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If you grew up fishing and happen to be a child of the ’90s, you likely owned a Banjo Minnow kit, because the infomercial pushing them ran on every channel that aired fishing shows—and even some that didn’t. Prior to this era, fishing lures hadn’t been presented to the masses with the same delivery method as products like the ThighMaster, The Clapper, and Ron Popeil’s Rotisserie Oven. What many people don’t realize, however, is that the Banjo wasn’t the first lure touted on cable TV. It’s long-standing competitor, the Flying Lure, hit cable first.

This marketing style was both a boon and a bane for the Banjo Minnow. On one hand, it moved an insane amount of lures, thereby generating piles of money, which was the primary goal. In fact, the Banjo campaign was so successful that it prompted other lure makers to go straight to TV infomercials instead of trying to independently push lures via outdoors shows, tackle shops, or selling the patent to a major lure manufacturer. On the other hand, profits aside, the problem with infomercial marketing is that it created a lack of distrust in many Americans. Did you or your mom or dad buy that ThighMaster or Chia Pet or Slap Chop? And was it everything it was cracked up to be? Probably not, which is why so many of these wares are labeled “gimmicks.”

We’ve come to associate infomercial products with cash grabs that lack quality or underperform. And yet, many of us still bought both the Banjo Minnow and the Flying Lure. Why? Because in both commercials, we saw bass after bass gobbling the lures down and heard respected pro anglers singing their praises. So, what’s the real story? Were these lures made to catch fishermen before fish, or were they actually effective on the water? I’ve used (and still own) Banjo Minnows and Flying Lures. Let’s look at their hits and misses and see how these “gimmick” baits really stack up, but first a bit of history.

A Brief Overview of the Banjo Minnow

When it first came out, the Banjo Minnow was more difficult to rig than other swimbaits. Joe Cermele

The Banjo Minnow was invented by Wayne Hockmeyer, a Maine-based fishing guide who decided to try his hand at fishing bass tournaments in the early 1990s. What he quickly found, though, was that he routinely placed in the middle of the leaderboard. A serious whitetail hunter, Hockmeyer spent a lot of time in the woods where he observed relationships between predators and prey. He noticed that injured or dying prey elicited an attack response from predators even when—to his eye—they weren’t hungry. This observation became the inspiration for the Banjo Minnow, which claimed to draw strikes from gamefish via a genetic response whether they were looking for a meal or not.

Hockmeyer’s first soft-plastic prototypes were crude, but within short order they started winning him tournaments. It’s rumored that his intention was to keep his creation a secret and continue piling up the tournament checks, but his fishing buddies goaded him into marketing the Banjo Minnow to the public. Hockmeyer enlisted the help of a renowned taxidermist and veteran soft-plastic lure maker to transform the early Banjo into a more anatomically correct baitfish including details like a scale pattern. With a bit of marketing and tank demonstrations at outdoor shows, the Banjo quickly began creating a buzz, but in 1995 when the first infomercial ran, the lures blew up. It didn’t hurt that Hockmeyer sent a set to legendary bass angler, Bill Dance, and asked for a non-scripted, honest video review. It was a gamble, but it paid off. Dance believed in the power and uniqueness of the lure, which helped it rocket into tackle boxes across the world. But what made it so potent?

Read Next: The Best Soft Plastic Baits for Bass

To the naked eye, the Banjo Minnow looks like countless other soft-plastic baitfish, but it had a lot going for it that similar lures did not in the 1990s. It was neutrally buoyant, which allowed it to essentially hover in the water column. It would change direction every time it was twitched and not move at all when paused—both behaviors of a real dying baitfish. Perhaps most revolutionary was that the hook was positioned in front of the lure via a screw-in anchor, which meant there was no hardware in the bait to make it stiff. This gave it a range of motion that no other soft plastic could match at the time.

An Overview of the Flying Lure

The brainchild of tournament bass angler Alex Langer, the Flying Lure was created to solve a problem. Langer was reportedly frustrated that there were no lures in his arsenal that could effectively get in front of bass in tucked-up holds like deep under docks, overhanging banks, and submerged brush piles. So, to get at these pesky fish, Langer developed a lure that would swim backwards away from the angler after the cast.

