21st Century Tackle Company Bass Raider Topwater System ad from Bassmaster 1981.

In the past we have posted some lures that we classified as Darwin Award winners.  Baits like the Hover Lure, the Helicopter Lure, the Swim-N Lure, and the Lock Lizard are all winners in the category.  Today in Darwin’s Bass Raider Topwater System, we not only have a lure, but an entire fishing system.

The image in the ad isn’t really too crazy.  In fact, it looks like a lot of other ads featuring a topwater bait and a big bass coming in for the kill.  But read the ample text and it’s bound to open your eyes and tickle your funny bone.

It was the text that initially got me to pay attention to the ad.  Roughly 800 words written in size 8 font with 21st Century Tackle Company and Bass Raider Surface System in BOLD in nearly every sentence.  I had to read the text.

The first paragraph of the ad starts with a good description of every angler’s love for a topwater bite.  Then, at the fourth sentence, everything goes downhill.

Somehow the folks at 21st Century try to convince the reader that topwater fishing had lost its way due to its slow pace and “the bait isn’t in productive water long enough.”

But these inherent “problems” are now shattered by the upstart tackle company.  What was the answer?  Technology.

The company’s owner, Jack Merwede of New Jersey, had been in computer communications for two decades and while working on one of his kid’s remote-controlled toys, had the epiphany to design and build a whole new system for topwater fishing.  A remote controlled topwater lure and rod.

The system consisted of a lure with an imbedded computer module and a rod with a remote control.  The lure, which looks like a Spook in the ad and is described as a “Muskie-Jitterbug-sized bait,” was equipped with two small motors, one to propel and one to steer.  To change colors, you removed the body and placed the computer module into another body.

The system was said to have solved the problem of spooking bass by coming too close and the angler could also fish those hard-to-reach places, like under trees and docks.  The Bass Raider lure had a 75-foot range, and the batteries would last from 7 to 8 hours if fished continuously.

The main selling point of the system had to do with keeping your surface lure in productive water and sneaking up on the fish.

Then there was the bottom line.

21st Century Tackle Company Bass Raider Topwater System ad from Bassmaster 1981.

The system, rod and lure, retailed for $295.00!  In today’s money that’s just south of $850.  If you were one of the first 1,000 people to order one, you could get the system for $250.  And what you got for that two-week’s pay was the rod, lure, computer module, and three batteries.

There was no mention of what color bodies were available nor the cost of replacement batteries.

The mail-in order form stated that Mr. Merwede had filed a patent application.  I did a search for the patent and came up empty handed.

So, I did a search for the company in the newspaper archives and landed on more than 20 articles about the system and the company.  All but one of the articles were from an Associate Press Release dated December 1981 and ran through May 1982 in various newspapers across the country.

The only article I was able to find not associated with AP was from Steve Vantreese of the Paduka Sun.  This article predated the AP articles by two months.  Vantreese was present at the 1981 BASS Masters Classic and Expo, which is where he was introduced to the “space age” topwater system.

Vantreese’s review wasn’t good nor bad, but he did scoff at the price.

The next 20 or so articles about the system were all written by AP staff writer Bill Schultz and were the same article.  But, in some newspapers, there was the addition of an image of the bait.

Schultz wrote about Merwede and his development of the system.  The graphite rod was actually the antennae for the radio-controlled portion of the system and was tuned to the lure.  He’d spent $40,000 on the prototype and was said to have had 71 strikes on a hookless version while testing.

Bass Raider article. By Bill Schultz, Associated Press, Reno Gazette Journal Thursday Dec 17 1981.

Obviously, there are a lot of questions I have that extend past the questions asked by either Vantreese or Schultz.  Questions like:

  • What if the props break?
  • What if water gets into the body of the lure or the controller?
  • How much are replacement or extra bodies?
  • Is there a warranty for the rod or the bait?
  • How much are the extra batteries?

I was only able to find this ad in one issue of Bassmaster Magazine and the newspaper articles stopped in May 1982.  I did a search for the company on the internet and came up with nothing.  The Bass raider Topwater System seems to have died on the vine before the end of 1982.  The unfortunate part of the story is Merwede quit his job to get the 21st Century Tackle Company off the ground.  Hopefully he was able to get his old job back.