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Fishing with Kenny | The Allure of Wooden Lures

By Nathan Coker
In Fishing with Kenny
May 2nd, 2023


I like old lures, especially old wooden lures.  Not just to look at, or to collect, but to use in tournament competitions.  The modern bass bait has all the technological advancements as the most up to date graphs and bass boat accessories, but that does not make them better.  This is one instance, when using lures made of wood, specifically balsa, where I believe older is better.  Like with anything else that is modern, these lures come with a price. 

The first wooden crankbaits that I was ever aware of was the original “Big O” crankbait lures produced in the early 70s.  My dad had a few of them and I can remember asking him to throw one and he responded with a resounding “No.”  To me it was just another bait, however, back in the day it was considered an investment.  The original “Big O’s” would sell for over twenty dollars, an outrageous price back in the 60s and 70s, but it was a fish catching machine, so to the serious angler, it was considered a must have. 

The first wood lures I remember buying for myself were the Bagley crankbaits back in the early 80s.  I would pay almost seven dollars for them and at the time such a purchase was considered “high dollar.”  What I didn’t understand was why these lures, while more expensive, would out produce the plastic versions of lures that were much less expensive but becoming more popular among anglers.  While I could catch just as many fish on the plastic lures, it seemed like I would catch bigger fish on the wooden ones. 

My wooden lure quest went beyond crankbaits, as some of my favorite topwater lures are made of wood.  The Devil’s Horse has been in my tackle box since I was a kid and now, almost fifty years later, I still catch fish on them.  The equivalent to a Devil’s Horse is a lure made by Cotton Cordell called a Boy Howdy and while it catches fish, I catch bigger fish on the Devil’s Horse.  Another popular topwater lure in our area, the Crazy Shad, is made of plastic and is as good a fish catcher as you can find on our local area rivers and lakes but in my lifetime I have only caught one bass over five pounds on one.  Coincidence?  I think not. 

The original Zara Spook was made of wood, and I still have a couple that I will only use on tournament days, and I have won a lot of money on those lures.  The newer versions of the Spook are made of plastic and while I have done well with the modern of the lure, I know without a doubt, I catch bigger fish on the old wooden one.  My biggest bass I ever caught on the Ouachita River came on a “Shore Minnow,” a color my uncle affectionately would call “old ugly,” original wooden Spook.  

The advancement in mass production is what caused the decline in the purchase of handmade wooden lures.  Angler’s learned they could buy a Bandit crankbait for four dollars and catch numbers of fish, overlooking the aspect of the lack of quality in their catches.  The Bagley series of lures are still in production, but I believe the newer lures aren’t as effective as the older baits.  This probably explains why at times on eBay you will see an original Bagley Balsa B squarebill crankbait will sell for over $100.   

Now that I have given you a basis for my wooden lure affection, let’s look at the downside of these fish catchers.  First of all, as I have mentioned briefly, hand made wooden lures are expensive.  I have paid as much as $50 for a single lure and I have friends who have paid much more than that.  My logic is if I can win one tournament on an expensive wooden lure, over time, the lure will pay for itself, so I consider it to be a good investment.  It just might take a bit longer to see the payback. 

I will buy my crankbaits in numbers of threes and, for whatever the reason, one of the three lures will out produce the other two.  Since these lures are made by hand, sometimes it may be the density of a particular cut of wood, or it could be something different about the coats of the paint job.  Whatever the case may be, no two wooden lures are alike. 

Probably the biggest downside to using wooden lures is they are not very durable.  Our lakes are crowded with Cypress trees, boat docks and every known obstacle to be a angler’s nightmare.  When using these lures, casting accuracy is a must but still not a cure all.  A homeowner who has a catfish trap, or other hidden obstacle under the water, can be the death of your favorite wooden crankbait.  I can tell you on more than one occasion I have left my boat to retrieve a snagged lure. 

I have found the wooden topwater lures to be much more durable than the crankbaits, unless casting accuracy isn’t your strong suit.  One of the tricks I have learned when trying to extend the life of your favorite wooden topwater is to take apart the lure and anywhere there is a place to attach a hook hanger or insert the prop screw, use a dab of super glue in each opening.  These small amounts of glue help to make these weaker areas of the lure much stronger. 

I have read all of the articles an angler can find as to why some wooden lures were better producers than others.  I don’t have a scientific explanation, nor do I have a logical argument as to why these wooden plugs are such money winners.  I just know, through my own experience, they just are.   

Well, it looks like we have run out of time and space for another month.  I hope we have been able to shed some light on an old school idea that still has a place in the modern fishing world.  Please be careful while out on the water as we head into the summer months and don’t forget to catch one for me!  See you next month.