“I learned so much from him – he had a lot of influence on my fishing. His offshore techniques taught me a lot and I’m sure the way he held on a spot had an effect on the way I do things today. I wish I could have fished with him more.” 2005 BASS Angler of the Year, Aaron Martens.
[Editor’s Note] I originally authored this article for Bass West USA in 2007. I would like to thank them for allowing me to reprint it in full here on the Bass Fishing Archives. For those who will argue that using a split-shot in front of a worm was invented long before the early 70s, you are correct. The specific technique in which Dick Trask developed along with the dart-head technique were solely his.
It isn’t often a person comes along and changes the status-quo in bass fishing. People such as Dee Thomas, Buck Perry, Billy Westmorland, Charlie Brewer and Ray Scott have all made major contributions to the world of bass fishing and without them, the sport as we know it today, wouldn’t exist.
Unfortunately, others who have contributed an immense amount to the sport have gone through life in obscurity – leaving behind a legacy only a relative few local anglers know despite the fact their actions affect all bass fishermen. These anglers were more interested in catching fish rather than be in the national spotlight. They developed innovative techniques and became so good at their craft they also became teachers of their techniques by proxy.
The following pages are a tribute to a man who is essentially unknown outside of California. Yet, he played a pivotal role in finesse fishing as we know it today. He arguably invented split-shotting and played a key role in development of the dart-head worm technique, which, along with slider-head fishing, has now spawned into the shaky-head craze throughout the United States. When one talks about the advent of these techniques and finesse fishing in general, you can’t have a complete conversation without mentioning the name Dick Trask.
The Beginning – 1974 to 1983
Dick Trask came into the southern California fishing scene in the mid-70s. He had always been an outdoorsman; hunting upland game, fishing the ocean and fishing the eastern Sierras for trout. Then a local reservoir was created and Dick turned his full attention to bass fishing.
“I met Dick in 1970 when I was 12-years old,” Trask’s first team partner Scott Gantz said. “Back then Dick and my brother fished and hunted together. It wasn’t until I turned 16 that I started doing things with him. At first, we just fished trout and hunted pheasant but in 1974 when Castaic opened, we changed our attention to bass fishing.
“Back then we used nightcrawlers mostly – like we fished trout,” he said. “We started fishing Carolina rigs at first but got tired of the twisted line and all the extra knots. Then we started to use a stream trout-fishing technique that we came up with fishing live crickets and worms. The nightcrawlers would always twist up the line so we had to try a different kind of worm.
“Dick and I tried several different ways to rig a plastic worm, until one day at Castaic Dick said to me, ‘I got it.’ That’s when and where it all started. The only injected plastic worm with a curl tail that we used at that time was a 4-inch Phenom made by Mister Twister. When rigged just right with a size 2 blue Mustad worm hook and the proper-weighted round split-shot, we had a deadly weapon we could take anywhere.”
It ended up being such a deadly weapon that by the early 80s, if you weren’t throwing the split shot rig in southern California, you weren’t competing.
“I can’t tell you how many times we finished in the top-3 in tournaments back then,” he said. “We were the team to beat, without a doubt. We were Team of the Year a number of times (both in southern California and northern California), we had multiple big-fish awards including one when Dick landed a 13-08 on 6-pound string and we won our share of Grand Slams – all out of ‘Little Red’ – his 16-foot MonArk.
“It took our competition about 2 years to finally figure out what we were doing,” he said. “Before that, people would accuse us of cheating but that comes with the territory. When you’re on the top of your game rumors start and that’s all it was. Dick was good at public relations.”
Close friend and fishing partner, Jay Poore, also recalls those early days when Trask dominated the SoCal tournament scene.
“Dick opened our eyes to a lot of techniques that he developed and refined that we still use today,” Poore said. “Techniques like the split-shot rig and dart-head. But what I feel made him so dangerous was his consistency. He always got a check – no matter how bad the bite was.
