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Berkley Powerbait: Why Fish Bite and Won't Let Go

More than three decades since its creation, PowerBait still out-fishes everything else.

We fish for bass for lots of different reasons. Some of us fish for relaxation, others for camaraderie, and still others for competition. One thing we share is the exhilaration we feel when a bass strikes our lure. It’s magic.

That familiar tug usually means we’re about to hook up with the most popular sportfish on the planet, unless, of course, the bass drops our bait before we can set the hook. The disappointment and frustration that occurs when a bass spits out your bait was the inspiration for the Berkley® PowerBait — the greatest cure for dropped baits ever conceived by man. So what is PowerBait? And how come fish bite it and won’t let go?


An original Berkley Hackle Fly

The Berkley PowerBait story began in Spirit Lake, Iowa, in 1937. It was here that 16-year old Berkley Bedell took $50 from his paper route earnings to start a business selling his hand-tied flies. Bedell’s flies were an instant hit and he would build his eventual fishing empire over the next decades, ultimately turning it over to his son, Tom.

In the mid-80s, Tom Bedell recognized that fish-attracting scents were rapidly becoming a “big thing” in bass fishing, and he wanted Berkley to be the leader in the category. Bedell contracted with renowned fisheries biologist, Dr. Herman Kleerekoper from Texas A&M. Kleerekoper specialized in fish olfaction (in other words, he was a “smell” scientist) and was the perfect fit for launching Berkley into the attractant market.

Soon, Dr. Kleerekoper developed the first Berkley “scent” product, a fish attractant called “Strike.” And while Strike was a great start, it was a topical scent that would wash off easily. Bedell knew there had to be something better.


Scientist working in lab

Bedell enlisted the help of a young resident Berkley chemist and angling enthusiast John Prochnow, along with fisheries biologist Dr. Keith Jones. He tasked them with pushing the conventional scent and attractant limits. He wanted them to develop a whole new technology, one which trumped anything available at that time—a tall order indeed.

Prochnow and Jones knew from their extensive scientific backgrounds that they needed to move beyond the popular, conventional topical attractants and scents. They needed to somehow make the scent permanent. Together, the two scientists set out researching, designing, and developing an all-new attractant system; one which would eventually be molded into soft plastic baits.


Fish in tank

When Prochnow and Jones began their research, their goal was to discover how to make fish strike artificial baits and hold onto them. In other words, they wanted fish to bite a lure and hold onto it the same way they would with natural prey.

The team, through exhaustive research in their laboratories, discovered that bass expect a certain “flavor” when they feed. The topical attractants of the day (and even those available today) simply did not “taste” like these naturally occurring forages. They knew they had to be missing something. Somehow, they needed to build an attractant that tasted exactly the same as a baitfish or crawfish.

While seemingly simple, this observation would be the driving force behind the development of the game-changing PowerBait formula. The Berkley research team set to work deciphering the elemental compounds which made up that “just right” taste bass expect when feeding. To do so, the research team reverse engineered natural bass forage.

Prochnow and Jones collected countless shad, sardines, earth worms, crawfish, and anything and everything else in a fish’s diet. They then dissected each, creating complex slurries which were then run through a battery of sophisticated laboratory tests to decipher their most rudimentary, atomic and molecular building blocks.

Eventually, Prochnow and Jones unlocked the forage’s complex set of amino acids which formed the proteins that bass were accustomed to “tasting” when feeding. After thousands of hours of laboratory time, the two had their answer.

Armed with this knowledge, they were able to fashion test formulas, combining natural and synthetic compounds that mimicked those occurring naturally in bass forage. Back in their labs, they began testing wide-ranging amino acid/compound cocktails on their vast collection of captive game fish. Through a series of complex scientific procedures, the PowerBait secret formula was refined and then ultimately perfected. In 1988, after years of painstaking research and development—Berkley introduced PowerBait to the world.


Angler reeling in fish on boat

PowerBait was truly revolutionary as it was a drastic departure from the topical scents and attractants that dominated the market. During their lab testing, Prochnow and Jones had made another dramatic discovery—fish would bite and hold onto their baits up to 18 times longer than any other baits.

This was no small feat as increased hold times meant more time for anglers to sense strikes and set the hook. This alone would translate into more fish in the boat or on the bank. Traditional topical scents and attractants simply could not do this, as they quickly washed off and faded away. Plus, these topical scents did not mimic naturally-occurring forage flavors.

To quantify their discovery of dramatically increased hold times, Prochnow and Jones performed tens of thousands of palatability tests. That is, they tested each and every perspective formulation time and time again to determine which one the fish preferred most. To do so, cotton pellets soaked with various amino acid combinations and other competitors’ popular bait flavors were fed to bass in the laboratory.

During their testing, the research team discovered something odd—that no single compound worked. They had to in fact blend many different constituents, both natural and synthetic, to attain the perfect mix.

In the end, it would be Jones and Prochnow’s decades of scientific background and research skills that led to the final PowerBait formula.


Berkley banner

Berkley PowerBait has come a long way in the years since its introduction in 1988. In the thirty-two years after, the research team has evolved. Dr. Keith Jones has retired, but John Prochnow continues his quest to develop and design the best soft plastic baits. Today, the Berkley PowerBait team (still resident in Spirit Lake), has expanded to include two fisheries biologists, four chemists, two chemical engineers, three design engineers, and a model maker.

No longer does Prochnow field test baits by himself. Along with the support of his soft bait research and development team, he also has some 3,000 key opinion leaders in the fishing industry at his disposal. These professionals include pro bass anglers, retail representatives, dealers, guides, and product ambassadors.

While Prochnow and his team continue perfecting their products in the labs, this expansive support team tests all products before they are shipped to consumers. Each year hundreds of new baits are tested and validated for introduction to the marketplace.

All these years later, it’s easy to see how Berkley continues to provide the best baits in the fishing industry—those Berkley and Tom Bedell envisioned so many decades ago. It was true then, and it’s still true today. When it comes to Berkley PowerBait, fish bite and won’t let go.

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