It takes a Yankee bass fisherman to really appreciate the South. I am not saying that y^all don^t love your Dixie origin. I mean that Southerners have been teaching Northerners the fine art of bass fishing for at least the last 40 years.
There was nothing benevolent about their teaching. There were many Yankee bass spies that kept sneaking through the Mason Dixon Line to steal your secrets.
I have to confess that for most of those years I have been one of those spies. Now I am not a pure blooded Yankee even though I was born in Baltimore and grew up there. My daddy ran a company store in a South Carolina lumber camp before he met my mama and my mother^s parents moved north from Agusta, Georgia. However, I did have something against the South. My first trip there was to attend Marine Corps boot camp at Paris Island, South Carolina.
I started getting even on my next trip south. It was in the 1950^s and my goal was to wipe out all of the bass during a 30 day tour of Florida. Florida^s bass survived my invasion, but the first tackle store I stopped in I saw one of the Rebel^s secret weapons. It was called a plastic worm.
I purchased a couple of samples and hid them in my tackle box to smuggle back home. I actually tied one on my line a few times, but I had no idea how to fish the plastic worm. I tried letting it sit on the bottom for a while. Of course, that didn^t work. Than I would throw it out and retrieve it so fast that it swam through the water. That didn^t work either. After these failures, I stashed the plastic worms in my tackle box. A smarter spy would have tried to discover the technique that made the lure work.
When I returned home, I showed the lures to my fishing buddies and they laughed so much that I hid them in the bottom of my tackle box.
I forgot about the plastic worms until I walked into my local tackle store a couple of years later and he had a big glass jaw full of plastic worms on his counter.
"These are the latest thing in bass fishing," the proprietor proclaimed.
"I know, I already have some," I answered. I didn^t bother to mention I didn^t have the slightest idea what to do with them.
I fondled the worms in the jaw, noticing they were made of a hard material and added knowingly, "They been using these down South for years."
On my next trip to Dixie, I conned Joe Avin, a young Summerton, S.C. bait salesman, into demonstrating the use of a plastic worm on Santee Cooper Lakes. To this day, he doesn^t know this spy was picking his brain. After two days with Joe, I was convinced that all you needed to know about fishing plastic worms was to drag it across the bottom.
There was something else I learned on the trip. The worms were a lot softer than the ones being sold in the North. I stashed a few samples to take home.
I didn^t even have to go south for my next big bass coup. A Texas electrician by the name of Phil Dillon came to Maryland with a truck load of strange looking boats he called Skeeter bass boats. These boats, to me, looked something like a kyack except they had an electric trolling motor on the front, two plastic bucket seats and stick steering. Actually the design was influenced by the Cajun country pirogue.
Dillon^s idea was to make a killing by selling these first bass boats to Yankees. Unfortunately, Phil was way ahead of his time. After all, the boat had not been thoroughly field tested in the South at that time.
Because I was a writer, Phil loaned me one of the Skeeters hoping the exposure would stimulate sales. It didn^t work. Those tight fisted Yankees would look at the rig and say, "Pretty nice, but who is going to pay $3,000 for a boat, motor and trailer just to go bass fishing?".
Needless to say, Dillon returned to his trade as an electrician. However,I used the Skeeter for cover during my espionage trips down South. It worked perfect. Very few Southerners had bass boats back then. Who would suspect a Yankee of having one.
In the late 1960^s, I slipped into Alabama under the cover of darkness and began tossing my plastic worm in Lake Eufaula before the sun came up. I was proud of my stringer of five bass weighing between three and five pounds when I returned to the dock.
I flipped my stringer of fish (nobody had livewells than because the Southerners hadn^t invented them yet) on to the dock.
Nobody paid attention because everyone was excited by the two coolers full of big bass being shown off by two anglers nearby. I quickly hid my puny stringer of fish in my ice chest and went over to investigate.
They had two limits of fish that included some sixes, sevens and eights. Of course, there were some little old three and four pounders, too.
I wasn^t jealous. I just didn^t want to be too friendly with these fish hogs. Therefore, I didn^t even say good catch when I asked what they caught them on.
"Spinner baits, old buddy," one of the anglers said with a big friendly smile.
I should have told him he didn^t even know me, but that would have blown my cover. Therefore, I just asked him what was a spinner bait.
He held up one for me to look at. Everyone knows what a spinner bait looks like now, but back then it was the darnest looking contraption I had ever seen.
I stopped at a local tackle store to obtain some samples of spinner baits, but the proprietor had never heard of then. It was then that I knew I had lucked into a really top secret.
