Techno-Baits - Major League Fishing


April 30, 1999 • Glenn Edwards • Archives

Technology has been good to Berkley and to the bass anglers who use their products. Berkley’s soft Power Baits, developed through years of research at a substantial financial investment, demonstrate that science can hatch exceptional fishing lures. Extensive lab and field tests confirm that the scent in Power Bait encourages bass to hold on longer
than scents used in other lures. Even skeptics have come to accept this fact.

Encouraged by their success with Power Bait, Berkley decided to apply science to hardbaits, specifically to crankbaits. Thus began four years of intensive research that eventually resulted in crankbaits proven to deliver unmatched bass appeal. Berkley dubbed the new line of crankbaits-Frenzy.

Developing these high-tech lures was anything but a frenzied endeavor. The methodical process required input from a staff of scientists and computer technicians, plus accomplished bass pros Jay Yelas and Gary Klein. Only a company with Berkley’s resources and dedication could consider such an undertaking.

Berkley’s initial investment, to the tune of $1 million, was the construction of a hardbait laboratory. The testing equipment includes a water tunnel with a video system and a 60-foot long by 13-foot deep casting pool.

The water tunnel, a device similar to a wind tunnel used by the aeronautics industry to design aerodynamic aircraft, allows Berkley to precisely measure the intricate motions of fishing lures. This has never been done before, and it revealed why some crankbaits are so much more effective than others.

At the onset, Berkley researchers interviewed hundreds of anglers to determine the top four crankbaits. They were determined to learn exactly which of these lure’s actions trigger strikes from bass. Also tested were “pet” crankbaits from Gary Klein’s tackle box. These lures, for whatever reason, have unusual fish-catching abilities even though they
are indistinguishable from others of the same model. Most bass fishermen have come upon such lures.

The challenge of unlocking the mysteries of crankbait actions was given to hardbait lab technician Chris Pitsilos. With painstaking methodology, Pitsilos places crankbaits into the water tunnel, which looks like an oversized aquarium. The lures are painted black and rigged with white hooks so their movement is more accurately captured by a video camera.

As the crankbait wiggles, Pitsilos meticulously videotapes the lure from different angles while varying the speed of the water’s flow. The tape is then fed into a computer programmed with software developed to analyze crankbait actions. “The proven crankbaits we tested,” says Pitsilos, “all perform in what we call,” The Zone.”

The six basic components of lure motions, determined through the testing, include: yaw, rotation along the vertical axis; sway, side to side motions: surge, front to back motion; roll, rotation about the horizontal axis; heave, up and down motion; and pitch, degree of
displacement from the horizontal plane. “Every crankbait,” says Pitsilos, “exhibits each of these movements to some degree, but only one trait is common to all the most productive lures. That feature is one of the principle secrets to the performance
of Frenzy crankbaits.”

The research also determined other movements common to successful crankbaits. Though none of the original lures tested perform all the movements, these characteristics have been duplicated in Frenzy crankbaits.

Once the vital lure motions were uncovered, prototype lures were made and tested in the water tunnel. Berkley significantly accelerated this aspect of lure design by incorporating an advanced cad computer system. “We used what’s called rapid-prototyping,” says Steve Smith, Berkley’s product innovation manager for hardbaits. “The heart of the system is a Pro-Engineer computer program. We start with a file that depicts the shape of a crankbait design and make any modification we want on screen. We then transfer the file to a company that has rapid-prototyping equipment. In 24 hours we have a prototype of the modified crankbait we can test in the water.”

Prior to rapid-prototyping, a die had to be cut each time a lure was modified before a test crankbait could be made. This process takes four to six weeks and severely limits the number of modifications a company can make. The speedy system Berkley employed allowed them to make and test as many modifications as were necessary to achieve the desired results. “We went through 70 prototypes of one of our Frenzy lures,” says Pitsilos, “to get exactly the action what we wanted.”

