Times Spent Outdoors: Priceless!

AZ Lakes AZ Pros Fred Ward At Bartlett Lake

' Nothing Beats The Day John Made History With Fred's Helicopter Lure'

Series: Arizona Lakes Arizona Pros | Story 34

John and I have known fishing legend Fred Ward for many years, but we actually met him in Florida. At that time I was writing for a tiny publication (now defunct) called Arizona Fishing News. My day job, The New Times, sent me to Denver for a week, then to Miami for a week, and as a reward, they gave me a guided fishing trip on Lake Okeechobee and even flew John out there to join me.

Fred was guiding for the Roland Martin resort, and when he found out I was a writer, he comped our stay! We got to fish Okeechobee with him for a couple of days and to say it was fantastic would be an understatement.

An Odd Bait

Later, when Fred moved back to Arizona, I was now writing for Arizona Hunter and Angler, and Fred called me up one day and asked if John and I would like to join him at Bartlett for some bass fishing and a possible story. When we got there, he showed us an odd bait – it was a solid tube with three appendages coming off the bottom at right angles. They were curved.

Fred said he had seen the lure in a dream, and when he woke up, he got to work making some prototypes. He handed one of those to John. You had to fish this lure very slowly – basically just cast it out unweighted and let it helicopter down. It fell tube first and those little wings made it spin gently on the way down.

John caught several bass on it almost right away, and Fred was absolutely delighted. "You're the first person to ever catch a bass on this new lure!" he told John.

The Real Deal

The real deal that November day on Bartlett was big one-tonner jigs with Yamamoto Hula grubs. We caught a ton of fish on those that day. In fact, it was the first time I ever fished those jigs, and Fred taught me how. A one-tonner is what they call a one-ounce football head jig. They get down to deep water fast, and with a Yamamoto Hula Grub on them, they have tons of action once they get there. Fred took us to the long points around the S-curve and we stayed on the main channel and caught bass all over the place. You need a really stout rod and strong line for these lures – I have a Fenix jig rod with a pretty stiff butt but a short fast tip. We used 17-pound-test Berkley XL back then, but nowadays most anglers use heavy fluorocarbon or even braid.

Set Hook With Authority

I'm not a fan of braid because when the bait snags, the braid digs into itself and is hard to untangle. The heaviness of an ounce of lead makes the jigs easy to cast. Just cast it out and watch the line. Don't close the bail until the line dips and goes slack. That means it's on the bottom. Now just reel until the line is taut, then give the lure a little hop with the rod tip, or just drag it a bit. If you get stuck, give it a little slack and pop it. Often, the bite will feel like you're hooked on a rubber band. It can also feel like nothing, like someone cut your line. In either case, you need to set the hook with authority.

The Fish Like Them As Is

The hooks on those big jigs are big as well – that's where that stout rod pays off. Hit it hard, reeling fast as you snap the rod back to set the hook. The first couple times, I didn't set it hard enough and the fish spit it out as soon as they reached the surface. Very amusing for Fred and John. For me, not so much. Fred says if you get snagged, just take the boat back over the jig and pop it loose. It's easier than re-tying. He likes to use scent on the Yamamoto Hula grubs, even though they are so nice and salty that the fish like them fine as is.

A Great Teacher

The colors we used that day were orange pumpkin, green pumpkin, and smoke sparkle. This was actually back before depthfinders, if you can imagine, so you had to know where you were and what you were doing. We used a paper map, plus memories of how the shore looked when the water was down. Fred taught me to look at the shore carefully. "See that little crease that runs down the side of the hill – it keeps going under the water, and the bass use those little creases like highways," he told me. He directed me to fish my jig down those little cuts and I got a lot of practice catching jig fish that day. He's a great teacher.

Helicopter Lure Into Production

Freddy actually got that Helicopter Lure into production, and his good friend Roland Martin helped him market it. It was a pretty good bait, and you can even still buy them on Ebay. Fred is a great guy and we've enjoyed fishing with him over the years, but nothing beats the day that John made history with the Helicopter Lure.

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