Jointed Rebel Lures: Taming The Cholla Cactus Of The Seas Logo
Jointed Rebel Lures: Taming The Cholla
Cactus Of The Seas


Mexico Fishing Photo 1 Mexico Fishing Photo 1

The Jointed Rebel Lures, a prickly mess in the tackle box, but an unsurpassed fish catcher. At right, Neil Kelly, who, with Nate Waddington, discovered the Rebel's effectiveness in Baja in 1978, and later co-authored the classic Baja fishing guidebook, The Baja Catch.


July 24, 2000, by Gene Kira:

About five years ago, I had an accident that completely changed the way I think about my favorite fishing lure: the Jointed Rebel Minnows.

This lure catches a fantastic quantity and variety of fish in Baja, but it comes equipped with three treble hooks, making it as prickly as a cholla cactus, hard to handle in the tackle box, and potentially hazardous in the boat.

Through hard experience, I learned a long time ago to crimp the barbs on all nine "tines" of the Jointed Rebel's three treble hooks. With Rebels, one must exercise as much caution as possible, and accept the inevitable minor piercings of your thumbs, fingers and various other body parts as an "occupational hazard" associated with using this top-performing freshwater classic.

However, that accident five years ago taught me to treat the Jointed Rebel with even greater respect and caution, even after I had already caught many thousands of fish with it and considered myself an "expert" user.

On that morning, I was fishing the mangrove channels at the extreme north end of Baja California's huge Magdalena Bay with my son, who was just a kid at the time, and we were having a ball on spotted bay bass, broomtail groupers and an occasional gulf grouper. Trolling and casting our usual Rebels, we were well on our way to catch-and-releasing over 200 fish for the morning.

Then, the wind came up... big time.

Since we were only about 200 yards from camp, and since we had the protection of the tall mangroves, I decided to tuck in tight against a ten-foot-high hedgerow of plants and keep fishing. Really, it was no problem, even though we could hear the surf booming on the barrier island, and the tops of the mangroves were waving wildly from the wind howling just ten feet or so above our heads. Down where we were, the water was like glass.

My son got a good strike (grouper) on the troll, not more than five feet from the mangrove roots, and I stopped the boat and saw a big boil out in the middle of the channel. Per my usual routine, I immediately reeled in my Rebel, and I fired a very quick cast at the boil. I've done this at least ten-zillion times.

But this time, there was a tremendous gust of wind above us, and the Rebel stopped in mid-flight as though it had been caught in an invisible butterfly net. I watched in horror as it blew right back toward the boat, straight into my son's smooth, childlike face.

I've got to commend the kid. He didn't cry, and he fought his grouper to the boat, even though he had my Rebel stuck to the side of his face! It looked like a giant alien insect was chewing on him!

I sat him down and inspected the damage. All three of the treble hooks were buried in his cheek, ear, and brow. By a miracle, his eyes were okay. I cut the line and very slowly worked the hooks loose one at a time. He winced a little when I was forced to push the first hook deeper into his face in order to free the other two. Very, very fortunately, I had crimped all my barbs, as I always do.

To this day, every time I start to pound on my son for screwing up at anything, he silences me by retorting, "Yeah, but what about the time with the Rebel at Mag Bay?"


Since then, by trial and error, I've learned a few things about using and taming this effective, but very aggressive lure. The following tips apply not only to Jointed Rebels, but to any lure, and especially lures equipped with multiple treble hooks.

--Always, always, always crimp your barbs down completely flat. Don't leave even a little piece sticking up. No matter what you do, you will get snagged every now and then, and not having your barbs crimped turns a simple annoyance into a possible "big deal." I still shudder when I imagine trying to remove a barbed Rebel from my son's face. Will crimping barbs cause you to lose fish? Not at all! After catching thousands of fish with Rebels, I can say honestly that I don't feel that I've lost more than a dozen or so due to having my barbs crimped. Barbs are for bait fishing. You don't need barbs with artificial lures.

--Do not try to eliminate the treble hooks or replace them with single hooks. It messes up the action and swimming ability of the lure and you won't catch as many fish. Neil Kelly, who originally discovered how good this lure is in Baja, always put three shiny new trebles on his Rebels whenever the old hooks got rusty or dull. He felt that the vibrations and sparkles thrown off by the three hooks are part of why the lure works so well. Is this really true? I don't know, but I never once out-fished Neil in many years of trying.

--Don't try to put stronger hooks on a Rebel either. Any modification messes up this lure's "perfect" trim and action, and will reduce strikes. When the Rebel's wimpy freshwater hooks get mangled (happens constantly), replace them with reasonable equivalents.

--Do your casting and hook setting not with the rod straight over your head, but out to the side at an angle. Fly anglers use this same trick to avoid hooking themselves. With the rod out to the side, a flying lure goes around you rather than over you, and you have much less chance of snagging yourself.

--You do not have to swing wildly to set the hook! That's bait fishing technique, best reserved for TV shows about bass fishing with worms. With an artificial lure and a really sharp point, by the time you feel the strike, the hook is already set. All you need to do is hold the rod firmly and keep the line taught. This is especially true when trolling. The hook is as deep as it's ever going to go within the first foot of boat travel after the strike. A big "hook set" swing is completely superfluous, and can cause your lure to come flying toward you if the fish isn't really caught.

--Keep all spare lures in their original packages until needed. When I'm Rebel fishing, I only have one of each color loose in the box. The prevents massive tangles of all those treble hooks. All spare lures are kept in their "store" boxes until their precedessors are lost.

Mexico Fishing Photo 1

Gene's "defanged" Jointed Rebel lure. With 2/3rds of its points bent in, it still catches 80% as many fish as a "stock" lure.

--Finally, here's a trick I accidentally discovered while teaching lure safety during a fishing class. As a joke, I took an old Rebel and bent the "tines" of each treble hook inwards toward the center shaft, forming nine small closed loops with no points exposed. During the class, I grabbed the lure casually, and ripped it through my fist, pretending to snag myself severely, and drawing gasps from the audience, but of course, the closed loops were completely incapable of hooking me. Afterwards, I realized that you could cast and troll with this modified lure, and it would have perfect balance, sparkle and action, just like a standard Rebel, and it would be easy to manage in the tackle box. But how do you catch fish with it? Well, all you have to do is leave the "tines" of the center hook unbent! When you fish with Rebels, the center hook catches 80% of the fish. Only a few fish will hit the tail hook (most notably, triggerfish), and you almost never get a fish on the front hook (most notably, barracuda). So, bending the "tines" of the front and back hooks only costs you a few fish, and it goes a long, long way toward "civilizing" the amazing effective but hard-to-live-with Jointed Rebel Minnow. Love 'em!

(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")