It’s a rare bass tournament that’s won from the back of the boat, particularly when a skilled angler controls the bow and has the first shot at every good-looking piece of cover. But Curt Lytle, a professional bass angler from Suffolk, Va., pitched and flipped his way to victory from the back of the boat during a 1998 tournament held on Kentucky Lake. His tactic wasn’t any different than his partner’s; both were flipping soft plastic baits to fallen trees, docks and other visible cover. However, Lytle was using a bait that few anglers had ever heard of at the time, let alone seen. He was using a creature bait.
“I think I caught 21 pounds that day and my partner, who had the first shot at every spot, caught one fish that might have weighed 3 pounds. It was ugly,” he recalls. “He used a lizard the whole day and I stuck with that creature bait and I smoked them.”
When the bite is slow and the pressure's on, Curt Lytle digs out the creature baits.(Photo by David Hart)
Creature baits in one form or another have been around for at least a decade, but as bass anglers become more adept and fishing pressure increases on the country’s great bass waters, most anglers are just now discovering these unusual-looking soft plastic lures.
They don’t look like anything in nature, which is why they’ve been given the catch-all name of “creature baits.” In fact, they really don’t look much like any living organism. Creature baits seem to have come from the warped mind of a lure designer with either too much time on his hands or wildly vivid imagination. They’ve got bat wings, curled wings, split wings and ribbed wings, flippers, ribs, tentacles, extra legs, hula skirts and an assortment of other unusual appendages and features.
Creature baits are variations on standard tubes, lizards and worms, and they’ve got some pretty unusual names: Bacon Rind (which looks nothing like a strip of bacon), Hoo-Daddy, Wooly Hawgtail, Log Crawler, Fat Ika, Dragin’ IT, Fork Creature and the least imaginative, Creature Bait. But they all have one thing in common: they catch bass when other lures won’t.
After that victory in 1998, Lytle jumped feet first into the fast-paced world of competitive bass fishing and nearly won an FLW tournament held on Lake Okeechobee in 1999. Again, a creature bait, this time a Berkley Power Hawg, helped him claim second place and a handsome paycheck.
“Everybody was flipping worms and lizards and I was coming behind a train of boats and catching bass they weren’t. I think the bass had never seen these baits before and it was just something different so it worked,” he says.
Creature baits like the Berkley PowerHawg (top), assorted Yamamoto baits (middle), and the YUM Hawgtail (bottom) may not resemble anything in nature, but there's no arguing their effectiveness. [not shown in actual sizes]
Time after time, tournament after tournament, creature baits have helped Lytle stay a step ahead of the pack in his quest to take home a paycheck. They don’t always catch bass—nothing does—but they have been a consistent part of his bass catching arsenal since his early days as a professional angling career.
Lee Cepero recalls similar examples. The Florida pro routinely catches bass that other anglers miss. His secret is a YUM Wooly Hawgtail, a bizarre creation that incorporates either a three or four-and-a-half inch ribbed body, two leaf-shaped wings and a twin curl tail. Like Lytle, he figures these baits work so well because the bass aren’t bombarded with them on a daily basis.
“They are catching on, but I think most anglers still have more confidence in the standard soft plastics so that’s what they use,” he says. “I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in creature baits when I first started using them, but once I started catching fish on them, I knew they were going to be a regular part of my tactics.”
Although Cepero still includes worms, tubes and lizards in his bass fishing arsenal, Lytle has essentially forsaken all other soft plastics. He still uses jigs regularly and says creature baits shouldn’t be used as a substitute for the tried-and-true jig.
“Lizards, worms and tubes will always be around and they’ll still catch lots of bass. But a creature bait will do just about everything those other soft plastics will do and they are even more versatile. I’ll still cast a Texas-rigged worm, but if I’m flipping and I want to use a soft plastic, I’ll pretty much always go with a 5-inch Power Hawg. They are also great lures for Carolina rigs,” Lytle says. “Some guys do real well by flipping tubes, but tubes are a pain to keep on the hook and I have a much higher hook-up ratio when I use creature baits. Tubes tend to slide down the hook and wad up in the bend, and that prevents the hook point from penetrating the fish’s mouth well.”
Though many pros favor creatures for spring fish, Lee Cepero relies on them all year long. (Photo by David Hart)
If he expects to catch smaller fish, he’ll switch to a 4-inch Power Hawg. Cepero will also downsize his creature baits if he’s fishing a lake known for producing high numbers of smaller fish. Sometimes, a pro wants nothing more than to catch a limit of keeper bass, no matter how large or small they may be, and creature baits seem to be the perfect lure for doing that.
Lytle doesn’t get too fancy when he uses creature baits. He simply utilizes a basic Texas rig, varying his weight according to the mood or depth of the fish and the cover he plans to work. He’ll also use a basic Carolina rig, but again, he keeps his rig to the basics.
Cepero will break the traditional Texas-rig mold and use variations on other soft plastic rigs. He combines a Texas-rigged Hawgtail with a small split shot, either 1/32-ounce or 1/16-ounce, about a foot above his lure. He prefers a smaller bait (3 inches) when he uses that split-shot rig, and he likes to skip it up under docks during periods of heavy fishing pressure. Cepero says it’s vital to use a spinning rod to skip such a light bait.
“I’ll skip it as far under a dock as I can and I’ll let it fall to the bottom. Then I give it a quick pop to make it jump off the bottom, then I just let it settle back down again. I think that quick popping action triggers the fish to strike,” he says.
Lytle, a two-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier and the winner of an FLW tournament held on Arkansas’ Beaver Lake, pays more attention to the specific season than he does the weather, cover and other factors. His favorite time to flip a creature bait to fallen trees, thick grass and other cover is right before, during and right after the spawn. He can’t offer a valid explanation other than tried-and-true experience. And he says he catches far more bass on creature baits than he does on other soft plastics and jigs that time of year.
Another lunker falls prey to a creature bait flipped to shallow vegetation. (Photo courtesy of YUM)
“Earlier in the year, a jig seems to outperform a creature bait, but when the bass move onto shallow cover and when they actually go onto their beds, I’m going to be using a creature bait,” he says.
Cepero does consider various factors other than the specific time of year. In fact, he digs out a Yum Wooly Hawgtail when fishing pressure becomes intense or when weather systems push bass far into thick cover or back out to deeper water. Cold fronts can inflict bass with a major case of lockjaw, and few baits can coax these fish into eating. A creature bait is often the ticket.
“I don’t know what it is about a creature bait except maybe that it offers a bulkier profile or it just looks like something worth eating, but bass will hit these lures when they won’t hit anything else during cold fronts and periods of real heavy fishing pressure,” he says.
Cepero will use a creature bait practically all year. He simply fishes deeper or shallower, depending on the season, the weather and water clarity.
The advantage these lures have over a typical soft plastic bait such as a tube or worm is that they can be altered to fit any specific need. Pull off the wings or yank off the legs and it will slip through thick grass with ease. Lytle even trims off a section of the nose or he’ll shorten the tail of his Power Hawgs to decrease the size of the lure. Smaller baits are often the ticket for finicky bass.
One thing he doesn’t do, however, is add legs or other wacky features to his soft plastics. Lure manufacturers come up with some pretty wild creations on their own. All you have to do is stick one on a hook, cast it out and wait for that electrifying thump of bass inhaling your creature bait.