Fishing gear manufacturers often wait until late spring or summer to debut new lures, rods and reels or other accessories, usually timing it to create a buzz at the annual Internal Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST) show in Orlando.
Berkley opted for an earlier splash. Berkley, an iconic Pure Fishing Brand in Spirit Lake, Iowa, that has long touted its investments in science and engineering as they create products, launched in mid-January three new lures created with Forward Facing Sonar (FFS) in mind. The company couldn’t have picked a better venue to announce the new lures - the science-oriented ambiance of the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Forward facing technology debuted about 5 years ago, when Garmin introduced its Panoptix LiveScope, targeted mainly to crappie anglers. Many new products claim to be “game changers.” They’re not; but FFS proved worthy of the designation. Other manufacturers – Humminbird, Lowrance, etc. - soon followed. “LiveScoping” is now somewhat of a generic term for FFS and, in practiced hands, it’s giving anglers an incredible impression of what is happening in a relatively narrow, focused cone (about 18-degree) in front of the boat.
It has proven so effective that, like many new technologies, some are calling for limiting its use, especially in tournaments. It has also changed the way people fish, and many complain that it’s not for the better when it comes to the overall fishing experience. Some pundits muse that anglers using FFS look like kids playing video games, constantly hunched over and staring at a screen versus reading the water and conditions and executing casts looking for a bite. Other anglers point out that new technology always scares off some traditionalists, but somehow fisheries and fishing survive.
LiveScoping is like super targeting, often letting an angler target one fish. When a crappie is marked, the technology lets the angler track that fish, figure out its behavior and movement – such as being spooked by the boat - and then drop a bait near its nose along its preferred path. For example, crappie anglers who used to set multiple rods spider-rigged on the bow hoping to cover a lot of water can now wield a single rod, hunting individual fish. Like we said – game changer.
Berkley Lures Forward facing Sonar
Enter Berkley. With FFS now transcending crappie and being used for multiple species, Berkley seized the opportunity to design lures anglers could use with the Forward Facing Sonar technology -- lures that showed up well on the screen and influenced fish behavior. Berkley’s Jon Schlosser, Mark Sexton, and Dan Spengler gave attendees at the product launch in Houston overviews of the new lures, explaining the design process and the various scenarios where they might excel. Let’s look at all three individually. The lures are available now for consumers.
The KREJ, which is Jerk spelled backwards, is a unique offering. It’s a stickbait, but the lip is reversed, pointing upward. Traditional stickbaits, with lips facing downward, chug along and dive as they are pulled and retrieved. The KREJ works in opposite fashion. Cast it out, let it sink a little (it sinks at 1 foot per second) and then begin the retrieve. Spengler explained that the upward lip makes the bait shoot up in the water column as you steadily retrieve or sweep the rod upward. This well mimics the surging, dying behavior of an injured, struggling baitfish. Say, for instance, you’re in a productive spot and a fish is eying your lure. It may strike as the lure is being retrieved or may be watching. The way the lure falls back at an angle toward the trailing fish once any retrieve stops is bound to fix attention, triggering a strike. If not on the fall, then likely when the bait again begins its tortured, apparent escape to the surface. Its action seems tailor-made to entice predator fish that like to nail their prey from the bottom up.
At first, I wondered how this reverse fall might affect positive hookups. The size 6 treble hooks snug the body as the bait falls. Seeing how fish reacted to the lure, fished over structure, dispelled that concern. Anglers using FFS could watch the bait and then fish it in a way that created competition among congregated bass. At second glance, I now consider it the most innovative of the three new offerings.
It was cool seeing the moment when a fish broke from its peers and hit the lure. They even caught a double on one cast.
Here's a brief lure tank video showing how the KREJ flutters backwards at an angle toward any watching predator.
The KREJ can be worked throughout the entire water column, including as a topwater once it has risen to the surface. As I watched the lure being demonstrated by Berkley’s Nathan Ragsdale on a small body of water north of Houston, I marveled at his “walking the dog” execution when the lure was topwater. I even remarked that I thought that lure would attract anything that’ll hit topwater, from snakeheads to snook, although the hardware isn't expressly designed for saltwater. It comes in 10 color options. The 3.9-inch, ½-ounce lure sells for $14.99. Buy it here.
