If you follow this site, you’re aware that we have written a lot on the history of James Heddon and his infamous tackle company. Today in James Heddon 1983, we’ll continue down that path and share with you the final catalog produced by the company before being acquired by EBSCO/PRADCO.
James Heddon’s contribution to bass fishing cannot be overstated. He is arguably the first person to envision a lure in a piece of wood. Prior to his first creations nearly 120 years ago, bass fishing was primarily conducted with flies and spinners (spoons) on long 8-foot or longer rods.
But with the debut of his wooden “plugs” came a shift from the long Henshall-inspired rods to shorter rods. Reason? These early plugs were much heavier than their fly and spinner counterparts and I’m sure would have been unwieldly on a long rod. The shorter rod provided less weight, a smaller casting arc, and with that, pinpoint accuracy in casting.
James Heddon truly changed the way anglers fished for bass.
From the early turn of the 19th century through the middle of the 20th century, the company was one of the biggest tackle manufacturers in the world. They offered not only their coveted line of lures but also rods, reels, and various other forms of tackle. Then the bass boom of the late 1960s took off with Ray Scott’s first All-American on Beaver Lake.
For the first decade Heddon hung on with their line of baits, but rod and reel technology changed, taking them out of the race. Also taking a toll on the bottom line was a new cottage industry of bait makers redefining the lure industry. People like Fred Young and his Big-O, Bill Harkins and his Lunker Lure, even Tom Mann and his Jelly Worm, had an effect on Heddon’s business.
But tumultuous times for the company were already taking place. During the decade between 1967 and 1977, Heddon had been sold several times. Then in 1977, Heddon was purchased by a group of investors headed up by a man named John Koenig. Koenig purchased PICO Lures at this point and shortly after the start of 1983, bought Whopper Stopper.
By 1983, Koenig and the investment team were looking to sell Heddon, and in the spring of 1984 sold to EBSCO/PRADCO. This is what makes this 1983 Heddon catalog so important. It is the final catalog produced before the company was sold to PRADCO.
So, let’s move on with the catalog.
The catalog, which is a paltry example compared to the catalogs during Heddon’s glory days, was 24 pages in length. The first eight pages, not including the cover, were dedicated to Heddon rods. What I find interesting about this is Heddon was a huge purveyor in rods back in the early part of the 20th century through the mid-1960s. They produced some of the finest rods available from bamboo, steel and eventually moving on to that space-age material fiberglass. I own a circa 1950s Heddon Pal bamboo rod. It casts beautifully and was obviously made with care and expertise.
But looking at the pages of rods in this catalog you can tell that care was not put into any of these rods from design to manufacture. Guides and handles were subpar for the day and a lot of the models were of two-piece construction. Not rods that would be used by any serious angler.
Also, Heddon was flirting with magnesium in both their graphite and glass rods. They give no conclusive description of how the magnesium was incorporated into the composite. Still they claimed the materials were lighter and stronger than a 100% graphite or glass rod. Due to the fact you see nothing like this today, or even five years after this catalog was printed, shows the concept failed. That’s nine pages that Heddon could have saved some money on.
The money starts on page 10, with the introduction of their famed lures, or what was left of them.
Starting off the parade of lures is a lure that was nearly chopped from the line-up only a couple years earlier. If it wasn’t for Charlie Campbell’s success with the lure and Greg Hines winning the 1981 Westen Bass U.S. Open on Lake Mead, the lure would no longer be around.
But on Page 10 we see this is no longer the case. In fact, the Zara Spook was offered in five different sizes and up to 17 colors.
Next on the page was the Chugger Spook, offered in three sizes and up to 16 colors.
Page 11 features two more famous baits produced by Heddon, the Torpedo and the Dying Flutter. The Torpedo was offered in three sizes, including every collector’s favorite, the Tiny Torpedo. The Tiny Torpedo must have been a favorite of topwater anglers back then as it was offered in the most colors, 26 to be exact.