I drove north as hard as I could and arrived red eyed at the office of the biggest tackle wholesaler in Baltimore.
"Do you have any spinner baits?," I asked breathlessly.
"Never heard of them. Maybe they have another name. What do they look like?"
After a few futile moments of trying to describe a spinner bait verbally, he asked me to draw him a picture.
The wholesaler looked at my drawing and gave me an unbelieving look.
"You have got to find them. They are the greatest bass catching lure in the world."
While I stood there the wholesaler called long distance to every lure distributor he dealt with and not one of them had ever heard of a spinner bait.
It was two years, before the spinner bait began showing up in Southern tackle stores and I could obtain samples to take back north. To say the spinner bait exploded on the northern bassing scene would be a slight exaggeration. It was at least five years before you could walk into any tackle shop and buy a spinner bait.
While I was investigating this spinner bait phenomenon, I did not close my eyes to other developments. Tom Mann slipped his super soft Jellyworm into the tackle boxes of Southern bass fishermen.
By the early 1970^s I was feeding so many Southern bass secrets to the North that I grew a beard as a disguise. It helped me in the Big O Caper.
It started in 1971 during the Santee Cooper Open Bass Tournament. Everywhere I went, fishermen were whispering in groups. When I would get close, they would clam up. I knew I was on to something big.
I drew a doctor from Columbia, S.C. as my partner on the first day of the tournament.
The doctor liked to talk a lot and before noon he asked, "Have you heard about the Big O?".
"What^s a Big O?", I responded.
"It^s the hottest bass lure going. This fellow from Tennessee carves them by hand out of balsa wood and sells them for $25 a piece. He can^t carve them fast enough. I hear there^s a waiting list."
Back then $25 was a half of a day^s pay for working people, like newspaper reporters, for instance. I could not believe anyone would put that much money in a fishing lure.
I didn^t win the tournament, but I didn^t feel too bad because I was handicapped. I didn^t have enough money to buy a Big O even if I could find one to buy.
When I returned to the North with my story of a $25 lure, the same people that laughed when I showed them the plastic worm began to show concern. One even called my wife and suggested that she should talk me into seeing a psychiatrist or at least taking some time off from work.
If you haven^t heard the story, you probably are not a bass fisherman. Everyone knows that the Big O was the beginning of the crank bait craze. It didn^t take long before they were being copied, mass produced and given other names like Big D. They even started making them in plastic.
A couple of years later when northern bass fishermen wouldn^t think of going fishing without a selection of crank baits in their crank bait box, those people that thought I was going crazy never bothered to apologize.
Also, during 1971 I obtained some information on the Southerner^s plans for propelling bass boats. At that time, the serious tournament fisherman had to have at least a 125 horsepower outboard on the back of his boat.
While the tournament weigh in was taking place, a brave person demonstrated a 400 horsepower proto type outboard. I think they were counting on people like me keeping our eyes on the scales, but the 20 foot roostertail caught my attention.
Well they haven^t put one of these 400 horsepower motors on a bass boat yet because they have not designed a boat that will handle the engine. However, they are moving closer.
A couple years later, Bob Kitts of Silver City,N.C. gave me a breathtaking ride in a boat that he designed. The boat was equipped with a 200 horsepower super charged outboard that pushed his boat along at 85 miles an hour.
Bob said that if he was properly rigged he could break 100 miles an hour. I told him when he got his boat properly rigged he could give a call, but I was sure I would be somewhere else that weekend. This spy business doesn^t pay enough to deal with that kind of a situation.
In 1980, Hank Williams, a lanky native of Tennessee who now lives in Shreveport, LA, accidentally exposed me to the jig and pig and showed me how to make it work on Toledo Bend.
At first he thought I was a Rebel because of this Southern accent I have managed to master through the years. I would have gotten away with the deception, but the weather turned cold and gave me away.
When I did not have a snowmobile suit to wear fishing, he knew right away I was a Yankee.
For two years,I had to smuggled weedless jigs into the North because you couldn^t buy them anywhere. You could buy the pork rinds, but not the jigs.
Some other top secret items I have managed to sneak back home are: The Texas rig, Carolina rig, flipping sticks, lunker sticks, pistol grips, bait casting reels, chart depth finders, rattling lures, graphite rods, jump suits, drive on boat trailers, and fishing life saving vests, to name a few.
I am sure there are some more secrets in Dixieland and I am going to be ready for them. Right now, I am setting up a safe house deep in the South. I have some inside information that the next thing they are going to invent is the fly rod and I am going to be ready for them when they do.