“Another thing about Dick that made him stand apart from a lot of the other anglers was the fact he made due with very little. He couldn’t afford a big shiny boat – yet when it came to his fishing, nobody could beat the team in the red and white MonArk. That boat didn’t have any decks, had more cracks in it than I care to remember and wasn’t fast at all. He used to tell me, ‘it’s not the boat that catches the fish but the guy in it.’ That had such an effect on me that I hung on to my Gregor aluminum boat a lot longer than I probably would have had I not been a friend of his.”
Poore was one of the lucky individuals who learned of the “secret technique” before many others were privy to the information.
“I was one of the few individuals who actually knew what Dick and Scott were doing before a lot of others. That was because I used to visit Dick at his optical shop and our mutual friend, Colin Waters, who spent a lot of time fishing with Dick during that time, was my team partner. This was around the 1980 timeframe.”
John “Zank” Viazanko also recalls those early days.
“Dick was the man to beat back then,” Zank said. “Even (Don) Iovino wanted to know what he was doing because he was kicking Don’s butt on the water in front of his clients. Obviously it was his new techniques, but it was also his dedication. There was no one out there that was as dedicated to catching bass as Dick Trask.
“Dick and I met around 1976 when I was 13. We met at the Castaic Mobile Mini-Mart where everyone stopped before heading up the hill to the lake. My dad would drop me off at the lake and if Dick saw me, he’d take me out fishing. That was when he was fishing tournaments with Scott (Gantz). When we fished together, though, he always treated me like I was his student. Not only was he like a big brother to me, he was my mentor.
“Most people that didn’t know him thought of Dick as unapproachable,” Zank said. “He was a little rough around the edges but when you got to know him, he’d give the shirt off his back if you needed it.”
The Mid-Years – 1984 to 1995
From 1984 to 1995 Trask was still the dominant force on the SoCal team circuit and was still going north to fish the northern California team circuits. During this time he had a number of partners including his last full-time partner, Gary Maki.
“I met him at Castaic after a WON Bass tournament in 1992,” Maki said. “It was kind of a funny deal. Weigh-in was done and we were all just standing around talking with Dick and Aaron (Martens). I knew Dick and he knew I’d been split shotting a long time so he invited me to go fishing with him the next day and I took him up on it. I met him at the lake and the rest is history. We were essentially full-time partners after that until he moved to Isabella.
“He was a little bit of a rough character,” Maki noted. “He was one of those guys that until you got to know him, you didn’t think much of him. He stayed tight lipped and he had to know you and what you were about before he’d tell you what was going on.
“He really wanted a family – someone to carry on his name. That’s why I think he enjoyed spending time with me and the other younger anglers on the scene back then. I think he wanted to know that someone was going to carry on the tradition and do it right. He was extremely proud of Aaron (Martens). They didn’t fish much together but he was a big part of Aaron’s success and he was so proud of him.
“Dick knew Aaron was going to be something and he took pride in heckling him as much as possible – as a means of toughening him up. Dick was one of the few who had free reign over Aaron’s boat storage lockers after a tournament. It was friendly competition but Aaron had so much respect for Dick it really didn’t matter.”
Martens also recalls those days when he and his mom Carol were new to the circuit in SoCal and Dick was the man.
“He gravitated to us those first years because I was a teenager fishing with my mom,” Martens said. “He was like that – he liked to see young people with a passion for the sport out there.
“I fished with him around 20 times from 1988 until I left to start my professional career,” he said. “I learned so much from him – he had a lot of influence on my fishing. His offshore techniques taught me a lot and I’m sure the way he held on a spot had an effect on the way I do things today. I wish I could have fished with him more.
“His contribution to finesse fishing was top notch,” Martens said. “He was the master of finesse, whether it was split-shotting a Flutter Craft or dart-heading a 4-inch ringworm – he’d kick everyone’s butt.”
The Techniques, Tackle and His Dedication
Everyone who ever knew Dick will attest to the fact he was dedicated. The homework he did in order to learn the lakes was monumental, his tackle preparation unparalleled, the deep-water techniques he developed unmatched and his boat control was unsurpassed. In fact, those that didn’t know would see the red and white MonArk in the middle of Castaic in a four-foot swell not moving and swear he was anchored. Little did they know he was actually doing a controlled drift over a piece of structure, sometimes in over 60-feet of water, with only his trolling motor keeping him on the spot.
