The Stunna: Championship Lure in the Making
By Steve Weisman
For Dan Spengler, Senior Project Manager-Bait Development with Berkley/Pure Fishing, “it’s a dream come true.” Spengler was ecstatic as he reflected on the recent victory by Berkley Pro Staffer Hank Cherry, Jr., at the 2021 Bassmaster Classic. And why not? Spengler and his team worked with Cherry for over a year to create and design the Berkley Stunna, a highly sophisticated jerkbait that Cherry hoped would help him win a tournament like the Bassmaster Classic.
Bingo! Nearly a year and half went into developing the Berkley Stunna into a game changing jerkbait, as evidenced by Cherry’s 2021 Bassmaster Classic victory. It further validated what Spengler had dreamed about since 2010, when he joined the bait development team at Pure Fishing. Before delving into the development of the Stunna, let’s look at Spengler’s journey that began years ago in the small northwest Iowa town of Ocheyedan…
It’s in his blood
Spengler’s passion for fishing came early in life. His father, Ron Spengler, Executive Director at Osceola County Conservation for over 25 years, was his greatest mentor. While growing up in Ocheyedan, Spengler befriended other kids with the same drive to fish. “We spent every free minute fishing. We even skipped baseball practice and cub scout meetings,” said Spengler. However, Spengler’s passion went deeper than that of his friends, and by the time he was nine years old, he had begun designing his own lures. “I developed my first lure at age nine. It was a make-shift inline spinner made from a paper clip. Over the next 15 years, I designed, hand carved, and tested over 100 wooden crankbaits and top water baits.”
Spengler’s passion for the Berkley brand came early in life. Spengler recalls influential anglers like Otis ‘Toad’ Smith and Jim McDonnell, who gave him Berkley products to fish at an early age. “I remember when I was 10 years old, my Dad snuck me out of school to see one of Jim’s fishing seminars. Jim ended up giving me six packages of Berkley Power Bait following the seminar. Stuff like that gave me my early interest in fishing lures, especially Berkley products. My friends and I ended up catching so many fish on Power Baits that I became obsessed and soon dreamed about working at Berkley.”
Spengler later went to college at South Dakota State University, where he earned a Master’s degree in Fisheries. Spengler nearly accepted a state-level fish biologist position out in Pierre, but those plans changed as Dr. Keith Jones, then Director of Fish Research at Pure Fishing, called and asked him to interview for his “dream position,” designing and developing fishing lures at Berkley. According to Spengler, the success of the Berkley hard bait lies within a teamwork approach. “We have the best development team out there when it comes to designing, researching and developing next level products. We share that common goal to make the best baits in the fishing tackle industry. Berkley is the place where science meets fishing lures, and our philosophy is letting the fish tell us what they like,” said Spengler.
The lure development process
“The best lures come from a blend of science, research, passion and time. Most product development cycles last for two to three years.” Spengler noted. “Initially, the process starts with the concept phase. Specifically, what do we want this lure to do? What shape or body profile do we need? Sizes? Dive depth and action? Sound? Casting distance? Buoyancy?”
Several factors go into designing a bait. “Once we have the concept in mind, we start on design and prototyping, a painstakingly slow and methodical process to lock down exactly what the fish like. Amazingly, many shapes never reach production. There’s a lot of trial and error with lure development. Fish respond to different things, some positively and some negatively. We use a filtering process to scientifically lock down the perfect bait, the perfect action. Often, lures are tested continuously for a full fishing season, sometimes two seasons.” It depends on the lure. Even to the very end, Spengler and his team are tweaking and fine-tuning lure action and color palates.
Spengler notes the Berkley development team has access to several amazing pieces of laboratory equipment located right in Spirit Lake, IA. A casting lab with a large pool provides the angler viewpoint of fishing lure performance during a retrieve. There’s even a cave to gain the underwater perspective. Spengler’s favorite piece of equipment is a large flow tank that allows him to micro-analyze lures in action. Finally, there is the racetrack test pool, where naïve fish are introduced to various baits to determine how many times fish strike a bait, give profile and action. According to Spengler, “Fish subjected to these tests have never seen a lure before, so it’s a true test in terms of what fish prefer in regard to shape, size, action and color. Some lure shapes and actions don’t perform well and won’t make the cut! The baits that pass rigorous lab tests move on to the next step, which is field testing.”
To aid in product development, top fishing pros are also consulted during the design and development process. After a lure passes the lab tests, the baits move on to field tests (some lasting a year) across a variety of waters. At this point, pro anglers and Spengler get to field test these baits across the Midwest to ensure everything is right. If a bait passes all the tests and checks all the boxes, the product is then launched to the public, where it’s taken to trade shows, big media events and hits the shelf.
One example of a time-tested and successful hard bait line is the Flicker family. On the tournament trail, the Flicker family has led to over 40 major tournament victories, including five championships and countless top 10s. Spengler’s latest creation, the Berkley Hit Stick, is on the fast track to be the next big successful research bait, already yielding several tournament victories and top 10 finishes in its first year of release.
And now the Stunna
The Stunna, the 2021 Bassmaster Classic winning lure, is the next big thing from Berkley. According to Spengler, “The Stunna is our next-level jerk bait design. I’ve always loved jerk baits, fishing many through the years. I’ve studied and fished many of the key jerk baits on the market, and my goal with this one was to make something better.”
The dream became a reality when Berkley paired Hank Cherry, Jr., known as one of the best jerk bait sticks in the country, with the Berkley design team. “Working with Hank, we aligned on making the best darting, casting and action-driven jerk bait on the market. We spent countless hours, days and weeks tweaking and fine-tuning the design, developing over 50 prototypes before the product was approved for production.”
One the key features of the Stunna, is that it produces a “shimmy” at pause, which both Cherry and Spengler believe increases strikes while fishing. After the shape was approved, Cherry, Spengler and the development team put in several days field testing, catching hundreds of fish across several water bodies. The final icing on the cake was Cherry lifting that Bassmaster Classic championship trophy over his head. “We knew right then and there that all the hard work, dedication to detail and focus was worth it. We had a winner!” said Spengler with a smile of satisfaction.