Area 51. The secret project that reaps rewards
  |  First Published: April 2012

Jason Wilhelm is no stranger to barra fishing in impoundments. He’s as passionate today about it as he was when he first started chasing these big bruisers in his local dam at Awoonga.

Unashamedly Jason admits to a love for Squidgy Slick Rigs when chasing impoundment barra and his scorecard on big barra taken on these lures reads like a lie. It is almost unbelievable. His talent for catching barra in the lakes saw him start up a guiding business and also fish competitively in the ABT BARRA circuit and on the national TV program AFC. In both competitive realms he has excelled with multiple top 3 finishes and a swag of wins, and to achieve this level of success, Jason has been a tinkerer.

He tinkers with his tackle by developing specific rods with world renown Ian Miller. He tinkers with his knots to ensure he stays connected. He even tinkers with his lures by adding or reducing weight, changing sonics, adjusting tails and adding stinger hooks.

And it is this nature of the tinkerer that saw him come up with a system for the Squidgy Slick Rig that lead to better hook ups and numbers of fish landed. His ideas were discussed at length with the team at TT Lures and, with a receptive backer, he went about developing the Area 51 Slick Jig – a jighead that will sit inside the 110 and 130mm Slick Rigs and give it some advantages that really are unfair to the fish.

So let’s ask Jason all about his newest project Area 51, and more specifically the Area 51 Slick Jig:

QFM: Jason, firstly congratulations on a great product that fills the needs of serious impoundment barra anglers. Tell me, why was Area 51 dreamed up?

JW:As you know I have been modifying my Slick Rigs for years now. I chose the Squidgy Slick Rig as a baseline in jighead modification because in its own right the lure is an awesome barramundi catching tool. It has many subtle and not so subtle characteristics that barramundi just love, and it is a time proven plastic that has accounted for thousands of metre-plus barra for anglers over the years. It has also won more ABT BARRA events than any other lure; both hard or soft, with daylight second.

My love affair with the Slick Rig started quite a few years ago, and to this day remains my go-to lure. I really like the fact that it lends itself to easy and effective modification. This is much more important than many may think.

Smart anglers from all walks of life have been modifying Slick Rigs for many moons. These modifications have most likely been driven by ABT BARRA events as well as non-competitive, smart anglers who just want to catch more fish.

The stinger rig has been an integral part of my tournament fishing career, as well as charter work on Lake Awoonga and Monduran for many years now. It has always been a time intensive modification but a necessary one. So I started to think about creating a ready-made jighead that was an effective, strong and easy change-out alternative jighead with more hook points that would increase hook up and capture rates. Through tournament fishing and many hours on the water during charters and personal fishing time, it was clear that the addition of a stinger hook made this great lure a much better one. I’d say that there would be very few competitive barra anglers these days who would throw a Slick Rig without a stinger and there are quite a few ways to attach one, but most are very time consuming and often prone to failure. There had to be a better way, so after discussions with Shimano Australia and TT Lures, a collaboration and agreement was reached, and prototype testing started immediately.

Another very important consideration in the design of the Slick Jig was that I wanted to make this rig available to all levels of experience so that anyone, regardless of fishing background, could expect to be able to retro fit the plastic without difficulty and in turn enhance their chances of a successful hook up. This has been achieved with the Slick Jig. It was also very important to keep the modification simple. In my experience the simple changes and applications in fishing tend to make the most difference.

QFM: It seems that both Shimano Australia and TT Lures worked together to allow this project to blossom. How did you manage to get these two top end tackle producers to work together and make this project work?

JW: Shimano and TT did have to come together to make this work. An open line of communication was imperative from the very start. It was awesome to be able to get Shimano, who have been a big supporter and key sponsor of mine for the past 7 years, to give their blessing to kick off Area 51. This support was crucial to the project going ahead because without it, it was dead in the water and I wouldn’t have gone ahead with Area 51. That was made very clear.

I made sure that I explained what it was that I wanted to achieve, and my good mate Brett Wilson, who is the Squidgy Products Manager at Shimano Australia, saw it also. He was able to present the Area 51 case to Shimano senior management and give them an insight into what I wanted to create. It was also critical to get the key stakeholders (Bushy and Starlo) to give me the go ahead. Gareth Williams from TT was just unreal. He was patient with the whole process and was really supportive throughout. It speaks volumes of the people involved here, and I must say I feel privileged to be associated with such fine product and great people.

It is a minefield of epic proportions to do something like this, but I believe it is worth it because TT and Shimano Squidgies are both brilliant products, and by combining the two you end up with an even better fish catching tool.

It has been something that I have been doing for some time now, using custom TT jigheads in Slick Rigs. I thought it was a good idea to mainstream the stinger rig so everyone else could have access to one without the need of learning how to make it.

QFM: So the ins and outs were basically to make a brilliant lure better? In what ways does the Area 51 Slick Jig allow you to firstly hook and then land more barra? In essence, what are the key differences?

JW: The aim of Area 51 is to make the good things even better. In essence there is nothing wrong with the standard Slick Rig hook. Through tournament angling, I have found some slight changes make a big difference to hook up rates.

I wanted better hook exposure on the main hook. To do this we have changed the angle of the hook shaft coming out of the jighead, thus increasing the hook exposure. I really wanted to have that main hook stand out proud from the plastic, and we have achieved this. This increases hook up rates through a wider gape of the main hook.