“Boat control was required to maintain the proper drift and speed to keep the split shot in contact with the bottom,” Gantz said. “It also had a lot to do with the type of structure you were fishing, depth of the structure, wind speed, no wind, and most importantly, where the fish were holding on the structure.”
“He wasn’t very graceful in the boat,” Zank said. “That’s because he weighed over 300 pounds. But, sitting in his seat, he could run the boat without flaw. His trolling motor pedal was exactly where it needed to be and he was able to keep his boat exactly where he wanted it. He could visualize the bottom and what was on it in his head and know when he was about to get bit by just watching his graph. His boat control skills were second to no one.”
Maki recalls the same about Trask.
“He was great with his depthfinders,” Maki said. “He loved the old Vexilar paper graph because of its resolution. He didn’t use GPS (it wasn’t around) but triangulated everything by eye. I remember, we’d be in 150 feet of water and then he’d look to a couple different shore lines make a couple turns and the next thing I knew we’d be in 35 feet of water on top of a hump. His ability to find structure and stay on it was the best there is.”
His techniques were all predicated on what type of spot he was fishing and how the fish were relating to it.
“He loved fishing deep water,” Maki said. “Nobody had the patience to sit on a spot for as long a time as him. He’d sit there for hours until the fish ate. This was all experience and not many would do it – but he knew the fish would finally feed.
“He didn’t always split shot or throw dart-heads either,” he said. “He threw creepy crawlers (a spider-type jig made by Haddock), and was really proficient at deep-water shaking (doodling). He did what the fish wanted.”
Martens remembers his dart-head experiences with Trask.
“It was all about the fish on the finder,” Martens said. “He’d look at the graph and determine how deep the fish were. Then he’d make a cast and allow his darthead to pendulum down to the fish. A majority of his fish were caught on that initial fall. If they weren’t, he’d catch them fishing the bait on the swim or on the bottom like people use the shaky head these days. The only thing he didn’t do was dropshot. I think if I had spent more time with him in his last years, he would have beaten everyone with that too.”
Zank recalls the same.
“If you found fish suspended over the bottom, he’d use the darthead because he could cast out and let the bait pendulum back at the depth the fish were at,” he said. “He could do the same with the split shot but the darthead was better because of the exposed hook and better hook-up ratios. Dick was so unconscious with his fishing. I don’t think he was conscious of what he was doing a lot of the time – he was truly in the zone.”
“The original rods we used were 5- to 5 1/2-foot graphite spinning rods with 4- to 6-pound clear mono line,” Gantz said. “We could cast on the bank or down to 60-feet and it worked on all types of structure. The proper size hook to fit the plastic worm and the proper weighted round split shot to stay in contact with the structure. That was the basic setup.”
His terminal tackle was also maintained in an exceptionally meticulous manner.
“He used to use the double sided Plano Magnums,” Zank said. “The boxes were perfectly organized and he knew where everything was located. Everything was at his fingertips and there was no wasted time when he was in the boat. He was one of the first people I knew that really paid attention to sharpening his hooks because back then we didn’t have chemically sharpened hooks. Back then you could buy a 100-pack of Mustad 33637 sproat worm hooks for $2.95 and he’d sharpen every one of them with a diamond lap file.
“His favorite worm was a Mister Twister 4-inch Phenom because it had a thin curl tail,” Zank said. “Out of the package they were hard so he boiled the worms to soften them up to his liking. He was a perfectionist. If a worm had a slight kink or was slightly off color he’d throw them away and not use them at all. After Mister Twister changed the tail on the Phenom, he went to the 4-inch Flutter Craft curl tail because the tail was thin like the original Phenoms. They were already soft out of the package but he’d boil them too.”
“His organization was unbelievable,” Maki reiterated. “All of his worms were perfectly straight in his box, his split shot were all organized and his hooks were all sharp. We’d go shopping for pork at tackle shops and he’d go through cases of pork to get the good pieces. I mean he’d open each jar and take all the good pieces and put them in the jars he would buy.”
