- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 9, 2006

Anyone who follows The Washington Times’ Thursday fishing reports and Sunday features during the winter months knows my fondness for a plastic grub known as the Mann’s Sting Ray. The model used in our group of fishing pals is a 3-inch-long, avocado-color wizard that does an admirable job of imitating the motion and body color of the bull minnows that live and thrive in the tidal rivers of the Chesapeake Bay.

These “fat-head” minnows provide a ready source of food for bigger fish, so if an artificial lure can mimic the real article, it is cause for joy. The Sting Ray does just that.

Bass love them, so do white and yellow perch, and even rockfish and channel catfish will snatch them up. They’re pierced onto ball-headed jig hooks, the hook barb totally exposed, and are a constant threat to find snags that will test an angler’s patience and lure-freeing skills.

Yes, the Sting Ray works beautifully, and back in the day when the then-tournament fisherman and now-bass fishing guide Andy Andrzejewski introduced the effective broad-tailed grub to his Washington friends, it wasn’t long before his beloved Sting Ray was being bought by hundreds of local fishermen who were serious about catching largemouth or smallmouth bass when the water was cold.

But there comes a time in spring when aquatic vegetation begins to emerge and lures with exposed hooks are not recommended, lest you enjoy having a fistful of aquatic greenery in your hand after every cast.

Grass starts to grow on the bottoms of large, wind-sheltered river bays, coves and feeder creeks. The minnows, crayfish, shiners and perch soon scour the grassy river floor for tiny edibles, and you-know-who is scouring the same waters for crayfish, minnows, shiners and perch. What goes around, comes around.

The largemouth bass begin to hang out above and inside the lush, submersed milfoil, hydrilla and wild celery beds. If they see anything that even remotely looks like it can be eaten, they’ll attack.

It is during those early weed-growing times that a smartly retrieved lipless rattle lure will draw a bass’s interest. Ditto for the ever popular spinnerbait, but the top artificial “food” during those days and weeks (it’s happening right now) will be soft lures such as a plastic worm and the new favorite in our group — an artificial crawfish.

Fake crawfish aren’t new. They’ve been around for decades, but the one we’re using is different. The Hard Nose Craw from Mann’s Bait Co. has been answering our fishing prayers.

It’s aptly called a Hard Nose because this plastic lure, as well as an entire lineup of other Hard Nose baits, eliminates the use of specialty glues, toothpicks, or screw-in hooks to keep soft lures from sliding off the hook. The Hard Nose has a firm head section that allows you to insert a weedless worm hook (or a jig hook as some prefer) and it will stay where it’s placed. There’ll be no more sliding, no unwanted movement down the shank of the hook. It absolutely stays where you put it.

But the rest of the Craw is a wonder of soft, jiggly, little feelers and broad flapping claws that, when gently pulled through the vegetation, do a wonderful job of imitating the real article.

The Potomac’s largemouth bass appear to agree. During several outings thus far, we’ve caught a better than average number of river bass on a 4-inch watermelon/red flake Hard Nose Craw that my fishing pal, Dale Knupp, swears measures only 3 inches. Either way, one Craw was good enough to hook a number of bass, and it continued to hold its shape.

If you’re interested you can take a look at the company Web site, www.mannsbait.com.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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