No matter where you stand on any particular cultural, political, or economic division, you might have noticed that two states have become proxies for perceived extremes, California and Texas. Yet whether you consider their differences to be real or exaggerated, there’s one clear place where the twain meet, at least in the world of bass fishing: big bait culture.
The dog-toy-sized swimbaits that were birthed out west have gradually migrated eastward, and the gear, the culture, and even some of the innovators have stopped over permanently in the Lone Star State. It’s a place where big bass culture thrives and the state takes its big bass culture and biology quite seriously.
Into this mix glides one James Caldemeyer, one of the most esteemed and sought-after guides on famous Lake Fork, 90 minutes east of Dallas, and a certified big bait freak. But not just any big baits—he’s all about the so-called “gliders,” single jointed hard baits usually in the 8-inch range, but occasionally up to over a foot. They’re hard labor to throw, and you can go hours without getting a bite, but when a green fish chomps it, it’s likely to be among the biggest ones you’ve ever caught.
“I remember when I first saw them,” he said. “The reaction that most of my clients have is to be surprised or overwhelmed. It’s intimidating, even just to try to cast that thing. I had always thrown soft swimbaits, and this was the same size as the gizzard shad in our lakes. I was intrigued.”
That intrigue turned into an obsession. Lake Fork is fertile, with perhaps more giants than any public lake in the country, but it’s also close to a major metropolitan area. It gets not just fishing pressure, but intelligent fishing pressure nearly every day. While the glider’s not a panacea, there are times when nothing else compares.
Part of the reason that Caldemeyer wasn’t completely thrown off guard by the western imports was because he’s seen the trends before. As a young guide in the 1990s, he remembered the old “AC Plug,” made by Allan Cole of California.
“It was really popular here,” he said. “Even when I was just 19 or 20 years old, I remember the guides I looked up to throwing it. That was the first touch of things that we’d see like that.”
Indeed, Texas in general and Fork, in particular, are fantastic venues for new trends, particularly in the big bait realm. There’s a long growing season, large fish genetics, and a wealth of lakes—everything from deep, clear impoundments to swampy backwaters. Moreover, there are ridiculous numbers of educated anglers. You can’t swing a dead cat going down any country road without hitting someone’s bass boat.
Lake Fork was also the breeding ground of the massive flutter spoons bass anglers love today. The Joe Spaits “Lake Fork Spoon” gave rise not just to the 6- and 7-inch models, but also 8-, 9- and even 10-inch hubcaps. The local cadre of guides kept them a secret as long as they could, until former Fork guide and noted pro angler Kelly Jordon used one to win a big check in a televised tournament. While the cat may have been out of the bag, by that point the Fork guides were fully aware that bigger fish liked a big meal, something to match the giant gizzard shad, sand bass, and yellow bass. By the time the massive Strike King 10XD super-deep diving crankbait came out a few years later, no one blinked an eye at the “oversized” package. It looked downright small by comparison.
All of that lead-in doesn’t mean that you can head to Fork (or any fishery, north or south, with big forage) tomorrow and expect to load the boat with the glider.
“It’s definitely seasonal,” Caldemeyer said. “The main season for me is the pre-spawn and spawn when the gizzard shad move up. They spawn before the threadfin shad do. The big female bass are up there looking for a food source to fill their bellies and develop eggs. Then when the water gets up to 58 to 60 degrees it really kicks in as even more of them come up shallow. That 60-day period, which around here is from February through mid-April, is the best absolute time.”
But that isn’t time to throw glides. “There’s also a seasonal window in the fall, as the water cools,” he continued. “Usually here it happens in mid-October. The gizzard shad follow the threadfin into the creeks where there’s cooler water, and the bass follow them in.”
During either of these periods, he won’t grab the glider if the water’s muddy. Indeed, on the contrary, he wants the water to be “as clear as I can find it.” While there are colors that excel in slightly stained water, this is a visual feed. That means he’ll often fish in the lower end of the lake, especially in the spring, when heavy rains add color to the water, but when he does venture to the upper reaches of Fork with the glider he’ll focus on the main lake points and secondary points, not the back ends of the creeks where there’s typically more stain. Because most of the lures are either slow-sinking or suspending, he usually does not fish them in the upper reaches of the water column.
So what does the glide bait do?
As the name suggests, it makes sweeping movements from one side, then pivots and heads to the other extreme, before repeating the process.
That’s not a terribly unusual concept in bass fishing. Think of a Zara Spook, which walks the dog. Or a jerkbait, which flies across its center axis and then back to center. A Super Fluke does the same thing. It’s mesmerizing and after a while, anglers learn to dial in what the fish want on a particular day, perhaps a fast side-to-side gait or else a lazier and possibly more erratic set of swiveling hips. The fish too can become entranced by it. One problem this technique sometimes suffers from is that bass will get their nose on the ass end of the lure and follow it to the boat without biting, no matter what you do.
