From the 1955 Paul Bunyan Bait Co. catalog.

I’ve got to give props to whoever it was back in the 1930s who decided to name their lure-making business the Paul Bunyan Bait Co. If you’re from the upper Midwest and you want to start a lure making company you could hardly do better than choosing such an iconic name and figurehead for your business. Paul Bunyan is a larger than life, mythical character “born” in the Midwest. Back in the 1930s through the 1950s and beyond, the Paul Bunyan Bait Co. was considered to be one of the pre-eminent fishing lure companies in the country, with a strong line of effective baits. In this article we’re going to look at a few of the vintage ads for the Paul Bunyan Bait Co. “66” spinner lure.

But first, I have to say I found it a challenge to uncover much information on the Paul Bunyan Bait Company. Terry Battisti mentioned the same problem in his own research of the company in his July 2023 story, Bass Lures 1949. That article has a great ad showing a Miss Mary Elmer holding a sizable bass caught on a Paul Bunyan 66. I’m surprised that so little seems to have been written about the company in old newspapers, on the NFLCC site or in any of the usual online places. I do hope to put together a more detailed biography of the company for a future article. 

Note: As I was writing this piece I contacted my BFA colleague Bill Sonnett to ask him if he had any information or leads on the company. He pointed me to Alan Bakke, who Bill said “was the world’s largest collector of Paul Bunyan tackle.” Well, contact Alan I did, and he proved to be an encyclopedia of all things related to the Paul Bunyan Bait Co. In fact, I intend to get in touch with Alan again for a lengthier piece on the company. For this article I’m just going to focus on the Paul Bunyan Lucky 66 spinner, and share a few of the ads I found featuring that lure.

The Paul Bunyan Bait Co. released a lot of ads back in the day. Practically every outdoors magazine carried their ads in the 1940s and ‘50s. The 66 lure was a single blade inline spinner with a weighted head and either a hackle- or bucktail-dressed rear treble hook. According to Bakke the lure was created by a man, an undertaker I believe, from Kansas. He named the spinner after the famous Route 66, although I have no idea why. He had an agreement with Paul Bunyan Bait Co. in 1946, for the Minnesota wholesaler to distribute the 66 spinner, until 1949 when Paul Bunyan bought him out and secured the ownership of the 66. The first mention of both the lure and Paul Bunyan I was able to find was in a May 1948 newspaper report (see below).

Quite the testimonial for the Lucky 66 from outfitter Jim Owen. Joe Denny column. The Cincinnati Enquirer, IN, May 23, 1948.
A six pound largemouth caught with a Paul Bunyan 66 lure earned Bill Burch a third place finish in this contest. Evansville Press, IN, Oct 31, 1948.

Perhaps Paul Bunyan’s 1949 ownership of the 66 compelled them to promote it more, I don’t know, but by 1949 and on into the mid-1950s the Paul Bunyan “Lucky 66” was being mentioned regularly as a big bass catcher in the nation’s sporting sections. Bakke told me that when Paul Bunyan was producing the lure they had “two dozen housewives tying bucktails” every day. The lure was tremendously effective on bass and walleye, but it caught just about every species of fish that swims. According to Alan Bakke, Paul Bunyan manufactured the 66 lure until 1961, at which time “it was farmed out to Prescott Spinner in Mankato, MN and then sold to them in 1967. It was still in their [Paul Bunyan’s] catalogs into the 1970’s.” 

John Reese landed a beast of a largemouth - 8+ pounds - using a Paul Bunyan 66. T.B. Knight also used a 66 to take a 5 lb. 2 oz. fish. The Courier-Journal, April 20, 1952.
"Paul Bunyan 66 Gets 'Em." Two anglers used the 66 in 1951 to boat some respectable largemouth bass. West Bank Herald, April 12, 1951.
Another fishing contest saw some big bass come to the stringer, thanks to a Paul Bunyan 66 and an Arbogast Jitterbug.The Courier-Journal Sun, May 31, 1953.

