Mark Menendez has seen these waters before. Over two decades ago, he qualified for his first ever Bassmaster Classic right here, on the banks of the Coosa River. Today, the old dog and veteran Bassmaster Elite Series angler has returned to the lazy Alabama River with a new trick — the Strike King Thunder Cricket.
The lure is the latest in a long line of bladed jigs that have proliferated throughout the bass fishing universe since the original ChatterBait exploded on the scene in the mid-2000s. And as the sportfishing industry gears up for ICAST 2019, the Thunder Cricket is poised to be one of the stars of the show.
Menendez has ferried us to the back of a surgically-thin Coosa River creek to show me why.
“This place used to have sewage dumps in it, and the fishing was insane,” he says. “The sewage is gone, but the fishing is still good. Most guys just don’t come up here because they’re scared to death of the flats you have to cross to get here.”
One. Two. Three turns of the reel, and Menendez hooks up with a solid keeper. In this creek, he’s gambling for fat, spawning spotted bass, but hoists a chunky largemouth instead. On the Elite Series, the fish could be enough to help him edge out another competitor for a chance at a six-figure check.
“You see how deep that hook is in there?” he quips. “That’s what I like about this bait. The Thunder Cricket has a big hook that helps the hookup ratio. The big barb prevents them from coming off. This hook is just incredible.”
Several miles away, in a cove off of the river’s main channel, Major League Fishing star Andy Montgomery has honed in on stretch of docks. Montgomery — a comedic South Carolinian who made his name on the Bassmaster Elite Series as a uniquely-gifted dock specialist — is also fishing the Thunder Cricket. He’s busy skipping the bait into the slightest gaps between dock pilings and boathouse doors as he describes the new bait in his own words.
“One of the inherent problems with the bladed jig was the hookup ratio. You miss fish with it, and the reason for that is because the blade would actually get in the way. When the fish bite, the blade collapses. So, when you jerk the bait, the blade actually acts as a deflector, and deflects the hook away from the fish’s mouth. The Thunder Cricket fixes that.”
At a break in the action, Montgomery pauses to outline the design features which separate the Thunder Cricket from its predecessors. “To increase hookup ratio, you want to get the hook away from the blade. We have a long hook that does that. To get it even further away, we’ve added a pivot head, which moves the blade even further out of the way when the fish strikes. Simply put, the pivot head and the length of the hook allow you to catch more of the fish that bite this bait.”
Elsewhere on the Coosa, FLW Tour veteran Billy McDonald has located a pond near a community of lakeside houses. He’s putting the Thunder Cricket to use by irritating bedding bass into a strike. “When you turn the handle on this lure, it’s vibrating,” McDonald explains. “You don’t have to rip it or pull it to make it happen.”
That action, McDonald says, is part of the ongoing evolution of the bladed jig.
“At first, when bladed jigs got popular, there were a lot of knock-offs that weren’t good. Now, the patented versions are really good. This bait, for instance, was tested in the field by our pro staff — the best in the business — for months prior to use. It was really properly tested in the field, and you see the results here.”
Trailer to your needs
With a trailer keeper, a custom jig adapted from the saltwater sector, and a purposefully thin skirt, the Thunder Cricket is designed to be used with a trailer. Each pro FTR spoke to had a different favorite trailer, tailored to their specific fishing strategy. Here’s how they broke down.
- On the Elite Series, Menendez prefers a Strike King Game Hawg trailer on the Thunder Cricket, a trailer that gives the bait a distinct bluegill profile.
- Over at the FLW Tour, McDonald leans towards a Strike King Rage Bug, which makes the bait more weedless. The hefty width of the Rage Bug helps keep Thunder Cricket’s hook from rolling over on limbs and other cover.
- At Major League Fishing, Montgomery prefers Strike King KVD Swim N’ Shiner, which gives the bait a demonstrably wider action in open water, and excels at skipping under docks.
The Strike King Thunder Cricket retails for $13.99. The bait was developed by Strike King’s pro staff, and is officially licensed by Z-Man. It features an Owner Jungle Flipping Hook, a stainless steel blade, and is available in 3/8-, 1/2-, 5/8- and 3/4-ounce sizes and nearly a dozen colors.