Black Dog Baits - Shellcracker
Author: Rob Belloni
The Black Dog Bait company was formed in the fall of 2006 and the Shellcracker is their first offering in the big bait market. This wooden bluegill imitator measures 5.5" in length and 2.5" from back to belly. There are two versions of the lure available: A floating "wake bait" version, and a sinking version. The sinking bait is a slow sinker that moves naturally in the 1-3 foot depth range. I weighed both versions at 3 and 1/4oz. There are currently two colors available, a bluegill and a redear. Each bait comes stock with 1/0 Daiichi hooks, black/chrome finished snap, taxidermy grade eyes, and a lexan tail.
Jeremy Anderson, for those of you who don't know, is the lure maker behind Black Dog Baits. Over the past several years I've had a chance to get a peek at several of Jeremy's creations so I was anxious to see what the Shellcracker was all about. The first thing I noticed when I turned this guy over in my palm was the solid construction. With so many baits on the market now, it seems like more and more the lures are rushed to production without much thought given to how long they will last. The Shellcracker bucks that trend and offers the fisherman something that will last for many many years.
Let's talk specifics: The Shellcracker sports 1/0 Daiichi hooks that are on par with Gamakatsu from a sharpness standpoint and rigid, like a 2x or perhaps 3x strong hook. The hooks are sized right for the lure and there is positively no reason to replace them. The split rings are heavy duty and the snap is high quality. I'm not even certain the bait needs a snap because the screw eye on the nose of the lure is so small, but the fact that it comes with one is nice. The eyes are gold backed taxidermy style eyes and they look very nice both in and out of the water.
The tail is transparent and dusted with a light coat of yellow, or yellow and purple haze. Most importantly the tail is made from lexan and can swing freely from side to side as well as up and down. This play in the tail, coupled with the fact that the tail does not stick out too far, makes it unlikely that bouncing the lure off the shore will break it. I'm generally not a fan of hard tails on lures but this one is well done. Another nice thing for the fisherman who makes the occasional errant cast is the fact that the baits are finished with a thick coat of clear epoxy. I've tossed these guys around a fair amount and they show no sign of wear.
The action of the Shellcracker is something like a cross between a 3:16 Sidewinder and a Manns 1- crankbait. The body of the lure is very wide relative to its length, and this gives the bait a bulging, water pushing effect through the water. At the same time you get the S curve type action of a lipless bait where the head of the lure leads the way and the tail follows along like a dog on a leash. The floating model (which I believe all of the initial lures were floaters) throws a nice wake and can be worked with anywhere from a moderate retrieve to a very high speed retrieve. The sinking version I tested is a very slow sinking bait and you can actually wake it with no trouble. If you count it out a little ways, it likes to run naturally in the 1-3 foot depth range.
I would look for the Shellcracker to excel from the spring through the fall, but especially during the heat of the summer. I would look for situations where you might normally throw a topwater or a shallow running crank and toss this guy out there for your bigger bite. Grass bed fishing on the California Delta comes to mind when I look at how this bait fishes. I also think it could have some interesting applications around brush and stickups like you might find at Lake Cachuma or Lake Lopez. For you guys who make the pilgramige to El Salto or Bacarrac I think the Shellcracker could be a good option as a tilapia imitator and just generally for the early morning late evening topwater bite.
The one thing that disappointed me most about the bait was the color section for the paints. It's not that I don't think the coloration will work, I was just a little disappointed with the gaudyness of the color scheme, especially knowing Jeremy's repuatation as a master lure painter. The Shellcracker is made in China and I think somewhere along the line something was lost in translation. I'll be curious to see if future batches of the lure come in more subdued tones.
My only other complaint with the bait is in regards to the slow speed swimming action. When you slow the Shellcracker down it loses the kicking action and slides off to either side. Being a fan of the slow retrieve this was somewhat disappointing to me. On a moderate, medium, or fast retrieve the bait works perfectly but it would be nice to have the ablitiy to really crawl this guy along like you might do with a Triple Trout. It's very difficult to get a lipless bait to swim at all speeds and the Shellcracker could have performed better in that regard.
Overall I think this will be a successful lure. It has a nice little action, it covers a waking bluegill segment of the market that doesn't really have many options, and it's an extremely durable bait that guys will still have in their boxes 5 years or 50 fish from now. In a few months from now when the weather warms up and those big delta bass start crashing topwater I think we'll see some nice pictures with the Shellcracker hanging off the jaw of the bass.