. However, when you get more advanced and look to airbrush your own crankbaits or pour your own leadheads, there will be a bit of startup capital required. Several of the top retailers for these components are listed at the end of this article.

Understanding what goes into customizing a lure, as well as what the benefits and pitfalls are, will help anglers better understand what they need from a veteran lure customizer before laying any money down.

Painting hard baits

Manufacturers put a lot of time and thought into the design of baits, and most are perfectly balanced straight out of the package. As they go through wear and tear over the years, their actions may be altered, and a custom paint job can be just the ticket for revitalizing a retired bait. Or, a bait may have the perfect action and just be lacking a key pattern that is a proven winner on a certain lake.

"The key to customizing an existing bait is moderation," Prior said. "A total custom paint job on a hard bait is not just shooting some paint on it in a killer pattern and then applying a nice, shiny clear coat for protection. It can be a great way to revive a bait or make it more productive, but it can also be a sure-fire way to ruin the action of the bait. A seasoned professional and weekend angler alike will peg you on a bait that you've ruined with too much paint.

Painting a Lucky Craft Stacee is not a beginner's task, but seasoned veterans like John Prior can produce works of art like this."I inspect every bait for dings and damage," Prior continued. "Then I sand and buff the bait ultra smooth. I do a bit of prep cleaning for superior paint adhesion. The lips are precisely masked before painting. Then I prime the bait and buff it smooth again and blow off excess primer. I apply a base coat and paint the bait to specification with an airbrush with top-of-the-line acrylic lacquer paint. I then put on the most durable clear coat that will last for the life of the bait and sign it with a guarantee that if the paint comes off, I'll repaint it for free. I'm trying to make the best bait possible every time. There are no cutting corners."

The newer Japanese baits on the market are some of the trickiest to paint. Plastic baits are a little more forgiving than balsa wood baits when repaiting, but care and experimentation has to be taken with each.

"The best time to tinker and experiment with your paint jobs on a bait is when the bite is really good," Prior said. "This way you can determine if certain action or color is making the bait better or worse. Everyone gets on a good bite now and again, and that's the time to pull out your baits and really see what works and doesn't work and not just throw one bait all day."

Customizing jigs and spinnerbaits

While customizing jigs and spinners is possible, the process is much different than that of hard baits. Safety should be a primary concern, especially when melting and pouring lead.

Once the mold is closed with a hook, the lead is poured into the holes in the top.Obviously there are customizations that can be done to existing jigs, but more and more anglers are buying molds and melting pots and pouring their own jigs to fit their own styles or to match the conditions they are faced with on new lakes. Some anglers just want to produce bulk quantities of a specific pattern, size or shape.

The lead is first melted in an iron pot like a Palmer Hot Pot 2, which retails for $39.95, or the top-of-the-line RCBS Pro-Melt Furnace that retails for around $319.95. Obviously the latter is much larger and makes the process much easier and less prone to accidental spills, etc.

Next, you need a mold like a Do-it Mold or a Hilts Mold to form the jigheads. You also need to purchase jig hooks that specifically match your mold, as well as gate shears for trimming excess lead. Lead can be purchased from most plumbing outlets and several fishing tackle retailers sell lead ingots.

Depending on your pot and the amount of lead to be poured, the lead is heated for 20 to 30 minutes. The hooks (and weedguards or base hole pins to form a cavity for later gluing in weedguards if desired) are inserted into the molds. The lead is poured into the mold in a well-ventilated area, preferably while wearing safety goggles and gloves. After a few seconds, the jigheads are removed from the mold and hung on a rack in a baking oven to prepare for powder-paint coating.

Powder paint is available at most lure component and fishing retail outlets. Basically, you heat the lead to a point that it will melt the powder paint on contact when dipped into the paint.

"I have an electrostatic powder-coating system that allows me to coat 100 jigs at a time," Prior said.

The do-it-yourself angler can take a 2-ounce canister of powder paint, flip it upside down with the lid on and shake it. Then turn the canister right-side up very gently and remove the lid. This forces the powder to be loose on top. Heat the jighead with a lighter for several seconds, dip the head quickly into the powder and remove.

If you've done it right, the paint will melt immediately and appear glossy as it dries. If you heat the jighead too much, it will smoke when the paint goes on. If you failed to get the jighead hot enough, the paint will appear powdery on the head and not adhere.

