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Thanks for the Memories

By Stan Fagerstrom
Product Review Editor

June 19, 2009

Part One

I’ve been around for awhile.  There’s a sufficient amount of white in my whiskers to lend credence to that statement.    

I have, you see, been here long enough so it’s easy for me to remember when monofilament lines first came on the fishing scene.  I wore wrinkles on my rump using oars to move my bass boat long before electric troll motors were ever heard of.  I’ve also been here long enough to see a whole bunch of lures designed to catch largemouth bass come on the scene and then eventually disappear. 

Some of those lures have left a bucketful of memories.  Many lures I used when I first started fishing ages ago are long gone.   In some instances their memories will never be replaced.

It’s my opinion one of those lures that left the tackle shelves decades ago never should have.  Am I all alone in that regard?  I’ll betcha there are still a few other old timers out there who agree with me.  In fact I know that to be true because I’ve heard from some of them in the past when I’ve written something that mentioned the lure I’m thinking about.

So exactly what is that lure?  Have you ever heard of a bass plug named the Heddon Basser?  I don’t know exactly when this beautiful hunk of hardware was first introduced to American anglers.  I do know it was popular among the few bass fishermen who were around when I made my first casts for largemouth out in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-1930s.

Anglers interested in bass fishing were hard to find early on in the Pacific Northwest.  In the mid-thirties most of the fishermen I encountered there figured anybody lame brained enough to want to fish for bass had to be a tad short of smarts.  Their thinking generally went something like this: Why mess with a fish that’s second cousin to a carp when all those salmon and steelhead are available?

Maybe bass fishermen are born that way.  I know I was.  I was hooked on bass fishing before I ever caught one.  

I wound up in Washington State when my family moved West from our drought-stricken and depression- ridden little wheat farm in North Dakota in 1936.  Though at the time I’d never laid eyes on a largemouth, smallmouth or any other kind of bass, the mere thought of throwing lures they might hit gave me a major case of fishin’ fits.  I suppose bass fishing stories contained in the few tattered copies of old Field & Stream and Outdoor Life magazines I managed to get my hands on had a good bit to do with that.

The only fish I’d actually seen or caught prior to getting to the Pacific Northwest were a few bullhead catfish that came out of a lazy North Dakota creek.  They gobbled the grasshoppers I’d hung on a bent safety pin.  My rod was a branch my dad cut for me from one of the willow trees along the creek bank.  My family was far too poor to even think about buying fishing tackle.

Once we moved to Southwest Washington State it didn’t take long to hear about the bass a few---mostly former southern residents---were catching at a place called Silver Lake.  I eagerly latched on to every bit of information I could get where this lake was concerned as well as how to go about catching bass there. 

I soon heard about enough about the Heddon Basser to give me the incentive to save up the nickels and dimes I needed to buy one.  I got my first one in a second hand store.  It was to be one of the two first bass lures I owned.  The second was a double bladed Shannon Spinner, a forerunner of today’s spinnerbaits.

I was just a 12 year old kid when we got to Washington.  I didn’t get to Silver Lake anywhere near as often as I wanted early on. We lived 20 miles away and it might as well have been 200.  The far too infrequent times I did manage to get there proved what I’d heard about the Heddon Basser.  It would indeed catch Silver Lake bass.

Let me share something else.  There are darn few lures I used 65 years ago I’d still throw for bass today.  The Heddon Basser is one of the  exceptions.  It still gets fish where the right conditions exist.  When they do it often gets them as well or better than anything else you can hang on the end of your line.

I didn’t know squat about lure manipulation on those early bass fishing trips.  My approach was simply to heave the Basser as far as I could and then crank it back in.  Basic as that technique was, it did catch fish. 

Looking back, one reason it did was probably because those Silver Lake largemouth weren’t anywhere near as knowledgeable then about the hardware designed to catch them as they are now.  You’ll never convince me bass don’t eventually learn to recognize potential disaster if it comes swimming by their big mugs often enough.

I never did manage to dent the Silver Lake bass population much until after getting back from serving more than three years in the Army during World War 11.  I began to do a much better job of it just as soon as I was able to buy a used car that could get me to the lake and back.

One of the things I was to learn in a hurry was what a tremendous difference lure manipulation can make in putting bass in the boat.  It was my first introduction to something I’ve seen repeated with other lures over and over again during the years that have followed.

The Basser also introduced me to something else.  It’s that the sound a lure makes as it’s manipulated also plays a role in the kind of results you get with it.  I’ve seen evidence of that in a number of other lures over the years.  The old Heddon Basser was the first to bring it to my attention.

So what was the technique that worked best with Heddon’s Basser?  Watch for Part 2 of this column.  I’ll share what I discovered.  You’ll find it of interest because the tactics similar to those I worked out with the old Basser long ago can still be effective with some of the bass lures available today.

-Part Two-