Here’s a smattering of ads, shown chronologically, specifically for the Paul Bunyan 66. The lure came in eight color combinations in 1949, and by 1950 they had added one more to make nine color combinations. The basic spinner only cost $1, but you could get it with a weedless hook for .15 cents more, and the 66 Midget for light tackle cost .90 cents. Two ads from 1949 and two from 1950:

1949 ad showing Mrs. Charles Lowrey with a 14 lb. 3 oz. largemouth, caught on a 66 spinner.
This 1949 ad shows John Hartley with an 8.5 lb. largemouth. Hartley testified that he and a buddy caught 30 bass in two days, most on a 66 spinner.
"I call Paul Bunyan's 66, the Old Faithful." Gerald Turner shows off his 7.5 lb. largemouth in the 1950 ad. "When all other baits fail, Paul Bunyan's 66 brings in the fish...the lunkers can't resist it."

Sometime between 1949 (when Paul Bunyan Bait Co. bought out the original maker of the 66) and 1950, the company began declaring the lure as “America’s No. 1 Bass Lure.” I wonder what, if any, criteria they used to support that declaration or, more likely, they just declared the 66 as such, with no data to support the claim. “America’s No. 1 Bass Lure” is a great slogan, and you don’t really need anything to justify the claim, just a single person making the statement would be sufficient. I’ve always found it interesting, the claims that fishing lure companies make to promote their products. The 1950 ad with Gerald Turner and his 7.5 lb. bass says it all: “Paul Bunyan’s 66 has become America’s No. 1 bass lure, because one fisherman tells another, and ‘good news travels fast,’ where good fishing is concerned.”

Fred Kleinfelder with a 9 lb. 4 oz. bucketmouth. In this 1950 ad Paul Bunyan was declaring it to be "America's No. 1 Bass Lure." I wonder what criteria they used for that declaration.

Next up we have an ad from 1952. This is an interesting ad in that it breaks with the monochrome, B&W ads that came before and would continue after this ad. This is a long, vertical ad in orange, brown and black, which also advertises Paul Bunyan’s Reflex Glass Rods at the bottom. Instead of an actual angler holding a bass, we get a beautiful, dynamic illustration of a fat largemouth with a colored 66 in its mouth. They’ve also added to the 66 series, with trolling, casting, spinning and fly rod sizes of the lure (no doubt the Midget version has just changed its name to become the spinning size). They’ve also upped the price a bit. Note the small call to action below, in the Reflex Glass Rod section of the ad. The company asks anglers to write for a free full-color 66 brochure, which shows 12 color combinations, an increase of three color combos, for the expanding line.

1952 Paul Bunyan 66 ad in three colors. Note the small call to action below, in the Reflex Glass Rod section. The company asks anglers to write for a free full-color 66 brochure, which shows 12 color combinations for the expanding line.

Now, we have two ads from 1953 (below). The company has abandoned the “angler with bass” format and appears to be going with either a straight informational ad (left) or a humorous cartoon ad (right). The ad on the left simply recites why the 66 is a deadly and reliable fish catcher, what with a “built in fish finder” and “scientifically designed head” that gives it a “natural dive action.” You gotta love copy like that. They also suggest pairing the 66 with Paul Bunyan’s own “specially designed” pork rind. The bass illustration also appears to be the same bass that was used in the long, vertical 3-color ad from the year before. I’d say that’s just being frugal.

The ad on the right is an oddball. Two cartoon fish are smartly attired in human clothes and are apparently ready to go out on the town. That is, until a Paul Bunyan 66 Lucky 66 trolls past. The male fish lifts his walking stick and waxes poetically, “Honey, I know we have a date…but! There goes a Paul Bunyan Bait!” It’s cute, and a little weird, but I’m not sure how this ad would have been more effective than one with a picture of an angler holding an 8 lb. bass and declaring the 66 as the bait that big bass can’t resist. Oh well.

Another 1953 magazine ad for the 66. This one appears to use the same bass image as was in the vertical 3-color ad from the year before.
1953 Paul Bunyan 66 ad. This ad appeared in Field & Stream, and is a bit odd for a Paul Bunyan 66 ad, with a pair of cartoon fish dressed up for a date together. But no! A Paul Bunyan 66 thwarts their romantic plans. Strange...

