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THERE IS A METHOD TO THEIR . . . : Bass Madness : Crupi and Kadota Have Their Own Style and Are Renowned for Catching Trophy-Sized Fish

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are two large ice chests and only three people on the boat, so it appears they will eat and drink well. Until a look inside.

It’s lunch fit only for a largemouth bass: crawfish in one chest, mudsuckers in the other--live bait with which fishing buddies Bob Crupi and Dan Kadota hope to fool the big bass of Castaic Lake.

They’ve been doing it for years so well, Crupi says, that they don’t count anything under 10 pounds.

Crupi and Kadota have represented California in the Goodyear/Bassin’ Big Bass World Championship the last six years. The largest bass catch in each of 49 states--excluding Alaska, which has no bass--earns a free trip to Nashville, Tenn. Whoever catches the biggest fish in two days of angling Sept. 24-25 will earn $200,000, a bass boat and a pickup truck.

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As usual, California produced the biggest qualifier, a point grudgingly acknowledged in the South where, Kadota says, “Bass fishermen are gods.”

Crupi is an LAPD motorcycle patrolman, Kadota a marketing representative for G. Loomis rods, but their approach to the sport couldn’t be more intense if they trained on grits.

Crupi’s 17.51-pound largemouth topped all state qualifiers for the Big Bass competition this year, and it was only the third-largest in California. Steve Gray of Ventura, who hadn’t entered the contest, caught an 18-pound 2-ounce beauty at Lake Casitas last spring, and Jay Carter of Ventura topped that Monday--too late for the contest--with one 18-8, along with four other bass weighing 10 pounds or more.

Kadota, with 96 lifetime catches of 10 pounds or larger to Crupi’s 79, led the qualifying with catches of 18.75 in 1988 and 19.04 in ’89. Crupi had catches of 21.01 in ’90, 22.01 in ’91 and 18.58 in ’92.

The 22.01 is a Castaic record, but, oddly, not a California record, because Crupi returned it to the lake alive within two hours rather than risk waiting to have it checked by a California Department of Fish and Game biologist. The state record belongs to Mike Arujo of Santa Monica, who caught one at Castaic a week earlier weighing 21.12.

But Crupi’s 22.01 is second only to George Perry’s world record of 22 pounds 4 ounces taken from Georgia’s Montgomery Lake in 1932--one of the oldest records listed by the International Game Fish Assn. and the target of every serious bass angler.

“We’d rather get skunked than catch a lot of small fish,” Kadota says. “We want those trophy fish.”

Crupi calls them “Bodacious Bass,” the title of the video he produced revealing all--well, most-- of the secrets he and Kadota have developed over the years.

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“With this industry in a tough economic situation, taking this information to our graves doesn’t do anybody any good,” Kadota says.

Unfortunately, Crupi can’t even take some of it to Nashville. The fish-off is limited to artificial lures, such as Culprit Worms, Power Worms and Uncle Josh craws or frogs that earned his rivals their spots. No live crawfish, or, as they’re more properly known, crayfish, or, as the fishermen call them, crawdads--'dads for short.

Neither Crupi nor Kadota has much use for artificial baits or lures and certainly not for the controversy some of those have created. One prominent angler, Allan Cole of Lancaster, is threatening to sue others he claims have copied his AC Plug--payback, in part, for skeptics who used to claim that Cole illegally used live trout to catch big fish, a false charge once leveled at Crupi.

“I thanked Allan for taking the heat off me,” Crupi says.

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Crupi reaches into the chest. Tiny claws reach up to him. Some crawfish are clearly more aggressive than others. He prefers “the ones that raise their hands and volunteer,” he says.

“The ones with a dadatude, " Kadota says.

Crupi’s license plate: DADATUD.

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As an alternative bait, Kadota will start with a mudsucker--a slimy but harmless little bottom fish with a terrible name--in case the bass are off crawfish today.

“I hand-picked every one of those crawdads yesterday,” Kadota says. “It’s the same when you’re fishing on the ocean. You pick the hot anchovy or mackerel. They transmit what’s going on down there to us. A plastic worm or a crank plug can’t tell you when there’s a fish on its tail.”

