By Todd Ceisner
Three brothers with deep bass-fishing roots have banded together in an attempt to breathe new life into the Stanley Jigs brand while at the same time launching a new line of soft-plastic baits that they hope will broaden the company's portfolio and re-establish it as a major player in the bass tackle business.
Last August, Robert and William Hale, both of whom have rich fishing backgrounds along the Texas-Louisiana border, purchased a majority stake in Stanley Jigs, Inc. buying out a group led by Ken Chaumont, who had been with Stanley since the mid-2000s. Lonnie Stanley, the namesake founder of the company, remains involved on a daily basis but is no longer a majority shareholder.
John Hale, the younger brother of Robert and William, has worked alongsid Stanley for more than 30 years and will continue with the company as he runs the day-to-day operations at the plant in Huntington, Texas.
The new company is called Hale Lure LLC DBA Stanley Jigs and will continue to operate and sell products under the Stanley name. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the majority stake in the company is believed to be worth in the neighborhood of seven figures.
"I don't remember a day when John hasn't been here with me at Stanley Jigs and I know he'll do whatever it takes to make this company successful," said the 69-year-old Stanley, who fished in five Bassmaster Classics between 1982 and 1992. "John is going to be making the decisions and calling the shots. He'll run things by me, but I don't make decisions anymore. After 33 years of making decisions, I'm just happy to be here. It's fun. We're all on the same page and it all comes down to one thing – that we make the best baits. Now, we just have to tell everybody about it."
Historically, the Stanley name has been a powerhouse among jig and spinnerbait lovers. Innovation has been a hallmark of the company's designs, ranging from the needle-point hook and hand-tied interchangeable jig and spinnerbait skirts to tapered wire spinnerbaits.
Stanley baits have been key players in at least two Classic victories – Guido Hibdon won the 1988 Classic at the James River with a Stanley jig while Robert Hamilton threw a Stanley spinnerbait and a Stanley jig (among other things) en route to his Classic win at Logan Martin Lake in 1992.
Under the new regime, the focus of the company won't change – the jigs and spinnerbaits remain the cornerstone products along with the soft-plastic Ribbit frogs. The company is expanding with the introduction of a new line of soft plastic baits under the Hale Lures Co. name that features a patent-pending "action maker" that changes the direction in which the bait tracks based on how it's rigged.
Lonnie Stanley is content to work in the background now as the company heads a in new direction under new majority owners.
"What we're trying to do is put the Stanley name back out there," said John Hale, who at 71 is the youngest of the four Hale brothers. "There's so much history there."
The Hales have been serious about the fishing business for decades. William and John started guiding at Black Bayou Lake in northwest Louisiana when they were teenagers. Once Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend reservoirs filled up, the popularity of bass fishing in east Texas began to grow – and the Hales were there from the start.
"Sometimes during the summer, we'd fish every day – some kind of fishing," John said.
As the brothers got older, they each went their separate ways – Robert became a school teacher, William went into the oil business and John went into the military. Fishing always brought them back together, though.
While home on leave in 1968, John fished Toledo Bend for the first time with Robert.
"By that time, Robert was getting real familiar with it because he was off every weekend and off all summer," John said. "Eventually, he put a trailer house on a piece of property on the edge of a creek over there. He really started fishing Toledo Bend in earnest."
Robert was a stalwart in tournaments at Toledo Bend, going head-to-head with the likes of Harold Allen, Tommy Martin, Larry Nixon and Rick Clunn. He was also a bit of a mad scientist when it came to fashioning new baits. In the late 1970s, he began pouring his own soft-plastics and won several tournaments at Toledo Bend on those baits, including a crawfish imitation that would later be known as the Hale Craw Worm.
"At Toledo Bend, we started fishing those shallow ridges and draws and crawfish lived on the stumps by the thousands," said John Hale. "After a big wind storm, you'd see them floating because the wave action would beat them to death. We didn't have a crawfish lure that we could fish Texas-style. He started playing with plastic and I started playing with it some and he called me one night and said, 'I've got it.'
"When I look back on it, I don't know why we didn't go into the tackle business then."
The three brothers combined to compete in more than 80 B.A.S.S. events, with John and Robert each making one appearance in the Classic. In the early 80s, Robert retired from his teaching job and joined William at the Texas-based Hale Oil Co. Meanwhile, Hale joined Stanley in the tackle business and has been there ever since.
Stanley Jigs will continue to manufacture its well-known jigs, spinnerbaits and Ribbit frogs while hoping the new Side Trac series of soft plastics (bottom) catches on as well.
"I've known Robert and William for a long time and John's been with us for over 30 years," Stanley said. "I can't even remember Stanley Jigs without John Hale here with us. Ever since they bought out my old partners, it's been kind of a blessing for me. I enjoy working with John. We'll argue about sizes and colors and this and that, but we come out of it on the other end with one of the best baits to catch fish."
