Words & Images: Kosta Linardos
Shimano are obviously known for their rods, reels and other accessories, but aside from a few great stickbaits and squid jigs over the years, they’ve never really delved into the hard-body lure market until the recent release of the new Japanese Bantam range.
Bantam is quite an old sub-brand of Shimano’s that was once their core low-profile baitcaster reel range in the 80s and 90s. I still have my father’s Bantam baitcast reels and I recall at the time they were a revolutionary product that was huge on the top-end barra scene. So it’s nice that the name has been revitalised and brought back for this new range of lures.
The range consists of five lures that are very different from each other – a big 190mm wakebait the BT Force, a 100mm swimbait the BT Bait, a crash-diving crankbait the Pavlo Shad, a 182mm glidebait the BT Sraptor and a 115mm stickbait the Jijil.
In this review we’ll be focusing on three of the lures in the range that we recently reviewed on Mallacoota Inlet – the Pavlo Shad, BT Bait and the BT Force. You can also see the full video we produced via our YouTube Channel (Hooked Up Video), website and social media pages.
The Pavlo Shad
The Pavlo Shad is available in two sizes and dive depths – 52mm/4g/1.2m and 59mm/6g/1.7m. It’s a suspending shad profile crash diver that gets down to depth quickly and has an outstanding action. There are 10 colours in the range with a large focus on natural shrimp and baitfish colours, which are the colours I opt for in a lure of this size and style.
The Pavlo Shad in both sizes has a nice tight shimmy action and responds beautifully to twitches and jerks. It features two independent rattle chambers, which offer some great sonic attributes, and suspends well on the pause. It’s a lure that will suit the beginner who just wants to slow roll or the experienced angler who wants to add more variety. It offers excellent rod response, putting the angler in full control.
We caught a lot of bream and flathead on both sizes and I think the greatest testament to the lure was when we dropped a bream on the 52mm model, gave it a few twitches and a pause and it came back for another strike, which is a sign of a great lure. That bream ended up being a 43cm yellowfin.
It tracks very straight, even with a high-speed retrieve, and will make for an excellent lure for trolling for flathead – I’m calling it now as a new favourite of die-hard flathead trollers in Queensland and NSW (there’s no pink colour as yet). It handles contact with the bottom and structure without any negative effect on the action, and even when it picked up weed it never affected just how straight this lure tracks. The Pavlo Shad will be dynamite in the snags chasing big EPs this winter and will be an excellent lure for jacks, bass and trout.
The colours and finish are outstanding with many of the models featuring life-like holographic scale prints and engravings. We were sent early samples of the Pavlo Shad so we didn’t have a huge range of colours to test, but of the colours we were sent I think we caught fish on all of them, with 002 Kyorin KK, 004 Shrimp and Flash WS being standouts.
The BT Bait
The BT Bait is a 99mm slow-sinking compact swimbait with two joins and an additional soft plastic tail, of which you get three in the packet. It comes in eight colours with a good even mix of bright and natural colours. The hooks are perfectly suited to saltwater estuary species – not too heavy and not too light.
Its action is that of a true swimbait – just a slow roll will get the BT Bait swimming like a real fish just below the surface. By imparting twitches, fast burns and pauses you can add a lot of variety to the action and the fish were crawling all over it. You can also work it with great subtlety in the shallows with small twitches, and thanks to its multi-joint body design the BT Bait responds accordingly, providing a finesse slow-sinking presentation. What’s so great about the BT Bait is the visual aspect; you can work it on bream cruising in the shallows, on edges or over weed flats, which we did with great success. It casts surprisingly well with far better accuracy than you’d pick for a lure of this design and offers a whole new presentation that fish haven’t seen before.
We were expecting this lure to do well but it exceeded our expectations as a bream lure. My fellow reviewer Sam spent most of the test period (1.5 days) targeting bream with the BT Bait and landed more than 35 solid bream, plus a host of by-catch such as smaller flathead and tailor.
It proved itself as a must-have lure for any bream angler and we cannot wait to see what else it will catch. Bream on swimbaits is a now a realistic and highly effective technique thanks to this little bait. At $35 the price is excellent for the quality, and there is nothing we know of on the market that’s similar at this price point. The only slight negative we found was that the paint job was susceptible to bite marks, but it did catch a ridiculous amount of hard-crunching bream so it’s to be expected.
The BT Force
The BT Force is a 50g wakebait that measures 190mm and comes in eight colours ranging from natural presentations through to solid blacks. It features a large soft plastic tail, of which you get two in the packet along with small plastics pins that help secure the tail. It doesn’t take long to insert the pins and they do hold in the tail very well to stop it from slipping out while casting or fighting a fish.
The BT Force is an intelligently designed wakebait with a heap of originality in its action. it has that classic surface/subsurface action that any good wakebait should have, with a big body roll that creates a healthy wake. The tail is a functional and original design and serves quite a few purposes. It’s a big paddle-style tail with two extra fins on the bottom and top of the tail that flick and throw up water at the rear. The tail doesn’t just vibrate through the water like a standard paddle tail on a plastic, it swings from side to side and slashes and splashes the water up on the surface. So you get the hard-body creating the wake and a big visual roll, and the tail throwing a light and constant splash across the surface. It’s also fitted with a rattle in the front of the head to provide some sub-surface sonic attributes.
The BT Force doesn’t need a lot in the way of rod movement to create the action – you can do it all with the reel and I recommend high-speed baitcast outfits to offer full control. A slow roll will keep it up closer to the surface and provides a big wide roll, and that tail gets working with minimal movement so you can burn and pause or keep a steady faster speed for more commotion. There isn’t really anything you can do to this lure with regard to speed or action that will make it react negatively.
I think what’s really cool about the design and mix of hard-body and soft tail is that while the lure may technically measure 190mm, the fish is only really seeing about 120mm of hard-body and the other 70mm of tail is creating splash – making it a more bite-sized presentation that will get a big cod or barra excited but won’t scare off flathead or even bass.
I worked the Mallacoota system for most of the test period targeting a big dusky flathead with the BT Force. Through the whole test period we didn’t spook any big fish, see any lies, get any follows – nothing. Then, at the last minute on the last day as we had hit last light, the water exploded on the flat I was working and an 82cm dusky smashed the BT Force.
It was a perfect hook-up and the hardware held up beautifully. You would upgrade the hooks if targeting metre-plus cod and barra but the trebles are perfect for bass, flathead and smaller barra. At $50 the price is outstanding, as many other Japanese brands would be charging twice that and more for a lure of this quality.
To say all three lures we tested from the Bantam range were highly impressive would be an understatement. The build quality, aesthetics and attention to detail are outstanding. The designs are original, functional, they’re fun lures to use and – most importantly – they catch fish. Shimano have gone all out in the development of these lures and the results are outstanding, so we can’t wait to see what else they may release in the Bantam range in the future and we look forward to testing the Jijil and Sraptor.
Distributed By: Shimano Australia