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Crappie Tom makes the news
01-25-2018, 05:18 PM
Post: #1
Crappie Tom makes the news
In tonight's Rochester Post Bulletin Newspaper.

"We are going to make a batch of plastics," said Tom Sawvell. "I'm a tackle crafter primarily."

Into the small glass bowl he put some liquid that looked like weak milk, added just the smallest dab of glitter, blue highlight, a UV powder (fish love UV, he said) and stabilizer. He mixed it well. "We're all set to roll," he said.

Sawvell, known as "Crappie Tom," loves to putz around in his constant quest to make better plastic baits to fish for everything from panfish through the ice to big open-water walleye. "I'm always tinkering," he said. "I've been that way my whole life."


There's nothing exotic about the products he uses. "I work with products that are readily available," he said. Much of it he orders on the web.

Not that it's cheap.

"These are super high-tech and extremely expensive," he said of some of his ingredients. But he needs just the smallest dab for each small batch.

He once made them to sell, but he concluded that the extra work and taxes weren't worth his time. "I do a lot of work for my self-satisfaction," he said. "I've been making jigs since I was 14 years old." His first ones had molds made of hard oak but he now buys molds made of metal.

When he finished mixing the ingredients, Sawvell, 67, went into his northwest Rochester garage that is filled with a boat, fishing tackle and a lot of outdoors stuff. He put the bowl into an old microwave and heated it to just the right temperature so it changed into a thicker liquid.

Decades ago, many plastic baits were wretchedly stiff or reacted with plastic trays of tackle boxes and the two melted into each other.

Not now.

"Plastics now are great, absolutely," he said. "I have not used live bait for probably 15 to 18 years."

But then he backtracked just a bit, saying instead that he rarely uses live bait.

"The plastic does more than live bait does," said the retired carpenter. "The evolution of plastics for soft bait has gone through some tremendous transitions and evolutions. It's become stronger, more elastic, softer."

If you put a waxworm on a hook, you have to move it. But the plastics will move. "There is always something in the water that is going to move (the plastic). The bait will move." Just the slightest vibration from holding an ice fishing rod is enough to make the tails of one plastics jiggle.

Some of the bass baits have a special ingredient that makes them change colors from copper to red to green. He loves those -- they sparkle and probably attract fish. That's what he savors, finding ways to mix and match colors, sparkles, UV, anything he can tinker with.

"As I get older, I like to make baits more intense but that are more self-satisfying," he said. "I like to challenge myself so I can see what I can come up with."

When the liquid was the right temperature, he sucked it up into a wide metal syringe and injected it into molds with the two sides clamped together. Then he waited. "These baits are a lot of fun to put together," he said.

Sawvell still makes his own jigs, ranging from1/80th ounce for panfish to heavy swim jigs for summer bass. He uses the jigs and plastic bodies for panfish, walleye, trout, salmon, walleye and northern. He likes to use them on Lake Zumbro and the Mississippi River.

He isn't alone. Many avid anglers and pros who make their living catching fish are now saying that live bait is less important than it used to be. Some, like Sawvell, have just about abandoned minnows, leeches, nightcrawlers or waxies.

It didn't take long for the liquid to set. Sawvell carefully pried open the molds to reveal about 20 tiny plastic bodies. He used a razor blade to cut off excess plastic.

Voila. In 20 minutes, he had hot pink plastic bodies ready for panfish. Some have some red, too. "The glow red will seal the deal," he said.

The hardest thing in life is knowing which bridge to cross and which one to burn.
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01-29-2018, 10:08 AM
Post: #2
RE: Crappie Tom makes the news
Nice write up! I have some of Tom's plastics and they are nice for sure! Great feel and movement to them.

Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that's twice as big as it needs to be. George Carlin
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01-29-2018, 01:49 PM (This post was last modified: 01-29-2018 01:55 PM by Ron.)
Post: #3
RE: Crappie Tom makes the news
Long before I knew Tom I was a big fan of plastics and knew just how effective and productive they could be. Falls Flick Tails one of the first, then of course Mini Mites.
After he and I hooked up, Tom broadened my knowledge even farther (much farther).
Tom has it down to a science.
He expanded plastics by introducing a new variety not seen by other manufacturers.
New profiles, sizes, shapes and actions.
Most noticeable was his color creations, no one could duplicate, because he took the time, energy and expense to experiment with.
In addition to making plastics for the fisherman, he has actually incorporated art work into his craft.
I do enjoy giving Tom a bad time by reminding him why do we call them plastics. I picture plastics more like credit cards, toys and car parts, not soft and subtle like a rubber band. Shouldn't they be called rubbers?
He just rolls his eyes at me and asks me, when will you ever learn?

