Outdoor Corner: A Sad Day

Lyle Johnson

Twelve years ago, I penned an article titled “Pork Fat Rules.” It was a tongue-in-cheek homage about a catchy phrase uttered by a very popular chef at the time that translated into a story about one of the most popular components in any serious bass anglers tackle box. It also won an Excellence In Craft Award for me at a Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association Conference.

Goodbye dear friend, it’s been nice knowing you.

The popularity of that chef, Emeril Lagasse’, led many Americans to not only enjoy cooking shows but introduced us to the culinary world in a way that has changed the way we cook and eat as well. Along with the ever-popular catch phrase “Bam!,” Lagasse’ used “Pork fat rules” when he used pork in any component of a dish he was preparing.

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; 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, Wis. He and a fishing buddy, Urban Schreiner, 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.

They were looking for a substitute for the real deal. Since Jones was the president of a meat packing company that specialized in sausage, pork fatback with the rind attached was available in spades. Down south, we already had a real good use for that piece of the pig; cracklins! That’s a different story.

The “jig-n-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.

Uncle Josh had a corner on the market for a long time. But 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.

Six year old Olivia Bergeron caught this bass on a jig under a cork in the Amite River Canal at the end of Summerfield South.

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.

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.

I’d quit using the Uncle Josh pork baits for quite a few years but in the past five or six years I started rummaging through my very old tackle and began to resurrect some of my old baits. The Snagless Sally came up on my list but you can’t really use them properly without the Uncle Josh trailers.

I began looking around at all the tackle stores and couldn’t find any. Not being in a big hurry, the quest went online about two years ago. When I searched Uncle Josh’s pork rinds my computer sent me to eBay. All I could find was used bottles, and they weren’t cheap!

Eventually I found the website but there were only a few of those small, white strips available. Alas, they weren’t being manufactured any more. They stopped making them as supply issues forced the decision, according to the company. “We couldn’t get enough of the right raw product to keep up,” explained Matt Bichanich, national sales manager for the Fort Atkinson, Wis.-based tackle manufacturer.

“The quality of pork fat we require for our products has been in short supply for more than five years. It got to the point where 90 percent of the pork we purchased to make product went to waste.”

To add insult to injury, Uncle Josh has finally decided to close it’s doors after 91 years. I nearly have a tear in my eye I’ll keep catching bass, it just won’t be using Uncle Josh pork fat products. I’ll say it one more time; “Pork Fat Rules’!!! So until next time, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you!