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An Angler?s Journal: Something Old, Something New

January 16, 2007

By King Montgomery

During the past 10-20 years, a lot has been written about "new" fishing techniques, primarily for bass fishing. Even more "innovations" are shown on those Saturday TV fishing shows. However, most of these "innovations" were used long before today's writers or TV anglers were even born. Many "new" fishing techniques have been around forever, some maybe even longer.

The first time I fished a "Carolina rig" was in the early 1950s, and it wasn't even new then. I learned the technique from my Uncle Duane, the first die-hard fisherman I ever knew. He fished for big catfish from the banks of the Missouri River in Iowa, just across from Nebraska. Uncle Duane used live bait exclusively and it was always "Carolina rigged." The term probably hadn't been coined yet, but that's what it was and he had used it for decades before I came along.

(Photo courtesy of King Montgomery)

My uncle had several metal casting rods, about five feet long with tinny metal casting reels whose handles spun in reverse when cast. Fishing innovations like level-wind, drags, free-spools and drum or magnetic brakes hadn't been invented or at least weren't readily available yet. Clear monofilament fishing line for the humble masses was around but very expensive (although you could buy small quantities to use for leaders). We used braided salt-and-pepper colored line.

My uncle would slide an egg-shaped sinker with a hole through it on to the line and then tie the line to a stout barrel swivel. Next he tied a two- or three-foot length of the clear nylon leader to the other end of the swivel and added a hook to complete the rig. A fat chub minnow was impaled on the hook and the whole thing was cast into a likely-looking spot. The minnow, Duane explained to his young nephew, could swim freely because it pulled line though the hole in the middle of the sinker, not against the weight.

"Hey Uncle Duane, whaddya call this thing?" I asked with a hint of impertinence.

"No name," he answered, using one more word than usual.

"Why don't you call it an 'Iowa rig?'” I suggested. Uncle Duane snorted.

I guess the name never stuck. He would leave that chub minnow in the water for what seemed like hours then reel it in, replace the minnow if necessary and chunk it back into the current eddy.

I would grow impatient with this slow, boring style of fishing so I usually fished in shallower water with my "Carolina rig" and night crawlers stuck on to a smaller hook. I'd roam up and down the banks, cast more than I needed to, picked out frequent backlashes and caught the heck out of rocks, sticks, old tires and bullheads.

In a good day's fishing, I'd catch dozens of small catfish, some up to a pound or more while my uncle would get one or maybe two huge catfish, measuring as long as his arm. That's what Duane was after and he'd often win the local newspaper's weekly fishing contest. The winning prizes were rods, reels, lines, metal tackle boxes and such. He seldom bought any fishing gear and he never needed to buy fresh fish from the market for the dinner table.

The advent of spinning reels and monofilament lines allowed anglers to cast lighter weights than was possible with the old bait-casting gear. In the early-1950s, my father gave me a new Mitchell 300 spinning reel he bought in France, where they were originally made. I don't think the Mitchell 300s were widely available in the USA at the time. My terminal tackle consisted of a hook, usually adorned with worms or when in season, yellow jacket wasp larvae. About a foot or so up from the hook, I would crimp on a split shot or two. I made sure the shot was on tightly by biting down on them with my teeth; now I use pliers.

With this tackle method, which was by no means original, I caught sunfish, bass, bullheads, catfish, trout in the streams and later steelhead and salmon in coastal rivers with the split shot rig.

Nowadays, I keep reading about fancy finesse split-shotting techniques such as the "California style," used for largemouth bass on the professional tournament circuits. We simply called it "fishing using split shot for weight," and there was no finesse involved. Not a very catchy phrase, I guess, but it was catchy enough for the fish.

In the early-'60s, we began placing a piece or two of split shot a foot above a new bait: a Creme rubber worm. The worm was plastic, with the consistency of tire rubber and it had two pre-rigged exposed hooks (some had wire weed guards). The Creme rubber worm was available in whatever color you wanted, as long as it was black or brown. Sometimes we'd even "Carolina rig" the worm.

Both methods were as deadly then as they are now.

Reinventing the wheel is a trend that continues. Many, if not most fishing innovations touted today have a history. Some old techniques are refined or modified variations of a theme already composed. Recently, a major outdoor magazine had a multi-page article, replete with beautiful color photographs, about using expensive, elaborate wooden bobbers from Europe for bass fishing in America! We used to whittle sticks to use as bobbers.

Next thing you know, there will be stories on using wine corks or little red and white plastic balls as bobbers. What will they think of next?


King Montgomery, our fishing editor, used the “new” bass fishing drop shot rigging method in the early-'60s for freshwater crappie and squid and smelt in the saltwater and it wasn’t new then. A few drops of anise oil in a Windex-type bottle filled with mineral or baby oil sufficed as a chemical attractant to spray on plastic baits in the early 1960s, too. And don’t even get him started on all the new, original fly patterns on the market.

Issue 2.3: January 18, 2007