A while back we looked at some 1970s Bagley’s Balsa B ads, specifically from 1977. Here again are some cool ads from one of the all-time great hardbait manufacturers, the Jim Bagley Bait Company. The ads shown here are from 1973, ’76, ’77 and ‘80 and show a pretty good number of the baits they sold during that decade. Missing, of course, is the Bang O Lure and some others, but the important ones are there.
Bagley’s first big claim-to-fame came with their original Balsa B, or Big B as seen in the ad from 1973. The bait was 4-inches long, sported a square bill and excelled in areas where anglers would normally throw a spinnerbait. It was in direct competition with Fred Young’s Big O and the other alphabet baits that were coming out of East Tennessee at the time.
Unfortunately, the Big B went out of production when the deep-diving baits of the late 70s and early 80s took hold and the Divin’ B series came out. What did survive was the standard B series, think BB1, BB2 and BB3, which today is what we call a squarebill.
The Divin’ B series, was a magical series of baits with the DB2 and DB3 models outshining the smaller DB1. Bagley’s sold in the mid-80s and the new owners decided to go “unleaded” towards the end of the decade. For those of you that remember, the original series had a small lead weight in the lip that the line tie was molded in to. There was something about that little bit of weight that increased the angle of attack, added to the action of the bait, and made it easy to tune.
The new series didn’t have the lead in the lip and the line tie was made of stainless steel rather than brass, which made it rather difficult to tune. The lip was also a wedge shape in order to decrease the breakage they were experiencing with the old leaded lip. All these changes to “improve” the bait, actually hurt the action, and anglers still to this day will pay top dollar for the original.
Another stellar bait that Bagley’s produced during the time was the Honey B – in both deep and shallow running models. This little 1-1/2-inch jewel was a fish magnet, bar none. Thrown on 8-pound line and in tough conditions, the fish seemed like they couldn’t resist it. I know for me, it saved many a day on the water. But, like the Big B and original Divin’ Bs before it, the Honey B was phased out in the late 80s and in the ‘90s was reintroduced as the Bity B. This bait was larger in all dimensions and did not have the action of the original.
Let’s move onto the Small Fry series, which we’ve touched on here at the Bass Fishing Archives in the past. Although the concept was good, the baits didn’t find much success. At the shop I worked in as a kid, they initially flew off the shelves and after a year or so, the only one that needed restocking was the crawdad bait. Other than that, the rest of the series had many birthdays hanging on their pegs.
A few years ago it seemed as if the Bagley’s name was going to go the way of the Dodo bird. Then in 2007 the company was purchased (again) and brought back to life. Unfortunately, the change of ownership didn’t help and the company again saw tough times.
Then in the 2010-11 time frame, Bill Cullerton and Jarmo Rapala, of Rapala Lure fame, bought the company and began to resurrect it. Their promise: To bring the company back to what it once was and remake the lures the way they were designed by Jim Bagley.
You’d think with the likes of a Rapala behind the wheel that the company would finally get back on its feet making 1970s worthy baits. But that evidently wasn’t the case. In 2020, the company again sold, this time to Northland Tackle.
I haven’t yet had a chance to use any of the new Bagley baits, I’m still throwing the originals, but you can bet I’ll be trying some in the near future. I just hope they fish the same as the originals. It’d be nice to have this nostalgic bait back in the ring after so many years on the sidelines.
Past Reader Comments:
Paul Wallace: Ditto on the small fortune…lol. I’ve got a box full of original BB1, 2, 3 and 4’s. Love/hate those things. When they work….. they’re the best. When they won’t run right or lips break…they’re the worst…I’ve also got different styles from custom lure makers trying their best to imitate the original BB series. My gosh go on e-bay and look at Bagleys…on second thought, don’t cause I don’t need anybody else driving the cost up…I am curious to see what the new version [Rapala/Cullerton] looks like under water??
Brian Waldman: I’ve got a small fortune wrapped up in lead billed Diving Bs. I own about 50-60 DBs, along with a dozen or two Balsa Bs, their shallow diving cousins. Well over half or more are original lead bills. I’ve caught lots of bass on all three sizes here in Indiana, though the DB1 has always been my favorite. Like you often read, some of the baits just seem to catch a lot more fish than the others, but you never know until you’ve fished them enough. Definitely have a few that no amount of eBay money would be worth parting with them.
Terry to Brian Waldman: Hey Brian, what’s your address?
Rich: Don’t give sort shrift to the Bang-O-Lure. To us, it was a balsa Rapala replacement that you could throw on casting tackle. And the Diving Bang-O-Lure was among the top early jerkbaits in the northeast.
Still, it was the Deep Diving Balsa B’s that were the gold standard. I particularly loved the DB1 in the spring. Never caught a fish on a DB2, but the DB3 loaded the boat a whole lot of times. I still have 5 or 6 original, lead button DB3s in my office. Maybe I’ll throw one this year. Or maybe I’ll just ebay ’em. When they eliminated the lead button, they also changed the angle of the lip from straight forward to about 5 degrees down, and that’s what really ruined the bait.
Terry to Rich: Rich, I agree, the Bang-O-Lure was a dang good bait. I just didn’t have a picture of one to add to the piece. The jerkbait they made in the mid-80s I wasn’t too fond of was the Top Gun. It was plastic, didn’t throw worth a darn and I can’t say I caught a lot of fish on it. It’s strange how a bait works in one area of the country and you can’t sell them for firewood in another part. That’s the case with the DBI I guess. By the way, don’t sell them things on eBay.
Jeff Hahn: I still have some of the originals…especially the smaller Honey Bs. On another note, why is it that when a small, successful company is purchased, the new owners decide to change the very things that made the company successful? Then, they sit around, scratching their heads, wondering why the bottom line takes a nose dive. I’ve seen this happen time and time again…never ceases to amaze me!
Terry to Jeff Hahn: Jeff I have no idea why that is. After the company has been sold so many times, there’s really no one left who knows how the originals were made and what made them work, except for Lee Sisson.