A fairly new fishing bait that is banned in some states, not in Arkansas, paid off for Steve Howard a few days ago.
He won the 2011 Mr. Bass of Arkansas Classic on Lake Norfork in northern Arkansas.
Howard, who lives on Lake Conway, worked an Alabama rig, a multi-lure contraption, to land 39.78 pounds of bass over three days to win the season-ending tournament. He took home a Ranger boat, Mercury outboard rig valued at more than $30,000.
Mr. Bass of Arkansas is a 36-year-old tournament circuit founded by the late Porter Everett of Little Rock. Several of its competitors have gone on to the major professional bass circuits — George Cochran, Ron Shuffield and Jerry Williams, to name a few.
Howard qualifies as a veteran bass competitor. He has competed in Mr. Bass for a number of years and captured one of its six qualifying tournaments this year. That was on Lake Ouachita several months back.
That Alabama rig?
"It is a jig head with five 6-inch wires attached to it. Each of these has a swivel, and you put a swim bait on each of them," Howard said. "I used 5-inch swim baits on four of the wires and a 6-inch swim bait in the middle. To a bass, the thing looks like a school of shad coming through the water."
He said he used shad-colored swim baits the first part of the Mr. Bass classic then went to multi-colored ones later.
"It didn’t matter what color the baits were. The fish just went for them," he said.
Howard went into the final round of the three-day tournament in third place, but his final tournament limit of five bass was enough to push him to the front.
"I had never been on Lake Norfolk before," he said. "I had three practice days, then the first day of the tournament I ran up the river into Missouri and caught three bass. I came back down to the lower end of the lake and found some shallow and also found some deep, 8 to 10 feet."
Howard, 56, is operations manager for KARK-TV in Little Rock.
The Alabama rig requires the use of heavy line, and Howard worked with braided, not monofilament, fishing line. The Norfolk bass slammed hard into his rig.
The Alabama rig gained renown earlier this year when professional Paul Elias used it to win a major FLW Tour event on Lake Guntersville in Alabama.
The device has been termed an umbrella rig that can be cast.
Umbrella rigs are used in trolling for saltwater fish. Some states prohibit them in freshwater fishing because of restrictions, usually three, on the number of lures than can be connected to one rig.
The Alabama rig used by Howard and also by Elias was created by Andy Poss, who lives at Muscle Shoals in northwestern Alabama.
The jig head and the five thin wires don’t weigh much, just 3/8ths of an ounce. But add those five swim baits, and you have a hefty rig. It is something like 10 inches long and about 8 inches across when rigged, and it’s heavy, weighing five ounces or more including those five lures. It takes big tackle to fish it in addition to stout line.
Elias used a 7-foot, 11-inch heavy flipping rod and 65-pound-test braid to cast it at Guntersville. "It’s like casting a brick," Elias said. "I was completely worn out at the end of each day, but man, did I catch fish."
Inventor Poss said that he’s had better successes by locating shad schools then casting the rig beyond them and bringing it upward through them at a steady pace.
"Sometimes I reel it fast and then kill it or let it drop back a few feet and then reel it fast again," Poss said, adding that he has caught as many as four bass on a single cast with the rig.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.