The second part is the high quality main hook itself. These Mustad hooks are high quality, ultra sharp and strong. Not bulletproof, but a nice balance of fine gauge and strength. Fine gauge is critical when chasing hard mouthed adversaries like barramundi. If you go too heavy on gauge to make them bulletproof you then suffer with fewer hook ups because the hooks are too thick.

The third addition is obviously the stinger rig which increases hook up rates dramatically. You get a VMC 6X treble with each Slick Jig but you can use whichever treble you like best. Weed is no problem either. If you know how to clear weed from plastics you will understand, but basically two ultra sharp rips will clear the lure of any weed. We often fish weed islands and cast these lures straight into the weed, let them sink and then rip them out. It’s a highly successful technique to catch barramundi, especially when things are tough. Anglers who fish weed will know exactly what I mean.

QFM: I know you spent a lot of time testing, fiddling with and reworking the product to get it just right, so what are the differences of the Slick Jig?

JW:This prototype phase took the best part of two years; such was my desire to get it right. Although there is no such thing as a bullet proof rig when we talk barramundi, the intensive testing that the Slick Jig went through achieved admirable results. As with everything in life, there is always a compromise, I wanted a strong main hook that was fine in gauge to increase hook up rates, but of course fine gauge means it can bend. Through brilliant work of the design team at TT, we found a lovely hook that met my requirements, and that was a very strong hook in fine gauge. Once the main hook was decided on, we went to work on the stinger attachment. Again, none of this was simple, but TT again came up with the goods, and bench testing achieved over 45kg in strength testing before the oval clip started to fail. Once we got this sorted I sent the rig out to a team of anglers I chose to represent my product.

Dan Grech, Jon Millard and Alan MacNamara were an integral part of the testing process and also the Area 51 tournament team. The boys didn’t disappoint. Alan caught a string of metre plus fish on one rig and continued to test them while Jon Millard and Dan Grech went to work on them up north at Faust and Tinaroo. I tested them in the NT and around my local waters on some serious saltwater barra prior to the Awoonga overflow, as well as on charter with some select clients. The feedback from the team guys was great and although the boys bent a hook or two on big fish, they still successfully landed them. One of the problems with multi hook rigs is that if the fish gets hooks in the top and lower jaw, they will bend one of them such is the force that jaw pressure can generate. Fish can also twist the stinger hook out of the clip, but providing you check that the stinger isn’t stuck in the side of the plastic before you re cast it, it is a rare occurrence. The only way to eliminate this twist issue was to weld the ring closed with the hook already attached, but this then doesn’t allow the angler to choose his or her preferred treble hook, and I decided this was much more important. I have since added Craig Griffiths and young Tommy Wood to the Area 51 tournament team. Craig spends mega hours fishing for barra and is doing very well in the comp scene and Tommy Wood has the ability to be anything in the fishing game if he chooses that path. His fishing credits and captures speak for themselves.

QFM: Recently the Area 51 Slick Jig performed its job on the ABT BARRA Tour, most notably at Peter Faust and Teemburra Dam where fish over the magic metre were landed on it. Are there any tips that you can pass on to the readers to make their use of the Slick Rig rigged with the Slick Jig more of a fishing weapon?

JW: I was ecstatic when I heard that Craig Griffiths had won the Faust round of ABT BARRA, the first comp that Area 51 jigheads had been used. He and 2nd place getter Jon Millard are Area 51 team anglers and they both used Slick Jigs in 130mm Slick Rigs exclusively. To top off a great start to the tour was that Rob Wood won round two at Teemburra Dam again using Slick Jigs and 130mm Slick Rigs. Jon Millard won Big Barra for the event on a Slick Jig as well, so it has been a great start for the product, more than I could have hoped for actually.

Some good tips for anglers to make their plastics even better would be to get in a pool with your plastics to understand how they work, how they sink and what they do when you change speeds and react to other changes in retrieve. Then the rest is up to you. Add chamber rattles, do some tail modifications to get it to work harder and even boil the plastic for a minute or so to soften it right up. The sky is the limit really!

QFM: Lastly, the Slick Rig has caught dozens of different species, how does the Slick Jig stack up in this department and what are some of the species taken on it so far and can it be used on different plastics?

JW: Although the Slick Jig was designed for the Squidgy series, anglers are already applying them to the Berkley and Z-Man ranges with great effect. It just goes to show how many tinkerers are out there! I love that anglers are doing this.

I have caught fingermark, cod, queenfish, coral trout, red emperor, tarpon, flathead, longtail and mac tuna and of course loads of barra, with the biggest nudging over 125cm so far. I have heard guys around Newcastle are using Slick Jigs for mulloway and I have a few mates who are excited about using them for Murray cod. I guess time will tell but I do believe they have many applications, not just for barramundi fishers and I am looking forward to seeing what gets caught next!

Fact Box

Available sizes

Weight (oz)Hooks
3/86/0 for 110mm Slick Rigs, 7/0 for 130mm Slick Rigs
1/26/0 for 110mm Slick Rigs, 7/0 for 130mm Slick Rigs
3/46/0 for 110mm Slick Rigs, 7/0 for 130mm Slick Rigs
16/0 for 110mm Slick Rigs, 7/0 for 130mm Slick Rigs
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