Action Lures Breathing Worm (L) ad from from 1977 and a Rebel Ringworm CT ad from 1977.

A couple of months ago I was on Kevin Baxter’s podcast/YouTube channel, TheBaitmanTV, when the subject of the first ribbed worm came up.  “Epic Eric” Galasso mentioned the Rebel Ringworm and I jumped in with Action Lures’ Breathing Worm.  It was my memory that the “Action Worm” was first but since then I have done some digging.  Today in Breathing Worm or Ringworm we’re going to lay that question to rest.

I first became acquainted with both the Ringworm and the Action Worm around 1977.  It was the year before I started working at the tackle store and the ads in Bassmaster and Western Bass magazines piqued my interest.  The deal was, in my area Smitty hand pours, with the two- and three-color laminates were king in the clear waters of southern California and this 13-year-old kid wasn’t about to waste his lunch money on something gimmicky.

1977 Action Lures Breathing Worm ad from Bassmaster Magazine.
1977 Action Lures Breathing Worm ad from Bassmaster Magazine.

In 1978, though, I started working at the shop and had a new revenue source to try some different things.  That’s when one of my mentors, the father of the kid who owns the store now, turned me on to the Action Worm, specifically the 4 3/4-inch version in smoke, smoke silver flake, and grape.

On my first cast with a smoke Action Worm on Castaic that weekend, I caught a bass.  I only had 10 or 12 worms with me, and they were used up by noon.  The fish didn’t seem to want anything else.

1976 Rebel Fish'N Box Ad Bass News magazine. The worms in the box are the new Rebel Ringworms.

The interesting thing was we didn’t sell many of them and I only remember Steve buying a few packs here and there.  What I didn’t know was it was one of his best producers and he didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag by buying them all at once.  It quickly became one of my go-to worms for the southland.

The Ringworm, didn’t sell much better at this time either.  It was also sold on the old card packs, four or five worms to the pack and we carried all the normal colors.  Purple, Grape, Black, Brown, and some fire tails.  We carried both the paddle tail and the curl tail in the four- or five-inch size.

Then in 1980, Action Lures sold ownership and quit making the worm, concentrating on hardbaits and buzzbaits.  A mad dash to buy Action Worms was on and it was at that time I realized how many anglers were fishing them.  By 1988 the company was dissolved.

Rebel, on the other hand, was bought by EBSCO in 1980 and the Ringworm stayed in their lineup through 1983.  The next catalog I have is from 1989 and by then it was long gone.  Southern Plastics picked up the slack by either buying the old molds or making their own around 1984 and producing the worm in 4- to 9-inch versions with a curly tail.  By then the worm had become available in about 100 colors and we sold thousands of them to the anglers fishing the local lakes.

So which bait came out first?  Doing some digging I was able to find out both worms debuted in 1976.  Rebel first brought out the paddle tail and shortly thereafter introduced the curl tail.  The first ad I have for the Ringworm is from TG&Y dated March 27, 1976 out of the Tulsa Daily World newspaper.

The first Rebel Ringworm ad from the Tulsa Daily World Saturday March 27 1976.

The first ad I found for the Action Breathing Worm was from March 25, 1976 out of the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger newspaper.  That’s a difference of two days so in my eyes they both came out at the exact same time.

The worms became cult favorites with only the Ringworm being produced after 1984.

The two worms differed a lot even though they had the same concept.  The Ringworm had a round cross section with individual rings from head to tail.  This did two things.

The first ad I was able to find with the Action Breathing Worm from the Clarion Ledger Thursday March 25 1976.

One, it allowed air to be trapped between the rings to reflect light and two, it provided a big silhouette yet felt soft and had good hooking characteristics.

The Breathing Worm was almost the same concept but had an oval cross section and every two rings were connected by a little piece of plastic on each side.  This gave more surface area for air to get trapped and added to the softness of the bait.  It was a bulkier worm than the Ringworm.

An article discussing the new Rebel Ringworm and the new Action Lures Breathing Worm from The Tennessean Sunday July 4 1976.

Rumor has it from a very reliable source that Robo Worm’s original Zipper Worm was a takeoff of the Action Breathing Worm.  It had the shape and texture, only missing the plastic that connected adjacent rings.  And, if you remember, that worm was also a success.

So there you have it.  Two iconic worms with the same concept born the same year.  I bet I’m not the only one who wishes someone would bring them back.