Maybe if you turned back newspaper pages — and turned back lots of 'em — you’d see mentions of somethings called a “Split-tail Beetle,” and “Lucky 13” and “Devil’s Horse.”
Oh, not turning back to what was us old-timers called the “amusement” pages. These aren’t titles of black-and-white “B” movies.
They’re fishing baits, and you’d have to look at The Advocate’s Outdoor pages of 40 years ago to know lots of fishermen caught lots of fish with them.
And they are today. It’s a resurrection of sorts.
For maybe the past couple of summers, the chat in reports coming from the Central Coast, mostly waters immediately west of Grand Isle, is that the going-on-50-years-old H&H split-tail beetle is responsible for limits of speckled trout.
You know what it looks like: Mr. Bill Humphries casts these soft-plastics, rigged them in tandem and it’s not hyperbole to write he turned his Baton Rouge-based business into a saltwater fisherman’s go-to marketplace.
True, Humphries was shipping the 19-cents (yes, that was the price) H&H single-blade spinnerbait into another must-have item for freshwater anglers, but the double beetle was catching speckled trout two at a time, at a time when there was no daily trout limit.
There was competition from another soft-plastic lure, the Tout, and they worked, too, but the chartreuse beetle littered with silver glitter was easy to find, easy to cast and you could get two double rigs for a dollar.
An old-timer, who asked not to use his name — or tell anyone where he was catching his trout — said he didn’t know why he got away from using beetles.
“I had a bag of them in the back of the storage room, and I took them out and started using them again,” he said. “There are a couple of spots in the Timbalier area where I caught fish years ago.
“That area has changed so much since the early ‘70’s that I didn’t know if they would work again, but I found similar spots and, let me tell you, the trout ate them up,” he said.
The two others in the boat that day wrestled four each from his bag of beetles, threaded them on eighth-ounce white jigheads and went to town on trout the next day, and the experience sent them to local tackle shops.
Lo and behold, Humphries still makes them, and they bought all the chartreuse-silver beetles on the rack.
Word spread, and now more and more trout are coming to The Fourchon and Grand Isle fish-cleaning tables.
The Lucky 13
No one today knows why it got that name, but this now 70-year-old lure is making a comeback for bass fishermen. It’s a popper with two sets of large treble hooks, much larger than more modern out-the-package topwater lures.
Night fishing remains a good option for the desert-like heat lurking over south Louisiana these days, and the Lucky 13 works best on during new-moon and full-moon phases.
I've heard several reports of late-afternoon into the hours-after-sunset success on this lure in the Verret Basin and in several up-country oxbow lakes.
And some folks are taking the old red head/white body Lucky 13s and catching marsh redfish on them.
It's a a 5-6 inch-long piece of wood shaped like a kid’s first writing instrument, big on the front and tapered to the back with spinners on both ends.
The friend who reclaimed the beetles said he had a dozen of them sitting in a long-abandoned tackle box and decided to check them out.
“I had to polish them up a bit,” he said. “I used to use them in Lake Verret, and the north end of the (Atchafalaya) Spillway, then I stopped using them, and I don’t know why.
“I don’t do a lot of freshwater fishing anymore, but I remember years ago, I stripped all the paint off one of them, sandpapered it to the wood, and varnished it to make it bone colored,” he said. “I took one look at it and knew it would work on redfish.
“It did, and I had a ball using it last fall and winter. And I caught a handful of really big marsh trout on them, too. What a find,” he said.
All this talk brought back memories of a trip with Jimmy James (God rest his soul) on Toledo Bend. The new fisherman’s heartthrob back in the middle 1970’s was the Rat-L-Trap, made in Natchitoches (and still is) and we whacked The Bend’s bass on a chrome, blue-backed Trap with a touch of red on the underside at the lure’s front end.
Bass are one thing, but try this one on redfish, too. This is not a marsh bait. Even the quarter-ounce Traps are a little heavy for the shallow marshes.
Summertime in the bays, around structures, on the beaches and off sandbars are perfect for this blue-chrome-red lure. (We can suspect that’s where the split-tail beetles are working, especially around sandbars.)
We tried to figure out what this fish-shaped lure was to a redfish, but when examining the stomach contents and finding small crabs there, it was easy to understand that redfish look for blue and red (OK, not chrome, which is there for the flash) and a medium retrieve on a Rat-L-Trap sure does look like a crab erratic movement just off a sandy bottom.
There’s more on Traps, because folks like Robbie Johnson uses larger half-ounce Traps to troll for speckled trout along The Causeway and other Pontchartrain spans when the trout get away from the bridges’ pilings. And he catches big trout, and it’s because of the flash and the sounds those little BBs make in a Trap’s interior, hollow sound chamber.
Don't forget these
And let’s remember here, too, the small cousins of the larger split-tail beetles, the diminutive size of Beetle Spins.
Watched a guy rig five of these small lures in tandem on 15-pound fluorocarbon line — green with the black back — and catch the small baits he wanted to catch yellowfin and blackfin tuna.
He said this approach worked better than "Sibiki Rigs," the six little packaged bait rigs, and they're cheaper and hold up much better, and hold onto the baitfish better. In a matter of 15 minutes, we put 45 baitfish he called “threadfins,” in the live well and went off looking for tuna.
And the beauty of Beetle Spins is that when the targeted bluegill and sac-a-lait stop feeding on the cast-and-reel spinner lure, you can remove the jigged beetle from the safety-pin spinner rig and use it to vertical jig around stumps and downed structure, places where casting is limited.
This usually happens later in the mornings when these panfish go into the deep holes to hide from the sun and find cooler places to lounge through the day.
Or, if you want to use the small beetles for a “search” bait, to find out if bluegill and/or sac-a-lait have moved out to the inside or outside of an off-the-bank grass bed, then put it under a cork, make a cast, then use it like you’d use a poppin’ cork for redfish and trout in the marsh. It’s a tactic that works in the summertime, too.