Do-it-yourself history and Lonnie Stanley, one of the founding fathers of today's pro bass fishing sport.
In the mid 1960's, deep in the heart of Texas, a group of guys began filling their tackle boxes just as the groundwork of a grassroots sport was evolving with the filling of Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas. Until then, most bass fishing wasn't for sport as much as for supper!
Encouraged by a few hurricanes Sam Rayburn began an early rise giving a group of anglers a chance to rise to the top during the birth of bass fishing. Clunn, Nixon, Rowland, Martin, and Allen became known as the Hemphill Gang. Named after their nearby home town close to Toledo Bend, they emerged as founding fishing fathers of today's pro bass fishing sport. Together with Sam Rayburn, only 52 miles apart, Toledo Bend provided the best "big pond" bass fishing in the country.
Rayburn's 114 thousand acres along with Toledo Bend's 188k acres became the birthplace of bass angling with over a quarter million acres of angling waters. Hemphill's gang rode the crest of the bass fishing learning curve, unlocking fishing secrets of large reservoirs, much different than pond fishing. Their trailblazing took them down the bassology path with steps putting them leaps and bounds ahead of anglers of their day. Their "discoveries" anchor many fishing techniques and they remain some of the world's top anglers.
Longevity has become the trademark of pro bass angling as age does not take a measurable toll, nor are youth and physical condition competitive advantages.
During pro bassing's conception, another angler was emerging as one of the best around. Lonnie Stanley started reeling in trucks, cars, boats and prize money in competitive events from the late 80's into the 90's. According to Stanley, in the 70's the only problem with bass fishing, there weren't enough bass. Until large bass reservoirs were constructed, most anglers fished for the fryer ... rivers for catfish and small private ponds for panfish and bass. Bass fishing was beginning to pique the interest of local anglers in the late 50's.
The closing of the gates in the mid 60's to fill Texas reservoirs opened bass angling opportunities for local experts.
Bigger waters soon became home to booming bass populations ... the fisheries came first, then the anglers. Bass populations exploded and people came from across Texas and the country to sample these fertile bass waters. Bass fishing success spawned other hot fisheries like Lake Conroe following in the 70's. Bass fishing was a cast away from becoming a professional sport as the early super pros competed and guided on these awesome bass fisheries that enabled them to learn as they fished.
Building A Better Fish Trap
Stanley began sharing what he had learned on the water competing with and against the best in the group's bass club dating back to 1972. They learned how to fish from each other. While better fisheries were being created, Stanley sought to make a better fish trap. His garage became a laboratory for creations, many of which remain tackle box mainstays. But it was after he won the 4th consecutive tournament that everyone wanted to buy his "Stanley's jig". When able to crank out a hundred a day, Stanley was pulling in 50-100 dollars a day.
Not much or enough as a part-time business, but he saw the full-time potential. Realizing it wasn't practical to run a business, raise daughters and grandkids, and still be tournament competitive, he focused on staying home and in business! Given the go-ahead from his wife, Stanley Jigs was ready to outgrow his garage.
In 1979 he started making jigs at a time when "living rubber" skirt material was not in widespread use. Until Stanley came around, jigs were not really specialized, nor customizable. He created a technique for wrapping the rubber strands with another rubber strand, allowing the user to change skirt colors. This became a big advantage over other lure makers using wire to hold skirt strands in place. Skirt colors were not randomly chosen.
Realizing this crawfish imitation would work better if similar to color patterns of local forage, Stanley placed his skirts side-by-side with the real thing to exact a match for different fisheries across the country, becoming a fish and angler favorite! Head designs were poured with his molds employing a special hook to make his baits even more effective as they would come through heavy cover with ease.
Banking on his jig success, Stanley branched out to include spinnerbaits and soft plastics, even hooks for soft plastic frogs. Colors expanded to include hundreds of patterns to mimic not only crawfish, but also baitfish and lizards.
Stanley noted that bass forage in a particular lake changed during certain times of the year or subsequent to other situations like water clarity and season. Taking a scientific look, Stanley recruited the knowledge and tools invented by fish biologist, the late Dr. Loren Hill to ascertain what colors fish could see best. Using Hill's Color-C-Lector, Stanley enhanced and verified color patterns.
Aside from colors, Stanley's products always appeared to have an edge. Once in the hot lead business Stanley was set up for spinnerbaits leading to his Vibra Shaft spinnerbait with patents protecting two very unique features. First, the spinnerbait wire frame is tapered, hand ground to be continually thinner toward the blades to create more vibration while providing a stout lure to pound and crash through very heavy cover.
In addition, Stanley's willow-leaf shaped blades are thicker and heavier toward the end, creating more "pull" and vibration. Combined with Stanley's color combos, these lures stand alone on the shelf of wire-to-wire spinnerbait styles.
It's more than creating tackle tools for advanced anglers; Stanley's designs also make fishing easier for beginners. His Double Take Stanley Frog Hook increases hook ups on soft plastic frogs like his Stanley Ribbit. His new soft plastic lure line-up features Stanley's Y-Not, combining a ring worm's vibration with an air chamber to enable legs to stand up, great for shaky head, a jig trailer or as a stand-alone flipping bait.
Innovation without imitation, the 65 year old proclaims in his 30 years of lure making he has never copied a color or style. "We have so much new stuff in shoe boxes we can work on things for a while."
Stanley's brand has appeared on the shirts of top pros; but today larger tackle companies have supplanted that space. The modest "Made in Huntington, Texas" company supports local anglers and sends products to a few pros. Stanley's products are on the shelf at major stores like Bass Pro Shops, Academy, Dick's and Cabela's.
Staying ahead of the curve, Stanley is a bit tight-lipped about his upcoming new technology designs for a jig and worm weight. Lonnie Stanley shares credit for product developments describing them as a "team" effort with input coming from his staff. "We never agree. If we all agree, somebody is wrong".