There has been a constant evolution of the processes and materials that go into building a bait since the creation of the first artificial lure. From the earlier metal models to wood and then plastic, the effort to find the perfect material to create the most consistent and lifelike action has been relentless. For Don Hultstrand of Bagley Lures, without a doubt balsa is best.
“Balsa has a unique buoyancy, the right type of grain, it can hold paint without changing its characteristics and it’s really consistent in the water,” said Hultstrand.
Both Rapala and Bagley almost simultaneously found balsa wood to be the perfect wood for building baits around 1960. A wood so light, but still strong, that it’s even used by companies such as Boeing to build commercial airplanes. But the most important thing, the action.
“You get as close to lifelike action in that material as you can in almost anything that’s available today, including foams.”
Now that lure manufacturers had the perfect material, it was time to work on the process. Baits were lathed for years. The balsa wood was spun and tools were used to chip away until a bait was formed. The lathing process, however, presented a few problems.
“Lathing can get a little chippy and leave gouges. To cover the inconsistencies in the lathing process, the baits were dipped several times in epoxy. To give the bait a base coat and then to try to smooth out its finish.”
“Tumbling” is also used to remove some of the imperfections. This process requires a large drier that spins while the baits tumble around with certain types of small rocks or other abrasive materials.
“But you still kind of ended up with a slightly imperfect finish. But that was ok. The only real negative of building a balsa bait in the old days was the screw eyes.”
Since a metal hook harness couldn’t run from the line tie through the bait to the hooks, Bagley had to use screw eyes in the tail of the baits to create hook hangers. This isn’t as strong. For the belly hook, however, some reinforcement came by way of necessity.
“For a bait to swim right, you have to create ballast. So there has to be some weight in the belly of the bait. We would ‘screw and fill’ the belly of the bait by cutting a little drill hole in it and then filling it up with lead. By doing that, you create ballast. And that little piece of lead usually had the hook eye so that you could attach the belly hook.”
These challenges from the past are no more for Bagley as they have now perfected the process of building baits with balsa.
“We kind of rout the wood and then cut the baits in half. Then we put those two halves into electrically heated molds. Those molds are CNC made and very precise.”
Each mold has a male and female side that presses the halves separately. As the heated molds press the wood, it is burned and compressed. When the mold reopens, a new creation has been formed. The press has created a cavity inside the two halves as well as a channel for the metal hook harness.
“Now we have 100% of the inside cavity to work with and can put little slivers of lead anywhere we want.”
Essentially cooking these baits also makes the baits extremely smooth and the grain incredibly tight. This creates an even stronger bait. Add the metal hook harness and you have the toughest balsa bait ever created.
“So now we have, right out of the mold, an incredibly smooth finish that doesn’t need as much undercoat epoxy. A lot of people will look at a Bagley bait today and ask, ‘Is that a plastic bait?’, because it has that look of perfection that you can only get out of a plastic mold. But you also get the benefits of all the buoyancy that you just can’t get with plastic.”
And that is what makes balsa crankbaits different and why balsa is best for building baits.
This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert
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