Enjoy the first installment of Jeff Gustafson’s Great Lakes series, interviewing some of the best anglers that consistently place high and win on the Great Lakes, Lake Simcoe and prestigious northern waters. Lots of fresh ideas for anglers in other parts of the country to learn from this series!
It was 13 years ago when Canadian angler Mark Kulik caught the bass fishing bug. Like many anglers when they first start out, Kulik went all in with this new activity, quickly finding a special spot for the giant smallmouth that inhabit Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe, located about an hour north of Toronto in south central Ontario.
In the early 2000’s, dropshotting was a relatively little used tactic that was gaining popularity amongst anglers in North America because it was so effective for catching big smallmouth in deep water. Kulik experienced success competing in tournaments with this tactic and became somewhat of an expert with it on the water.
In 2006, using his molding and sculpting experience as a fish taxidermist, Kulik began creating his own dropshotting baits. His first design, the Slammer was created to emulate the goby, which Great Lake anglers knew had become the predominant forage of smallmouth on those waters. After initial testing of the baits was successful, Xzone Lures was formed. Over the years, Kulik has created a number of other hand poured baits that have proven successful on the Great Lakes and on waters across Canada and the United States. The Slammer has even been credited for several Tour level and AAA level tournament wins in recent years. I caught up with Kulik and he shared some thoughts with me on the best ways to fish his baits and put trophy sized smallmouth in the boat.
Q: Talk to us about the Slammer, Mark…
Kulik: The Slammer has evolved from the original four inch model to include the smaller Mini Slammer, Fat Slammer and Slim Slammer, all available in great colour patterns. These baits can be fished with a variety of ways but they are designed to be fished on a dropshot rig and that remains the most effective way to use them. I like to use a slightly larger hook than most anglers because we’re trying to catch five and six pound fish most days. I like a 1/0 Gamakatsu Split/Drop Shot hook and usually start with a 24” leader between the hook and the weight, shortening the leader at times when the fish are holding tighter to the bottom. In the fall, I find that fish relate to the bottom a lot more and I’ll shorten the leader by quite a bit.
With weights, I like the cylinder style for fishing in deeper water because they are more snag resistant, but opt for a compact tungsten weight for fishing in shallow water because they have less splash upon entry to the water and they pick up fewer weeds.
Q: You have a newer bait out, the Swammer that is gaining popularity, how did that one come about?
Kulik: About three years ago my good friend and long time tournament pro Terry Baksay asked me if I could make a slammer that had a swimming tail, thus the Swammer was born. I knew there were days that bass preferred a moving bait to a stationary one so this bait was my answer to that. Our first tournament using Swammers produced a five fish limit that weighed over 27 pounds on Lake Simcoe. We caught these fish on a popular spot while most anglers were having a tough time catching a limit on that day; so we knew we had something special that the fish liked.
The original model was a four inch version and the series has expanded to include smaller 3.25” and larger 5.5” models. The larger model has worked well for me down at Lake Okeechobee and is really good for pike on Canadian waters. They can be fished weightless without rolling and they cast a mile.
The two smaller baits have been really hot on the Great Lakes for the past couple of years because they are so versatile. Smallmouth out there are really keyed into looking down for their food so I like to use a ¼ – 1 ounce football jig to fish these swimbaits. We cast them out and retrieve them at a slow and steady rate, constantly making contact with the bottom. With regard to color, it’s all about experimenting on the water. You have to let the fish tell you what they want. On Lake St. Clair, smallmouth love the smoke/purple flake colour (210) but on Erie and Ontario they seem to bite the melon and green colours a lot better.
Another thing I can tell you about the Swammers is that there are a lot of Tour pros on all circuits that are ordering baits from me but they all ask me not to tell anybody because they have other bait sponsors. I can tell you that they are using Swammers for ledge fishing, especially on Kentucky Lake.
Q: You spend a lot of time chasing giant smallmouth on big water. What is your approach day in and day out throughout the open water season?
Kulik: I really do use my baits most of the time when I’m fishing for smallmouth. I’ll use the Swammers as a search bait the majority of the time, rigging it on a ¼ oz football jig head to cover shallow flats and fishing it on a heavier head in deeper water. Once I locate fish I can then exploit them with a Slammer on a dropshot rig.
I always keep a dropshot rig on the deck of my boat. Most anglers don’t think of it as a sight fishing bait for cruising bass but it can be deadly on the Great Lakes and it’s got such a great hook-to-landing ratio.
For anglers to be successful catching smallmouth in deep water, they need to utilize their electronics to find fish. We look for arches or hooks off the bottom, those are always the most active fish. Pay attention because sometimes you need to adjust your dropshot leader to put our baits in front of fish. If you’re fishing water deeper than 20 feet, you better be seeing some fish on the screen or move on to another location.
Usually these fish are focused on eating gobies but there are times when they’ll key on smelts, so slimmer profile baits like my Slim Slammer or Shiver Shad will work better. Once you know what bass look like on the meter, it’s all about experimenting with baits to give the fish what they want to eat.
You can have a look at Mark Kulik’s baits at his website, www.xzonelures.com.