The unique jighead on the Flying Lure made the bait rear weighted and helped anglers get at fish in tight holes. Joe Cermele

Langer essentially took a bass tube—a long-proven lure—and flattened it out. The real magic, however, was in the specially designed jigheads that came with every Flying Lure kit. The lead molded around the hook shanks features a flattened, whale’s tail design at the rear while the front featured a molded-in point that seated within a notch in the Flying Lure’s soft plastic body. That heavy whale’s tail, however, was positioned under the hook bend, not at the head like a traditional jighead. This made the Flying Lure rear weighted. The hook eye protruded from the tail of the lure, spinning the usual tube rigging configuration on its head.

Between the flat profile of the Flying Lure and its backward weight system, when allowed to fall on a slack line, it would glide out and away from the rod tip as it descended. This allowed anglers to drop it right next to dock or other hard structure and have it slide into the hidden bass zone without relying on skip or slingshot casts. Even in areas without structure, the back-swimming action of the Flying Lure allowed fishermen to keep it in front of fish longer because after being twitched or reeled it would glide back to any fish in pursuit instead of moving away. Endorsements from respected pro anglers like Hank Parker quickly helped Langer’s lures get off the ground, but the 30-minute infomercial released in 1994 sent sales into overdrive.

Banjo Minnow Vs. Flying Lure: Rigging

The Banjo Minnow was too ahead of its time, at least in my opinion. Though it’s been called a gimmick since it first hit the scene, the reality is that it was the predecessor to countless swimbaits anglers all over the world lean on today. Lures like jointed glide baits swim erratically and change direction with every twitch. Soft-plastic baitfish imitations are created with a variety of densities to control sink rate and hover depth. We’ve also developed many rigging styles and presentations that keep the hook out of the lure to maximize wiggle, but when the Banjo dropped, many anglers weren’t quite ready for a rigging routine that bucked the norms of the era.

The author picked up this lure kit at a flea market. Joe Cermele

I got a Banjo Minnow kit for my 13th birthday, and I was beyond excited. But to make the lure behave like the ones on TV, I had to screw the anchor into the nose of lure and then peg the hook in place through that anchor with micro rubber bands. If I wanted my Banjo to run weedless, I needed to stretch a second longer rubber band across the hook gap. Looking back on it now, it wasn’t very complex, and I tie some knots that take longer than rigging a Banjo. At the time, however, it felt like work. All the small components that came with the kit would end up getting lost, and if you needed replacements you had to order them. You couldn’t just swing by Wal-Mart for specialty Banjo hooks or nose anchors, so, as my stock ran low, I did what many anglers did—I just started rigging Banjo bodies on jigheads. I understand that was a me problem, but, still, I knew many young anglers that failed to harness the full power of the Banjo because the rigging was kind of a pain. Even today, the kits still come with the same pieces, including the specially made hooks with an upturned eye that can’t be bought in bulk at any tackle shop.

Conversely, a 5-year-old could rig a Flying Lure. All you had to do was insert the jighead into the rear of the tube until it’s lead keeper hook seated in the notch on the bait’s back and you were ready to tie it on and go fishing.  

Banjo Minnow vs. Flying Lure: Performance

A few years ago, I came across a complete vintage Banjo Minnow kit at a flea market. Just for kicks, I ponied up the $10 the gent was asking. Due to the rigging issues and lack of patience as a teen, I don’t really feel like the Banjo got a fair shake in my youth. So, I decided to try it again as a grown up.

When properly set up with all the patented Banjo accoutrements, did the lure perform? Absolutely. I had no problem getting bass to gobble it down in a pond not far from home. Did it outperform other lures in my tackle bag? No, it didn’t. Its seductive, twitching action may have trumped other lures of the ’90s, but the sands of time and decades of lure development have ensured that the Banjo is no longer a secret weapon. It’ll catch fish, but no better than modern staples like the Zoom Fluke or any number of suspending jerkbaits, all of which can be used to effectively mimic a dying baitfish.

