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Father-son outings to Folsom Lake, near Roseville, Calif., ignited Lance Leavitt’s passion for fishing back in the 1960s. That lake is where the 57-year-old commercial driver landed his first bass, and he continues to return to that spot to challenge game fish.
Over the years, the catch-and-release enthusiast fished with purchased bait, but in the early 1990s pouring one’s own rubber worms became wildly popular. Leavitt tried it, and enjoyed the alchemy of the relatively easy process. More important he reeled in a six-pound bass with one of his creations. That success led the angler to examine his tackle box, where he considered modifying some of his existing lures, and making others from scratch.
Hooked on a feeling
A lure encourages a bass strike either by wobbling or by suspending, as it mimics a dying or wounded bait fish. Leavitt’s experiments started with his spoons — spoon-shaped metal lures. He monkeyed with the wobbles to see if the changes made a difference in strikes. He learned to encourage “slow fall,” the action that keeps a spoon in the strike zone longer, by gluing high-density foam to the back. That widens the spoon’s wobble. He fiddled with tightening the range of the spoon wobbles, belly-weighting them to his own specifications by adhering flattened lead split-shot.
“Fish are fickle,” Leavitt notes. “They may bite on a tight wobble one day and a wide wobble on another. It’s good to have both in your arsenal.”
Leavitt has a knack for seeing bait potential in both obscure and everyday objects. Turning these items into lures brought out his inner artist. On one flea market outing, Leavitt spied a bag of vintage aluminum hair rollers. The dot-like holes across the rollers reminded him of spotted bass. The rollers’ narrow width and length suggested stick bait. He bought the rollers and experimented with one by building up the shape with fly-tiers thread and finishing it with slow-cure, two-part epoxy. A translucent epoxy finish exposed the tiny holes and became the prototype pattern for Leavitt’s wounded minnow stick bait series.
A handful of wooden and plastic coffee stirrers from a local fast food stop became bait backbones. Leavitt started with a wooden stirrer as a base. He built it up by winding fly-tiers thread around it, then incorporated alternate layers of wood and plastic stirrers to shape the lure. The burgeoning designer, who admits to being partial to green, finished this pattern by coating it with green tinted epoxy for a translucent, baby bass look.
When he looked at a simple wooden clothespin, he again saw a lure. Leavitt removed the spring and reversed the woods, filling the edges to create a lure blank with a hole in the center.
“That hole was so convenient that I thought I’d add a rattle,” says Leavitt, explaining that popular commercial stick baits often have plastic or glass rattles inside. The finished lure is a mottled-orange bait fish with a yellow eye.
Plastic knives triggered an idea for a jigging spoon, a lure used for bottom fishing. Leavitt separated the blades from two knives and sandwiched them together. He wrapped the blades with bobbin thread and glued a split ring from a hook at each end. He finished the prototype by adhering flattened, spent shot to its top, then coated it with a chartreuse pepper-colored epoxy and highlighted the shot with orange model paint.
Candy for fish
Leavitt may spend several hours designing, fashioning and finishing each of his lures. He generally has about 10 lures ready for epoxying and drying at any time. He makes them in series of four so that if he uses and loses one he has three backups. “When you invest that much time in something like stick baits, to have them get caught on the bottom would just break my heart,” says the artisan. “If you lose ‘em all, you forget how to make them again.”
At get-togethers with fishing pals, Leavitt shows off his lures and encourages feedback. He’s been tickled by comments that some of his opalescent and bejeweled lures have elicited, such as: “These look like candy.” He’s even more thrilled when he’s shared a spoon and heard that it brought in a four-pound trout.
The lure-maker’s latest experiment is making homemade tube baits. These crawfish-like cylindrical lures have closed, rounded heads and tentacled tails. The tentacles float alluringly, their sway enticing bass.
Commercial tube lures are produced via injection molding, “something that your everyday, run-of-the-mill guy can’t afford,” Leavitt says. He’s developed a way to make his one-of-a-kind tube worms using a melting pot rather than an injection mold. “It’s time-consuming, and certainly not a get-rich-quick scheme,” he jokes.
All told, the artisan angler imagines he’s created a hundred large lures and several hundred spoons. He says there are skeptics who ask whether his lures catch fish. “You know the story about ‘the one that got away?’” asks Leavitt. “Anybody can say what they’ve done but unless they’ve gone out on the water and proved it — I’ve had pretty good luck with my homemade stuff.”