Fans of balsa wood baits have long mourned the discontinuation of Ed Chambers classic W.E.C. crankbaits. Cliff Pace, Bassmaster Classic Champ and tackle guru, decided to bring this bait back to life, albeit vicariously at least, through his own creation— the Black Label Balsa Wreck Square-bill crankbait. Many know Cliff Pace as a talented professional angler, but he might be an even more gifted tackle builder. Here’s a look into his extremely well-made balsa squarebill.
NOD TO A CLASSIC BALSA BAIT
I’ll admit that I personally haven’t had much experience with the W.E.C. baits. These were popular a little ahead of my time, and became rare and expensive by the time I might have feigned a little interest in them. But for balsa wood enthusiasts, these baits are sought after like an old-school Wiggle Wart in the mountains of Missouri.
Cliff Pace had such a longing for this classic lure that he chose to replicate it to the best of his ability in the Black Label Wreck. And, based solely off the fact that the materials and processes available for lure manufacturing these days are far superior to what was around 20 or even just 10 years ago, Pace may have outdone himself and one-upped the original even. Again, I can’t personally speak to whether or not this one is as good or better than the W.E.C. But I can speak to the quality of the Wreck in its own right.
MOST DURABLE BALSA CRANKBAIT
The thing that has impressed me the most about the Wreck is its durability. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not that big of a fan of balsa baits, simply because of a few bad experiences I’ve had over the years. I remember one time in particular, I paid $20 or so for a bait that I just had to have. It was the finest bait around, per reports. A couple casts in, I reeled it into some grass, brought it up to the surface, saw a strand of grass on one of the trebles and gave the bait a quick smack on the water, just to watch my $20 bait bust into two worthless halves right in front of me. Apparently, smacking a balsa bait on the water is a big no-no.
This is a lesson I learned the hard way, and one that sent me back to the more durable plastic baits that I’d long prior (and have long since) relied on and caught tons of fish with. Now, I’m not arguing balsa-wood baits are unnecessary. There are anglers much better than myself that swear by their effectiveness at getting bit when other hard baits can’t. But I personally have steered clear of them most of my life. Thus, when testing this lure, without even thinking about it I instinctually went right back to smacking the water with it, as I would a hard-plastic lure.
About the time it made contact with the water that first time, my stomach leapt right up into my throat. I was sure I had shattered the only one of these that I had on hand to review. I was pleasantly surprised though to find that the Wreck had withstood the blow. Before I could catch myself, I have errantly smacked this thing on the water a half dozen times now to free it from entangled debris. And it has yet to break on me, proving itself the most durable balsa-bait I’ve ever used or even heard of.
The durability doesn’t stop with just the quality of the balsa wood or the orientation of its grain (two key elements to making a balsa bait that will last). The bill is also made of Lexan, a thicker material that Pace likes to use in lieu of circuit board for crankbaits that he intends to beat and bang off heavy cover. This material makes for a more durable bill according to the 2013 Classic champ. And the thicker bill does a better job avoiding hanging up in cracks as well, says the craftsman who builds each of these baits.
Using a 45 step process, each of these Black Label baits are hand carved, painted and tuned. The stainless steel hardware is topnotch, with Mustad Triple Grip treble hooks putting the finishing touch on these masterpieces. The lazer-sharp trebles make this a bait that’s sticky to even hold in the palm of your hand; but still it comes through cover shockingly well.
SPECS ON THE WRECK
At 2-inches long and weighing 3/8ths of an ounce, the Wreck is a quality squarebill that settles right into the size range of many of its plastic competitors. This bait has the wide wobble and high buoyancy you’d expect from a rounded balsa wood bait like this. Though the official specs show a 2- to 3- foot diving range, Pace claims the bait can reach 5 feet on 12 pound line, and I’d say that’s a fair guesstimate based on my experiences with it.
It’s an easy bait to cast at 3/8ths ounce, it comes through cover well and the one I tested required zero fine tuning. It put fish in the boat and held up to a decent amount of abuse— more than I thought it would. Priced at $17.99, for a high-quality balsa-wood bait, it’s reasonably priced. When you take into consideration that not one of these baits makes it to the consumer without the Bassmaster Classic champ meticulously looking it over and giving it the final stamp of approval, this is a lure every balsa-bait fan should try. And it’s one those on the fringe like myself could benefit from adding to their tackle box as well.
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