We’ll end with three ads, from 1955, ’56 and ’57 (below). Can you guess what fish the first 66 ad is targeting? If you guessed bass, you’d be getting warm. This ad from 1955 has resurrected Gerald Turner’s line from the 1950 ad above about the 66 being Old Faithful. Only in this ad it’s not just Gerald Turner saying it, it’s “bass Fishermen everywhere.” Also in this ad, the Dyna-Mite and the famous Paul Bunyan Flash Eye spoon are shown.

On the right is another straight-forward 66 ad, this one from 1956. Perhaps the company felt they had earned enough notoriety by this date that all they needed were illustrated images of the lure and their namesake. Unlike the 1955 ad, this one lets you know that the 66 lure is effective for more than just bass. It also catches walleye, northern pike and panfish. “The famous ’66’ gets them all. NATIONAL RECORDS have been established by the ’66’.” I, for one, would be mighty interested in knowing which national records were gotten on the Lucky 66. You’d think that alone would merit an ad or two.

And finally, below the ’55 and ’56 ads is our last Paul Bunyan Lucky 66 advertisement. Baseball player and coach Buster Mills is the draw for this 1957 ad. Although his playing and coaching days were over by 1957, Mills must have still been a popular sports figure. After excelling in college sports Mills played for a number of professional baseball teams, including the Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Browns, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians. After serving in WWII, Mills became a coach for the Indians, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Redlegs and the Red Sox. But for those of us who follow Bass Fishing Archives, Mills baseball career pales in comparison to his love of bass fishing. He caught a 7 lb. 14 oz. largemouth on a 66 spinner, one of five bass Mills caught that particular day.  I’m not sure if the picture is of him holding his nearly 8-pound bass, but the picture does neither angler nor fish justice. Mills declares the Paul Bunyan 66 “strictly a Big League bait.”

We hope you enjoyed this look at some of the ads for the Paul Bunyan 66, or Lucky 66 spinner. We also hope to explore more of the Paul Bunyan line of lures in the coming months, and get into some of the history of the company, as this was an important 20th century bass lure manufacturer.

Can you guess what fish this 1955 ad is targeting?
Another straight forward Paul Bunyan 66 ad, this one from 1956. Perhaps the company felt they had earned enough notoriety by this date that all they needed was an illustrated image of the lure and their namesake.
Baseball player and coach Buster Mills is the draw for this 1957 ad. Though his playing and coaching days were over by 1957, Mills must have still been a popular sports figure.

Addendum: As I was finishing this piece, I happened across a website that really tickled my fancy. It looked like a new company was reproducing the old Paul Bunyan Lucky 66. In fact, that’s precisely what they call the lure – Paul Bunyan’s Lucky “66” – and they even have a stylized Paul Bunyan logo. I contacted the company, located in Sugarland, Texas, and got a reply from Encore Tackle/Paul Bunyan Lucky 66 CEO Greg Berlocher. We chatted for a bit and Greg gave me the lowdown on the company and the lure. Without getting into the weeds, I’ll just report that Greg told me that after experiencing the success of several other anglers using original Paul Bunyan 66 spinners, he got interested in manufacturing the old lure, with some intentional modifications and differences from the original. So, Berlocher set his lawyers to work acquiring the old trademarks. He also indicated that he was repeatedly told the lure was too complicated and required too many steps to efficiently manufacture and make a profit. He eventually overcame the manufacturing issues, and the company launched in December of 2023.

Greg made sure to inform me that their replication of the original 66 lure is not an exact copy. He maintains that they want to have some discernible differences from the original to avoid impacting collectors of the original 66. For example, the wire loop that holds the rear hook on an original Paul Bunyan 66 is diamond shaped. The modern version is round. Also, the blades are blank (unstamped) on the modern version, although Berlocher intends to eventually stamp them with “something interesting” and that something would supposedly also differentiate it from an original 66.  The hooks are also different. Currently the lures carry hackle-dressed hooks, but the company intends to add bucktail and rubber skirts. Go to their website and check them out. I, for one, am excited to see this sort of nod to vintage lures by modern companies. I’ll definitely be acquiring some of these new Paul Bunyan Lucky “66” spinners for use on the water.

Modern Paul Bunyan Lucky "66" weight-forward spinner, manufactured by the Encore company out of Sugarland, Texas.
Modern Paul Bunyan Lucky "66" weight-forward spinner, manufactured by the Encore company out of Sugarland, Texas.