The hardest thing in life is knowing which bridge to cross and which one to burn.
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01-29-2018, 05:33 PM
Post: #4
RE: Crappie Tom makes the news
And those flick tails are still a solid bait. I have quite a few in one of my summer boxes and when sunfish get close mouthed, the flick tails go to work and open them. Never let Ron snooker you in, he's a darned smart angler.
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01-30-2018, 04:46 AM (This post was last modified: 01-30-2018 04:54 AM by Ron.)
Post: #5
RE: Crappie Tom makes the news
I'm interested to see if Tom will agree with me on an issue?
That would be color selection.
We all know fish can be very selective when it comes to color.
An observation I have made, outright defies logic.
Tom likes going very early in the morning, even before the chickens get up.
It's usually so dark, you have to squint to see your bobber.
Here is what contradicts what one would normally assume.
Tom and I have done this on a number of occasions.
He ties on something very dark, something I would have assumed fish have a difficult time seeing.
I on the other hand go to the opposite end and opt for something very bright and in many instances something that gives a bright glow.
My thoughts being, I'll give them something easier to see then what Tom is using.
Wrong, Tom will out fish me 5 to 1.
I would think the fish can't even see his presentation, but no, they zoom right in on his over mine.
Then as the day progresses and it gets down right bright, the fish will switch over to the bright plastics instead of the darker.
You'd think they could see the darker plastics so much better and perceive them as more natural and not so intimidating as something brilliantly light.
Nope they turn up their nose at the darker bait and gobble up the lighter stuff.
So when it's dark out and light levels are extremely low, go with dark presentations and as it gets lighter out, go with brighter presentation??
The problem is, I can't think like a fish the way Tom can.

The hardest thing in life is knowing which bridge to cross and which one to burn.
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01-30-2018, 10:35 AM
Post: #6
RE: Crappie Tom makes the news
As a rule, the waters I fish in this area are stained and/or possibly carrying a silt burden. Also, I like fishing the very early period of day when others haven't churned the water up yet and the fish have had a night to settle down from the day before so the sunlight is at a fairly severe angle to the water. Both of these factors allow me to fish using what I call a "reverse contrast".

Contrast is nothing more than showing a difference between two things. In this case its usually a deep purple plastic bait that is darker than even the water around it, hence the fish can see it stand out against the environment that surrounds around them. Most often contrast compares dark to light, while this theory compares dark to darker in a low light situation. Jet black is a superb night color for the same reasons.

As the sun gets higher and higher in the sky I usually will shift to using lighter colors of plastic....clear plastics with no color other than glitters in them get the nod as long as its not raining or there is a heavy cloud cover, in which case I'll shift to brighter colored baits.

I know that glow plastics work and I know that Ron is a big user of them and he does fine with them. One thing that limits my using them is the water: if its relatively clear, I don't think they help much and if the water is stained or has a silt burden I think they create an "aura" around them which can turn fish away from them if they perceive what they are seeing as something too large for them to eat or its too big in relation to what the food source is at that time. Fishing in water with heavy silt or other particulate matter may benefit from using glow plastics. Since I make the plastics I carry a few that have only small amounts of glow pigment in specific areas on the baits, primarily at the very end of the tails. The fish can see that speck of glow and are attracted to it and often that's all that's needed to seal the deal. Ron mentions the glow Mini-Mites, he might do better if all that glowed was the small funnel end of the baits. I honestly feel that too much of a bait glowing hinders a bite especially if the fish are neutral to start with. One aspect to the evolution of "glow in color" pigments is that it allows a color, say red, to be seen by fish as red in twenty feet of water. Even in clear water red appears brown at about 7 feet. Think about this.

While purples, blues and even an occasional black plastic will be my first choice in low light I still stay within the realm of dark colors until it is full light and the sun is directly on the water. I do work thru a few darker colors though before making the shift to clear-glitter plastics as the sun gets higher. Deep purple to junebug to a medium blue is my usual color change route and most all of these baits will have a chartreuse tail. The chartreuse sucks up light like crazy and it acts as my "glow" component on the baits.

