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Of Banjos & Buggers

I have some valuable fly fishing writing to share with you. But first, let me begin by blowing your mind:

THERE IS NO ENTRY FOR THE BANJO MINNOW ON WIKIPEDIA!!!

Shock, I know.

Anyway, growing up I was a fan of the Banjo Minnow. Not only did I use them (and with great success, I will add), but I watched the infomercial over, and over, and over again on whichever high-numbered cable channel the fishing shows aired. And if I found myself in a Bass Pro or Cabela’s where they had the Banjo Minnow infomercial on loop? I’d stop and stare, mouth agape.

Being a sucker for a good/tolerable sales pitch, I sent my $29.95 off and waited impatiently for the 110-piece set to arrive.

At least for me, they worked. Maybe it was the weedless rigging, which was essential in the chemically-enhanced suburban ponds of my youth. Perhaps it was actually the science behind the whole concept: the idea that fish simply could not pass up a dying baitfish. My money? It is on the fact that Bill Dance himself endorsed the Banjo Minnow.

In all seriousness, the Banjo Minnow worked because the folks peddling it told people they had to slow down to fish it. No reeling at lightning speed. No reeling at all, actually. Just jerk, twitch, twitch, pause, twitch – then reel in the slack and do it all over again.

You could do that with a Rapala, a Rat-L-Trap, or a generic rubber worm and catch fish. But the good folks at Banjo entreated me to do it. So, I did. And I caught fish, justifying that $29.95 and all of those hours spent watching the infomercial. (Author’s note: another half hour was spent watching the infomercial while writing this piece… for research purposes.)

If that is what it took to get me to slow down in my conventional tackle fishing, then it was well worth it. Because that mindset has carried over into my stillwater fly fishing.

You’ve got to be able to fish streamers slow. Whether it be for bass, trout, or some other species, a slow and erratic retrieve is going to bring fish in. You have to think, though. None of this mindless, cast, strip, strip, strip, cast, strip, strip anymore. You have to consciously strip and twitch and pause and think about the last twitch and then pause and then pull in some slack and then twitch again. It is like work! But it is the Banjo Minnow way, grasshopper.

Consider the wooly bugger. On the strip, it goes all streamlined. During a pause, the marabou tail flares out. As you twitch, the hackles pulsate. I’m not even a fish and that makes me hungry.

Twitching and jerking a streamer around lakeside structure can be a lot more effective and a heck of a lot more fun than just casting it out and then retrieving it. If you’re sight fishing, you can make the fly your marionette. Have it dance, wiggle, and entice the fish to come and get it. Again, it is like work – but it works.

Say what you will about the Banjo Minnow. Hokey. Unnecessary. A scam. Personally, I am thankful that I was caught in it’s Saturday morning tractor beam. The lures themselves produced for a number of years, but the path that fishing the Banjo put me on has yielded fish for decades.

And really… no Wikipedia page?!?

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