Several weeks ago, fellow BFA contributor, David Smith, posted a great piece on Fred Arbogast, competitive caster, avid fisherman, and namesake founder of the classic lure company. After Fred’s untimely death in 1947, the Fred Arbogast Bait Company continued manufacturing excellent lures but it was not until 1957 when they found the man that would lead the company into its most productive and prolific period. That man was Dick Kotis. In Richard “Dick” Kotis – Retro Bassman, we will take a look back at a career that spanned five decades (1957-1991) mostly as president of one of America’s truly legendary lure companies, the Fred Arbogast Bait Company.
Dick Kotis was born in Garfield Heights, Ohio on May 24,1926. In his high school years, he was a local star athlete in three sports; football, basketball and baseball. After graduation, he enlisted in the United States Navy from 1944-1946. Returning to his native Ohio in 1946, he enrolled at Kent State University, playing varsity football from 1946-1948. He went on to receive an undergraduate degree in Physical Education and Biology, and eventually a Master of Education Administration in 1951. From 1951-1957, Kotis stayed on at Kent State University serving as the assistant football and basketball coach until his love of the outdoors and fishing led him to take a sales position with Fred Arbogast in 1957, eventually becoming President of the company just two years later in 1959.
Assuming the Reins at Fred Arbogast
When Kotis assumed the presidency of the Fred Arbogast Bait Company in 1959, he was inheriting a stable of already productive and popular baits including top-water classics like the Jitterbug and Hula Popper, and the Hawaiian Wiggler family of weedless baits. Never one to rest on his laurels, Kotis led the company into a steady growth period acquiring additional lure companies including; Arndt and Sons, Prescott Spinner, and the Tru-Shad Lure Company. In 1969, with the acquisition of the Tru-Shad Lure Company of Louisiana, Fred Arbogast now had production rights to two lures that would remain company stalwarts for years; the Tru-Shad and the Mud-Bug.
The Tru-Shad was a lipless vibrating bait and forerunner to the now famous Bill Lewis Rattletrap. The Mud-Bug was a metal lipped diving bait very similar to the Bomber and would ultimately become one of the company’s all-time best sellers and a real favorite among pro fisherman and amateurs alike. In 1974, the company joined the “Alphabet Plug” craze with the Pug Nose. However, it never reached the popularity or praise of the much better selling Cordell Big O and the Bagley Balsa B.
Kotis remained at the helm through the 70s and 80s, introducing various new lures and keeping the company competitive as bass fishing continued to gain in popularity with the rise in tournament participation and interest.
Fisherman, Educator and Environmentalist
What made Kotis somewhat unique and accomplished as president of a major lure manufacturer was that first and foremost he was a fisherman. Not just a casual fisherman, but one who spent 150-180 days a year pursuing his passion. And that passion was very often bass fishing. Sure, he ultimately became a successful businessman and led a profitable enterprise for many years but the force behind that success was a lifelong love of fishing.
Coupled with that passion, was the drive and enthusiasm to educate. He attended numerous tackle, boat and outdoor sports shows during his tenure as president, always as a respected lecturer and teacher. Kotis also wrote many articles during his career for multiple publications. I have two of Erwin Bauer’s Fisherman’s Digest books from 1976 and 1977 which include Kotis’ penned articles like, Top Water Trophy Bass Fishing; Where the Smallmouths Are; How To Select Plug Casting Tackle; and My Top Dozen Tips for All Bass Fisherman. These articles besides being educational also gave Kotis an opportunity to promote his company’s lures.
Throughout the 60s and 70s, he frequently appeared in advertisements for Arbogast lures, often with his advice on where and when to fish them most effectively. The 1975 Fred Arbogast catalog included not only an eleven page insert titled, Pro’s Guide to Lure Fishing which was chock full of tips (and of course advice on fishing Arbogast baits), but also a 33 rpm record. The record on one side was titled, “Fishing Farm Ponds and Strip Pits” and on the other side, “Fishing Large Impoundments and Reservoirs.”
Kotis also involved himself with conservation and environmental concerns. He was an early proponent of saving Lake Erie in the mid-60s and his company distributed nearly 50,000 “Save Lake Erie” stickers during this period. He was a governor-appointed member of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and also appointed to represent Ohio sportsmen to set quality standards for the big lake and ultimately eliminate commercial netting.
A Personal Hero and Final Reflections
In 1973, Kotis instituted a new program that allowed anyone who caught a trophy bass on an Arbogast lure to write in and receive a decal representative of the “club” weight of your bass.
It just so happened that also in 1973, at the tender age of thirteen, I landed my biggest bass to date using a yellow and black coachdog Arbo-Gaster, a lunker weighing 6 ½ pounds. I immediately sent the details in to get my “club” decal that I would proudly display on my Plano hip roof tacklebox.
Much to my surprise, the decal also came with a personal letter of congratulations from Mr. Kotis, himself. In the letter he commended me for catching such a nice bass at my age and encouraged me to continue my pursuit of bass fishing. I only wish that I had the good sense to keep that letter (which I did for awhile). Now though just a memory, it left a real impression on me at the time and I wonder in this day and age if anyone at any tackle company would even bother to write a young angler such a letter.
With today’s mega-tackle company mergers and overseas production, who are the faces of these organizations and where are the leaders? They are just not out front and center as Mr. Kotis was in his day. As much as Bill Dance or Roland Martin, Dick Kotis was a real bass fishing hero to me then and still is today.
In 2021, Richard “Dick” Kotis passed away at age ninety-five. If it is true that whatever time we spend fishing, God does not deduct those days from our lifetime, then there was never a more fitting and just example than Dick Kotis.
Honors and Awards
- National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame – Elected
- American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association (AFTMA) – President
- American League of Anglers – President
- Sport Fishing Institute – Director
- Bass Fishing Institute – Instructor
- Fish Ohio Committee – Board
It is a serious oversight that Dick Kotis is not inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame and hopefully in some small part, this post may help bring about a campaign to rectify that issue.
Note: I would like to acknowledge the book, The Fred Arbogast Story – A Fishing Lure Collector’s Guide by Scott Heston as a valuable research guide and for the photo of the Arbogast Bass Club decals.