One element that goes into every batch of plastic I make is UV enhancer. Its a powder that goes right into the plastic as it cooks and in the end you don't even know that its in there until you retrieve a bait and can see a bluish/purplish sheen on the plastic. Fish are hyper aware of uv in the sunlight and water. In or on plastics, or any bait for that matter, uv enhancement makes the bait stand out in any water. It doesn't glow as so many think it does. We cannot see the true UV being enhanced, however, fish can and having it in the plastic itself simply makes good sense in helping fish locate your bait. Not related to any water locally, studies have shown that in clear water down to 900 feet uv enhanced baits are visible to fish. Even in our local tea colored waters imagine how these baits must stand out.

When I fish I pay a lot of attention to what is happening and to what the day is like. Little things will often stand out that I dig deeper into when I get home and have access to information. One of the laws of physics is that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The reaction in the case of fishing is the fish hitting the bait and most people are satisfied with that. Me? I like to work backwards from that reaction and learn what it was that got me to it in the first place. There's a whole lot to what happens to get to that hit and the more I know about it the better able I am to use that information to my advantage while fishing, so Ron, it may appear that I think like a fish. I simply take fishing to another level.
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01-30-2018, 09:58 PM
Post: #7
RE: Crappie Tom makes the news
Thank you Ron and Tom! I always appreciate your insights specific fishing tactics and general local knowledge.

Fish On!
Lew
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01-31-2018, 05:41 AM (This post was last modified: 01-31-2018 05:46 AM by Ron.)
Post: #8
RE: Crappie Tom makes the news
Tom, excellent explanation on color selection, thank you!
While we have you on a roll, what are your thoughts about jig sizes? 1/16, 1/32, 1/64 and your applications.
Realizing of course species might dictate your choice. Crappies can inhale larger sizes but bluegills smaller?
Then can you make an ice jig size chart comparison.
Example of what I'm looking for, a size 1/16 would be a 10, a 1/32 a 12 and a 1/64 a 14?
Do I have that range/sizes correct?
Also, what are your thoughts about Tungsten jigs?
Because tungsten is heavier then lead, would it stand to reason that a tungsten 1/32 jig would be smaller in measurement and physical size then 1/32 lead?

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01-31-2018, 09:45 AM
Post: #9
RE: Crappie Tom makes the news
In open water my absolute go to head size is a 1/32 with a size 6 Sickle-type of hook. I'll up-size the head weight as needed...say more current, larger profile bait, LARGER fish. I do, however, make some of my 1/32 heads with a size 8 Sickle to accommodate smaller framed plastics as well as with size 4 and even size 2 hooks to use in larger plastics should the fish show a preference to them instead of my preferred 1 1/2" to 2" sized plastics that see the size 6 hook. Head weight, hook size and plastic bait size is a balancing act. I will occasionally drop down in head weight to a 1/64 if I have to do so to get a preferred drop rate. Mostly though its a 1/32 head. Those 1/32 with larger hooks will drop at a greater rate proportional to hook size too. Larger baits help counter that extra drop speed.

If sunfish are showing up while crappie fishing and I know they are hitting short I will down size to a #8 hook and use a smaller profile plastic. If only small sunfish are hooking up then I go right back to the larger hook. Sunfish appear to have small mouths when compared to a crappie, but they can get some very large baits/hooks inside their mouths so larger sunfish can be caught using tackle for larger crappies. Larger sunfish, like larger crappies, will use different parts of the water column is smaller fish are present so it usually isn't a tackle-size thing, its a matter of fishing higher or lower than the smaller fish.

Ice tackle has taken on a European flavor what with all the MM sizing and the use of tungsten we see today in single hook jigs. There is a correlation between the MM head size and the hook size. I personally look for hook size instead of head size if I need any of the typical ice jigs. A size 10 hook in a tungsten jig is not a huge bait and I think the fish help dictate just how big is too big. For the most part if I am looking at ice tackle I'm looking at Jigging Demons or Jigging Frosty jigging lures in 1/16 ounce, or the smallest, sizes....both vertical jigs with treble hooks. I use these fairly often in open water scenarios where vertical jigging is called for. I'll chop up a Gulp bait and add a small chunk to one of the hooks as a taste tempter.

Tungsten has such a high melting point that most all tackle is made by using tungsten powder that's blended into other metals with severely lower melting points making it easier to work with or in resins that can be molded under pressure. Hooks would literally melt off if tungsten were tried to be molded to them. Tungsten head beads can be found quite cheap today, a penny apiece, that are formed to put a hook into them epoxied to hold the hook and help fill any voids remaining. They are smaller heads than the same weigh in lead. I haven't messed with tungsten so I have no idea just how well these work.
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01-31-2018, 11:37 AM
Post: #10
RE: Crappie Tom makes the news
Then there is the topic of whether to tip your jig either with meat or an extra sliver of different plastic.
Open water or first ice, wax worms, then as the ice season progresses, drop down to spikes, usually red?
If the bite is hot, fast and furious, no need for tipping?
You don't rely much on tipping at all regardless of the bite do you?

