The more things change, the more they stay the same. Especially is this true of bass fishing lures.
When I was called to do this article, I was willing, but I didn’t know where it would go. It turns out, this has been one of the most interesting articles I’ve worked on in a long time.
By the way, I’ve come to value things more and more—as well as people—that have been around for an extended period of time. So, looking at decades-old lures used by bass anglers has been both a surprising and rewarding experience.
I studied ageless bass lures that have been around for almost 100 years, yet are still in common use among bass angler. The new knowledge I gained about the history of bass fishing and bass lures has only been superseded by the fun I had doing the research!
The Panel of Experts
I wanted to talk to some experienced bass anglers who could provide their opinions about some lures that most avid bass anglers probably already have in their tackle boxes.
It wasn’t hard to convince Captain Sam Williams, Captain Wayne Miller, and Captain Jake Davis to share their lifelong experience with us.
Captain Sam guides on Lake Eufaula primarily, and he has been in the bass fishing game a long time. Captain Wayne Miller lives in south Alabama, guides on the Mobile Delta, and tournament fishes all over the country. Captain Jake Davis guides on Guntersville and the other big North Alabama lakes. And like the other experts, Jake has seen a lot of bass lures come and go.
The Lures, and a little History
After doing quite a bit of research—primarily to find out just when certain lures were first offered to the public—I settled on a list of lures that definitely have some age on them, but are still used by contemporary bass anglers.
Here’s our list:
Heddon Zara Spook
Hildebrandt Snagless Sally
Smithwick Devil’s Horse
Crème Scoundrel plastic worm
Johnson Silver Minnow
Rebel F-10 Floating Minnow
All of these lures are to be found at any bait and tackle shop that caters to bass anglers.
So, let’s look at the lures and what our experts say about them.
The Zara Spook began life as the handle of a mop. The end of the mop was cut off and someone fashioned the short chunk of wood into a cigar shape. Hooks and an eye to attach the line were added.
The lure was first named the Zaragossa 6500 series lure. In 1939, the plastic version was developed and the Heddon Company used the code word “spook” to name all of its plastic lures (hence the Zara Spook name). Various hardware and models of different sizes have been developed.
Here’s what our panel of long-time experts said of this lure:
Wayne Miller—“A phenomenal lure. It’s used nationwide. I like to use it to fish points. It still works well at places like Guntersville. Most of the guides use it there. It’s a bait even a novice can learn in a short period of time. They’re so easy to work if you know the technique.”
Captain Sam Williams—“The Spook is one of the best top-water lures ever. Just walk the dog. Make the zig-zags and then let it lie. Let the ripples disappear before you move it. Hang on!”
Captain Jake Davis—“This is one of the better top-water lures. Here at Guntersville, I use it a lot in springtime on red clay banks. I walk the dog; let it sit for three or four counts.”
The Snagless Sally was developed from existing Hildebrandt spinner lures about 1960. Lew Childre came up with the notion of a spinner with a weighted hook and a wire weed guard.
Beads were later added along with a vinyl plastic skirt. The wires of the spinner and weed guard are made of stainless steel and the lure uses 4/0 Mustad O’Shaunessy hooks.
Our panel says:
Captain Wayne Miller—“Oh, man! The old Sally Girl. It depends on what part of the country; on coastal regions it’s still very popular. People get away from in-line spinners but the Snagless Sally is a bass-catching machine, especially on the Delta. Use it on grass beds. It’s a great search bait. It gets reaction strikes.”
Captain Sam Williams—“It’s the best lure ever was! I like it better than a regular spinner. This lure can go on top or deep.”
Captain Jake Davis—“Ha, ha! That’s a lure that will catch fish 365 days of the year. You can fish it anywhere! I like the chartreuse and white color. You can burn ‘em and wake ‘em. The Snagless Sally is the original wake bait.”
The Johnson Silver Minnow lure was invented in 1920 (in five years, this lure will be 100 years old!) by Louis Johnson who worked originally with silver kitchen table spoons with the handles cut off.
Johnson soldered the hook to the inside curve of the spoon so the hook rode up, and he soldered a wire weed guard ahead of the hook. This lure rocks back and forth on the retrieve.
Lots of different trailers and modifications have been added through the years. The Johnson Silver Minnow is still plated with real silver for maximum flash.