Powder paint will chip easily if just applied with direct heat and then cooled. However, if you bake the paint on for a specified amount of time under moderate heat, it will develop a hard, enamel-like finish. Serious painters like Prior use baking ovens to cure the paint. A do-it-yourselfer can bake jigheads without weedguards in a toaster oven purchased at Wal-Mart for $30.

"Once I coat my jigs with paint, I bake the paint on at 325 to 375 degrees," Prior said. "I use an oven I built myself out of an old soda vending machine and installed heating elements and controls. I can cure 400 baits at one time if need be."

They even make powder paints to paint spinner blades and give them a translucent metallic look through the color. The process is the same for painting those as it is for jigheads. Several pros, like Tom Keenan and Ross Grothe, paint blades during tournament practice periods to try to find a winning combination that other anglers might not have tried.

Most touring pros customize their own live-bait rigs and crawler harnesses.

Walleye pro Julia Davis takes great care in customizing crawler harnesses for different situations."I'm always tinkering with beads and blades and making pretty combos," walleye pro Julia Davis said. "Maybe it's because I'm a woman, but I have a lot fun customizing and accessorizing my own harnesses."

Walleye teams often spend hours each night tying custom leaders for live-bait rigging, crawler harness combinations and other rigs in preparation for the next day's fishing.

Customizing to the next level

For some, customizing baits on their own is an endeavor that is neither enjoyable nor affordable. But those anglers may still want baits specific to their fishery. The good thing is there are a tremendous number of very talented bait customizers out there.

Born from customizing existing baits is the birth of new great ideas. Custom bait makers are thinkers and take an analytical approach to improving an existing idea or totally rewriting it.

Maybe it's human nature that drives us to find that one certain color or that one bait that is unique. Maybe it's the competitiveness with your cohorts that drives you to find a bait that you know they won't have. The point is there are more color options to the great baits that you love out there, as well as new designs unlike any you've seen before if you're willing to do a little research. Some resources to help in your search have been included in the sidebar above.


Hook up

Custom component sellers
The essentials for pouring your own jigheads are good, strong jig hooks, lead and gate shears for trimming excess lead off the head when pouring.Jann's Net Craft - jannsnetcraft.com
Barlow's Tackle - barlowstackle.com
Component Systems Inc. - csipaint.com
Do-it Molds - do-itmolds.com
Hilts Molds - hiltsmolds.com

Custom bait painters and designers (hard baits)
John Prior - aceintheholelures.com
Dale Sellers - sellerscustomlures.com
Tim Hughes - hughescustombaits.com
Kelly Barefoot and Mark Spolarich - customluresunlimited.com
Brian Huskins - brianscrankbaits.com
Rick Bedford - persuaderlures.com

Tags: jason-sealock  tech-tackle-reviews 

/tips/2016-07-23-1000-islands-day-3-midday-update

1000 Islands Day 3 Midday Update

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-22-1000-islands-midday-update-day-2

1000 Islands Midday Update Day 2

Day two of the Costa FLW Series Northern Division event presented by Mercury at 1000 Islands got started on a slightly different note this morning when FLW’s tournament directors declared Lake Ontario off limits due to hazardous conditions. The change threw a few of the top pros off their primary plans, but regardless the 137-boat field will be cut down to the top 10 after today, so adjustments need to be made in order to qualify to fish the weekend. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-19-flw-podcast-126-icast

FLW Podcast 126 - ICAST

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-14-2017-walmart-flw-tour-schedule

2017 Walmart FLW Tour Schedule

In what has become an annual tradition at FLW, the 2017 Walmart FLW Tour schedule was announced at a press conference and industry gathering held Thursday on the show floor at ICAST in Orlando, Fla. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-12-si-se-puede-yes-we-can

Si Se Puede ... Yes We Can

Mexico’s Lake Zimapan is different in many ways from the lakes to the north such as Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and California’s Clear Lake, but one element it has in common with those famous fisheries is big bass. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-11-5-rookie-lessons-learned

5 Rookie Lessons Learned

People have asked me what my first year on the Walmart FLW Tour was like. Well, it was like running headfirst into a hurricane for a few months. I came out the other side a little battered, bruised and smelling like fish. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-11-flw-podcast-125-scott-martin

FLW Podcast 125 - Scott Martin

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-08-review-lew-s-custom-speed-stick-lite

Review: Lew’s Custom Speed Stick Lite

Recently I had the opportunity to try one model in particular – the 7-foot, 4-inch Magnum Pitchin’ rod. After fishing with it several times, I’ve concluded that it performs as advertised, is sensitive and lightweight, and is well worth the money. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-08-reunited-and-it-feels-so-good

