(Note: From time to time, BassFan.com will feature fishing tips from lure or technique masters who aren't pros. These will be called Master Classes.)
Lake Okeechobee legend Sam Griffin is not a professional tournament angler, but he is a master at building and fishing topwater baits, particularly wooden baits with propellers. A big reason for his mastery is that he's been building and fishing these baits -- full-time -- for longer than some of us have been alive.
He also built a successful company around his baits and sold it to Luhr-Jensen, which now manufactures a bunch of Griffin's designs, including his namesake, the Jerkin' Sam.
In the following, he details a few secrets behind topwater prop baits, and focuses on what many people -- pros and amateurs alike -- regard as his most effective bait, the Lil' Richard.
And just in case you think wooden topwaters are "old hat" and that no one uses them anymore, think again. Much of the reason you don't hear about the pros using them is that makers of wooden topwaters don't pay pros to endorse their baits.
Nevertheless, wooden topwaters occasionally do get mentioned. For example, Chuck Economou said that he used a Lil' Richard to help him to his 5th-place win at the Lake Toho BASSMASTER last month.
The Lil' Richard
The Lil' Richard, particularly in the black over white pattern, has caught all types of bass throughout the United States, and is Griffin's best-selling bait. Obviously it catches fish. But why?
"One reason is the size and diameter of the bait," Griffin says, explaining that those qualities make it bite-sized for all sizes and species of bass. "The size of the lure is more important than the color," he says. "More fish feed on medium to small baitfish than larger baitfish."
Everyone assumes that, but one reason Griffin is convinced of it is from his experience in the fish camp business on Okeechobee. "That was back when we used to keep fish," he says, "and I never found wild shiners in a fish unless it was caught on one."
He also says that the Lil' Richard's aluminum tail propeller isn't as heavy as a chrome-on-brass prop, and this along with the bait's size allows it to sit flat on the water." That means "you can rip it through thin grass, like hydrilla, ribbon grass and peppergrass."
Finally, Griffin notes that the Lil' Richard "casts well so you can have a more accurate presentation. And by having a pull-point in the center of the nose, you can easily flip the bait out of one pocket into another."
Tips on Fishing It
Bass anglers know that having the right bait is one thing, but without the right equipment, you won't have the best chance of catching ol' mossyback. Here's what Griffin uses to fish the Lil' Richard:
> A 6 1/2-foot medium-action rod -- "Composite or fiberglass, preferably. The reason for that is that graphite rods overpower the lures. Too much power (is transferred) to the blade."
> Monofilament line -- "Braided line has no stretch, so the lure overreacts." He uses 14-pound-test on Okeechobee "on account of the grass. You don't want to drop below 10 or else the lure will override the line and your line will catch on the hooks."
He notes that "you can use graphite rods and braids, but it takes more skill. You have to be able to slow yourself down."
Also important when it comes to topwaters is cadence. Griffin prefers "two jerks and let it sit: 1, 2, let it sit, 1, 2, let it sit -- just like that." He notes that the whippier rod paired with mono means the bait moves less with each tug: the prop spits water, but the bait doesn't move far out of the strike zone.
Griffin always starts with that cadence unless the bass are tighter are to cover. In that case, "throw it (near the cover) and let it sit until the rings go out 3 feet. Then pop it one time," he says. "Let it sit and then just barely move it -- just dibble the nose. If you don't get a hit, jerk it again." After that, reel in and try again.
He adds that the best topwater for bass holding extremely tight to cover is a popping bait. But "you don't necessarily use the popping part of the lure," Griffin says. "Just twitch it and let it sit there. You're just trying to get those fish in the mood."
Other Tips from Griffin
> "Patience and fishing slowly will catch a lot more fish than fishing fast. I tell people they have to learn to catch more fish rather than make more casts."
> "With a prop bait, 95 percent of strikes happen when the bait comes to a stop."
> "A prop will torque the bait onto its side, so color has some bearing. I'll use black/white 75 percent of time. The rest of the time I use lures with large glitter. The reason I use that large glitter on my baits is that it reflects more sunlight so it pulls fish from deeper water. Those 'crystallina' (typical glitter-finish) lures are pretty, but -- well, I've been called a dinosaur because I use (large glitter and other things), but it works and that's why I use it."
> Be superhumanly patient, and not just when fishing. "A lot of times in shallow the water you'll see the fish coming from a great distance. That's the hardest thing to do, to sit there and let the fish get (your lure) before you (jerk and) take it away."
So you have the right equipment and presentation -- then what? Griffin recommends one of two hooking methods: watching and feeling.
1) Watching -- "When you see the lure disappear, just snug it," he says. "It's not a (typical) hookset. The fish is just sucking it under so you just take the slack out. At no time do you set it like it's a soft-plastic lure. You'll cut through the fish's mouth and lose it."
2) Feeling -- "You just feel him," he says. The reason for that is that "sometimes a bass will hit a topwater bait without his mouth open. He wants to stun it and then come back and eat it." When he eats it, you'll feel it. Again he recommends just tightening the line.
After you have a hook in the fish, "let it fight a little bit," Griffin says. "When you hook the fish it will turn sideways and get another hook in it." After that happens "you can put a little more pressure on him."
And when the bass jumps, "you can put your rod tip in the water so it can't get a headshake and throw the lure."
Guidelines and Ordering
All of the above are not rules written in stone. "They're just guidelines," he says. Experiment and see what works best for you and the lakes you fish.
To order Griffin's baits, call his shop in Moore Haven, Fla. at (800) 541-4530.
Learn a Thing or Two
If you've never fished Okeechobee, you owe it to yourself to go. If nothing else, just seeing it is awesome. And if you go there, look up Griffin. Anyone fortunate enough to spend a day on Okeechobee with him will be a better fisherman before the day is out. For more information call the same number: (800) 541-4530.
Griffin's most popular bait is the Lil' Richard (center) in the black/white color, which can be seen on the bait second from the top. A bigger-bass bait is the Offset Sam, at bottom.