Many moons ago, when I lived in cooler climes, springtime would find my thoughts turning northward towards the woods of Wisconsin, where I spent the summers as a counselor at North Star Camp For Boys. Being not much good at anything that required skill, I taught fishing. The interim ten months, which we referred to as “the off-season,” had been dawdled away at college, which some of us extended an extra semester or so to squeeze in one last summer at camp (case in point my two and a half years in the MBA program at Madison).
In order to get through the cruel Wisconsin winters I would tune into the weekend fishing shows, sponsored by Midwest bait companies like Lindy’s Rigs, or Johnson’s Motors or Huber Beer, and watch guys in souped-up bass boats landing lunkers, usually someplace far up in the Canadian wilds where the fish were more plentiful than in northern Wisconsin. Determined to increase my paltry output from Spider Lake, I subscribed to fishing magazines, even custom-built a Fenwick rod from a shop in Chicago, and attended the Sportsmen’s Fishing and Vacation Shows in Chicago and Milwaukee.
The Sportsmen’s Shows were full of exhibitors from fishing resorts and wilderness expeditions. There were splashy brochures with glossies of bass and walleyes and northern pike, filling out stringers or hooked onto posts. Sometimes there would be pictures of float planes, wild-eyed guys with two week beard growths standing next to them. You could not get results like this from Little Twin Lake up in Fond Du Lac!
But my favorites were the lure manufacturers. There was always some hot new bait to hook us fisherfolk: big floating musky lures, with treble hooks jangling from their totemic joints, a hundred varieties of plastic worms, brightly painted spoons and spinners, augmented with feathers that seemed closely related to a flapper’s costume jewelry. These lures would often be exhibited in a giant fish tank, where they would be rigged up to twist and flutter along a sandy bottom, with a few faux weeds and rocks dropped in for effect. Sometimes there would be an actual bass at the bottom of the tank, finning languidly, blissfully unaware of the gawkers around it. The sales rep would drop the lure in, jangle it around and the bass would flip around and snap at it. Living proof!
This brings me to the Vibra-Bat. I first saw the ad in the back of a fishing magazine. “New vibrating lure gives loud GURGLING, SPLASHING, BUBBLING sounds…COMPLETELY UNLIKE ANYTHING ANY FRESH WATER FISH HAS EVER SEEN BEFORE. I thought, I must have this. What other fisherman on Spider Lake will have the “weird sonic lure that caught 120 fish in one hour?” Unlike the Sportsmen’s shows, which I attended with friends, I could buy the Vibra-Bat mail order without any embarrassment. No one would know until I returned to the dock with a stringer of walleyes! I remember waiting by the mailbox, in between classes in corporate finance and international marketing. The package, when it finally arrived, seemed kind of…small. There were three Vibra-Bats. One black, one silver, one copper. I’d say they were about two inches in diameter. There were little holes in the “wings” and hooks on the bottom.
I decided that I couldn’t wait until summer to see how these things worked. It was the dead of winter – Lake Mendota was still iced over. So I filled up my bathtub, attached the Vibra-Bat to several feet of translucent 8 lb. test line and ran the Vibra-Bat up and back in the tub. I perked my ears for weird sonic sounds. I watched for erratic zig zags. It was, I admitted, hard to tell. Maybe the Vibra-Bat didn’t function optimally in bath water.
It has been many years, but I don’t recall catching anything significant on the Vibra-Bat. My memory is that it kind of sank into the Spider Lake weed beds, being made of metal and all. It was too small to cast very far. It might have plunked a couple of sunfish on the head, but other than that I don’t believe it had much of an impact on my fishing career. I must have snagged a couple of them on the weeds and broke them off.
The other day I went into my garage and excavated my tackle box, which now serves as a kind of time capsule for what demented fishermen were thinking about in 1975. I found several congealed Mr. Twisters, some Mepps 5 Musky Killers, a rusty DareDevil and a Jitterbug that I think belonged to my father. But no Vibra-Bat.
I am happy to report that you can still find some on E-Bay.
But, personally, the moment has passed.