Reunited, and it Feels so Good

This year I really had a reunion with finesse fishing. Most of my better tournaments came from fishing some type of finesse presentation. Finesse tactics seemed to always give me a certain confidence about the day. While finesse tactics are nothing new to the game of bass fishing, this year I regained the confidence and joy of catching bass on smaller offerings. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-08-2016-icast-preview

2016 ICAST Preview

The doors to ICAST don’t open until next week, when everyone gets out on the showroom floor in Orlando, Fla., but there are already plenty of snippets of information available. FLW’s media crew will be there in full force to bring you coverage of the hottest new products, as well as the annual New Product Showcase awards. For now, take a gander at some of the early birds. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-07-flw-canada-kicks-off-at-tri-lakes

FLW Canada Kicks Off at Tri-Lakes

Among these Canadian all-stars was the eventual winning team of Chris Vandermeer of Peterborough and Jeff Slute of Millbrook. Capitalizing on a strong day one shallow-water smallmouth pattern, the duo took advantage of the slick-calm conditions using a silver-hued topwater popping plug to agitate the lake’s bronzebacks into attack. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-30-flw-tour-pro-cooksey-recovering-after-accident

FLW Tour Pro Cooksey Recovering After Accident

Walmart FLW Tour sophomore Dalton Cooksey of New Concord, Ky., is recovering at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee following a single-car accident that took place Wednesday afternoon. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-30-flw-podcast-124-jeremy-lawyer

FLW Podcast 124 - Jeremy Lawyer

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-29-stetson-blaylock-s-recipe-for-a-wacky-rig

Stetson Blaylock’s Recipe for a Wacky Rig

From March until the end of the fishing season I’m going to have a wacky rig on deck. It’s a really effective way to fish anytime the fishing is tough, or if the fish are up cruising banks. Anytime fish are about 5 feet deep or less, I can catch them on the wacky rig. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-28-morgan-claims-third-flw-tour-angler-of-the-year-title

Morgan Claims third FLW Tour Angler of the Year Title

MINNEAPOLIS – Livingston Lures pro Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tennessee, added to his incredible fishing resume by winning his third Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year title Saturday at the FLW Tour's final 2016 regular-season event on Lake Champlain.... READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-24-three-things-by-dd-kentucky-lake

Three Things by DD: Kentucky Lake

Kentucky Lake did not go the way I intended. I was pumped and ready to rock out a top-20 finish. I had great expectations of myself, but nothing seemed to come together. Practice was dicey, but I thought for sure I could put something together to make the cut. That was until day one came, and the whole vibe of my day instantly went from eager to agitated. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-23-how-to-catch-smallmouths-with-hair-jigs

How to Catch Smallmouths with Hair Jigs

The “right” hair jig for smallmouths is a small 1/16- to 1/8-ounce marabou jig with a round or mushroom-shaped head. The jig is similar to marabou jigs used by crappie fishermen, but bass models will often have a larger, stronger hook and possibly a longer or thicker skirt. Naturally, anglers have their favorites, and there are subtle differences in jigs that make some better than others. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-22-two-exciting-events-to-look-forward-to

Two Exciting Events to Look Forward To

We are in the last stretch of the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour. Awaiting us is the Lake Champlain tournament in just a few days. A couple of things will be settled there: the pro field for the Forrest Wood Cup and the Angler of the Year. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-21-tagging-along-with-sprague-in-kentucky

Tagging Along with Sprague in Kentucky

Through the first four events of the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour season, Jeff Sprague finished inside the top 20 every time and challenged for the win at Beaver Lake. After stop No. 4 on Pickwick, Sprague took over the lead in the Angler of the Year race. This is the story of his first tournament as the AOY leader – stop No. 5 on Kentucky Lake. Currently, Sprague is preparing for the finale on Lake Champlain. He’s in second place in the AOY standings. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-19-waunakee-hs-wins-wi-title

Waunakee HS Wins WI Title

The Waunakee High School duo of Colin Steck and Nathan Lorenz brought a five-bass limit to the scale Sunday weighing 13 pounds, 3 ounces, to win the 2016 TBF/FLW High School Fishing Wisconsin State Championship on the Minocqua Chain of Lakes. The win earned the team trophies, the title of state champions and advanced the team to the High School Fishing Central Conference championship on the Ohio River in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, on September 23-24. READ MORE »