The must-have bass baits of the '90s - Major League Fishing

The must-have bass baits of the ’90s

MLF reporter Rob Newell revives the most “fly” bass baits of the 1990s
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September 2, 2023 • Rob Newell • Major League Lessons

It’s time to roll back the clock again to examine a few more lures that became fish-catching sensations over the years. In Part I of the trip down must-have memory lane, we reviewed the frenzy that Slug-Gos, Carolina-rigged lizards and neon floating worms created in the late 1980s and early ’90s. 

This time around, I’m going to venture through a few more of these red-hot must-haves from the ’90s. 

Clack and stack

In 1992, I attended my first Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham, Alabama, and witnessed the real world of professional bass fishing. Finally, I saw a group of guys who had a true obsession (like my own) for tournament bass fishing. For the first time, I got to see Denny Brauer and Tommy Biffle in person – real pros who used real lures to catch real bass. 

Goodbye pink worms, hello Lunker Lure Rattle Back Jigs

The hot buzzwords on the Classic show floor that year were Rattle Back Jigs and flipping sticks, and both sold like crazy. After all, who wouldn’t want to buy a fishing tool called a “flipping stick?” The name just echoes bravado, like it could double as a personal protection device. 

I had come to the mecca of tournament bass fishing to be anointed as a “flipper and a pitcher.” Along with everyone on the show floor, I walked around clutching a bag of Rattle Back Jigs and a couple of 7-foot, 6-inch heavy action flipping sticks. Full disclosure: Yes, my flipping sticks had Denny Brauer’s name on them. 

I hadn’t even wet a Rattle Back yet, but just carrying the “sticks,” automatically gave me the poetic license to talk “stick.” I’d bump into my buddies on the floor and I’d say, “Here’s the deal, I’m just fishing for five big bites in the club tournaments this year.” Or, “Yeah, well, I’m not going to get many bites, but when I do, they’ll be big ones.” 

When you carry Denny Brauer signature-edition flipping sticks around on the show floor, these words flow easily.

To be clear, jigs had been around for many years previous to the Lunker Lure Rattle Back. They were a staple in many angler’s tackle boxes and had a solid reputation as fish producers. Pitching and flipping was not exactly novel, either, but the loud clack in the Rattle Back was the new wrinkle that made this whole package a must-have. 

The ingenious design of the Rattle Back featured a large, loud rattle chamber molded into the head of the jig, but it still left clearance for any kind of chunk, craw or bug you wanted to thread on as a trailer. When you shook the jig in midair, the rattle was loud (and even louder underwater). I know this because I used to snorkel down to the dark depths of 2 feet in lakes to see how far I could hear the rattle. The clack could be heard from 10 to 15 feet away, teasing fish for the entire circumference of a healthy willow or buck bush. The longer you left it in the cover and just shook it, the more efficiently bass could hunt it down and find it due to the clacking. 

The aggression of the bite was “full send.” Pitching a Rattle Back was like playing with electricity – when you got hit with a jolt, there was no question about it. I caught enough fish on a Rattle Back to understand the thrill of being thumped in shallow water cover. To boot, I even had the privilege of sharing a boat with Tommy Biffle during a BASS Invitational on Lake Eufaula in the mid-1990s where I got to see a true short-string master at work. Biffle and I spent the day fully involved in a Rattleback clack and stack (I did most of the clacking, he did most of the stacking). 

Mega tubes

Once flipping and pitching became a hot technique through the ’90s, a lot of shallow-water cover throughout the country got pummeled by bass anglers of all skill levels. Bass eventually wised up to big, loud, bulky presentations and the dedicated flippers had to reach into their bag of tricks for a sneakier offering. 

In order to downsize a flipping bait for a more subtle presentation, flipping experts in the Ozarks simply took a finesse staple – a 3-1/2-inch tube jig, or Gitzit – and began pitching it on heavier line into shallow cover. Once this little morsel was exposed nationally by pro angler Doug Garrett with his 1997 BASS Megabucks win, the flipping tube or “mega tube” was born. Beefed up to 4 inches, with additional thickness and toughness, the mega-tube flipping craze was on. Brauer would eventually push the flipping tube to universal bass fishing must-have status with his 1998 Bassmaster Classic win.

