Mike McClelland grew up fishing the Ozark Lakes with the original Storm Wiggle Wart. Then when the bait was discontinued, he worked with Spro to develop the Rock Crawler to replace it.

There are certain baits that over the years develop an association or predominance in a particular region, or sometimes even a particular lake.  Homemade balsa cranks in Tennessee and the Carolinas, junebug colored worms in Florida, and red Rattletraps at Sam Rayburn in the Spring.  One of the most famous, however, is the special relationship of the Wiggle Wart with lakes in the Ozark region.  Any mention of the original Storm Wiggle Wart almost always conjures up its popularity and success on lakes like Table Rock, Bull Shoals, Beaver, and Lake of the Ozarks.  In Mike McClelland Ozark Lures, we tap into the expertise and knowledge of tournament pro, Mike McClelland, who has firsthand experience with this famed relationship.

Mike McClelland is an experienced bass pro from Northwest Arkansas, now living in Missouri on the shores of Table Rock Lake.  He has captured eight tour-level wins and 35 top-ten finishes in his storied career.  Born and raised in the Ozark region, he has a long history with the Wiggle Wart.

Using this bait successfully for years, he also saw potential opportunity for improvements and refinements that would make it a more effective lure.  This experience ultimately led to his development of the Spro Rock Crawler crankbait, which we’ll delve further into near the end of this post.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Mike about the history of the Wiggle Wart in the Ozark region and specifically, his recollections of how this bait became so well associated with this part of the country.  Mike’s aunt and uncle owned a resort on Table Rock Lake when he was growing up and his uncle also guided on the lake.

From Mike’s recollection, his earliest experience with the Wiggle Wart was probably around the late 1970s and early 80s.  He was only 11 or 12 years old at the time, but when his uncle took him out bass fishing, he often had a Wiggle Wart on the end of his line. (Note:  Neither Mike nor I could pin down the exact date the Wiggle Wart was first produced, but probably late 60s-early 1970s).

As Mike got older, he started fishing the Wiggle Wart more frequently with good success in both regional and national events throughout the Ozarks.  Here are some of his thoughts on why the bait was so popular and effective in this region.

One of the primary reasons for their effectiveness, in Mike’s opinion, was the “imperfect” construction of the bait itself, which caused it to hunt and swim irregularly.  Oftentimes the bait halves did not match up perfectly.  This along with the overall design of the lure that caused it to hunt and deflect proved irresistible to Ozark bass.

Original Storm Wiggle Warts. Photo Mike Orzell.

The original Wiggle Wart was also made of a now-banned plastic material, that provided a slightly different vibration and sound waves from the encased rattle.  Perhaps another potential reason for its popularity in the region was the relative proximity of the Storm plant in Norman, Oklahoma, as well as its very affordable price.

Due to its maximum diving depth of about 10 feet, the bait proved to be most successful in the pre-spawn, spawn and fall seasons.  Channel banks, points, secondary points and any hard rocky or gravel bottom areas in the right depth range were always a good target area with the Wiggle Wart.  Mike reports that before the largemouth bass virus hit Table Rock in the late 80s, it was not uncommon to catch quite a few five-to-seven-pound bass on the Wiggle Wart under the right conditions.

One of the frustrations for Mike over the years with this bait was the limitation of its diving depth.  Oftentimes, the fish were deeper than the diving range of the original Wiggle Wart.  Storm did produce a “Mag” Wart that did dive a few feet deeper, but the plug was considerably larger than the standard Wiggle Wart (it was capable of catching some huge bass, however, as we will soon discover).

Top to Bottom: Storm Mag Wart, Wiggle Wart, and Wee Wart. Photo Mike Orzell.

Another limitation of the standard-size Wiggle Wart was the ability to cast it effectively with casting tackle.  Mike indicated that some anglers resorted to throwing it on spinning tackle to get more distance.  This factor, along with its diving depth, were two of the main reasons Mike ultimately developed the Spro Rock Crawler.

Before we look more at the development of the Rock Crawler, let me relay a brief personal story regarding the Mag Wart and Table Rock Lake.  In March 1987, my buddy and I were fishing out of Bavarian Village resort on Table Rock.  On a cold, wet, and stormy day we were taking shelter underneath the boat dock when a more adventurous and braver angler pulled in after a morning of fishing.  Much to our amazement he pulled out of his livewell one of the biggest bass ever caught on Table Rock.

His bass weighed an amazing 11 lbs. 10 ounces, and was caught on a bone-colored Mag Wiggle Wart.  It was caught off one of the many cedar trees that were prevalent in Brushy Creek at that time in the lake’s history.  Through diligent Internet searching, as well as combing through old periodicals and fishing guides, I have never verified a larger bass caught at Table Rock Lake.  Unfortunately, I never got the angler’s name, just the fact that he was from Indiana.

Getting back to the development of the Rock Crawler, it was about 2012-2013 that Mike began working with Spro on the first prototypes.  His two primary objectives were to make a more castable and deeper diving Wart-style bait.  The first production model became the RK Crawler55, which weighed 1/2 ounce and had a diving range of 9-14 feet.

Unknown angler from Indiana with an 11-10 largemouth taken from Table Rock Lake in 1987. Photo Mike Orzell.

Additional models followed including the RKMD55 Crawler, which was a shallower (4-8 ft.) diving model, as well as a smaller sized Crawler, the RK50 that is also offered in two diving sizes.

This lure has proven to be quite successful, and Mike opines that he has not thrown an original Wiggle Wart in competition since the development of this bait.  His standard tackle is Sunline Crank FC line in 10-12 lb. test, a 7’ Falcon Cara 417 “cranker” rod in medium action, and Bass Pro Shop reels in 5:1 or 6:8:1 gear ratios.

He utilizes lighter line when he wants the plug to dive deeper and slower retrieve reels in the early season when water temperatures are lower.  As the water warms, he will up his retrieve speed and switch to the 6:8:1 reel.  The beauty of his design is that the deeper diving depths now make this a more year-round lure.  Additionally, due to the bait’s design it runs more nose down than the “flatter” running Wart and tends to hang up much less when fished at the appropriate depths.

Mike McClelland's Rock Crawlers.

Mike has been one of the most prominent bass tournament pros to design and successfully introduce baits that are not only effective, but also show long lasting relevance in an ever-changing tackle environment.

Prior to the Rock Crawler, he developed the McStick jerkbait for Spro, now available in 5 different models.  He also previously worked with War Eagle to develop a namesake finesse spinnerbait.  Additionally, he has worked with Big Bite Baits on the development of several different plastics.  A self-described tinkerer and perfectionist, his designs have helped a lot of anglers put more fish in the boat.

Thanks to Mike, all anglers now have a more reasonably priced alternative to the discontinued original Wiggle Warts that now command top dollar on sites like eBay.  The “secret” weapon of the Ozark region has been out of the bag for some years now.  So regardless of where you fish, there are situations where you can put these baits to good use and enjoy the success that Ozark anglers like Mike have for many years.

NOTE:  BFA would like to thank Mike McClelland for his time and willingness to share his insight for this posting. We appreciate it.