What is the most popular fishing lure ever made in Oklahoma? Ask a dozen fishermen and you might get a dozen different answers. Hundreds of fishing lures have been produced in Oklahoma. Some are local garage-made jigs, slabs and spinnerbaits that were local or regional favorites but were never widely distributed or well-known. Others are sold nationally and are considered classics. The four names I hear most often from anglers about Oklahoma-made fishing lures are Storm Lures, Hart Tackle, Gene Larew, and Okiebug. Based on this anecdotal evidence, I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the top 10 most popular fishing lures ever made in Oklahoma. This list is limited to modern lures. Old Oklahoma-made lures that are collectibles are a topic for a future column. If you want to discuss my list or cuss it, drop me a line. I love to talk fishing.
1. Storm’s Wiggle WartStorm Lures started a manufacturing plant in Goldsby in 1964 and produced some of the finest hard baits in the business, including the Storm Chug Bug and Thin Fins. But the one lure that still is a staple in most anglers’ tackle boxes is the Wiggle Wart. Introduced in the mid-’70s, this deep-diving crankbait will catch just about anything. Storm sold its product line to fishing giant Rapala-Normark in 1999. Even though Wiggle Warts are still being produced, the opinion of many local anglers is the contemporary version can’t match the original. There are some colors of the made-in-Oklahoma Wiggle Warts that are selling for $25 to $35 or Ebay. They are being bought by anglers to fish with, not as collectibles.
2. Hart SpinnerbaitsHart Tackle was started in Stratford in 1984 by Chuck Devereaux and Joe Dale Craig as a jig and worm company. Then Hart Tackle bought Charles Woodard’s Bojo Spinnerbaits in Seminole. The spinnerbaits flourished under the Hart Tackle brand. It was just a regional favorite until Oklahoma’s Ken Cook won the 1991 Bassmaster Classic with a Hart Throb spinnerbait. Since then, Hart Tackle has been sold several times and is now based in Arkansas.
3. Gene Larew Salt CrawMany believe there is no reason to bass fish with anything else in the spring and summer in Oklahoma. In the decades of the ‘80s and ‘90s in Oklahoma, you would be hard pressed to call yourself a bass fisherman if you didn’t have a Salt Craw tied on. This was a go-to bait by itself or as a trailer for bass jigs. Made in Tulsa, Gene Larew’s patented salt-injection process was used by most major soft plastic companies at one time or another.
4. The Small Okiebug Spinnerbait or S.O.B.This small spinnerbait was used by Okiebug’s founder, Don Butler of Tulsa, to win the 1972 Bassmaster Classic. The headline in the Nashville, Tenn., newspaper the next morning read "S.O.B. Wins Bassmaster Classic.” After that, every bass fisherman in Oklahoma wanted a S.O.B., or small Okiebug. Legend has it Johnny Morris drove a U-haul from Springfield, Mo., to Tulsa and bought $10,000 worth of Okiebug tackle to start a store in Missouri called Bass Pro Shops.
5. Lead Babies SlabsFounded in Cordell in 1989 by Dale Montgomery, Oklahoma and Texas anglers catch hybrids, walleye, stripers and white bass with Lead Babies Slabs. Connie Slaughterback bought the business in 1999, six months before Montgomery’s death. Lead Babies Slabs are even used by striper fishermen on the Atlantic coast and lake trout anglers in Canada.
The best of the rest6. Terminator Spinnerbaits: Would have been higher on my list except they were actually assembled in Texas and Mexico. However, the patented wire frame was produced at a factory at Grand Lake. Ben Johnson, a Tulsa dentist, started the company in 1997. Normark-Rapala bought it and moved it from Tulsa to Minnesota in 2007. In 2006, Field & Stream magazine ranked the Terminator T-1 Spinnerbait No. 13 on its list of the 50 greatest lures of all time. 7. Storm Thin Fins: The crankbait that made the company famous. It’s a national seller and others would rank it among the top five. 8. Storm Chug Bug: One of the best top-water baits on the market, according to my friends at Fishing-Notebook.com. 9. Dixon Spinnerbaits: Made by the late John Dixon in Bache in the 1970s and later copied by Jim Watts’ of Ardmore with his Diamondback Spinnerbaits. The spinnerbaits with the uniquely-shaped heads had a regional cult following. 10. Golden Eagle Spinnerbaits: Made in Lawton, this is a sentimental choice. The Eagle Lure Co. was overwhelmed with orders for the lure in 1983 when Ken Cook won $100,000 in the Super BASS tournament in Florida fishing with a Golden Eagle spinnerbait.