The dying Flutter, which was one of my favorite prop baits back in the day, only came in one size and seven colors. As far as I am concerned, they could have painted only Coach Dog and Frog and I would have been one happy angler.
Next in line was the famous Crazy Crawler, a bait that was introduced in 1940. One of the best topwater baits to ever be designed, up there with Fred Arbogast’s Hula Popper and Jitterbug, the Crazy Crawler hit the water running and became one of Heddon’s best selling lure of all time. The bait was offered in two sizes 10 colors.
Two more topwater baits were also offered, the Brush Popper and the Moss Boss. The Brush Popper was essentially an inline buzzbait while the Moss Boss was a weedless spoon fashioned after a Johnson Silver Minnow, but with a skirt.
For those of you Tadpolly freaks, there were three different versions of this bait offered on pages 13 and 14. The regular Tadpolly, the Glo Tadpolly, and the Clatter Tadpolly. Not really a contemporary bass bait, the Tadpolly has become a collector’s item over the past few decades.
The following page has what is arguably the best-selling bait in Heddon’s line-up ever, the River Runt. The River Runt could be classified as the first actual crankbait and began production in the late 1920s.
In 1933, a new version of the bait was introduced using Tenite plastic, which produced a see through body, or what Heddon called, it’s Spook models.
The original plastic baits came in both sinking and floating versions with the sinking versions being discontinued sometime in the 1960s. This is the bait that I caught my first “crankbait” fish on, a respectable 2 1/2-pounder from the local park near my house.
Next to the River Runt is another famous surface/floater-diver, the Lucky 13. Introduced around 1925, the Lucky 13 doubled as a surface lure and if cranked steady would dive. This bait caught tons of bass over the years, along with its brother the Heddon Basser.
Unfortunately for the Basser, it was discontinued in 1948, while the Lucky 13 continued on. Talk to many old-time bass anglers who fished both baits and all will tell you this was one of the biggest mistakes Heddon ever made. Still, the Lucky 3 had its own following and continued to produce.
Pages 16 and 17 feature three more baits that are rooted in history. First is the Hedd-Hunter Minnow, designed to compete with the Rapala minnow in the mid-1960s. Next is the Meadow Mouse, introduced in 1929, was another one of Heddon’s million sellers. Finally, there’s the promotional lure that took on a life of its own, the Big Bud.
The next few pages are filled era versions of Heddon baits that only last a few years after the printing of this catalog. Then on page 20 we run into two more renowned Heddon lures, the Sonar and the Sonic. These were some of the first vibration baits to hit the market. The Sonic being a true vibration bait where the Sonar is what we’d describe today as a blade bait. Both baits were brough to the public in the 1950s.
On the last page and back cover of this catalog were the lures of the Padre Island Company, or better known as PICO Lures. As stated above, Heddon bought PICO in 1977 and continued to sell their baits through the 1983 timeframe.
What’s curious to me is there is very little out there in the ether that talks about this purchase or when Heddon sold the PICO brand after acquiring Heddon.
There are stories of Ed Henckel buying PICO in 1962 and selling the company in 1986, but we know from this catalog and the link above, that is not possible. There is another buyer mentioned by the name of Bob Miller, who purchased the company in 1986, which is possible because PICO Lures are not featured in the 1986 Heddon Catalog. So maybe Henckel sold the company to Heddon in 1977 and Miller bought it in 1986 from Heddon.
Anyway, the PICO Lure offered in this 1983 catalog are the standard PICO lures everyone is familiar with. The PICO Perch, PICO Pop, and the PICO Chico. What I found really interesting, though, was the Texas trailer, which appears to be a small spreader bar that would accommodate two different lures, much like an A-rig today.
Well, that about does it for the 1983 Heddon catalog. If anyone out there has any knowledge that can help answer some of these questions, please leave a comment below or drop us an email. For those of you who would like to see the entire catalog, please see the gallery below. And, if you happen to have a tackle catalog that we haven’t featured here on the Bass Fishing Archives and you’d like to share it, please contact us and we’ll make it happen.