In our experts’ opinion:
Captain Wayne Miller—“Whew! Yeah! That’s for sure a good one. Some real major tournaments recently have been won with Silver Minnow type lures. Lots of folks—young ones—think the Silver Minnows are new.
“Folks have experimented a lot with Johnson Silver Minnows, using trailers. It doesn’t get a lot of publicity, but it can provide some of the most explosive strikes from bass.”
Captain Sam Williams—“Oh, yeah! I like to throw the gold Silver Minnow with a yellow skirt. I work the peppergrass with it. It’s great for fishing Lake Okeechobee in Florida. Either the silver or gold are good.”
Captain Jake Davis—“This is great bait for toothy critters like northern pike and muskie, but it’s also great for bass. I use an old Uncle Joe’s pork rind with the spoon. Drag it slowly through emerging grass. Bass smash it. Bass will also smash the spoon when they’re on beds.”
The Smithwick Devil’s Horse is somewhat hard to trace back to its original roots. A fire in the Smithwick factory destroyed many old company records.
Some writers have the original Devil’s Horse being marketed as early as 1949. Most researchers feel the lure was developed from existing Smithwick lures around 1960. By the way, old models of this lure were sometimes sold as “Devil’s Warhorse.” The lure is still made from wood.
Our experts tell us:
Captain Wayne Miller—“Hoo-hoo, Man! That’s near and dear to my heart. It has been a fish-catching bait. Smithwick offered more color combinations in this lure—over 80 colors.
“The Devil’s Horse had lots of variations. They were and are excellent baits. They are especially popular on coastal and Florida fisheries. Most bass anglers have a few in their tackle boxes.”
Captain Sam Williams—“Oh, Man! This lure is one of the best top-water lures ever. Work it like a Spook.”
Captain Jake Davis—“An old fellow named “Top-water Charlie” in Florida showed me this lure. It can be used anywhere, and at any time of the year. I’ve seen it work in December, January, and February. I like the frog color; green top and yellow belly with spots.”
The Rebel Floating Minnow came about in 1961. George Perrin was a Fort Smith, Arkansas angler who was tired of having his wooden swimming minnow lures not track straight and being very variable in their weight and construction.
He felt a plastic lure would eliminate the variations inherent in wooden lures. He worked and developed a plastic lure that was consistent right out of the box with every lure. This became the Rebel F-10 minnow, the lure that started the long line of Rebel hard plastic swimming lures.
The panel says:
Captain Wayne Miller—“That particular bait was utilized as a floating minnow bait in the ‘60s. The colors and line tie for this lure are important; they can be experimented with. It has evolved into jerk baits. It all started with the Rebel Minnow.”
Captain Sam Williams—“This is still a good bait. It’s particularly good on schooling bass.”
Captain Jake Davis—“It’s the original wounded minnow lure. I like to pull it down a foot and let it float. Bass will crush it. It’s important to use a stop-and-go retrieve.”
The Crème Scoundrel Worm. In the late 1940s, Nick Crème and his wife cooked up the perfect combination of vinyl, oils, and pigments to create a molded worm that looked real and felt soft and which stayed soft when exposed to air over time. 1949 is the official birth year of the original Crème worm.
The original Crème Wiggle Worm—very similar to the Scoundrel worm still being sold—cost $1.00 for a pack of five worms. In the 1950s, as huge impoundments were created across the South, the plastic worm, and all of its many descendants, gained immense popularity and sold millions of variations of the first plastic worm. They were cooked up in a family kitchen in Akron, Ohio in the late 1940s.
Our three wise men tell us:
Captain Wayne Miller—“The plastic worm; the straight-tail worm is so versatile. No matter how sophisticated you are, all anglers go to soft plastics. The Scoundrel worm by Crème was the first prominent soft plastic lure.”
Captain Sam Williams—“This is original. Any and all soft plastic worms are good. This was the first one.”
Captain Jake Davis—“Oh, the old Scoundrel plastic worm! I like to fish it weightless over lily pads. It works beautifully. The color is not so important, but black is always good.”
So, there we are. Bass anglers are notorious for constantly seeking the newest and latest designs in lures. However, it’s hard to argue with many decades of fish-catching success.
It could be argued that a bass angler with just these six lures in the tackle box is probably totally equipped to meet any challenge on the water that might arise.
With these six classic bass lures, we bass chasers can rest assured that we’re properly equipped to make any day fishing into a great day outdoors.
Important Contact Information:
Captain Wayne Miller
Captain Sam Williams
Captain Jake Davis