We’ve talked about a lot of old tackle companies here at the Bass Fishing Archives but one we’ve neglected to mention so far is the Mar-Lynn Lure Company of Blue Springs, MO. Mar-Lynn made everything from spinnerbaits to jigs, plastic worms to jig heads and more. But what they are probably best known for is the Reaper – a soft plastic lure that had a large tail fin that resembled an eel.
The bait was designed and popularized by Harold Ensley, who won the 1960 World Series of Sport Fishing. From my understanding, it was made specifically for use on a jig head for lake trout. But it didn’t take bass anglers long to figure out it wasn’t just trout bait.
Rigged with the tail vertical, the bait would sink fairly fast and resembled a baitfish quite nicely. On the other hand, if the bait was rigged so the tail was horizontal, the bait would glide and could be mistaken for an eel. In later years they’d make a 7-inch Reaper that the flippers went to town with.
My first introduction to the lure didn’t come from the actual Mar-Lynn Company, though. It came from several hand pourers, around 1980, in southern California who’d not only knocked off the bait but were marketing it with the exact name Mar-Lynn had given it in the mid-60s. Mar-Lynn’s trademark on the Reaper, 72220006, was registered in 1966 and ran through 1989 before it expired.
The hand poured, 3-inch baits were such a success in the deep, crystal-clear waters of California that we sold thousands of them each week – garage hand pourers couldn’t keep up with demand. Then, roughly a year or two into the California “Reaper” revolution, small tackle companies started getting letters in the mail to stop using the Reaper name. They obliged but continued making the baits and sold them under several different names such as Reefers and Leeches.
But the real credit goes to Harold Ensley for developing the original and to Mar-Lynn’s owner Ted Green for picking it up and manufacturing it. In fact, when Mar-Lynn went out of business, the folks at PRADCO bought the rights to it and marketed it for a while. About 10 years ago I was able to find them at Guide’s Choice Pro Shop in Wisconsin, but they seem to have gone out of business. Back then they still sold the bait as the Reaper by Mar-Lynn Lure Company, which was confusing to me because Mar-Lynn had been out of business for nearly four decades.
Outside of the dropshotters and split shotters of the West, where the bait is still catching fish, when was the last time you used, or saw anyone else use, a Mar-Lynn Reaper or reasonable facsimile? I’d have to say it’s probably been a long time, unless your name is RichZ. Nationally, the bait has gone the way of the 3-inch grub, and I would be willing to wager a good bit of money if anglers just fished the thing, they’d find it still catches fish.
If you’re interested in trying some, western finesse pro Don Iovino still makes the bait and it’s available through Tackle Warehouse. And, he even calls it The Reaper.