Crupi once built a 500-gallon aquarium in his garage so he could study the behavior of bass. So the fish can’t see his line, he makes sure it’s exactly the right color, even if he has to tint it with a marking pen. His line is 6- to 12-pound test.

“Use a small steelhead-type hook . . . short-shank offset,” Crupi says. “Come underneath the skeleton between the crawdad’s eyes and center the barb of the hook into the widest section. Work the hook back and forth until you whittle a little hole, because if you just force it through you’ll crack that shell.

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“Add a small split shot (sinker) 12 to 18 inches in front of the hook, which allows the bait to settle to the bottom a little faster. Once your bait’s settled on the bottom, retrieve it back as slowly as possible because the crawdad is crawling around down there real slow. I’ve timed myself on a cast and retrieve. It takes anywhere from 10 to 12 minutes.

“You’re feeling for the reaction of the bait that tells you if the fish are around . . . if the crawdad feels threatened and (is trying) to get away.”

When the crawdad gets jumpy, Crupi says, “You go on point.”

He stands and lowers his rod tip.

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“You want to be in that striking position when you set the hook,” he says. “When you feel a little bit of pressure, you’re in position to strike back.”

When do you set the hook?

“As soon as you’re sure you have a fish,” he says. “Most people wait for something obvious to happen, like the fish gives a big jerk. But the bait’s in the fish’s mouth before he tells you.”

And then, Crupi adds, set the hook hard.

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“The structure of their mouth is mostly bone. You try to get the best penetration you can.”

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By late summer the best bass bite is off, so Crupi and Kadota have not been fishing for several months as they set out from Castaic’s main launch ramp as the sun beams over the hills. They will spend the morning trying what they call “confidence spots,” where they have had success.

At the first place, nothing.

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At the second, Kadota hooks a one-pounder, which he quickly releases. They move to a third spot, watching the printout on the fish finder.

“There’s a nice fish.”

“There’s two more.”

“Let’s anchor between ‘em and cast in(shore) and out.”

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Most fishermen drop one anchor. Crupi and Kadota always use two, fore and aft, so the movement of their bait on the bottom won’t be affected by the current or the wind swinging the boat.

“Most people don’t even realize that lakes even have currents,” Crupi says.

They cast 60 or 70 feet and retrieve about as fast as a crawfish can crawl. Crupi gets snagged--and is delighted.

“You’ll see some guys pull up a branch and throw it up on the bank,” he says. “I drop it right back in the water.”

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That’s where the bass are likely to be, hanging around underwater structure. Finally, about 11:45 a.m., the fish start to bite off Kadota’s end of the boat, toward shore. It’s the worst time of day and not the best time of year, but in the next 1 1/2 hours, Crupi and Kadota run their total to 21--a catch every four or five minutes, the largest about nine pounds.

“To be honest, neither of us thought it would be like this,” Crupi says.

All of the fish are released. Crupi believes several would have won at Nashville. A fish weighing only 5.65 pounds won $100,000 for Joe Pool of Oregon last year, when only 15 anglers--Crupi not among them--managed to catch a qualifier of 15 inches or better from J. Percy Priest Reservoir, again the tournament site.

Crupi pre-fished Percy Priest last month. The largest fish he caught was a 3.9-pound smallmouth bass.

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“That 3.9 smallmouth would put me in the top five,” he says.

But he would just as soon be fishing somewhere else.

“If it’s a big bass tournament, have it in a big bass location--Florida or Texas or California,” he says.

It will be in Florida next year, but Crupi won’t be there. The organizers have passed a rule prohibiting anyone from coming more than two years in a row. So Crupi is just hoping to have a good time, all expenses paid.

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“My wife loves it,” he says. “But this kind of fishing is not my style of fishing. I’m not out here to go after three- or four-pound bass. Do you think I care if I stay at the Opryland Hotel? I’d rather stay at a Day’s Inn next to a lake where I know I could catch a 10- or 12-pound bass.”

And use a crawfish with a dadatude.


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