The Big-O's In The Attic
Old lures have a history, some much more than others.
By Jerry Drazer
Lures come in many shapes, and sizes, and just about every color in the rainbow. However, some lures come, and some lures go, but they all have a history. One lure that’s withstood the test of time, and in my opinion is truly a legendary lure. That lure would be the Big-O.
A couple of the "early-original" Big-O’s were given to my very dear friend, and favorite fishing buddy, the late Jim "Moose" Carden. What set these Big-O's apart from others were their history.
One day about 12 years ago, Moose and I were up in his "fishing room" at his house before going out to instruct at the Kokomo Kid’s Clinic. Moose had all kinds of tackle, and fishing memorabilia in that upper room it was unbelievable.
That day he looked over at me and said: "Jerry, I'll bet you never seen these in a bait shop?" as he handed me a couple of plastic boxes with lures in them: "Yeah, those are Big-O’s ?" was my reply. "Yeah, but these are special ones. Look at them closer." he instructed.
"Billy gave me these after he’d done so well with them, in those early B.A.S.S. events." said Moose. He was talking of course about the legendary smallmouth fisherman, Billy Westmorland.
I was actually looking at a couple of the "original Big-O’s" before they’d been mass-produced. Big-O’s that helped launch the career of one of the earliest superstars of our sport. Long before bass fishing was even considered a sport!
I’d never been much of a history buff in school, but there wasn't a class on the history of lures, or legendary fishermen, because that’s my kind of history. One day while doing some research for an upcoming tournament, and stumbled across an old article on the history of the Big-O. If you have a copy of every Bassmaster Magazine that’s been in print go back, way back, to 1978 in the September/October issue. You’ll find an article by Larry Mayer titled: "The Story of the Big-O" This article contains the history of the Big-O, but at the time of publication the Big-O wasn’t historical, it was just hot !
I want to share a little of the Big-O history from that article. But, I also wanted to get another in-depth side of the Big-O's history, so I talked about the history with one of my few bass fishing hero's, the legendary Billy Westmorland.
IN THE BEGINNING
A man by the name of Fred C. Young just started whittling on a piece of wood, and decided he’d try to make a fishing plug. Fred Young had plenty of time on his hands, because he was in a body cast. Due to spinal injuries he’d suffered while working for the Atomic Energy Commission in Oak Ridge, TN during the 1960’s.
After check-ups he’d stop by the lake and test the prototype plugs he’d whittled. He’d toss small pieces of gravel in the water and watched as little bass fled away with a tight wiggle and then suddenly come to a stop. Young liked this trait and wanted to impart this same action in his plug. Ideally, the plug had to weighted and balanced to give a fast, tight, wiggle.
Young experimented constantly with body materials. He'd whittled early plugs from cedar, white pine, yellow poplar, and even redwood, but found that balsa gave the plug the action he desired. Early on, Young would whittle about 1 bushel full of plugs just to get 1 plug that met his high standards.
He’d experiment with lip materials too, using emery boards, paint can lids, plastic plug boxes, aluminum, but found that pieces of old circuit board worked best. He didn't have a shop, he’d spread newspapers out on the coffee table and go to work. Then take the plugs to the basement for painting.
Fred's brother Odis field tested the plugs and would give him ideas for improvement. It wasn’t long until Fred and his brother had perfected the design that would wear the fish out. Fishermen would often ask Odis what he was using, and when Odis let them look at, they’d make fun of it. However, they didn’t make fun of the number of fish Odis was catching. Even though it got a few laughs, Odis encouraged Fred to stick with the fat bodied design because of its natural vibration.
Later a fisherman named Bill Nichols started using the plug, and was winning some club tournaments with it. The first time Billy Westmorland had seen the plug was with Nichols. " The first plugs were silver and gold only, we didn't call it the Big-O. We called it the homemade plug. I got my first one's from Fred when we were fishing on Norris" recalled Westmorland
Fred would exchange a couple egg cartons of plugs (5-6 plugs per carton), for 2-3 dozen of Billy's hand-tied jigs.
EMERGENCE INTO BIG LEAGUE BASS FISHING
Then in the spring of 1972 Billy Westmorland took "the homemade plug" to a B.A.S.S. Tournament Trail event on lake Sidney Lanier where a $10,000 first place prize awaited the winner. Billy cranked "the homemade plug" to a second place finish, just merely getting edged out of first on the final day by Bobby Murray. Billy went on winning other tournaments in the region: Some tournaments he won with "the homemade plug" and some tournaments he won without "the homemade plug".
This is when things started getting really crazy. The plug was in demand and couldn't be produced fast enough. Fred Young started getting orders and requests from all over the United States.
"People thought you could go anywhere and catch fish with the plug. When conditions were right, and you had dingy or stained water, or water with good color to it you'd do well on the plug." commented Westmorland. Billy knew "the homemade plug" was a great tool for certain situations, but it wasn't a miracle lure.
In 1973 prior to the B.A.S.S. tournament at Watts Bar "the homemade plugs" were in high demand, selling for $10-$15 each.
"After the tournament started though, they were selling for $50 a plug. They were so hot that someone had stolen some of mine off my rods. They just cut my line." explained Westmorland.
The homemade plug would later get the trade name Big-O, in honor its 6' 6" field tester, Fred's brother Odis. After the Big-O became a trade name, Fred Young sold the Big-O to Cotton Cordell, and occasionally whittle a few Big-O's at his home.
Now I go back in my mind and think of that day in Moose’s attic, I realize just how much history I was actually holding in my hand. To this day I have never seen any like them in a store or catalog. Most lures have a history, but those Big-O's that Moose had in his fishing room, really had some history.
The Big O is a lure that has withstood the test of time, and is still being produced today. Today I'm sure a tackle buyer could quote a price, or in "their opinion", a reasonable dollar amount for those historic, "original Big-O's" that Billy had given to our buddy Moose.
I could quote one too, priceless….
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