Las Vegas, Nev. What do sushi bars, coffee grounds and French field testers have in common? Individually, they provided the spark for the development of three new fishing lure product lines for three major manufacturers. And all three new products emphasize the fish senses of sight, touch and smell.
A sushi bar was the inspiration for Lucky Craft's new Real Skin Pointer jerkbaits . The Japanese company is headed by Saeko Segawa and her son, Minoru. They initially talked to taxidermists about adding real fish skin to the Pointer line. But when test models failed, they went to a sushi bar to eat and discuss the next possible step.
"It accidentally happened," said Minoru, who heads the company's U.S. sales.
When the sushi chef serving them started to discard something from his cutting board, the Segawas asked what it was.
"Just skin," the chef said.
Saeko and Minoru left the sushi bar fueled with food and the basic material that would allow them to put real fish skin on a hard plastic fishing lure. Well, it's actually squid skin in most applications.
"We're getting it from 15 sushi bars now," said Minoru.
Troy Gibson of Strike King Lures has been fishing since he was old enough to walk. And as a lure designer, he always pays attention to the forage fish in a particular body of water. Two years ago, Gibson competed in a Bassmaster Central Open on Texas' Lake Sam Rayburn. At the end of the day, while his co-angler went to get his vehicle and back the boat trailer in the water, Gibson ate a package of crackers and sipped the last cup of coffee from his thermos.
Gibson tossed some cracker crumbs in the water, so he could observe the sunfish that gathered to eat them. When he realized the last of his coffee was filled with grounds, he tossed it in the water on the other side of his boat.
"The bream left the crackers to go to the coffee grounds," said Gibson. "Then it turned into a feeding frenzy. Instead of just a few fish, it turned into 15 or 20. They looked like piranhas chewing those coffee grounds."
So Gibson thought about integrating a natural element, coffee, into the soft plastic process of manufacturing tube lures. The result is Strike King's new Coffee Tubes, which are coffee and salt impregnated.
Subsequent field tests on the lure have been so successful that Wednesday Gibson was predicting his creation would help some pro angler win the next Bassmaster Elite Series event, which concludes Sunday on Lake Erie.
For John Prochnow, the bait development director at Berkley, it was the international aspect of the company which helped inspire its new Berkley Gulp Alive! The packaging lets you know immediately that this is something new. The various worm, crawfish and baitfish biodegradable soft lures that were introduced previously as Gulp now come swimming in a solution of Alive!, which allows the soft baits to absorb up to 20% more of Berkley's fish attractant, preserves the natural shape of the lures and gives you the option of "recharging" a lure by placing it back in the solution.
Think about this in terms of how pork rinds have been packaged in liquid-filled jars for many years, only with a new twist.
It was Berkley's French connection that had Prochnow sending a test sample of four-inch Gulp sand worms overseas.
"Real sand worms there are like nightcrawlers here," said Prochnow.
Because of the time and distance involved, Prochnow wanted to make certain the soft baits didn't dry out, so he put extra liquid in the packaging. The reaction from the French field testing staff was instantaneous.
"They said, 'These are awesome. These look alive," said Prochnow.
Hence, the name, Berkley Gulp Alive!
But the thought process didn't end there for the Berkley development team.
"We started putting more liquid in the bags," said Prochnow. "Then we thought, 'Bags are good. But why not a bucket.'
"The baits don't deform in a bucket like they can in a bag. And it allows us to put more attractant in the baits. Plus, if you fish one of these baits for about half-an-hour, the scent is gone. You can put the bait back in the bucket and recharge it."
All three of these new lure lines from Lucky Craft, Strike King and Berkley show that sight will always be the initial gauge of a lure's success, but everyone is looking to the other senses of a fish in order to separate their lures from the pack in highly-pressured waters.
The various models of the new Lucky Craft Real Skin Pointers have suggested retail prices in the $20 range. Minoru Segawa knows that few anglers will pay $20 for a fishing lure, if a $5 lure will do the job.
"We are always trying to find higher quality bait that will work on tough lakes," said Segawa. The company's success has proven that price isn't an object when fish-catching performance is concerned.
As one pro angler, not connected with Lucky Craft, looked over the high prices of the swimbaits in ICAST's new products display Tuesday night, he said, "I thought I'd never pay $20 for a crankbait until I kept getting my butt kicked by guys throwing a Lucky Craft."
The Real Skin applications at Lucky Craft, like Strike King's new tube baits, have a coffee element in the process, according to Segawa. Coffee is used to dye the clear skin and give it just a hint of natural color that doesn't detract from the various color patterns painted on the lure bodies. The skin has a tiny dot pattern in it, which adds another natural-looking element to the lures.
As the Real Skin lures are used, that coat of skin will begin to get roughed up and show small scars in the skin. According to Segawa, that only adds to scent and texture elements in this lure and makes it more effective than when it's straight out of the box.
Apparently Bassmaster Elite Series pro Gerald Swindle made a believer out of himself during a fishing tackle show in Greensboro, N.C., earlier this year. After bass in a large casting aquarium grew tight-lipped, Swindle put on a Real Skin Pointer and caught each fish in the tank, twice.
When asked by Segawa if there was anything wrong with the lure, Swindle answered, "Yeah. I've only got two of them."
Again, the credit for this new concept must go to Minoru's mother, Saeko, who now has a quarter-century of experience managing Lucky Craft's Japanese manufacturing plant, where at one time toy robots were produced.
"She always enjoys a challenge," said Minoru. "She's always trying to do something new."
As in any business, it's always interesting to see where a new idea leads. Even Gibson was surprised by the visual element coffee added to the Strike King Coffee Tubes.
"You can't match it with conventional pigment dyes," said Gibson. "It adds this smoke, amber and brown tints, all three of which are in coffee. It turns soft plastic into something that's more natural. It gives it these earth tones without using pigment."
And even though this didn't initially figure in Gibson's thinking, the coffee grounds go back to his early days of fishing, when he lived in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The gumbo mud in the Mississippi River delta of northeast Arkansas is great for holding water and growing rice. But it's lousy for raising earthworms. Gibson learned as a youngster to add coffee grounds to break up the soil and provide the worms with nourishment.
Of course, with a multimillion dollar laboratory and chemical engineers on staff, the thinking gets highly scientific before Berkley presents a new product. But, according to Prochnow, who has 21 years experience at Berkley, while innovative, the new Gulp Alive! is simply a new delivery system for the scent that has made PowerBait a popular brand for years.
"For fish to detect chemicals in water, they've got to be water soluble," said Prochnow. "This gives us a way to get more water soluble scent in the water."
Many years ago Berkley scientists tried grinding up various natural fish baits, but found nothing especially useful in the results. So they went to a chemical by chemical taste-testing method to gradually refine the fish attractant formula produced today.
While the formula is top secret, said Prochnow, "I will tell you this. There is no one secret ingredient."
As with any new fishing lure, no matter how sophisticated or simple the thought behind it, angler success will determine product success. Check back one year from now and see whether the sushi bar, the coffee grounds or the French field testers sparked this year's best new fishing lures.