“Because I’m usually fishing it in colder water temperatures, I’m trying to find the certain cadence that the shad are swimming at,” Caldemeyer said. “Sometimes that’s a narrow gait, but usually it’s something wider. I want it to go way out and then pull back to the far other side. That’s usually what works best for me.” With the baits he prefers, he likes a slow, steady retrieve with a 6.2:1 Abu Garcia Revo Toro. With a conventional 200-sized low-profile reel “you’re just asking for trouble,” he explained. “You want something that holds a lot of line so that you can make long casts.” He puts it on an 8-foot heavy-action custom swimbait rod and utilizes 20-pound test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon, occasionally going up to 30-pound test line with the really big baits.
While the slow, steady retrieve does the heavy lifting and allows a properly-tuned and weighted lure to work its magic, it pays to envision that there’s a bass following your lures at all times.
“You get a lot of followers,” he warned. “It’s a lot like musky fishing up north. So when you’re halfway or three-quarters of the way back to the boat, give it a little quarter or half turn real quick to cause a reaction. The bait will almost point back toward the fish, and that’s when he says “I gotcha,” and bites.”
Once that fish bites, you’ll want to play it gingerly. After all, it could be the biggest bass you’ll ever hook, or even see. That’s the wrong approach, the veteran guide said. “The best thing you can do is get their head up and wind as fast as you can. If you get timid and let the fish swim around, as soon as he shakes his head he’ll get a lot of leverage – that’s a big and heavy bait – and they’ll usually shake it off. I tell my clients to get that head up and crank it all the way to the net.”
Do you remember when a $9 spinnerbait or a $15 jerkbait was considered expensive? What was your reaction the first time that you saw the prices on tungsten weights? Well, if you’re not already attuned to what the addicts are paying for swimbaits, prepare to soil your shorts.
Spending a hundred bucks is considered no big deal, and several hundred is not uncommon. Caldemeyer likes the 8-inch Work Horse Glide and Gizzard Glide from 3:16 Lure Company, a California transplant to Texas run by Mickey Ellis.
“I’ve seen how he hand makes each one,” he said. “He weights them precisely and then takes them and swims them individually in a tank or a swimming pool. On top of that, he airbrushes them precisely with colors tailored to our lakes.”
Some of his favorite colors include Lake Fork Special, Texoma, Lavender Shad, and Brownback. He said that the “Baitfish” pattern is universally applicable.
Of course, if you’re spending the big bucks, you’ll want to “match the hatch.” These lures don’t just work where there are gizzard shad. If you live in California, you might want a rainbow trout pattern, and yes, they work up north, where yellow perch may be the dominant forage. In Mexico, perhaps try to replicate a tilapia.
While they come in 6-inch and even smaller sizes, when Caldemeyer is giant hunting the 8-incher is his starting point. He likes the even larger Beast Glide, which looks almost big enough to go in the livewell, but he knows that’s even more intimidating to most first-timers. Not just hauling it, as it requires even heavier tackle, but also the $500 price tag. If you can get one!
Indeed, he thinks that the price doesn’t necessarily make them better, but it does make them rarer. Not every Tom, Roland, or Leroy is gonna shell out that kind of cash when you can go to Wal-Mart and get something fishable for a five spot. That means fewer fish have seen them, and they trigger the greediest among them.
There are countless other small-scale manufacturers, each with their own cult members. Of course, you may have to be lucky and get in on a drop—or find an online flipper—just to get the chance to spend that kind of money.
Just because you can’t or won’t sell your blood or your firstborn to afford a high-dollar glide bait doesn’t mean that you’re totally out of the game. There are some other respected models at sub-triple digit prices, some even below twenty bones. Here are a few mass-produced models that gain respect, even from the semi-hardcore snobs: 6th Sense Draw, Gan-Craft Jointed Claw, Jackall Gantarel, and River2Sea S-Waver.
Dip your toe into the glide bait world, Caldemeyer said, and you may not want to leave.
“Most people go one of two directions,” he said. “They’re intimidated and they walk away or they’re intrigued and they jump in.” Once that first bite comes, though, it may be game over. Marriages, jobs, and other responsibilities could easily fall by the wayside.
“The strikes that you get are 100% the hardest strikes you will ever get from a bass. You feel it right up to your shoulder blades. That’s why it becomes an infatuation. That’s why there are so many guys now who it’s all they throw, it’s all they do.”