An angry and ominous thunderhead is building fast on the far eastern quadrant of Aransas Bay, and the water is reacting accordingly. Clear turns to dingy green; slick goes to sloppy and, within a few minutes, churning whitecaps with dirty, beer-foam heads are dancing everywhere on the wind-raked surface.
Redfish Lodge's Capt. Brian Holden looks apprehensively at the swelling, black-laced clouds and threatening skies and apologizes - as if he could do something about it - to John Prochnow. Prochnow casually makes another cast from the bow and peers back over his shoulder at Holden.
"No problem, Brian. This is great!"
Weird thing is, he's serious.
John Prochnow is anything but your average, run-of-the-mill angler. A brilliant young chemist who Outdoor Technologies Group (now "Pure Fishing") lured away from Marianna Research Labs back in 1986, 40-year-old Prochnow is one of the most influential - if not the most influential - fishermen/researchers alive today.
Granted, that's no small statement. But Prochnow has the credentials, and the achievements, to back it up.
If ever there was a four-letter word in the fishing industry, it's h-y-p-e. I remember well the advertising agency that, somewhere around 1985, told me that they would place a huge ad schedule in the pages of Texas Fisherman® magazine if only I would inform the angling community that their new "fish attractant" was the greatest product to grace the shelves of sporting goods stores since the introduction of monofilament fishing line.
First thing I told them was that, although I indeed appreciated their advertising dollars, they were spending those dollars on just that - advertising, not editorial. As for the latter, I assured them they would get it if the product proved itself to be as effective as the ad hype claimed.
I won't say it didn't do any good. Like most all (and again, I intentionally use quote marks) "attractants," it no doubt helped mask the unnatural odors that are imparted to fishing lures - particularly soft plastics - when they are handled by fishermen. That, however, is a masking agent, not an attractant.
Which, incidentally, is the way I left it with those folks. They ran their ads anyway, and I never touted the product as something that would either attract fish to the treated bait or cause them to hold onto it longer after picking it up. And it's only fair to point out that the situation was the same with every other product of that ilk that I and my staff of freelance outdoor writers tested in subsequent years.
So, despite the fact that Berkley has long boasted a sterling reputation, I was nonetheless skeptical when informed back in the late '80s that the company had come up with a fish-attracting formula.
Initially, that skepticism was somewhat merited. Before incorporating said formula into the baits themselves, Prochnow and partner Keith "Doc" Jones came up with Berkley Strike, a slimy, nasty-smelling solution that - aside from having a very short shelf life due to its natural ingredients - did not disperse well in the water.
I tried it, and I didn't like it.
A few years later, Prochnow and company introduced freshwater Power Baits. The things made rotten vegetable compost smell like rose petals in comparison, but darned if they didn't produce.
I was hosting the "Texas Fisherman" television show at the time, in 1990, and spent many days fishing the likes of Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Lake Fork and Lake Ray Roberts. My cameraman, Roger Keller, constantly fussed at me about the things smelling up his new Chevy van, but I refused to leave those baits at home.
What impressed me was not how they performed in quality conditions, but rather how they got results when conditions were flat-out lousy. On more than a few occasions, I fished the then-new bass worms with established pros who, after a couple of hours, quit griping about the smell and asked for a few loaners.
Within two years, "Power Worm" had become synonymous with plastic worm fishing on Texas bass lakes.
Saltwater, though, was a different deal. Being a self-admitted coastal fishing addict I'd long been on Prochnow to come up with a saltwater-specific line of Power Baits. I wasn't alone in that regard. Coastal fishermen wanted the same advantages enjoyed by the bass anglers who had come to rely upon Prochnow's fish-attracting brainchild.
Finally, the prototypes arrived. They weren't awful, but they were close. At the time, the incorporation of Power Formula into soft plastic presented some major obstacles. Perhaps most pertinent, Prochnow had not figured out a way to get the formula into a soft plastic, yet allow the lure to retain any semblance of transparency. Light simply wouldn't penetrate them.
Furthermore, the plastic being used at the time was sorely lacking in action. The first Saltwater Power Baits I used - shrimptails and shadtails - were about as stiff as Al Gore on a podium.
I told the local reps and Prochnow about my misgivings, and they heard more of the same from the area pros who were field-testing the prototypes. Which is where Berkley differed, and still differs, from some of the other players in the industry.
The company was more interested in creating an effective and reliable product than it was in simply getting the baits on the shelves and playing off of the already-established success of the freshwater Power Bait series. It took some time, a substantial investment in research and development at the company's Florida-based saltwater field laboratory and a whole lot of field testing, but they finally got it right. The saltwater "test fish" were not only attracted to the offerings; they held on to them substantially longer than non-treated lures.
R&D results accomplished, Berkley put the lures on the market, where today "inshore" Saltwater Power Baits continue to rank as a must-have option in the tackle box arsenal of every serious saltwater fisherman.
To get the desired action, Berkley had to soften-up the baits' body material - which means that after a few fish, put a fork in 'em, they're done. That, coupled with an upper-end price range, separates Saltwater Power Baits from the inexpensive, rubber-tough garden-variety soft plastics you can still find on the "worm bars" of most tackle shops.
Ask any angler who has used them, though, and he or she will assure you that the investment is well worth it. If you're still in the doubting mode, compare the price with a quality topwater plug. And if you're really concerned about it, simply be judicious. Use what you will when conditions are textbook excellent; break out the Power Baits when things start looking lousy - like this morning, for example.
"As long as it isn't lightning, let's keep fishing," Prochnow proffers. So we do. Within the next hour, with the wind steadily gaining momentum and the clarity of the water diminishing to the extent that we can no longer see the shallow bottom grass through polarized shades, we keep on casting. And, we keep on catching fish. One trout after another, along with a few random keeper reds, smack the Power Jerk Shad with vengeful tenacity. The fishes' ability to see the lure has gone way down, but apparently their ability to smell it is more than compensating for the sand-stirred water.
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