Good Vibrations: Taking a look at blades

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It’s not just barra and bream … Coral trout are just one of the many species that can’t resist a well presented blade style lure.

The cleancut young dude in dazzling get-up, colourful clobber for fishing you can be sure, did a convincing job while proclaimed vibes as the new breed of lure. “Nothing better for bream,” he spruiked. In being dead wrong and half right in those statements, he reinforced a skepticism about not believing all you see and hear. Not when it’s on the box, no matter how honey the blonde, Osmond the teeth or Elle the lips. The vibrations genre was around before the Beach Boys knew what a Woodie was. The Southern California surfie van with the timber inlay side panels came along in the sandy sixties. Heddon introduced the all-metal Sonar in 1958 and solid body plastic Sonic a year later. As for the wily but scavenging bream, I’ve always been of the opinion that no lure will outfish fresh bait and a rising tide. Nowadays I’m not so sure.

The fundamental differences between lures and bait

Which brings to light some fundamental differences between lures and bait. To cover water it’s best to settle for the shag on a rock, or Ted Clayton approach. The entertaining veteran writer spins with a simple Alvey and some whitebait. It’s bloody labour intensive work that can’t match the cyclic rate of Stella’d up youngsters. Still, in his day I’d reckon Ted would give those young Turks a run for their money. The swaggers deserve comment. Nothing blanket just observations of a cocky few, the lack of awareness of what’s already gone down. I’m afraid sportfishing’s genesis was a few years before they first touched a rod. Vibes and blades were sold during the early 1960s at establishments such as Arthur Chapman’s Sports Store. The Rockdale outlet, along with Pick o’ the World in Haymarket were Sydney’s first specialist tackle shops and had the likes of Dick Lewers, bass alumni John Bethune and Jack Erskine on staff at various stages.

Japanese lures arrive

The Japanese made Deka Bokin bluewater blade was originally responsible.

The Japanese made Deka Bokin bluewater blade was originally responsible.

The era also marked the appearance of the first Japanese lures. The Dickson brand, a marketing company I presumed, offered a copy of the ABU Sonnette, a successful bladed spinner with a characteristic feather dressed treble. And, an otherwise nameless but barefaced Sonic clone. By the mid 60s I was consistently catching golden and silver perch on the knock-offs in the fast water below weirs along the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee. Japanese manufacturers lifted their game in years since and now lead the world in design, materials and finish. Bodies hard, soft and a bit of both, paint jobs that exquisitely counterfeit baitfish. But it’s a case of same train, new driver – the original concept remains. Sinking lures are able to work water columns fast and slow, river, lake, estuary, inshore reef and man-made structure. A speed envelope from the intermittent kick of a wounded baitfish to a high frequency of one fleeing. From the mid 1970s through to the present day, large American-made vibes such as the Rebel Racket Shad, Cotton Cordell Spot and Bill Lewis Rattle Trap have remained my ‘go to’ lures for sportfishing’s toughest opponent, the black bass. I’ve lost count the number of times a cast into a fast water complex snag was hit on the drop.

The jackall lure phenomena

If there’s a name synonymous with modern era vibes it’s Harry Watson the one-time tournament angler. I met Harry for the first time at Peter Newell’s Tenterfield residence when Newell was helping out with some greenfish locations. We fished together just the once. A bass tournament on Hinze Dam, where we were joined by tackle trade identity John ‘Pilchard’ Bryant. We won.
Blades in the 70mm, 60 gram range have opened a deeper dimension for barra.

Blades in the 70mm, 60 gram range have opened a deeper dimension for barra.

A few years later when sharing a boat with Ron Calcutt, the mate and mentor who taught me the writing craft and how to take pictures in focus, Watson’s name came up. Ron had been with Harry on one of the Gold Coast hinterland lakes. He expressed astonishment at the bass strikes on a counterfeit baitfish Harry was allowing to rest on the bottom. Far as he could ascertain it was a combination of the realistic Rembrandt colours and head down, tail up attitude of a bottom grubbing baitfish. Jackall Bros lures had a seismic impact on lure sales and may have put Harry into another tax bracket. Daniel Gretch, a kid with rock-star looks, took soft vibes to a new level with a Skeeter-streeter string of metre-plus barra in a Lake Awoonga tournament. The lure was the Trans-Am, an elongated baitfish profile from the Jackall stable. After that they sold like chilled stubbies on a Nullarbor summer. The asking money? Not much less than a carton of coldies per unit. As moulds and brews became available, local luremakers got busy with replica softs at less than half the money. Some of the first pours were like those frogs when all that was happening; too rigid to be regarded as Freddo the flexible. Backroom hours on the part of homebrewers has since seen the development of a lure flim-flam lure jellies that are non-reactive with other plastics. Old timers have a two dimensional working approach with vibes and blades. The most obvious is under the boat and up from the bottom; either a rip-rip retrieve or a slower sink and draw. And where the bottom is flat and not too hazard-strewn, the short hippetty-hop so ably demonstrated by Troy Eaton and Scott Wakefield.

Sidescan sonar hits the scene

Harro Blades

Nothing New: Harro with a hard-fighting New Guinea black bass taken on a blade more than 30 years ago.

The arrival of sidescan sonar has opened up new horizons, moreso for vibes. Skilled anglers are now attacking cover wherever fish are revealed. These confrontations draw reaction and territorial strikes from fish that otherwise wouldn’t bother. The time saving alone is worth the investment. Imagine the tedium that once went into exhausting options at suspect spots when there’s no one home. On the subject of hook arrangements, makers and myself are on divergent paths. The standard rig is a matched pair of small trebles, say #4s. I substitute these for a #1 to 2/0 single to the rear mount with the hook pointing downwards. The retrofit holds a higher percentage of striking fish – but to qualify that opinion, the barra, cod and other implosion and snatch feeders tend to be bigger than the average run of the mill bream. A significant reduction in snagging is a serendipitous consequence for the able to develop the touch. But as with most departures from the conventional the first step is that necessary leap of faith.  
Rod Harrison

About Rod Harrison

Rod Harrison is a sportfishing ‘lifer’. At the cutting edge of the sport since the 1970s, he remains at the top of his game and continues to spend the amount of time on the water that the rest of us only dream about. A former shearer and street cop, he has since guided fisherfolk extensively in both fresh and saltwater, his most recent venture being at Queensland’s world renowned big barra paradise,Lake Awoonga.

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