A Walk Down Swimbait Lane with Big Bass
Angler Danny Gillespie
Over the years
you often hear who's the best fisherman in the sport, whether it's via magazine,
tv, or on the internet in a top 40 list. We measure their number of AOY's or the
amount of money they've accumulated and wonder what it'd be like to be in their
shoes for a day, week, or maybe just an hour. Meanwhile tucked away in the
shadows somewhere in the cold fog there's an undetectable number of anglers
fishing mid week, during the nastiest weather, all by themselves 200+ days a
year. They have a deep understanding of lure action and the tackle it takes to
successfully land giant fish. The only trophies they cherish are the ones
they've released back into the wild. Over the last four years it's been a great
privilege to get to know and fish with one of these guys. He comes from an era
where nearly every camera, magazine, and newspaper briefly surrounded the lake
he grew up fishing. The famous Holy Grail of world record bass lakes, Castaic
Lake. While guides were soaking live bait and fighting over spots on the
weekends, there was someone quietly stalking giant limits of green bass with an
arsenal of lures the fish had never seen before. Enter Danny GillespieÖ
Danny Gillespie at Casitas back in
What is your earliest memory of fishing? Who introduced you to the sport?
was 4 or 5 when my Dad took me pier fishing for Perch. Salt water fishing is
still my favorite, there is nothing like catching Calico bass.
When did you start fishing in the freshwater?
in the 60ís at Hansen Dam located in the San Fernando Valley in Southern
California. It was pretty much a mud hole, but in those days my buddies and I
spent a good part of our summers there. I had an old South Bend two piece rod
with a Mitchell 300 reel, a few crank baits like Sonics, Hell Benders, River
Runts, and Hula Poppers to name a few. We would show up at the lake early with
no food or water and fish until dark with not much to show for it but I loved
it. The few bass I caught made me love it more. There were other lakes also,
Casitas, Sherwood, Piru, and of course Castaic which I fished from the day it
opened in the early 70ís until I moved to Northern Cal in 1997.
When did you set your sights on chasing trophy Bass? What lakes did you target?
have to go back to the early 80ís for that question. One cold January day in
particular I traveled to my home lake (Castaic Lake) for a day of spooning bass
in 80 feet of water. I went to my spot and shut down my boat and began to rig a
couple of sticks, by the time I finished the wind had blown me within a few
yards of the forebay dam. This was an area that I loved to throw crank baits on,
in the spring. I thought what the heck I probably wonít catch anything, but Iím
going to go ahead and crank down the face of the dam to get warm if nothing else
(throwing a Poe's 400 cedar crank). I ended up catching 5 or 6 solid fish in the
2 to 4 pound range which were bigger than the fish I was catching spooning in
the 80 foot water and a lot more fun catching these at about 10 feet. Being
very pleased and surprised I ran to some other water I liked to crank in the
spring which was in a deep feeder creek arm. I began cranking my way in and not
having any luck until I got within about 200 feet from the very back where dirty
cold water was running in and caught a 2 pounder. I thought wow way back here
in this dirty cold water. I took several more casts making my way to the very
back with no luck, again I was ready to get out of there. Then I had a thought,
before I leave I have to fish a jig. On my first cast (which is the one cast
that changed everything for me as far as targeting large bass) I got a solid
bite, set the hook on a double digit fish which came out of the water and ran
into a bush then broke me off. Now of course Iím thinking forget the crank
baits Iím grabbing my jig stick and heading to the back of every feeder creek on
the lake. I will make this already long story shorter by telling you I had 3
beautiful 8 to 9 pound fish on jigs that day, and all because I wanted to get
warm by throwing a crank bait. That day I learned the importance of keeping an
open mind and trusting my instincts, but most important was realizing that large
fish feed in cold shallow water. I am sure they spend most of their time in the
winter deeper, but depending on food availability they do whatever is necessary
which often makes them unpredictable. So donít let a temperature gauge keep you
from having a great day.
From that day on did you take a liking to throwing jigs for big fish?