KREJ KEY FEATURES from Berkley website
• Upturned bill delivers unique ascending & darting action when worked
• Backwards fall on pause (backslide) allows the angler to maintain presence in the strike zone
longer and provides a triggering mechanism for reaction bites.
• Combination of ascending action and backslide on the fall maximizes angler control & time
in the strike zone
• Bait can be fished sub-surface or topwater to best imitate the natural progression of predator & prey
• Optimized for use with forward-facing sonar
• Sinking (1ft / sec)
• Sizes: 100mm
• Colors: Blue Vapor, Stealth Shad, Stealth Minnow, Wakasagi, Chrome, OG Blue, Table Rock, Hankie Pankie, Nebu, Stunna Shad
This was my initial favorite of the three new lures. It’s soft plastic, molded all the way over the jig head, that incorporates Berkley’s PowerBait flavor technology, giving lures a scent that makes fish want to bite and hold on. As Berkley’s Mark Sexton said about the keys to consistently catching fish, a lure, especially a soft lure, must “look good, smell good and taste good.”
The PowerSwitch looks a bit like a goby, an increasingly important forage fish, especially in northern waters where traditional forage fish numbers might be down. The new lure comes in 14 colors and 6 sizes, ranging from ¼-ounce to 1 5/8-ounce. It varies from 3 inches to 4 ¼ inches long and has a $9.99 MSRP Buy it here.
Vertically jigging the bait makes the lure erratically dart about. Drop the bait down vertically or finish your cast under the boat by adding a few vertical rips or pops to make the bait dart and hunt. Short snaps that create fast rips through the water can also entice bites. Or, you can fish it along the bottom, give it a pop or two, and then drag it a few feet.
Observed in the lure tank, this seemed to create a very realistic action. You can also fish with a little more finesse, simply making small twitches with your rod tip to slowly fish the lure back toward the boat. Let the lure briefly hover between twitches.
This seems to be the kind of lure that can catch anything, from panfish to walleye, bass and more, likely doing well with spring and summer walleye and bass on flats and feeding grounds. Indeed, walleye pro John Hoyer was a “co-designer” of the lure. Hoyer well explains one of his favorite techniques for fishing the bait here. Bassmaster Elite Angler and Bass Fishing Hall of Famer, Mike Iaconelli shows how you can use the technique called “Moping” or simple jigging of this bait, paired with FFS, to catch crappie in this video.
You know what, it’s still a favorite and I’m looking forward to trying it as early spring fishing begins.
PowerSwitch KEY FEATURES (from Berkley website)
• Purpose-built for forward-facing sonar and ultimate angler control
• Heavy, weight-forward design allows for precision casts and fast sinking
• Control the fall rate or pause the fall with the new hovering technique
• On retrieve, “switch” techniques and actions whenever and however you want
• Packed with PowerBait flavor
• Natural baitfish profile and 3D eyes
• Pre-rigged with a high-quality, sharp Fusion19 hook
• Available in a range of sizes to accommodate all freshwater game species
• Available in standard, HD Tru Color and holographic “wizard” colors
• Sizes: 1.75-inch, 2.5-inch, 3-inch, 3.5-inch, 4.25-inch, 5-inch
• Colors: Clown, Firetiger, Green Pumpkin, HD Blacknose Shiner, HD Purple Wizard, HD Pink
Wizard, Wonderbread, HD Blue Wizard, HD Red Belly Goby, HD Stealth Minnow, HD White
Wizard, HD Yellow Perch, Lemon Head Glow, Silver Bullet
Finally, the Finisher is a hard bait, also designed with FFS in mind. Berkley’s Senior Project Engineer of Bait and Terminal Tackle, Dan Spengler, says it is the first of its kind “hovering hard bait.” Its flat bottom allows it to hover or hang in the water column. According to a spec sheet for the lure, its designed for versatility, with angler able to move the lure laterally in the water column with minimal retrieve progression. Combined with FFS, anglers can maneuver the bait based on how the fish is reacting to it.