How the Flying Lure Performs

Similarly, the Flying Lure works as advertised and does, indeed, glide backwards. I got a set of them around the same time as my first Banjo Minnows, and I used them successfully for years—or at least until I finally ran out of those specialty jigheads which also could not be replaced via your local tackle shop. Yes, a Flying Lure will swim under a dock or tree, but nobody ever said it was immune to getting stuck once it got there.

While Langer maybe have revolutionized the rigging and action of what was essentially the classic tube bait reimagined, he couldn’t create a tube that didn’t get hopelessly hung in hard cover. I recall a handful of times when I scored bass sending a Flying Lure into the “junk” where it was supposed to go. However, I caught equally as many using it like a traditional tube in less “sticky” spots. No doubt, it had a unique action that differed from a regular round tube, but, like the Banjo Minnow, I couldn’t confidently say it outperformed other lures.

Banjo Minnow vs. Flying Lure: Durability

What I’ve always laughed at most when re-watching Flying Lure and Banjo Minnow infomercials is the variety of species they claim to fool. From king salmon to tuna, deep-water rockfish to peacock bass, these lures seem catch everything. Now, to be fair, I’ve got no doubt that practically any predator that eats small baitfish would take a shot at these as-seen-on-TV specials, but very few of them would have wound up in the net—which might explain why none of these fish were ever shown with a Flying Lure or Banjo in their mouths.

One of the biggest criticisms of both lures was the weakness of their hooks. Assuming they were being mass-produced overseas to meet the high demand and sold for a relatively low price per kit, they weren’t exactly coming with high-quality components. The Flying Lure’s hooks would bend pretty easily whether in the mouth of a heavy fish or after being pulled out of a snag. Every time you bent them back into shape, of course, you only made them weaker. Once again, there were no alternative jigheads for Flying Lures, and I’d suspect that, like me, not many anglers bothered re-ordering heads when the stock that came with the first kit got lost or bent out too badly.

The Banjo’s hooks were notoriously weak, too, but they came with the added headache of those screw-in anchors. To make the bodies wiggle and shimmy, they had to be made with pretty soft plastic. In the infomercial, the hook placement at the head was touted as an advantage because most predators strike prey headfirst. That’s 100 percent true, but if a smaller fish nipped at the tail, the screw-in eyelet would easily rip out…and now you had to start that whole annoying rigging process over again.

The Winner

Let’s say you’re at a garage sale and there on the table is a Banjo kit and a Flying Lure kit. You’re feeling nostalgic and think it would be fun to fish one of these old school baits. I’d suggest the Flying Lures. Of the two, they’re the king of the gimmick baits in my opinion because they not only catch fish, but they’re much simpler to use and rig. They were promoted as something an angler of any skill level could use effectively, and I’d say that’s accurate. Even a kid can cast out a Flying Lure, twitch and jerk it around with no real plan or methodology, and it’ll have enticing action.

Even though it can be argued that the Banjo Minnow was more innovative than the Flying Lure, there’s a bit more nuance required to make them dance properly, and, frankly, you could achieve the same action with a variety of modern soft plastics rigged with a simple nose hook.

The Conclusion

Are the Banjo Minnow and Flying Lures gimmicks? Yes and no. I truly believe that at their inception, Langer and Hockmeyer were genuinely striving to create lures that were different and legitimately outperformed much of what was on the market at the time. I’ve always believed that had they sold their designs to a reputable lure company like Strike King or Berkley, these baits would have gotten a lot more respect and may have even become tackle box staples or classics, which they certainly aren’t today.

If you really break it down, they are two of thousands of lures that offered an advantage when they hit the scene, but as newer, better lures were introduced, that advantage was diminished. But they’re gimmicks in the sense that any lure that has a decent action will get smashed if it’s in front of a fish that’s ready to eat. What we saw on TV led us to believe they had magical abilities when they were simply OK lures that hungry fish would attack. As for all those close-ups of bass hammering them in the informercials? They were all in tanks and likely starved for days before filming. It was the oldest trick in the 90s lure marketing play book.