Trask also had his hand in developing a number of baits for his split-shotting and dart-head fishing.
“He was very instrumental in helping me develop my worms,” Zank stated. “Colors that Dick helped me establish turned out to be colors that are now staples in the bass fishing industry and Dick played a large part in that development. He’d come over to my garage and we’d stay up until two in the morning making new colors and designs. He was totally dedicated to bass fishing and making it better.”
He also helped local southern California pourer Steve Merlo with his designs.
“He developed colors with Steve that flat worked at the lakes all the time,” Maki said. He was just a gifted angler and now when I think back, I realize how lucky I was to have been able to hang out with him.”
His dedication to learning a lake was also unsurpassed and allowed him an advantage over most of his competitors.
“He used to study the lakes more than anyone I knew,” Zank said. “He had pictures of entire lakes and used to get the Big Mert topo maps and mark the maps with his pictures. He had that for all the SoCal lakes like Casitas Cachuma, Castaic, Isabella, etc. He’d take trips specifically to take pictures when lakes were drawn down. He didn’t just do this for southern California, either. He’d do the same in central and northern California too. That’s why he was such a force.”
“He knew the lakes so well,” Maki recalled. “We’d be going down the lake and all of the sudden he’d stop and start fishing something out of the blue. But, it was never really out of the blue. He knew the structure like the back of his hand and he’d just stop and fish it the way it needed to be fished. He always caught fish doing it too.”
The Move to Isabella
In 1996, Dick moved to his favorite reservoir, Lake Isabella. At that time, he had slimmed down from over 300 pounds to under 200 pounds. His health was waning but he managed to fish nearly every day. He got rid of “Little Red”, the old 1976 MonArk, and purchased his first full-sized bass boat, a 20-foot Hawk. Life was good.
“He didn’t have much, but he did very well,” Maki said of his later years. “He made good with what he had. He was the golden guy. He was passionate. You don’t see his passion in today’s anglers, in my opinion. That was the difference between him and the others. Fishing was his life.
“For me being an 18-year-old kid fishing with him was a heck of an experience. Dick lived and breathed fish. That’s what makes a successful angler. He took himself to that next level. I didn’t realize how lucky I was back then. To think back, I feel blessed.”
“All in all, good days and bad, fishing with Dick was a part of my life that I will never forget,” Gantz said. “The fishing knowledge that we shared together as team partners and the personal friendship we shared in our own lives will never be forgotten. We were honest with each other, never had an argument, lifted each other up when we were down, and had a mutual respect that ran deep.
“Fishing with Dick in those early years helped me truly understand today what an impact he made on bass fishing and other anglers who can still remember Dick and me in “Little Red” on the water.”
“He flat knew how to catch the fish,” Martens said. “He was instinctive and knew how to get them to eat. When he passed away I was away making a place for myself nationally. I really wish I could have spent more time with him in the final days and done something for him. He had a lot to do with my fishing career and I owe him for that. I just wish I could have done something for him – helped him take better care of his body. I really miss him a lot and think of him all of the time. He truly was a master.”
Dick Trask passed away on October 18, 2001 at the age of 53 from diabetes and a massive heart attack. He is missed by all that knew him and although he is no longer with us in person, he is still with us every time we venture onto Castaic Lake.
I would like to thank all of those who participated in this project – a list of anglers whose contributions to bass fishing are worthy of their own ink. These anglers, when asked if they would help with this article not only agreed to help, but participated with an energy rarely seen. It was always evident that Dick Trask touched a lot of people during his life and now, over 10 years after his untimely death; it is maybe more apparent how many people realize what he did for our sport. I would like to personally thank John “Zank” Viazanko, Jay Poore, Scott Gantz, Gary Maki and Aaron Martens for taking the time to allow me to interview them and Ron Cervanka and Dave Plotnik for help in gathering pictures. Without their help, this article wouldn’t have been possible. Lastly, I would like to thank Dick – for without him, our lives on the water would be much different. Dick, I hope you’re leaving a few fish for us to catch up there and, what about saving us a sandwich too.