Weirdest Looking Lure!
The weirdest looking lure I ever saw was used on the Ganaraska River, Ontario, Canada. My parents had just moved to Port Hope from Toronto and I was visiting them for the weekend. I decided to go down to the trench to try my luck with "Mr. Steelhead" (I call him "Mr." because if you don't have respect for them they'll get you every time).
I was drifting my roe bag alongside five or six other anglers when I noticed a small man casting by himself. It looked to be a pretty large sized crankbait that definitely would be too large for river steelhead! I got closer to have a better look and I noticed that he was using a custom made seven foot sage rod (approx. $700 value) and one of those old Cardinal reels that cost about 400 dollars now a days. This observation led me to the conclusion that this guy must know what he was doing, even though he was throwing a 5 inch lure that would be more suitable for pike fishing. In just five minutes he had his first fish on the end of his line. It was a beauty, about ten pounds!
I approached him to compliment him on his fish, but I also wanted to get a closer look at the lure. The lure was a black banana shaped bait with a Rapala minnow style lip with orange spots all over it. It looked like nothing that would ever be swimming in the Ganaraska. It looked homemade because you could see that it was hand painted. I then asked him if he made that lure and he replied, "How did you know?" I said, "it looks hand painted and I've seen almost every lure made except for that one." He kept on fishing and about ten minutes later he had another good fish on, while I had only caught one little shaker using a roe bag. He fought this fish for about fifteen minutes before it wanted to come to the wall of the big trench. When it did I offered to net his fish which he kindly accepted. When I looked down to net the fish I couldn't believe my eyes! This rainbow must have been at least 17 pounds but the man reeling it in was so calm it was like he had done this a million times!! After netting this beast I took a picture of this seemingly wise man with his prize catch. I now knew that this weird lure was no fluke and that this guy was serious. I was now just aching to catch one these using a lure like his. I asked him where I could get one of those lures and he replied "meet me here tomorrow morning at 7:30 with ten dollars."
(Henry Lee's handcrafted lures/art)
That night I felt like a kid the night before Xmas waiting to open his presents! I couldn't wait to get down to the river to meet the man with the magic lure. The morning finally came and I rushed down to the river to meet my version of Santa. When I saw him at the river I finally introduced myself and he replied "nice to meet you my name is Henry Lee." He then opened up box containing about a hundred lures with all kinds of colours I've never seen used before! I told him that I had a twenty on me and asked if it was okay if I took two of them. He said no problem and I asked him to pick two for me. The first lure he picked was four and a half inches long with an olive back, a chartreuse side with an orange belly. The other was black with orange spots and about 4 inches long. He explained that these were his two most consistent colours. He then began to give me the run down on how the lure was to be worked, when it is to be used and so forth. Man this was cool! Not only did I get a lure from the original maker but I also got a free on the water "how to" from the inventor himself!! Talk about the best twenty dollars I've ever spent. After this day of fishing, this 68 year old man and I had bridged a serious age gap through our mutual love of fishing. We've fished together for five years since that day and boy I have learned a lot from him.
The first lesson Henry taught me was to observe my surroundings. For instance, if I notice that the fish were rolling in the trench, then I was only to let my lure sink for only a second. If the fish were not surfacing, he told to count to five in order to let the bait sink five feet. And finally, if the fish didn't strike there I should count even longer until I found the magical depth.
Henry also taught me to feel with the lure. The upwelling zone is the part of the trench where the lake water meets the trench water. He told me to feel the slight tension difference on my lure in this area. The difference was so slight that had he not told me, I never would have known it existed! I still wonder who showed him?? It didn't take me long to realize that Henry was one of those guys who figures things out for himself. This hidden zone is so productive because the upwelling causes plankton and other micro organisms to be stirred, sparking an area that the whole food chain uses to feed.
The next thing Henry stressed was how to retrieve the bait. He made it clear that slow and steady was the best retrieve to be used. He then went on to say, "when the lure is retrieved slowly, the wobble of the bait makes the rainbow very curious and attracted to the lure. They do not have hands so they have no choice but to grab it with their mouth." Henry explained to achieve an irresistible wobble, use a Rapala knot with a soft tipped rod to really help accentuate the action of the lure. The loop in the Rapala knot allows the lure to swing freely while the soft tip swings with each roll of the lure.
As the day went on I also learned the importance of the rod length. I started with a 6′6″ medium action bait casting rod with 8lb Berkley XL. I caught my first fish on my third cast with this set up with no apparent problems. I've never experienced such a violent strike before, the fish nearly yanked the rod out of my hand! It was such a big contrast from just seeing your float disappear when a fish strikes. Now that I could actually experience the feel of the strike, I nearly had a heart attack! After a five minute battle I had my first steelhead landed on the secret lure! It was a decent eight pound fish but it made me feel like a reborn steelhead angler! Catching this fish on this lure really changed the game for me! About ten minutes after landing this fish I had another one smash my bait and second later a fifteen pounder was flying out of the water shaking its head like a mad dog with rabies! As soon as the fish hit the water all I felt was slack, @@##$##! I couldn't believe it the fish was gone! The beast snapped my line off!! All I heard from down the trench was Henry saying, "your rod is too short and stiff, that is why the fish is gone, it cannot absorb the shock." At Henry's recommendation, I now use a 7′ medium light rod with 8lb Berkley xt with my drag set loose so when the fish make its first giant power surge it doesn't stress the line. Don't worry about hook sets with the loose drag, Henry makes sure when you get one of his lures that the hooks are pre-sharpened. So when these fish want it they hook themselves 90% of the time.
Later that day Henry's friend Andrew came down to the river after hearing that the bite was on. He was already an avid fan of Henry's baits and was instantly tossing this odd looking purple "Henry's bait". Five minutes went by and wham!!! Andrew had a monster on! He fought it for about ten minutes and still had not got a glimpse of it! Ten minutes later the bulldogging monster finally started to rise like a Russian submarine, it was a giant male! Its whole side was a beautiful bright red with a hooked jaw like a salmon. We put him on the scale and the fish was just under 19 pounds! I couldn't believe it, in just two days I witnessed a seventeen pound fish, a nineteen pound fish and had lost a fifteen pounder! I hadn't seen one fish over fifteen pounds in five years and now in two days fishing with Henry I had seen three! I was so amazed!! Henry though was as cool as ice and calmly said, "If you want to take the biggest fish in the water, you use my lure and see what happens." It's been years since that day and I still consistently catch monsters on this lure.
After years of trial and error with Henry and his bait I've learned a few important factors that play a role in success when using Henry Lee's old dirty secret.
First is the water clarity. The lure works best when there is at least a foot of visibility to ultra clear, although I have caught the odd fish in muddy water using the much brighter and bigger lures that Henry makes.
Second is the location. It pretty much works anywhere where steelheads reside. Just because the bait is big doesn't mean you can't throw it into shallow skinny water. Henry originally designed the bait for Cobourg Creek, which is so small that some of us on the Ganny refer to it as "The Dribble." I've used the bait up stream in clear shallow water and have had crazy success. Just make sure to keep a low profile and watch your shadow. I've worked fish in pools like I was sight fishing for bass and watched how they react to the bait. Its crazy, sometimes I make ten casts to a fish and then he starts to show a little interest and then all of a sudden, wham! Its a pretty awesome way to catch them and in big water like wide trenches the lure is so effective in covering water and locating fish.
Last is the timing of when to use it! It works great throughout the river steelhead season but it really peaks just as the salmon eggs disappear and the steelies are no longer zoned in on roe and start to develop what I like to call an open mind. I estimate this time to be anywhere from late November to mid December depending on the given year.