Achieving the critical action wasn’t the only consideration. Crankbaits also must cast well under fishing conditions. An internal weight transfer system in Frenzy lures shifts the weight to the rear of the bait so it casts into the wind like a bullet. Once the retrieve begins, the weight moves to the nose for the proper swimming angle. Diving crankbaits also must dive fast, track true, stay deep longer and recover quickly after bumping over stumps and other objects. These were just some of the performance features insisted upon by Gary Klein and Jay Yelas.

The casting tank, with it’s underground Plexiglass observation side panels, let Berkley researchers observe the lures in action during normal cast and retrieve situations. The actual diving depth could be noted, as well as the diving curve and how the lure reacted to contact with stumps and boulders placed along the tank’s bottom. “To be an efficient tool,” says Klein, “a crankbait must cast easily into the wind, have a good feel and attitude during the retrieve, and come through cover. Frenzy covers all those bases.”

After a crankbait passed muster in the water tunnel and casting tank, it was turned over to Berkley researcher Dr. Keith Jones, the person responsible for developing the scents used in Power Baits. The Power Bait lab contains an oval pool with a lane around its perimeter. Live bass are released into the lane while lures are pulled around the tank
at precise speeds with an electric motor driven device. Berkley exposes 2,000-3,000 bass a year during the process of testing lures. No bass is shown the same lure more than once.

“We pick a variable, modify it, then take it back to the fish,” Jones said. “We changed lip shapes, moved line ties around, experimented with body shapes and hook sizes and locations. We documented which movements triggered positive and negative reactions from bass. The bass told us what they wanted in a crankbait, just as they did during the development of our soft plastic Power Bait.”

After testing prototypes on lab bass, the most promising versions were taken into the field and presented to wild bass under real fishing conditions. This enviable job fell into the hands of Smith and Berkley’s in-house fishing expert Barry Day. These avid bass anglers seined Minnesota, Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida bass waters with Frenzy crankbaits.

Two anglers in a boat each fished a different crankbait, alternating lures every half hour. The test results were tabulated after at least 100 bass had been caught. The initial tests were positive, but Frenzy crankbaits didn’t perform best on every outing. This just wasn’t good enough for Berkley. The prototypes went back to the labs for more tweaking.

“We continued refining Frenzy crankbaits,” says Day, “until they caught at least 30 percent more bass than popular competitive brands. In some cases, they out-fished leading brands two to one.”

The lifelike finishes for Frenzy crankbaits are the result of a new computer technology. A technician starts with a photograph or a realistic artist’s rendition of a fish on which bass feed, say, a perch. When the image is displayed on the computer’s monitor, the technician “lifts” the color image of the perch and wraps it around the computer generated contours of a Frenzy crankbait. It’s about as close to the real thing as you can get. To insure the finish holds up in rugged fishing conditions, Berkley opted for a chip-resistant holographic film. The finish is applied before the lures are assembled.

“A holographic finish is not like a flat chrome finish that throws off a reflection at a certain light angle,” Smith said. “Little chips of metal lie in disarray on a holographic surface. They allow light to dance with every movement. It’s kind of an iridescent, ever-changing affect. It looks much more alive.”

The six initial lures in the Frenzy line are available in seven seductive color patterns, and more colors will be added this year. The Frenzy Rattl’r, a lipless crankbait, comes in 1/4- and 1/2-ounce sizes. Frenzy Divers in 3/8- and 7/8-ounce sizes run at depths ranging from 5 -18 feet deep.

Day said, “One of our goals was to build each lure identically. The Frenzy the consumer ties on is identical to those our pros use.” Day claims every Frenzy crankbait runs true out of the box and no tinkering is necessary. Since switching hooks may change a lure’s action, Berkley matches Frenzy crankbaits with VMC Cone Cut trebles, the most popular replacement hook on the market.

“Berkley has established a new standard for crankbait performance,” says Klein, “just as it did in soft plastics. This is no gimmick. Frenzy crankbaits will be here forever.”