Courtesy photo Don's old lures still do the trick.
published: Friday, August 10, 2012
A trip down Memory Lane
In the 1960s, long before bass boats, electric motors, depth finders, GPS's and bass tournaments, the largemouth bass was still being pursued by fishing enthusiasts, but in a much simpler fashion.
My father owned two boats, a small 12-foot jon boat that we kept staked at a small Ohio lake and a 16' Sea Nymph with a 25 hp Johnson motor.
Both were equipped with "state of the art" oars.
Growing up, we fished frequently out of both boats, often fishing with three in the boat - one guy in the front, one in the back and one in the middle who was responsible to be the navigator and "row" the boat.
Our strategy was pretty simple; whoever was on the "oars" continued to row the boat until someone caught a bass.
Usually it didn't take long before one of the guys caught one, and regardless of the size of the fish, he took over rowing the boat.
It was a pretty simple method and we not only learned how to cast and catch bass, but we became excellent "oars-men".
We caught a lot of bass in those days, often a mixed bag of largemouth, smallmouth and an occasional walleye.
Plastic worms hadn't been invented yet, nor had graphite rods and high speed reels.
But we still caught plenty of fish on most every outing using what now seems pretty antiquated equipment.
I was probably around 16-years old when Crème Lures introduced their version of a plastic worm.
It was 6-8 inches long, with a propeller in front, rigged on a harness with two or three weedless hooks.
I'm sure many of you remember.
One of my best memories was a trip I made to Mogodore Reservoir, a small, natural body of water just east of Akron, Ohio.
Launching the small 12-foot jon boat, I was pretty excited to try out this new worm and before I'd rowed 50 yards, I made my first cast to a small pocket of lily pads in about 5 feet of water.
Mogodore was known for its gin-clear water, and as I stood to cast the worm harness, and began my retrieve, I could see bass underwater moving towards my bait from every direction.
Within seconds of the bait landing, a feisty two-pounder inhaled it and I was amazed as I reeled him in that other bass were following close behind.
This new "plastic" worm was incredible!
I must have caught 50 bass that day.
None larger than three pounds, but this new-fangled worm was a fisherman's dream come true.
Later versions in every size and color would become my favorite go-to baits.
I'm not sure when I got my first tackle box, but I was probably 10 or 12 years old.
I didn't have much in the way of fishing tackle - mostly hand-me-downs from my dad, my grandfather or my uncle.
But what I had were "prized" possessions.
Prior to the Crème plastic worm, my favorite lures were Jitterbugs, Hula Poppers, Johnson Spoons and a Johnny O'Neil Weedwing.
Scratched and scarred from encounters with bass and walleye's, these lures continued to catch fish in spite of their condition.
I had two fishing rods.
Both were 6-foot fiberglass hand-me-downs - graphite had not yet been introduced - one spinning and one casting.
Learning to use a Mitchell 300 spinning reel was pretty easy, but far more daunting was the challenge of mastering a Pflueger Akron, and later a Pflueger Supreme baitcasting reel.
Countless hours of practicing in the backyard, combined with hours spent picking out backlashes, eventually resulted in a new-found skill and confidence fishing with a baitcasting reel.
I'll never forget those early days in my fishing life.
Fishing for bluegills on the beds with a fly rod, drift-fishing with minnows for jumbo perch on Lake Erie and doodle-socking with minnows for crappies were all part of my life from the mid-1950s, through the 60s.
There were no limits on the fish you could keep back in those days (or at least I don't remember limits), and no-one had ever heard of Ray Scott and his 1970's "Catch and Release" concept.
We kept what we caught, and fish filets were a normal staple at the kitchen table.
Cleaning fish was a family ritual.
My father was a big fan of Henry Ford, so it didn't matter if we were mowing grass, raking leaves or cleaning fish - everything was done on an assembly line.
Some of us scaled fish while others filleted them out.
The end result was a fresh pile of filets that would be that night's dinner or added to the freezer for a future meal.
My wife thinks I have a lot of fishing tackle.
I probably do have more than the average guy, but I've been fishing for over 50 years.
So I wiped the dust off three or four old tackle boxes, and selected a dozen of my favorite old lures.
Determined to see if they could still catch fish, I made a trip to Lake Lotela in Avon Park armed only with my dirty dozen.
My favorite old lure, a Johnny O'Neil Weedwing was my first choice.
Sliding a number 11 Uncle Josh pork chunk on the spoon, I sent it sailing into and across a small island of grass and reeds.
Lifting my rod tip to get the bait on the surface, it was greeted with a huge strike and a hefty three-pound bass.
Right on the first cast!
A couple dozen casts, missed strikes and two small bass later, I was convinced my favorite old bass lure was just as good as it used to be.
Next, I tried a Jitterbug, attempting the stop and go pattern my father tried to instill in me many years ago on Rice Lake.
Thinking it was probably too early in the evening to expect much from a Jitterbug, I switched to a Johnson Spoon with an Uncle Josh yellow bass strip.
Lake Lotela is a very clear body of water and as I retrieved the spoon just below the surface I remembered just how much fun it had been watching this lure cut through the lily pads on it's way back to the boat.
Next up was a Hula Popper, followed by a Crazy Crawler and then a Pikie Minnow.
Over the next couple of hours I tried all 12 baits, getting more strikes than fish but proving to myself that the dirty dozen lures I'd selected were just as good today as they were 40 and 50 years ago.
Like me, they're just a little aged.
Don Norton is a professional tournament bass fisherman, bass fishing guide, and custom rod builder. He has also taught a few fishing classes at the South Florida Community College. He lives in the Golf Hammock area of Sebring with his wife Lexie and is the owner of a custom rod building company appropriately named "The American Fisherman". He can be reached at 216-339-6571, 330-635-6682 or by email at email@example.com. His website address is theamericanfisherman.com.
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