How many times has this happened: Someone wins the Bassmaster Classic with a "prototype" bait, and one of his sponsors comes out with the Classic-winning bait quickly thereafter.

Sometimes that's really how it happens – the bait really was a prototype – but sometimes it isn't. When it does happen that way, usually it's been all or mostly a particular pro's doing. He wants a specific bait, and either builds one himself or gets one of his sponsors to help out. Almost never (maybe never before) is it done by the company ahead of time. But that's what Berkley is doing this year.

"We wanted to be sure that we were giving the pros on our team that are fishing the Classic everything they need to compete," said Eric Naig, Berkley's field services manager. "We said, 'Okay, what lures do you guys need to win? What shapes and colors do you want?'

"After several months of trial and error we came up with three new baits specifically designed for this tournament," he said. "Of course, we know if they work (at the Toho/Kissimmee chain), they'll work everywhere you find similar (lakes and cover)."

The three new baits are the 5-inch Gulp! Shaky Worm and Power Shaky Worm, the Gulp! Nuclear Nellie (in 4 1/2- and 3 1/2-inch sizes) and the 3 1/2-inch Gulp! Punch Craw. Here's what the pros behind these baits who are fishing the Classic this week had to say about them.

Nixon: Shaky Worm

"This new Shaky Worm is going to be hard to beat," Larry Nixon said. "I can use it three ways depending on the conditions."

Photo: Berkley

> Wacky style – "I'll most likely be throwing it on a spinning rod with 8- to 10-pound-test Berkley Vanish. That fluorocarbon line will sink right with the bait. I'll just let it sink to the bottom. I use a No. 2 straight-shank worm hook, but I don't think the hook is really all that important as long as it's small."

> Jigging it – "Another way I'll use the Shaky Worm is with a jighead. That's what it was originally designed to do. If Florida gets a lot of rain before the tournament, the Shaky Worm on a 1/16- to 1/8-ounce head will become important to me. I'll concentrate on areas with current." For this rig he typically uses 8-pound Vanish on a spinning rod.

> Rigging it – Carolina rigs often come into play in Florida, but probably not in this tournament. "I know that a Carolina rig will catch plenty of bass, but I'm not sure I can win with it," he said. "We'll just have to wait and see. There's a lot of scattered grass and fishing it with a Carolina rig is perfect. I keep it moving fairly fast, and when it comes up against anything I pause, allowing the bait to glide and fall. That's when I get bit."

For Carolina-rigging, he uses a 2 1/2- to 3-foot Berkley Sensation leader in 10- to 14-pound-test. If he feels like bigger fish are in the area he'll use 17-pound line, and always goes a little heavier with his main line.

"Using a tungsten bullet weight is real important," he noted. "It makes more noise than lead and because of the shape it comes through the grass much better." If he 'rigs' in this Classic, he'll he using a weight that's 3/8- to 1/2-ounce.

Ike: Nuclear Nellie

Mike Iaconelli is the brain behind the Nuclear Nellie, a tube/creature bait hybrid.

"For over a year I worked with a friend of mine, John McGraw, to come up with this bait," he said. "I needed something that was between a tube and a creature bait. He'd sketch something and I'd tweak it. Finally we had something I liked, so we made a cheap mold. I had the only ones in the country and I caught plenty of tournament bass with them.

Photo: Berkley

"About that same time I signed on with Berkley," he said. "They told me that they'd be interested in any bait ideas I had, so I told them about the Nuclear Nellie. In their labs up at Spirit Lake (Iowa, Berkley's HQ) we refined the bait even more.

"I think the way this bait glides and falls will be key to triggering these Florida bass at the Classic. These fish have never seen any thing like this. I'm psyched. I can't wait."

Iaconelli said he'd fish the bait three ways:

> Flipping – "Flipping matted grass will be one way to fish this bait. I'll use a 1 1/4-ounce tungsten weight with heavy Berkley Stealth braided line and a heavy 4/0 flipping hook. With this heavy of a weight, the bait will fall fast but not straight down. It'll glide down. It's awesome to watch."

> Pitching – "Another way I'll fish it will be on 20-pound test Sensation with a 1/4-ounce weight. I'll pitch it to isolated cover. With the lighter weight, the bait will really glide."

> On top – Believe it or not, Ike said the third way he'll likely use the bait will be on top. He'll split the 4 1/2-inch Nuclear Nellie's large, flat tail, and cast the altered bait weightless. From there he'll use a steady retrieve, somewhat like a buzzbait. "What's cool about this is that because the Nellie is made of Gulp!, I'll catch all the bass that blow up on it – even the ones that miss it," he said. "When they strike behind it, I just stop the bait and let it glide. The added scent just drives them nuts."

Klein: Punch Craw

The Gulp! Punch Craw is "perfect for my style of fishing, and particularly this tournament," Gary Klein said. "The Punch Craw will make these Florida bass bite even when they don't want to," meaning when it's cold.

Berkley said this bait was designed to do two things:

1) Punch through thick, floating aquatic vegetation – which, incidentally, is the way Klein got his last win, at Florida's Lake Seminole in 2003.

2) Hold a large flipping hook well.

Photo: Berkley

A cold front is forecast for the first 2 days of the Classic, so a mat pattern may come into play. "Florida bass react more to cold fronts than their northern cousins," Klein noted. "They just shut down. When the Punch Craw comes through a floating mat, it goes by the bass in a hurry. They don't have time to think about it, so they just eat it."

He'll be using heavy weights to get through the thick mats, from 1/2-ounce up to 2 ounces. He said he feels 50% of the bites at this event will be reaction bites, and the rest of the bites will have to be "coerced" out of the fish with the action the angler puts into the bait. "The bass will tell us how to fish them," he said.

His line of choice when mat-punching will be 80-pound Stealth braid for its strength and grass-cutting properties. "Once I have a good fish on, I know I can get her out of the thickest cover," he noted.

The Classic and Beyond

Berkley's Naig said: "The pros are excited, the lure-designers are excited, and we'll just have to wait to see how this turns out."

If a Berkley pro wins, Berkley will have gotten pre- and post-Classic hype about its baits, instead of just the post-Classic hype as in years past.

But what if none of the 12 Berkley-sponsored pros fishing in this Classic wins? Was it all for naught? Not necessarily. In that case, Berkley gets pre-Classic hype for its baits, it gives its pros something to talk about when dealing with the media at the Classic, and it got the ball rolling on designing baits for big events.

"We're actually going to try to do something (like this) for a (Bassmaster) Major or two, and maybe the FLW Tour Championship," Naig said. The pros "know what works on a body of water, and we're pretty confident that our scent technology helps, especially on soft baits. But we may do hard baits too.

"It's an exciting thing. We're going to build on this program."


> In addition to the above three pros, the other Berkley-sponsored Classic competitors who will have these baits in their tackleboxes include: Davy Hite, Randy Howell, Jimmy Mize, Larry Nixon, Skeet Reese, Scott Rook, David Walker, Kevin Wirth and Jay Yelas (12 pros in all, almost a quarter of the Classic field).