The bedrock of the Stanley brand was built on the rubber-skirted jigs and spinnerbaits that Stanley started building in his garage in 1979.
Following several tournament wins with his hand-tied baits, he decided to expand. It turned out to be the right decision. In 1983, the Stanley Jig Company was formed when Hale and Mike Dyess partnered with Stanley and moved the operation to Huntington, Texas.
A year later, the Vibra-Shaft spinnerbait was introduced, featuring a tapered wire design that generates considerably more vibration since the wire at the end is thinner than it is at the head. From there, more Stanley innovations like the wedge blade for spinnerbaits helped make the company a multi-million dollar worldwide venture.
Stanley says getting back to basics will be important to achieving that kind of success again.
"We're going to go back and teach people about the hand-tied skirts and the metal flake skirts and the old rubber skirts that we used to use," he said. "One thing we don't want to forget is we're still one of the few companies left that all of our stuff is still built here in Huntington, Texas – 99.9 percent of our stuff is made in America. The hooks and skirts are from overseas, but it's all put together here in Texas."
The company currently employs nine people, but a crew of 30 home-based workers handle jig and spinnerbait assembly, including tying and trimming the skirts as well as packaging.
"We're probably the only people in the world that trim the weed guard on a jig by hand and trim the skirts on jigs and spinnerbaits by hand," Stanley said. "They're trimmed at a certain angle to give them more action."
Getting the Word Out
In recent years, awareness of the Stanley Jigs brand among younger anglers has waned. The company didn't market aggressively and lacked a pro staff. Under the Hale family, that is changing.
The company has signed Elite Series anglers Jared Miller and Boo Woods to its pro staff along with FLW Tour rookie Justin Morton and B.A.S.S. Southern Opens angler Joey Nania. Stanley is also trying to establish a social media presence in order to appeal to younger consumers.
'The only way you can really rebuild and get your name out there now is through social media and pro-staffers," Hale said. "If your baits aren't out there and people aren't talking about them on the tournament circuits, you're not going to sell a lot of baits."
Stanley said he hopes to leverage the company's heritage into positive returns in the future.
"We're doing everything we can to get the Stanley name back out there in front of consumers," Stanley said. "There have been a lot of things over the years that we've done with the spinnerbaits and jigs that no one else was doing. We have to bring that back and let the younger anglers out there know what Stanley Jigs is all about."
Depending on how the Side Trac Shad is rigged, it'll track left or right based on which side the "action maker" hump is on.
Stanley will have a strong presence at dealer and outdoor shows this winter and spring, a departure from past practice, all in an effort to re-inject the Stanley name into the consciousness of a new generation of bass anglers. The company invested in a 12-foot-by-20-foot demo tank to showcase the action of their products, old and new.
"There are millions of bass fishermen under 35 years of age and a lot of them don't know anything about Stanley Jigs," Hale said. "We want to get the word out again."
Added Stanley, "I'm excited about the next couple years and getting back to our business as far as being the best jig company."
On the Side
For years, Robert Hale has been a tackle tinkerer going back even to the early days of Toledo Bend. His teaching schedule allowed him ample time on the water to test and perfect certain designs and shapes.
Several years ago, he began experimenting with plastic molds, including one that included a protrusion on one side of the bait. This hump that extends out a quarter-inch from one side of the bait toward the nose, causes the bait to veer left or right when twitched, depending on how the bait is rigged.
"If you cast these baits past a stump 15 or 20 feet, by the time it works back to the stump, it'll swim around about 200 degrees of the stump," Hale said. "They'll swim under boat docks or if you're going down rip-rap or a rock wall, if you rig it right, it'll swim against the wall every time you twitch it."
In the video shown below, the Side Trac shad is tested in Stanley's test tank rigged Texas-style as well as on a tandem rig.
This protrusion, called the "action maker," is a patent-pending feature that is the main selling point for the new line of Side Trac soft plastics that will be sold under the Hale/Stanley brand. The first shape to hit the market is the Side Trac Shad, a 4 1/2-inch minnow style bait. Two others, the Side Trac Mud Puppy (a lizard-style bait) and Cobra (a 10" worm), will soon be available.
"Robert's been trying to get me to put this bait on the market for the last 3 to 5 years," John Hale said. "I couldn't figure out how to do it because trying to come out with just one new bait would take a lot of money. You have to have an avenue to market it. By buying the stock in Stanley Jigs, we've got the distribution set up now."
As an innovator himself, Stanley is enthused by the potential the new plastics may hold.
"I'm so excited about these new Sidetrac products," Stanely said, "as far as making a difference in sales and catching fish."
> To learn more about Stanley Jigs, click here.