The lure has a weight-forward, finless, double-treble design. You can fish it a variety of ways, from simply casting and retrieving at varying speeds, to snapping it along like a jerk bait or erratically popping and retrieving to create an erratic darting action.
It comes in three sizes and carries an MSRP of $8.99 – $10.99. Buy it here.
Finisher KEY FEATURES (from Berkley website)
• Pro Tip: Use subtle wrist snaps for medium glide. Long, harder strokes will produce longer
darting and gliding actions
• Optimized for use with forward-facing sonar, giving the angler the control to put the bait
where, when and how they want it to generate strikes
• Multiple ways to fish - like a glide bait for walleye, a sinking jerk bait for bass, or stroll it
along the mid-water column
• Unique, meandering swim action on the fall, paired with body quiver/shimmy
• Unmatched, minnow-like, tail swing when returning to center (resting position)
• Ultra-premium colors and texture
• Built to excel in casting or vertical presentations
• Cover the water column vertically, laterally, and forwards/backwards
• Arc-shaped body paired with a flattened belly allows anglers full control in the water
column, allowing the bait to "hover" in position while being worked.
• Perpendicular line-tie maintains knot locked and in position every time
• Features two Fusion19TM treble hooks for maximum hook-up ratios
• Sizes: 5cm, 7cm, 9cm
• Colors: Chrome Red Perch, Wakasag, Blue Smelt, Bad Anaconda, Black Gold, Black Silver, Chrome, Chrome Perch, Crazy Steel, French Pearl, Gold Chrome, MF Firetiger, Nebu, OG Blue, Perch, Pink Pearl, Prime Time, Purple Slime, Stealth Shad, Sunset 84
Berkley Gives Tutorial on Fish Behaviors and Tastes and How Technology Helps Anglers - Smell, See, Taste, Vibration
One informative part of Berkley Labs sessions at the Johnson Space Center involved key members of its R&D staff sharing how the company approaches innovation and how fish use their senses to find food.
John Prochnow, a 38-year member of the team and a chemist involved in the creations of such innovations as PowerBait, Gulp!, and MaxScent, explains that they look at the “meat and potatoes of what fish want, plus the seasonings that apply to specific species.”
Mark Sexton, a 27-year employee and manager of fish science and product testing, explains that Berkley uses the scientific method, incorporating statistical analysis and the testing of variables and hypotheses as products are developed. By the time a product is ready for field testing, it has been thoroughly evaluated in the company’s lab. He said 95 percent of the results achieved in the lab are replicated in the field, something that gives him a “warm fuzzy.”
“Smell is a fish’s strongest sense,” Sexton says. “They’re constantly monitoring their environment.” He calls water “a stew,” a world where fish are bombarded with smells. “It’s the amount of smell that changes their behavior,” he notes, comparing it to a German Short-haired Pointer first sensing, then locking in on a hidden bird in a field. “Except, fish have even more smell receptors than a bird dog and can smell things at one part per billion.”
An interesting observation was that fish react negatively to human smell in the water, sometimes as far as 100 yards away. So much for stealthy wade-fishing on any downstream trout.
After smell, taste (gustatory) is the next important sense, he said. “Fish smell it, follow it, then put it in their mouth to taste it. Fish don’t have hands so they can’t feel it,” Sexton says. Another interesting tidbit he shared was Berkley’s research that showed fish don’t like garlic, coffee, salt, or some scents in soaps.
Fish have monocular eyesight, looking sideways and most don’t see ultraviolet light. Bass have pretty good color vision, close to humans, Sexton said, with double receptors for colors in the red spectrum. He called green “a great color” for them and said yellow and white and blue and black, respectively, appear essentially the same to fish. “They can differentiate between green pumpkin and black and they can identify colors that look like something they might eat,” he added.
Finally, the sensory features of a fish’s lateral line allow detection of movement and vibration. This is usually most productive when a fish is about three body lengths away. This sense is typically used as a predator fish comes in for the kill. It’s particularly helpful as fish move through and hunt in water with poor visibility, helping them key in on where their prey is located.