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Riding on the Devil's Horse
Over the years I have seen many fishing lures come and go. My dad had an old tackle box that was filled with a lot of the old time lures, jigs like the Hula Popper, or the Jitterbug, the Bomber-A, and the Chug-Bug. There was even one there called a Woodchopper. But one lure that sticks out to me is the Devil’s Horse.
The Devil’s Horse began its heyday back in the 1940’s. Made by Smithwick Lures, Inc., the Devil’s Horse was by far the most productive and most popular top water lure on the market. It was made of wood, with the hooks being held on by small brackets and wood screws along the bottom of the body. It had a stainless steel wire running through the center of it, with propellers on each end and a hook on the back and a loop to tie the line on the front. The blades of the propellers could be tweaked to churn the water more or less.
The original Devil’s Horse is still being produced, and there are plenty of the old ones available on the internet, mostly on EBay. The average price to pay for a good used one would be about $6.00, but once you have experienced the Devil’s Horse, you’d be willing to pay more. I recently got in a bidding war for one Horse and finally conceded to the other bidder when it reached the $15 range. If you buy one online, make sure that it is made of wood, and not plastic. Toward the end of the original production, the Smithwick people changed over to plastic and it seemed to ruin the Horse’s performance. Smithwick still makes a wood model, but Istill think the older ones are the best.
Riding the Horse
Top water fishing with any kind of plug, popper or floating stickbait is a learned skill. There are a lot of variables that come into play that will affect your retrieval rate and rod action. The best time to use the Horse is in the early morning or late evening when the light breezes are putting a light ripple on the water. Of course this rule goes for most all top water lures. But they will also work all day long, depending on conditions.
As with any surface lure, you let the jig sit on the water for a few seconds before you begin your retrieve. This gives an extra bit of time for a hesitant fish to spring up and take your lure as it sits there. As you begin your retrieve, start with a twitch or two of your rod tip, just enough to make it jerk a little. Then begin your steady retrieve. If it is cool out, bring it in slowly, stopping occasionally to twitch. If it is warmer out, speed your retrieve up a little, but still stop occasionally to twitch. If the breeze is a little heavier, and the ripples on the water are breaking a little, pull your jig in with fast, intermittent sweeps, so it churns the water for about 6 feet, stops, churns, stops. Be creative, practice different methods until one works for you. Generally the idea behind topwater fishing is that you are trying to imitate an injured fish struggling for air, or a small animal or bird struggling for safety.
If you are in a boat, cast toward the shoreline or toward structure. Try to cast as closely to the structure or shore as you can, but be careful not to get snagged. A lost Devil’s Horse is a sorrow not soon forgotten. Retrieve it as I described above, and pay attention to the conditions such as surface ripples, breezes, temperature, etc. It is always a good idea to keep a journal of every fishing trip. Be sure to jot down the weather info, time of day, what you caught the fish on, etc. It will come in handy in the future. I am still using information I jotted down 20 years ago!
If you are fishing from shore, try to cast parallel to the shoreline. The majority of your quarry will be in the first 6’ to 8’ of depth, so cast accordingly. If there is a sharp drop off, cast about three feet away from the shore and retrieve it as parallel as possible, using the methods described. If the shoreline is sloping, use your judgment to guess the depth and try to cast out to where you would think the water would be about 6 feet deep. On the sloping shorelines, you may have to stand perpendicular to the shore and cast out at various angles as you walk the water’s edge.
Water clarity plays an important role in any fishing. If the water is clean and clear, you shouldn’t have to make many modifications. Bright vibrant colors such as white, yellow neon greens and yellows, chartreuse and fire tiger are all good colors.
If the water is murky or stained, then it may be prudent to churn things up a bit more. If you have a pair of fishing pliers, you can GENTLY tweak the blades of the propellers on your lures to a sharper angle. This will cause more disturbances in the water. Now, you would think that in murky water you would use a bright and vibrant color, but I have learned the contrary. The more darkness and staining of the water there is, the more the fish are attracted to darker colored bait. Don’t ask me why, it just happens that way.
What if you’re just catching little ones?
If you and your fishing buddy are having a productive day catching a fair amount of fish, but nothing spectacular as far as size goes, then you need to change something. It’s a known fact that if the smaller fish are feeding on the surface or in the shallows, then the bigger ones are out there waiting for something to come their way. You should retool your lure to a shallow diving stickbait, but keep the color scheme the same that was working for the smaller fish. These shallow running lures will float until retrieved, and then dive down to about 5 feet. Try the slow stop and go approach. To do this, you crank the lure in to get it to the desired depth, and then stop. Let it float up a couple of seconds, and then crank it again. If that doesn’t work, start going smaller and deeper, but keep the colors the same.
One fascinating part about topwater fishing is the surprise factor. You could cast out a dozen times with no response, but on cast number thirteen, just as you are dragging the lure up to your feet, the water will explode as a giant bass leaps out after your lure. This alone can cause you to soil yourself, let alone have a coronary. This happened to me as I was fishing on a drop off ledge at the family farm in Missouri. The popper I was using was just two feet from my feet, and as I was lifting it out of the water, a 12 ½ pound fish followed it up and pulled it back in. It really scared the crap out of me. That was in 1993, and as far as I know that fish is still in the pond (I didn’t have the heart to not release it. It was an amazing fish!).
So now the ball is in your court. Get on EBay, find some Devil’s Horses and plan your springtime fishing. You’ll be glad you did.
Copyright 2010 by Del Banks