The hardest thing in life is knowing which bridge to cross and which one to burn.
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01-31-2018, 12:41 PM
Post: #11
RE: Crappie Tom makes the news
I won't say I never use bait but as a rule I let plastics or scent plastic products do the work. Power Bait, Gulp and a couple other scented plastics work as well if not better than live bait and if I think the bite needs a little something else that's the direction I will take before using any live bait. I'm big on using goldenrod grubs when something alive is hung on a hook, especially for sunfish. They're as free as the wind and very effective baits.

If I absolutely have to use live bait to get fish I will but I'm more inclined to go home than to use live bait.

I like to carry a jar of colors of the Gulp bait that has a segmented body and a thin tail that resembles a ratso or shrimpo body and separate the bodies into small beads for hanging on jigs and trebles along with a plastic when the bites toughen up. That little piece of pseudo food is loaded with pheromones that make fish hit and often times they are not even hungry. I think natural baits hold second court to Gulp products.
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02-01-2018, 05:52 AM (This post was last modified: 02-01-2018 06:03 AM by Ron.)
Post: #12
RE: Crappie Tom makes the news
Now let's get you to elaborate on techniques for working jigs.
Fish it below a bobber.....what.....twitch or give it little snaps to activate movement, let it bob up and down with the waves or short/long sharp/subtle retrieves while reeling? Let it sit dead?
Or cast it out there with no bobber, let it sink and swim it back, either fast or slow?
Finally, straight up and down in a boat or off a dock? Small tiny twitches up and down or aggressive pumping or snaps?
I suppose there is really nothing you can do to avoid snags and loosing tackle.

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02-01-2018, 10:23 AM
Post: #13
RE: Crappie Tom makes the news
Fish will let you know how they want a bait. One thing to consider in cold water is a float since most all panfish in water under ice or in immediate ice-out temp water will be found in a very narrow band of water depth. It might be due to light penetration, water temperature or because food is found at that depth. Regardless, if your bait isn't in that band of water depth chances are you're not going to get hit with any consistency. Floats are a great way to exploit specific depths. As far as retrieves when using floats every day seems to show a different desire by the fish so you have try different little things to know which works best.

Casting plastics and retrieving them bring on a whole different line of thinking for me. A regular 90 degree leg jig works well but they retrieve in a "rocking horse" sort of way that kicks the plastic's tail up when the jig is popped or skipped. Using a different head and hook type that allows the plastic to "swim" rather than "rock" will often trigger more and better hits.

[Image: sGtc1l9.jpg]

The two jigs seen here can be fished the same exact way maybe 90% of the time with equal results, but the jig with the wide gap hook and 28 degree leg and eye does a much better job of delivering a smooth swimming action and in the other 10% of the time simply out-shines a traditional ballhead. The Wide gap hook and the forward facing line tie also allows this jig to be worked thru wood and rock without getting hung up as much. The jigs in the picture are both 1/16 heads, however I make the swim head 1/32 size as well. The hooks used in the swim head are only available in two sizes and the smallest is shown here. Even in the 1/32 head the weight of the hook is a factor so anything smaller than the 1/32 won't cut it and anything head size larger than 1/16 in this hook size is counterproductive. By the way, the plastics seen on these jigs are 1 1/2" in length. The head color on both jigs is my absolute go to. And to further boggle the mind, the standard ball head has a size 4 hook while the other is a size 6. Yes, a size 6. Its hard for me to wrap my mind around this since a standard size six is smaller than a 4.

Trial and error is the best advice I can give on retrieve really. The fish will let you know what they prefer. Boat, shore, dock....all the same as far as determining how to fish a jig/plastic. Some days it a float. Some days they'll chase a retrieved jig. Some days two foot waves or 6 inch waves will trigger hits.

Find the right retrieve can often be the toughest part of the fishing especially if the fish have been hitting well for a couple trip. Most often it a weather or barometric change that throws the curve ball into things. The fish still need to eat so they'll still hit unless they are just flat out negative in mood and that happens, probably in cold water more than any other. Its all just a part of the game.
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02-01-2018, 10:41 AM
Post: #14
RE: Crappie Tom makes the news
Thanks Tom for the seminars and education.
Information that should make one think that there is much more to it all then just going to a bait and tackle shop, grabbing a handful of pretty ones, tying them on and throwing those bad boys out there.

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