The flipping tube was often used with an offset EWG style hook or a Shaw Grigsby HP hook, a kahle-style hook that clipped to the head of the tube to keep it from “balling up” upon hookset. In the skilled hands of a flipping technician, the bait made a splash-less entry into the water that would earn a 9.9 in Olympic diving. Due to its hollow nature, the tube would often “burp” up a couple of air bubbles upon impact to the bottom, which added another subtle effect to the bait. 

There were a few tricks guys imparted to the tube as well. The cavity allowed anglers to get creative with sweeteners such as small glass rattles and absorbent material that held scent. 

The flipping tube was the first lure that opened my eyes to the real impacts of fishing pressure. I’ve had many anglers tell me the tube was literally magic when fishing shallow cover on heavily pressured shallow banks, especially around the spawn. I’ve watched guys in tournaments fish circles around other guys in popular areas with tubes. These days, the flipping tube still has a place in pro angler’s arsenals, but they’re not near as prevalent as they were when they reigned supreme in the ’90­­­­­­­­­s.

Flukes and Senkos

Following in the weightless footsteps of the Slug-Go and floating worms of the ’80s came the Flukes and Senkos of the 90s. Specifically, the Zoom Salty Super Fluke and the Gary Yamamoto Senko were massive must-have sensations when they hit the market and are still absolute staples in bass fishing to this day. 

If memory serves me correctly, the Super Fluke was actually the first to catch fire in the mid ’90s, and shortly after, the Senko blew up right at the turn of the millennium. As a side note, there were two other forces that really helped propel Flukes and Senkos to the top of the must-have charts during this time. One was the increased availability of fluorocarbon line and the other was the co-angler boom. 

Due to its faster sink rate and low visibility in the water, fluorocarbon improved the performance of weightless plastics tremendously compared to monofilament or braid. Fluorocarbon was mostly used for leader material early on because of its high price. But once production increased and price came down, anglers could spool up entire reels with the magic of fluorocarbon. Incidentally, the co-angler movement exploded about that same time, thanks to FLW’s tremendous growth in the early 2000s. With that, a weightless plastic tied to fluorocarbon was a deadly combination to use in the back of a pro’s boat. 

This only fueled the Fluke and Senko to sensational levels.

The 5-1/4-inch Super Fluke originated as a soft plastic, shad-shaped twitch bait that was usually fished weedless on a standard offset hook, giving it a darting flair and subsequent natural quiver as it glided helplessly in the water column between jerks. The Super Fluke has proven its merit in all seasons, starting with all phases of the spawn. It’s also a killer bait in the shad spawn, an awesome summer schooling bait, a fall shad-migration bait, and a dead-stick winter bait. 

With time and use, tournament anglers across the country proved its versatility was limitless and it has earned a permanent spot in the rod locker for many anglers. Today, there are dozens of iterations of this revolutionary lure that have names that begin with “jerk,” “twitch,” “hyper” or “caffeine” and end in “shad,” “slug” or “dart.”

Yamamoto’s ingenious Senko was one of those lures that made anglers bang their heads against the console because it looked so lackluster, yet caught so many fish. It looks lifeless out of the water, yet so alive in the water. The Senko’s magic is its seductive shimmy as it falls – pros often refer to it as “the quiver” because of the subtle wiggle which big bass can’t resist. 

The best way to fish a Senko is literally to do … nothing. Cast it out weightless, and let it waggle its way to the bottom. This is why it was such a crush bait for co-anglers – just cast it out and hang on. 

In addition to their traditional weightless rigging with an offset hook, there are numerous ways to rig both Flukes and Senkos. You can literally use five or six different hook types to rig these, depending on what kind of action you want from them. They’re both baits that you can trick out to your own specs by adding a sneaky weight here and there. 

In my tournament reporting over the years, anglers have told me, “Oh, I’m just throwing a Fluke,” or, “I’m just throwing a Senko.” Through binoculars it looked like “just a Fluke.” In pictures it looked like, “just a Senko.” But upon physical inspection, I have come to discover all kinds of nail weights, tiny screw-in weights, lead tape wrapped around hooks and other types of paraphernalia hidden in the “just a Fluke or Senko.”  In addition, the amazing array of colors these plastics come in is mind-boggling. You can literally get them in any color you can imagine – yes, even in pink.