They may not have been as big as Mister Twister, Creme or Mann’s Jelly Worms but the J.W. Lures Company was definitely on the map back in the early to late ‘70s. In 1973 their 13-inch Hawg Hunter worm set a record for the largest bass ever weighed in at a BASS Master tournament, a 12-13 monster caught by Bob Tyndall out of Rodman Pool. A couple years later their 4-inch Ding-A-Ling was one of the first worms Don Iovino used to develop his Doodling technique prior to having Jim Smith of Smitty worms make one that would eventually display the Doodle King name.
One that you may have forgotten, though, was the Sweet Willie, backed by smallmouth bass expert Billy Westmorland. I found the lead-in ad in a 1977 National Bassman magazine which was a bit ironic. Westmorland’s last full year on the BASS Master Trail was 1977 as he only fished three events in 1978 due to Ray Scott increasing the minimum length limit for bass from 12 inches to 14 inches.
Westmorland was a perennial top finisher who’d fished 32 events between 1972 and the end of 1977. Every one of those events he fished he placed in the top 30, with 29 Top 20s, 24 top 10s, three 3rd-place finishes, and three wins. To top that off, he qualified for every BASS Masters Classic in the year he fished, six total events.
Westmorland’s finishes faltered after the increase in the size limit. The first three events of the 1978 season saw him finish below the 100th spot in each event. He never showed up at the fourth event, nor any other BASS Master event from there on out.
Westmorland’s forte was light line and small lures. His philosophy in tournament fishing was to catch a limit of keeper fish each day and then worry about a kicker. He knew daily limits were the key to consistency.
With this in mind, Westmorland got with JW Lures of Jacksonville, FL to design a worm that fit his style. The Sweet Willie was designed for light line and rods – or what they still hadn’t defined as finesse fishing.
The Sweet Willie was made in 5-1/2 and 7-1/2-inch lengths, featured a thin in diameter and was touted to allow better hook penetration with the lighter lines. They came in several solid and firetail colors and cost around 69¢ per 5-pack or $12.00 per 100-pack out of the Bass Pro Shops catalog.
To be complete, I searched my library of Bass Pro Shops catalogs to see if there was another display of the worms and was met with the same ad in the 1978 catalog. But, in contrast to the Sweet Willie, the next page included the Ding-a-ling and the Hawg Hunter worms mentioned above. I’ve placed that page here for you all to check out as I can think of no company today that is producing worms that resemble a tire retread. Look at the prices of the Hawg Hunter. That $1.29 price tag is equivalent of $4.57 today. That’s insane for a worm even today.
I was curious to find out when JW Lures went out of business, so a quick Internet search was in order. All I got was a couple hits regarding trademarks. Evidently JW Lures trademarked their bait names all around the 1980 timeframe – some years after they’d started business. Then in 1988 all of their trademarks got cancelled and they presumably went out of business. What’s interesting is the name of the company still exists and there’s a correspondent/attorney associated with the company name. Being averse to talking with attorneys, I decided not to give them a call and prod any deeper into what happened with the company.