Applied Science: When “Real” Is “Too Real”?

We’ve mentioned before that the big deal in the late 70s and early 80s was super realistic paint schemes on baits. Photoprinting an image onto a lure became one way to get a very realistic finish on a piece of hard plastic. Another was to simply carve your bait into the actual shape of a prey item, witness the Bagley “Small Fry” line of baits, or Crankbait Corp. “Bullcat” series.

Whether that realism trend really helped an angler catch more fish or not was debatable, though a lot of anglers certainly jumped on the bandwagon. The general consensus seemed to be that in clear water situations it might help, but in stained or muddy water it was questionable. There was also the argument that prey items have the coloration they do as a means of trying to blend in with the background so as not to get eaten, and mimicking a natural pattern would actually work against an angler. Still, how much realism can you get out of a piece of plastic and wood?

That all changed in the late 80s when Bill Dance and Keeper Bait Co. came out with a couple baits that were molded foam. The first seemed harmless enough, the Dancin’ Eel. You could argue that it might represent a lamprey or a tadpole or even a snake, and thereby might be general enough to elicit strikes from a bass. But the bar was raised the following year, perhaps when their molding technology advanced (?), and they released the Dance’s Craw.

Touted on the package as “The most natural looking motion bait ever made”, this creation was a literal replica of a crawfish (or a small lobster depending on your perspective).  Made of “space-age hydrofoam,” it was also equipped with a “hydrosonic stabilizer,” whatever the heck that meant. Finally, it had the same small plastic crankbait-like bill as found on the Dancin’ Eel.

A general search of the Internet seems to suggest that most guys consider these two baits, especially the crawfish, as one of the biggest gimmick baits they’re ever purchased. Perhaps that’s another conversation for another time. Of course, Bill sure seemed to catch a lot of fish on this new super realistic bait, even if others didn’t, which brings up the question of was this thing too realistic?

Later research by Dr. Keith Jones of Berkley would show that when molded crayfish replicas were tested against bass, the ones that fared best in terms of strikes were the ones with all the extra appendages removed – no legs, no claws; basically just a fuselage-shaped body.

On the other hand, it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of some of these super realistic swimbaits out on the market today. So where does the line get drawn between realism and overkill?

Back on the Dance’s Craw, the public seemed to decide that one, witness the bait not being around too long. So while no one would question a basses fondness for eating crawfish, and it was certainly one of the most true-to-life baits at the time, it just goes to show that sometimes science and reality don’t always come together in a great way as far as fishing baits are concerned.

  • I caught more on the craw than on the Dancin’ Eel, but that ain’t saying much. Actually, I believe most of the fish I caught on it were taken just using the back half of it (front half, really – the head and claws end) as a jig trailer.
    Herb Reed used to make a super-realistic plastic craw that worked really well as a jig trailer too. And the Huddlebug is pretty damned close to the real thing, too. Again though, Unless I break the tail off and put it on a jighead, I can’t catch squat on it.
    Getting back to the Dancin’ Eel, somewhere in my cellar is a Lure that a friend from Japan sent me right after it came out. A little fatter in the body, and the tail was a strip of rubber or vinyl glued on rather than being molded in as one piece. The construction was more like an old “Super Frog” with the foam body and glued on tail, but with a treble hook hanger and diving lip molded in place. But in overall appearance it was virtually the same as the Dancin’ Eel, and had been around since the 50s in Japan.He said that serious Japanese anglers had always considered it a novelty.

  • Ralph Manns

    Too real in an artificial?? We must remember that some of the biggest and best west-coast lunker bass were taking using live crawfish for bait. Can a live crawfish be too real?

    Perhaps the difference is that whatever a live crawdad does it remains realistic, While any artificial may not be moved realistically or convincingly. Also a factor is the natural camouflage of live bait, and true imitations, Crawfish colors are used by crawfish to help conceal them or threaten enemies..

  • I “discovered” these lures in a clearance bin Andrea thought I’ll try em. The eel has caught so many smallies its a favorite now. I’m so glad they brought them back. The crawdad is in a league of its own. I caught a 15 lb. Brown trout in the lower Niagara river.

    Niagara ‘