Applied Science: The Mann’s Hackleback

Hackleback Bullfin

There are two general forms of science or research, ‘basic’ and ‘applied’.

Basic science is what most people typically envision – laboratory discovery stuff, scientific method, pure curiosity with no immediate commercial application in mind. Then there is applied science, which frequently takes the findings from basic science and ‘applies’ them to solve practical problems of the modern world or starts out with that basic operating principle in mind.

The history of bass fishing has numerous examples of applied science used in an effort to create better bass lures, while hopefully generating nice profits for the company that created said product. I’ll be highlighting a few of these over the next several weeks, starting with an old favorite from around 1980 created by Mann’s Bait Co. In this example, create a lure that will allow an angler to trigger and catch more bass based on tank test observations.

The series was a line of crankbaits called the Hackleback. There were 2 sinking vibration baits, a deep diver and a crawdad look alike. The science theory espoused in the ad went like this:

Mann’s Hackleback ad: Bassmaster, circa 1980

Whenever a baitfish was put into a situation of being fed upon by a predator, it would raise its dorsal fin in a panic mode or escape response. According to Mann’s, when this happened, it almost inevitably led to an attack by a bass on that minnow. Mann’s created a line of crankbaits that had a raised dorsal fin permanently molded into the bait, thereby hopefully signaling to a hungry bass that that minnow was fleeing and thereby would draw a strike.

There were a couple other interesting features of the bait. One was that they had specific rates of fall for their two countdown models of 12 and 14 seconds, almost reminiscent of swimbait nomenclature nowadays, like the Huddleston ROF series of baits. The only problem was, the ad didn’t state just exactly what 12 and 14 seconds represented. Was it the distance to fall 1 foot? 1 yard? 10 feet?  The other was Mann’s step into the world of photo-realistic color patterns on hard baits, a trend that had caught fire the previous couple years, and that had most bait companies “jumping on the bandwagon”.

To my knowledge, the only bait in this lineup that survived was the crawdad. It was actually a favorite of mine at the time, and I still have 1 or 2 left in the old tackle box. It was responsible for the first largemouth that I ever caught intentionally using “pro” tactics on a major reservoir where I first learned to bass fish, so it has a fond place in my heart.

Nowadays, you still see all sorts of fins and fin re-creations on today’s swimbaits, but it’s more for realism and less for any perceived weakness on the part of a helpless prey item. This Mann’s line of baits was a perfect example of applied science that unfortunately never played out that well in real life.

  • I always thought of this as one of the more overt gimmicks the industry ever tried to pass off as science. So does this bass see a baitfish with it’s dorsal up and think to itself — Hmmm that little guy is reacting to a predator on feed — it must be me!

    • Come on Rich! You know, back then it was the “Hottest New Lure Family!”

  • Ralph Manns

    My underwater observations back Mann’s (no relative) concept.. While diving to observe bass there are almost always sunfish near the bass, accept when bass are actively hunting. Active hunting is a distinct behavior , usually involving aggregation with other bass of similar size, and preceded by gill-flaring or “yawning.” bluegill disappear if such a formation approaches.
    With bass in an inactive or neutral state, sunfish simply hold at least 2.5-3 feet away and constantly keep one eye on the bass. If the bass appears aggressive and tries to move closer, a sunfish raises it dorsal and lowers its ventral fin and moves way to maintain the safe distance..

    I have no observations to prove or disprove the idea that a fin-raising makes the target more likely to be attacked, but it is associated with a possible attack.v

  • Glennbob

    Rich, I don’t know if the “hackleback” had anything to do with it, but the Finn-Mann was overall far and away the best rattle bait I’ve ever used. I wish I had a gross of brand new ones!

  • Bill White

    I had one of these Hacklebacks just like the picture. My wife caugt a 29″ walleye on it at Prarie Creek Reservoir when we were trolling.