Sad news came this week with the passing of Lonnie Stanley. The legendary Texas lure-maker was the epitome of old-school bass and he’ll be missed by lots of folks who reflect on gus influence on bass fishing. Truthfully, it’s hard to classify the impact.
Many anglers won’t understand how overwhelming the Stanley name was in the early days of competitive bass fishing. In the '70s and '80s, everyone who didn’t make jigs in their basement threw Stanley’s. Himself a top-level competitor for years, Stanley supplied jigs to many icons of the sport. Guys like me gobbled them up for a buck apiece.
Revisiting news of his company, I was interested to learn that Stanley started the same way many of the biggest brands did, one lure at a time for his personal use. Later, his bass club buddies bought a few, and it was off to the races. Occasionally, a proven product comes along that just can’t fail.
To this day, I can remember some of the earliest jigs I owned, as they quickly became favorite lures. By the time I was a teenager, I bet I'd caught a thousand bass on a 5/16-ounce Stanley jig with a brown and orange skirt, tipped with a No. 11 pork rind. The paint on the head long ago chipped off, I’d emulate Ron Shuffield and other jig-fishing heroes as they took down Top 100 tournaments in the late '80s.
With expansion of the sport, sponsorships changed often and new lures came to the market all the time, yet the old guard of touring pros still fished and praised Stanley jigs. Later, I’d learn that was no coincidence.
This time in history also brought us the colossal wave created by Lake Fork. There, Mark Stephenson blew up the record book with a 17-pound monster caught on, you guessed it, a Stanley Jig. I can still see the picture.
Plastic crawfish were just coming on the scene then, and the Stanley company introduced the Hale’s Craw Worm. It’s my understanding that the lure was developed by Robert Hale, a dominant Texas tournament angler and associate of Stanley’s. In any case, many anglers able to remember that far back credit the Hale’s Craw along with the Guido Bug for opening the door to soft plastic trailers and closing the door on pork. We all benefitted.
The Stanley company later went on to create the Vibra-Shaft Spinnerbait. Here, again, was a No. 1 hit. Quality components were credited for this lure’s supreme ability to catch bass and hold up. New technology in skirt-building also helped, as we were beginning to see colors like perch and golden shiner, rather than just white and chartreuse. Combined with high-end gold blades, the early Vibra-Shafts were simply beautiful. The bass thought so, too.
As bass fishing and lure-making modernized, Stanley’s company took a bit of back seat to the larger, better-funded brands. But when solid-body plastic frogs became the rage for their ability to cover massive amounts of water in and around vegetation, Stanley again brought a specialized improvement. The company’s Ribbit allowed for a slower, plop-plop presentation, opening the eyes of bass burned out on Horny Toads. Fans of the lure will agree: There’s just something about fishing a Stanley Ribbit that makes anyone a nervous wreck. My goodness, the strikes!
So a little bit of history passed with Lonnie. Possibly a little bit of innocence, as well.
Today’s lure scene is so complicated. Sure, we’re all benefactors of the advancements. The scientists and the testing facilities, the computer-aided design. Magic potion scents and space-age colors. Nowadays, I’d probably be hard-pressed to find a jig with chipped paint in my box.
But there was something about that time in fishing that created a sense of camaraderie. It was Stanley Jigs and Lunker Lures, drawer-boxes and the Black Max. You either had this stuff or wished you did.
You know, it’s funny. When you look at modern jigs, many still resemble an old Stanley. Sure, today’s hooks are better, eliminating the need to get out the stone after every hang-up in the rip-rap. But the shape – the original concept – is still the same.
Who would have thought that so many bass would be fooled by a backward-scooting crawfish imitation with long rubber legs?
A genuine original, with nothing to prove.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)