Rebel, made by Plastics Research and Development Company (PRADCO), was purchased in 1980 by EBSCO.

Running this website has been a passion of mine since it started back in 2012.  I get to spend a lot of time reliving my childhood reading old books, magazines and collecting memorabilia.  Recently, I was doing some research in my old magazines and was blown away by the ads from big companies that no longer exist under their parent company.  That realization led to today’s article, Acquisitions Good or Bad.  In this article, we’re going to look into the never-ending saga of bait companies being bought out by a larger company, usually a large conglomerate.

Over the course of the last the last 40 years, there have been a number of buyouts in the industry.  The first major buyout was in 1983 when EBSCO/PRADCO purchased Heddon.  That buyout took one of the most revered companies in all of fishing and placed it under a different roof after nearly 100 years in business.

Heddon was the first company purchased by EBSCO/PRADCO in 1983/4.

Recently we’ve seen this happen more than once. For example, back about 10 years ago the Mann’s Lure Company bought the rights to make and sell the Alabama Rig from Andy Poss. Another example from the same period is the Chatterbait, designed and built by Rad Lures.  It was sold to Z-Man. In both cases a larger company bought a small company, which can be good for the original designer.

Other examples are PRADCO’s purchase of South Bend, Smithwick, Norman, Shakespeare, Cordell, Arbogast, the list goes on. Then there’s GSM’s recent purchase of Gary Yamamoto’s Custom Baits, Bill Lewis Lures and Buckeye Lures just recently.

A 1973 Cordell Big-O ad. Cordell Tackle was purchased by EBSCO/PRADCO in 1980. At the time, Cordell Tackle Company was the largest tackle company in the world.
Whopper Stopper was originally produced by the A. D. MFG Company, a division of Hawk Fishing Lure Company. Whopper Stopper was then purchased by Heddon in 1983, shortly before they sold to EBSCO/PRADCO.

What has always troubled me, is when one of these companies sells out to a big hitter – especially when the big hitter doing the buying acquires a large number of other companies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m about as conservative as one can be business wise, but when we lose a tackle company that’s been around a long time, we lose its history. Not only that, the new “owner” always seems to change something and that “something” they change always seems to be important.

Back in the dawn of the bass fishing industry, there were a ton of small lure manufacturers, many of which were local bait makers who, by word of mouth and a little advertising, became big. Examples of these companies would be Whopper Stopper (Texas), Arbogast (Ohio), Bomber (Texas), Creek Chub (Indiana), Lazy Ike (Iowa), Smithwick (Louisiana), Cordell (Arkansas) and bass lure powerhouse Heddon of Michigan.

All these companies were strong and provided top-notch baits to the entire country through their own manufacturing. Another company that can’t be left out was the Plastics Research and Development Corporation (PRADCO) who manufactured the Rebel line of lures.  They were purchased in 1980 by EBSCO.

Two 1973 Bomber ads. Bomber Lures was purchased by PRADCO in 1988.

I won’t argue that when PRADCO started buying companies like Whopper Stopper and Creek Chub, those companies may have been on their last legs. It may have been good for them to be bought in order to preserve the names. Unfortunately, when they started buying companies like Smithwick and Bomber, they not only discontinued a number of really productive lures, they changed molds and manufacturing techniques and that had an adverse effect on the lures themselves. With respect to Bomber, PRADCO has pretty much turned around and redesigned baits like the Model A and Long A to their original effectiveness.

That can’t be said for the Smithwick Rogue, though. Original Rogues still garner top dollar, when you can find them, because there’s a huge difference in the action between the originals and the new ones.  This, even after the redesign following KVD’s win at the Three Rivers Classic in 2005, is why it always scares me when one company buys out another.

Another prime example was Storm Lures selling out to Rapala.  Rapala, one of the biggest names in the fishing industry, is known for producing top quality baits.  From the days of Lauri Rapala, the company has nearly always hit the mark with lure design.  You’d think that a company with so much knowledge of lure design would know what they had with the Wiggle Wart when they assumed the company.  Unfortunately, they didn’t.

A 1973 Smithwick and Champion Tackle ad. Smithwick was purchased by PRADCO in 1992.
1973 Fred Arbogast ad. Arbogast was purchased by PRADCO in 1997.

Rumor has it Rapala looked at the original molds, which were not perfect, and had newer perfect molds made.  The imperfection in the molds, which showed up in the lip of the bait when each half was glued together, is what made the Wiggle Wart so productive.  That offset lip at the seam is what made that bait hunt, and catch fish.

The other thing that Rapala was rumored to have done was change the original plastic.  That coupled with the new molds made a bait that wasn’t anywhere close to being as effective as the original Wiggle Wart.  Whatever the truth is, Rapala, with their R&D abilities, should have been able to figure out the differences and manufactured an identical lure.  Until they do, we’re going to see original Wiggle Warts selling on eBay for $100 each while the new stock rots on the pegs at your local tackle shop.

Which brings to mind the new acquisitions of Yamamoto and Bill Lewis by GSM.  When the Yamamoto brand was purchased, everyone was in an uproar on social media about the sale.  Would the Senko be as effective as the original going forth?  GSM got online and guaranteed the audience that nothing is going to change with the plastic formula as long as they owned GYCB.

But we’ve seen this before and it always comes down to one common denominator – the bean counter.  Bean counters, who generally know nothing about fishing and little about bottom line, sway a company to increase their profits by using less expensive materials. The bean counter has no clue that by saving $2.35 per gallon on plastic will cost them dearly when the Senko doesn’t fish the way it used to.  The bean counter is the hero the first year when profits soar, but within two years, word’s out that the bait isn’t what it used to be and sales go flat or decrease.

Please don’t read into my example that this is what GSM is going to do to GYCB.  It’s just an example that has happened time and time again.

In any event, there’s no stopping business and the buying and selling of tackle companies. We can only hope that when one of our favorite lure companies does get bought, the new owners treat the manufacture of their newly purchased lures the way the original companies did.

That sets up my main question to all companies who buy out another tackle company.  If you buy a successful company, I assume with the intent to make money, why ruin your sales and profits by changing anything that has to do with the manufacture of that bait?