OUTDOOR CORNER: Bait manufacturers turn to culinary world

Lyle Johnson

The popularity of chef Emeril Lagasse led many Americans to not only enjoy cooking shows but he introduced us into the culinary world in a way that has changed the way we cook and eat as well. Even though I was already a pretty good cook, I’ve learned quite a lot.

What has that got to do with the outdoors? Well, artificial bait manufacturers have stepped into the culinary world of fish in a pretty successful attempt to fool them into thinking they are biting and holding on to something that’s real. This is not a new strategy as the attempt to manufacture natural type baits has been around for nearly a century here in America.

My first experience this arena was when I was fishing with my grandfather, Roy Marchand. He was a fly-fisherman extraordinaire and targeted bream mostly but he’d fish for bass with his fly rod as well.

His bait of choice was a skunk bait; a spinner-type with a hair skirt. He used a little white strip that was called pork rind as a trailer. That little white strip was effective and paw paw Marchand knew how to use it.

The pork rind was made by one of the pioneers in using natural components for fishing; Uncle Josh’s Bait Company. Alan Jones founded Uncle Josh’s in 1922 in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. He and a fishing buddy fished Jordan Lake and frogs were their favorite bait, but a shortage of the live frogs was the inspiration for the “pork” baits that are used as additions (trailers) to other lures.

The “jig-and-pig” came to popularity around 35 years ago and quickly became one of my favorite tactics. The two “legs” have incredible action and the bulk of the bait makes the jig fall very slowly. This is a killer in the winter time as bass and other fish slow down in the cold water making the slow presentation irresistible.

Another of my favorite of the Uncle Josh’s trailer usually finds itself on the back of a Snagless Sally; that would be a spring lizard. The trailer is a little long and accompanied with the inline spinner, makes the bait about six inches long. Big bait—big fish, and I still like to use it.

Occasionally, I take out my fishing photos and as I look at some of the really big stringers caught in the winter included an Uncle Josh pork trailer of some kind. Pork fat still rules and you can find all their products at

Uncle Josh had a corner on the market for a long time. As time went on human intuition and the unquenchable desire to fool a bass into striking and holding on to a lure eventually led to others experimenting with smell, feel and taste.

Spray attractants were developed and gained popularity about 25 years ago. A few scents were available and added smell to already effective plastic worms. Science on the product advanced as the years went on and one can find nearly as many different scents in a tackle store as a chef can find in the seasoning department in a grocery store.

Then somebody figured out the infusion aspect. Plastics are liquefied and poured into a mold, so why not add some seasoning to the mix. Salt was added into the liquid and flavor was added to spice up plastic baits that made fish hold on longer resulting in catching more fish.

The list of flavors has grown and going down the aisle in the fishing department is a little like a deli. Garlic is one of the most popular flavors; no, not to humans but fish too. Crawfish, crab and shrimp are available as well. Are we cooking a gumbo here? No, we’re fishing.

Berkley was the next innovator when it introduced its PowerBait line. PowerBait is still a plastic but the infusion method used makes fish hold on much longer. Berkley really stepped this technology up when the Gulp and Gulp Alive was developed.

All plastic baits are heated and an oil-based resin is added in the process. This oil actually shields the flavors from leaking out of the bait into the water. When the fish swallows the baits, they taste it.

Gulp is made using water-based resins, thus the major difference in the two baits. This allows for much more scent distribution than with oil-based resins. Gulp disperses scent as soon as it hits the water because there is no oil barrier keeping the water out. This allows the bait to disperse an abundance of scent, expanding the strike zone by attracting fish that do not see the bait.

Gulp is biodegradable as well, so if a fish happens to swallow one, it will digest it like any other food. It’s stored in liquid, so if you use one for a while it can be returned to the liquid it comes in and in 15 minutes, it’s just like new.

I don’t suppose that I’m the only fisherman that has bitten the head off of a plastic bait to extend its life. What used to be a bland, rubber taste has changed over the years. Salt added made the worm taste a little better and last week I was using a brush hog that was salt infused and had been soaked with a garlic spray in an air-tight bag.

When I bit the damaged part off to use it one more time, it tasted really good. Almost made we want to put in between two slices of bread instead of eating the Vienna sausage I packed for lunch! Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. So until next time have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God bless you.