Bass are major predators and are perfectly designed for their environment. One thing a predator requires to be successful is the ability to detect prey before it detects them. Bass have pretty good eyesight, but prey animals have developed camouflage and other mechanisms to defeat this sense. Smell is much harder to defeat, and bass have a nose that would make a bloodhound proud, however, unlike on land, scents in water get diluted quickly, and diffuse over great distances. It can attract predators, but scents only give a general bearing, and no information about the targets speed, range, and course. Sound, on the other hand, provides complete information on the targets speed, size, course, and even internal anatomic details.
There are two ways to use sound. Active sound means the hunter puts out it’s own sound waves that bounce off the target and return to the source, providing all kinds of important information. Whales and dolphins use active sound. The drawback to active sound is that the target can also hear the hunters sounds, and it gives them the same information about their attacker. This is why most fish, especially ambush predators like bass, only use passive sound, meaning they just listen. But they can listen very well, and because of their lateral lines, can pick up faint vibrations in the water as far away as 3 football fields. Their ears can pick up sounds as far as ½ mile away, because their swim bladders also act as a sound amplifier. Prop baits take advantage of these factors in a big way.
Knowing this, it didn’t take lure makers long to figure out that the more noise a lure makes, especially rhythmic sounds that imitate swimming fish, the more fish they will attract. One of the first was a business machine sales rep named Jack Smithwick. In 1947, he whittled some lures from old broom handles, and attached metal props to the front and back of the lures. They caught so many fish that he quickly had to buy a lathe, and start the Smithwick Lure Company in 1949, to keep up with the demand. The classic Devils Horse was born, still one of the best topwater bass lures on the planet after 60 years. Another early type was the single prop bait. The first one, the Torpedo, was offered by the Heddon Lure company in the early 1950s, and it is still a top producing prop bait, especially for schooling white and striped bass. Still manufactured after over 50 years, and still one of the best. You can’t go wrong with classics.
Single, or double prop baits, they all work the same. The prop bait floats on top of the water. When retrieved, or twitched, the props spin and create a huge cacophony of rhythmic sound waves and vibrations in the water. No one is sure whether bass bite these out of a predatory instinct, or just to shut them up. Either way, they work, and work well.
There are three basic ways to fish prop baits. Just cast out and retrieve, use a stop-and-go retrieve, or just twitch them every so often. All three methods work, and which one you use is mostly a matter of personal preference, and prevailing conditions.
If you are going to be a bass angler, you should have a few prop baits in your tackle box. They can turn a fish-less day into a great trip. Prop baits have a full arsenal of treble hooks, from stem-to-stern. If a bass even sniffs one, chances are he/she will get hooked, so you might not want to cast them directly into cover but the closer the better. Thats if they get the lure when they strike. Like all top water lures they can be often missed when they are on the move. If they hit when the lure is at rest theres a greater chance of hooking up.