Iíve caught some large fish before on jigs, but that day expanded my season and
time I would spend throwing them. I actually began fishing jigs as a young teen
at Lake Casitas one summer on a family vacation in '69. I was hanging out at
the boat ramp one day and this guy comes in with the first bass boat I ever
saw. Man it was something else and it even had his name on the side. The guy
gets out of his boat with the largest stringer of bass I'd ever saw all 2-4 lb.
fish. A small crowd of people began to gather. Then a guy asked what did you
catch them on. Then ďTexĒ (that was his name he also wore a big cowboy hat to)
pulls out a handful of jigs and says these here. I make them myself and they
are Ĺ a buck each. So Iím staring up at my new hero and asked if I could take a
closer look, he hands me one. I then notice it looks just like the Bomber
Jungle Bum Twin Spins (minus the spinners of course) in my tackle box back at
camp. Iím thinking man Iím going to impress the heck out of my new friend by
proving what awesome knowledge of bass fishing I have. So I say to Tex with the
crowd around us this looks just like a Jungle Bum. Well that was a big mistake,
he snatched the jig from me and yelled that is not a Jungle Bum, that is a ďTEX
JIGĒ. My new hero scared the hell out of me and I did not have Ĺ a buck on me
anyways. I went back to camp and cut the spinners off my Jungle Bums and caught
some fish on them that trip. So I guess I have to thank old Tex for introducing
me to Jig fishing after all.
Castaic jig fish (top), '95 Dana
Rosen sub surface swimbait fish (below)
On average how many days a year do you fish and how important is time on the
Thatís hard to put a number on since Iíve never kept a log. Because of my job
in construction, I was able to bank my overtime hours in the summer and fish
most of the winter and spring. When I lived in Castaic I was 5 minutes from the
lake, so any time (and there were many) I worked a short day, then I was on the
In the early
80ís Lake Isabella was my favorite lake until the mid-80ís when the great
fishing vanished. I always regretted not spending more time there when things
were so good. When things got good on Lake Castaic I moved there from the San
Fernando Valley which was only 20 minutes away but to me that was too far. I
was not going to have any regrets this time. My whole focus was to spend as
much time on the water as I could.
Back to your
question. Including my time spent on salt water I would have to say there was
definitely a few years with over 200 days a year and with regards to how
important time is on water to me it is everything.
Many books have been written about the crazed "Castaic Lake" and the hunt for
the world record, what was it like fishing in this era and how long did it last?
that depended on whether or not you fished on the weekend or during the week.
Pretty crazy on weekends and not so much during the week. Iíll be nice and just
say there were cases of rude and unethical behavior LOL. The world record craze
started in the late 80ís which was before swim baits arrived, most large fish
were taken on live bait. Personally I was never caught up in the world record
chase. I just wanted to catch as many double digits while it lasted. The swim
bait era for large fish at Castaic didnít last long, it was over by the Fall of
'94. Stripers in the lake and no trout plants were probably the biggest
factors. So I began to fish Lake Casitas which maintained a good healthy
population of fish much longer than Castaic. I also fished the Castaic Lagoon
which was very good until I left in 1997.
With the Castaic Mini Mart being known as a place to swap stories and put your
name on the board did you ever peak your head in and participate in this ritual?
we are moving into the early 90ís. Since no one was fishing swim baits on the
lake before that time, my answer to that question is no. When I began fishing
the Worm King and AC Plugs, there were very few people fishing those baits. The
local guides were earning their money fishing live bait. I quickly realized how
effective these big baits were. I knew once it became common knowledge it
wouldnít last long on such a small lake. I tried to keep a low profile and
catch as many of the large fish I could. I was having a blast!
Did you notice a difference between fishing live bait and swim baits?
Compared to my live bait fishing (crawdads and waterdogs) experience in my
opinion swim baits blew live bait fishing away, it wasn't even close. Why sit on
one spot all day waiting for a bite, when you can run and gun and catch several
fish on multiple spots.
Zank's Line Thru
What lures were productive for you at that time?
you had the AC Types, Worm Kings in 6Ē & 9Ē sizes and also the Dinosaur, the
Renosky Super Shad, the Castaic Trout and a few homemadeís. My favorites were
the 9Ē Worm King, AC Types, and a Fat bodied Worm King style bait (which is a
bait I designed having had great success with the 9Ē Worm King). The Fat one was
very effective and also the Optimum which came a bit later. You know it's funny
how things evolve, my fat body swim bait came from the Worm King which came from
a 3.5" swim bait made by John Viasanko in 1983 (to mimic an Anchovy for salt
water fishing), and his idea came from the Sassy Shad which was made in the mid
70's. I guess it just goes to show that fishermen are often trying to evolve old
ideas whether they know it or not.
Castaic, Zanks and a knock off AC
Plug that was responsible for 80 fish over 10lbs!
What kind of action or presentation did all these lures have in common?
in those days you had rubber and wood. Until the term swimbait came up it only
applied to rubber. In those days I really looked for a tight action in both wood
and swim baits. With wood baits I liked to fish them slow on the surface or just
below. As far as my home made baits go, I often had to have several woods
because after a couple hours they would absorb too much water and tend to go
subsurface rather than surface. But there were times when the water logged baits
would out fish the surface woods.
Next Section: First crossing paths with a swimbait